27 September 1859

t’s way too long since I last posted here, and I should explain why I’ve been away so long – I managed to get waylaid by a picture that was posted on social media, and ended up going down the rabbit hole that happens when you just an to know a little bit more about what went on….1859 Birmingham memorial card

This is a particularly poignant memorial to those lost in an explosion in 1859. It seems to be out of copyright and now in the public domain, so it should be OK for me to share it here.

Birmingham’s gun quarter around Whittall Street housed several percussion cap manufactories in the middle of the 19th century. Many girls and young women were employed in the production process which required dextrous fingers.  The work was dangerous and explosions were common.
One of the worst occurred on 27 September 1859 at the Pursall & Phillips factory on Whittall Street.
The explosion was widely reported in newspapers at the time, and Trove has an article from the South Australian Register, which describes the day in graphic detail, and is well worth reading.

What fascinated me was the last of names, and how they might link together. T
he oldest people to die were Fanny Dollman (sometimes Doleman) and Martha Groocock (sometimes Grocock), both 31 years old and married. Both had three young children.
Fanny also had a younger sister, Maria, who also worked at the factory, and died with her in the explosion, 29 year old Maria Earp.

Humphrey Wood was the only man killed in the explosion – he was an experienced employee, having worked as a percussion cap maker for at least eight years. He had been married a little over four years.

Catherine Clarke, 24, and 18 year old Winifred Casey both lived at the same property on George Street. They were buried at St Joseph’s church in Nechells on 2 October. Thomas Clarke was named in the burial notes for both young women, suggesting that they also may have been related.

Catherine Mary Perrigo was also 24 – she had been born in Middlesex, and the family moved to Birmingham when she was around six years old. Her father, William was a gun wadding manufacturer, so it is perhaps not surprising that Catherine would take a job in the same industry. Sadly William died a couple of months before Catherine.

It looks very likely that Charlotte Cottrall was Charlotte Fowler, who married Thomas Cottrill (sic) on 21 July 1956 in Aston.

Mary Ann (22) and Rebecca (19) Walton were sisters – daughters of Edward and Mary Walton. Edward was a master cabinet maker, and the girls two older sisters were French polishers. Livery Street who lived on Hatchett Street.
Sadly some of the girls are difficult to trace.

As the memorial plaque shows, 15 of the dead were buried in the same vault – at St Mary’s church, Whittall Street, on 2 October.

Mary Cantrill was buried at St Paul & St Martin’s church, Birmingham on the same day. She had lived on Hospital Street.
Catherine Clarke and Winifred Casey were also buried on t2 October, though at a Roman Catholic church.

Dinah Peel (14) lived at Smithfield and wasn’t buried until 5 October.

The parish record for St Mary’s, Whittall Street makes grim reading. On October 2 1859 they held a total of 19 funerals – the fifteen who had died in the explosion, three infants and a 23 year old lady.

These are the things we should recall, perhaps when we complain about health and safety rules….



(One of ) the War Veterans

One of the categories for the genealogy blogging this year is the ‘War Veteran’

The one I’ve chosen to feature today is one of Bob’s relatives.

Arthur Hepton was born in Birdsall in 1897, and was one of three sons in the family. He had enlisted 1916 and was a Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment. He died of wounds, aged 21, in the hands of the Germans, as was suggested in one of the newspaper reports at the time.  He earned the British War Medal & the Victory Medal and was buried in Ennemain Communal Cemetery Extension.

The Selby Times of 12 April 1918 reported:

Londesborough Lieutenant missing

Mr J W Hepton, clerk of works to the Earl of Londesborough, at Londesborough Park, has received the sad news that his eldest surviving son – Lieut. Arthur Hepton, 5th Yorkshire Battalion, B Company, has been wounded and missing in the recent heavy fight.  Letter have been received from Lieut. Col J A Raymond Thompson and from Captain E M Robson, bearing eloquent testimony to the gallant officer’s services, and stating that at the time they were holding the front line when the enemy attacked, and he along with the Company held on and fought a splendid battle in which they inflicted heavy losses.  In his gallant action he was wounded, and was believed to be a prisoner in enemy hands.


It wasn’t until 28 June 1918 that a follow up article was posted:

Death of an officer

Lieut. Arthur Hepton, Yorkshire Regiment, son of Mr & Mrs Hepton, Londesborough, Market Weighton, who was reported wounded and missing on March 25th is now known to have died on April 13th.  He was 21 years of age and educated at the Pocklington school, gaining distinction there, and being also cricket captain.  Lieut. Hepton went to the front in September 1916, and was in command of a company when wounded.  His colonel, writing home says he was a most gallant and splendid fellow.

