I’ve come across this great Twitter account: Old Railway Accidents a few times which isn’t surprising given that they’ve posted nearly 12,000 times in just over a couple of years. However, what was surprising was the sheer number of people killed working on the railways a 100 years ago and the tens of thousands injured.
So what has this got to do with Whitley? Whilst we don’t have any railway lines in the village, and no one (as far as I can find) was working on the railways, the death of one of the village hierarchy proved that no one was immune.
To many villagers of Whitley, the relative wealth of Grimsditch Hall was far removed from their lives. However it wasn’t without tragedy.
In 1871 Samuel Rowland moved to Grimsditch Hall shortly after the birth of his daughter Jessie. He was born near the Birch and Bottle, in Higher Whitley, the son of Peter Rowland, and nephew of the famous Liverpool architect by the same name.
Some fifteen years later on 3 June 1886 Samuel Rowland was killed at Huddersfield Railway Station having fallen between a train and the platform.
It was a shocking accident and was followed by an inquest, the details of which were graphically reported in the Huddersfield Chronicle:
On Thursday afternoon a shocking accident occurred at the Huddersfield Railway Station. It appears that on arrival of the train from Leeds, due in Huddersfield at 4.39pm, a gentleman, aged apparently about 45 years, alighted from a second-class compartment.
Just as the train was starting he rushed from the bottom end of the platform and caught hold of one of the carriages. He, however, lost his footing and was dragged along by the train and dropped down onto the line in a sitting posture between two of the carriages. The wheels passed over his left leg and he was immediately crushed between the carriage and the platform. When the train had gone by the unfortunate gentleman was taken up, placed on a stretcher by the direction of Mr. Green, the station master and conveyed to the Infirmary with all possible speed, but on arrival there it was found that life was extinct, which it was feared was the case before leaving the station.
On searching the pockets of the deceased the return half of the second-class ticket issued at Warrington (Bank Quay), on the 24th of May for Harrogate was found. There was also a bill made out to a Mr. Rowlands, at Harrogate on the 29th May, and the same name, “Rowlands” was found worked on the deceased’s pocket handkerchief. From these things it was supposed that the gentleman belonged to Warrington, and had been staying for a few days at Harrogate, and that he was on his return journey when the shocking accident occurred. It was subsequently ascertained that the deceased gentleman was Samuel Rowlands, 45 years of age, gentleman of Grimsditch Hall, near Northwich, Cheshire.
An inquest jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” adding that no blame attached to anyone in the matter.
This was a terrible tragedy for the family, as indeed for any family. Samuel Rowland’s widow Catherine was left managing the house and farm with her sixteen year old daughter, Jessie. Thanks to a donation received by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies in 2013, of a number of letters found in a chest of drawers at auction, it has been possible to see into the personal lives of the family affected by such a shocking event.
These were sent to Jessie in the weeks and months following her father’s death by her 27 year-old cousin, Charles Edward Rumney who was called upon to identify the body and attend the inquest. From a lovely blog by the Archives we get some idea of what happened next. On the face it seems a simple love story but knowing the grief and unbelief that the sixteen year Jessie must have been going through, makes the letters even more intimate than on first reading.
Despite the shocking events at Huddersfield Station in June 1896, there was a happy ending – at least for Charles and Jessie.