The Green Bag & a little bit of Dud Corner

Apologies for the delay in posts; our week in Cornwall was quickly followed by a long weekend in Northern France commemorating the Centenary of the Battles of Arras and Vimy. There will, no doubt, be plenty more posts about the weekend to bore you with, but for now, I just want to share a couple of pictures that have been passed on to me by Alan, a fellow traveller who we first met several years ago on one of our first battlefield walks.

The first is a picture that he took which tells so poignantly how bereft a soldier’s sister felt when her brother didn’t come home from war. Green bag

The second one is a picture that Alan took of a headstone in the Dud Corner Cemetery, Near Loos. Captain Willock died on 25 September 1915 aged 23. What’s so interesting about his headstone is the sheer amount of wording detailed after his service details. Most headstones have little,  if any inscription beneath the official wording. The family of the deceased man was expected to pay for these additional words, apparently at a rate of 3d per letter. Many families would have been unable to afford this added expense, and a lengthy epitaph could be seen to indicate something of the financial status of the grieving family.  This one is undoubtedly the longest inscription that I’ve ever seen on a soldier’s headstone!  Willock

With a touch over 200 characters, this should have cost around £2.50, equating to about £100 in today’s monetary value. There may well be a bit more information about Guy Charles Boileau Willock later this weekend.

Thank you to Alan for allowing me to use his images 😉

Well done Wakefield!

I had a call at the weekend from a family member to say that there has been a considerable amount of clearing up done at the cemetery I mentioned last time, and that it’s much easier to get around there now. We’re meeting up this morning, and I’ll be taking my camera, so may have pictorial updates later. In the mean time, thanks go to Wakefield Council for sticking to their word 😉

An update from the council

Following the invitation I had to the dedication of the memorial tablets to the West Yorkshire [Prince of Wales Own] Regiment, there was a short but moving ceremony held in the local cemetery today. It was the first really wet day for weeks, but there was still a fair sized crowd there to pay respect. Two of the local ministers officiated, reminding us of the way of life the volunteer soldiers would have had at the turn of the century[20th] and , of course, of the motto of the regiment “Nec aspera terrent” [ Nor do difficulties deter.]

The next time the war graves have a ceremony in this cemetery will be on Remembrance Day, when all of these old soldiers will be remembered along with the ones who already lay there.

Going to see the soldiers?

I was talking with the assistant curator of one of our local regiments this week, when I realised that a lot of the search results on the web page had a “no image available” logo in place of an appropriate picture.  The first search I’d done on their site was one of these, and I knew that I had an image which would fit the bill.  Cutting a long story short, it appears that the museum would be really grateful for pictures of any graves from thier regiment that could be sent in and added to the website. I’m sure this would apply to other regimental museums, too. 

So, if you’re going to see the soldiers – whether a personal pilgrimage, or a general visit to some of the War Graves, do bear this in mind. Just a few pictures would be welcomed, to add to what the individual archives already hold. I think the way I’ll do it is to take photographs of graves from this local regiment, as I already have a link there. 

Alternatively, if you want to work in a bigger way, it’s worth thinking about the British War Graves Photographs Project which is cataloguing all of the cemeteries individually.  They already have lots of completed cemeteries, so it’s worth checkingout the web page before you start clicking. 

If that’s too daunting, and you don’t have a big trip planned, it’s always worth a trip to the local cemetery. We went yesterday to one a few miles from us, looking for a WW1 Memorial, and found a handful of war graves amongst the regular graves, one of our local regiment.  Sadly, the whole cemetery was quite neglected and very overgrown, but every one of those otherwise derelict war graves had the remains of a little poppy cross – presumably from last Remembrance Day.  If you don’t know of any personal connections, it’s also really interesting to see if you can do a bit of research on an individual that you don’t know. More on that in a later post………

A message from the council!

I hadn’t anticipated that my first “proper” posting here would be reporting that I’d had a message from the local council! In short, when I arrived home today, there was an email to say that two memorial plaques that have just been cleaned up after being in store for years, have just been put into place with the War Graves in the local cemetery. There’s an official ceremony later in the month, but I wanted to go down and see how they looked. Well done to the people who worked so hard on this project to get the plaques back on show in a suitable location, especially Steve Shaw-Wright who took up the cause. In April Cllr Shaw Wright told the Selby Post

“We’ve been looking for somewhere to put them for some time but we’ve never had anywhere suitable to put them.

“We thought it would be a good idea to put the memorial stones where the Second World War stones are, so they are in one place. It just seems a fitting place to put them.”

The top pictures are of the plaques in the  cemetery chapel before cleaning up, the bottom pictures show them in place alongside the War Graves in the main cemetery.