A fatal tricycle accident at Waters Upton – Part 2

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PC Thomas Alexander Lee

Thos. Alexander Lee deposed: I am a police-constable, stationed at Waters Upton. On Tuesday night [11 August 1891], at 10-35, I saw William Matthews and the last witness at Matthews’s wicket [= gate]. There were two tricycles and a man on the ground. I asked “What’s up?” and Matthews said, “Sammy Dodd’s had a drop of beer and fallen off his machine.” I examined the deceased, but did not think he was hurt. The only mark I saw was a scratch on the hand. I saw that the machine was broken.
I went to my rooms, close by, and fetched some matches. Matthews also fetched light. While he was away I lit the lamp of the tricycle, and examined the deceased. I satisfied myself that no bones were broken. I told Matthews that if deceased was hurt it must be about his head, but I could find no marks. Deceased had been vomiting, and smelt strongly of drink. I asked him several times to get up, and he muttered that he should be all right directly if let alone. I was under the impression that he was drunk, and not hurt.
Matthews asked the deceased if he was going home, and he said something about bed. Matthews said, “What have you been doing, Sammy, to get into this state? I’ll not have you in my bed in this form, but I’ve plenty building, and will bed you down.” On that I left them. Owen followed me and said that deceased would be all right—that Matthews would look after him. I did not think deceased capable of going home, but I did think Matthews would take care of him.— [Questioned by] Mr. Superintendent Galliers: I knew deceased to be a friend of Matthews, and believed that Matthews would take him into his house.

Thomas Lee (Police Constable 107) was one of a number of people whose appearance on the 1891 census at Waters Upton was the only time they were enumerated at that place. He was a native of Whitchurch in Shropshire, where he was baptised on 24 February 1864; his parents were farmer William Lee and his wife Mary, née Robinson.

places - Whitchurch (The Old House)

The Old House in Whitchurch, Shropshire.

Newspaper reports of the proceedings of the Petty Sessions at Wellington in 1890 and 1891 give the (probably misleading) impression that PC Lee’s duties while stationed in Waters Upton revolved mainly around dealing with drunken patrons of the local hostelries. The earliest such report that I have found so far, in the Wellington Journal of 5 April 1890 (page 6), shows that PC Lee charged two men with drunkenness at Waters Upton on 22 March 1890. Later that year he charged one man with being drunk and disorderly at High Ercall on 11 September and two men for the same offence at Waters Upton on the 20th (Wellington Journal, 4 October 1890, page 3).

A variation on the regular theme was the man summoned by PC Lee to appear at the Petty Sessions on 15 December 1890 “for being drunk and asleep while in charge of a horse and trap on the 8th inst., on the road leading from Crudgington to Waters Upton”. It was ‘business as usual’ on Boxing Day however (two men drunk at Waters Upton, and in May 1891 Thomas charged two men with drunkenness in the village, and another with “being drunk and refusing to quit the Swan Inn, Waters Upton”. (Wellington Journal, 20 December 1891, page 6; 10 January 1891, page 2; 30 May 1891, page 3; and 13 June 1891, page 6.)

PC Lee was clearly used to seeing the effects of alcohol on people, but should he have known better in Samuel Dodd’s case? He did not remain stationed at Waters Upton for long after Dodd’s demise. A round-up of cases heard at the Wellington Petty Sessions on 28 September (Wellington Journal, 3 October 1891, page 2) indicates that he had been transferred to Wellington itself by then. I cannot help wondering whether this move was connected with his conduct on the night of Sam Dodd’s fatal accident, or if the timing was simply a coincidence.

At some point over the next ten years, Thomas and the Shropshire Constabulary parted company. He was enumerated in 1901 at Whitchurch, his birthplace, where he was living with his sister (also unmarried) and working as a County Court Bailiff. The only thing that had changed when the 1911 census was taken (apart from Thomas’s age of course) is that he was living with his widowed mother Mary. The death of Thomas Alexander Lee, aged 68, was registered in the Atcham Registration District of Shropshire in the last quarter of 1932.

Robert Nicholls, Joseph Jones, Walter Welsh and Jane Jones

Robert Nicholls said: I am a labourer, and live at Waters Upton. Yesterday morning, at five o’clock, I looked out of my bedroom window, and saw some one lying on the footpath. At half-past five I went out to see who it was, and found deceased lying on his side. He was then alive. I thought he was drunk. I spoke to him but he made answer. I called Joseph Jones, and he came and helped me to put him in a pigsty close by. Jones said thought deceased would be better after a lie down. Other people came and saw him, and I then left—[Questioned by] the Foreman: I have heard of deceased being drunk, and I thought he was drunk then. He breathed rather heavily.
Walter Welsh said: I am a blacksmith, and live at Waters Upton. Yesterday morning, shortly before six o’clock, I saw deceased in Matthews’s pigsty. He was breathing very heavily. I knew that Nicholls had put him in the pigsty. I did not know the deceased intimately, but have seen him drunk.
Jane Jones said: Yesterday morning I went into Matthews’s house. Deceased was there on sofa. Directly after I got into the house deceased passed away. I did not lay the body out I put him straight.

The 1891 census shows that Joseph Jones was a farm waggoner, and Jane was his wife. Both were residents of Waters Upton from the mid-1860s – I will return to them in another article. Robert Nicholls and Walter Welsh on the other hand were, like Samuel Owen and Thomas Lee, short-term inhabitant of the parish. I have written very briefly about Walter in Blacksmiths in Waters Upton – Part 2.

Robert Nicholls was born in the small settlement of Sleap, to the south of both Waters Upton and neighbouring Crudgington, and was baptised at the parish church of Ercall Magna on 3 June 1855. He was named after his father, and like his dad he worked as an agricultural labourer.

places - Rowtown All Hallows

Rowton All Hallows.

Robert married Emma Teece in the first quarter of 1882 (Emma was born and baptised in Waters Upton in 1856, and has a story of her own to be told).

The 1891 census shows that the couple’s first two children were born at Rowton while the next two were born in Waters Upton, giving 1887 or thereabouts as an approximate timing for the family’s relocation. In similar fashion the 1901 census suggests that the Nicholls family had moved to their next home, at Crudgington Green, in the middle of the 1890s; Robert was a waggoner at this time. They were still there in 1911, by which time Robert was a farm labourer again. The death of an 83-year-old Robert Nicholls, quite possibly this former Waters Uptonian, was registered at Wellington in the first quarter of 1939.

Medical evidence

Dr. George Hollies deposed: I am a physician and surgeon, practising in Wellington. Yesterday morning I received a telegram asking me to come to Waters Upton to a bicycle accident. I arrived about 11 o’clock. The man was then dead. He was lying on a couch in Matthews’s house. I made an external examination of the body. I found an abrasion on the back of the right hand, with sand and soil in the palm. There was also an abrasion on the left hand, and a slight abrasion on the left elbow. There was a slight scratch on the forehead, above the right eyebrow. I found blood mixed with sand and soil about three inches above the right ear. There was an abrasion of the scalp, larger than shilling. The scalp was swollen and bruised. I consider that such an accident as a fall from a tricycle would cause the injuries described.
From the evidence I have heard, and from the external examination I made, I should judge that the man died from compression of the brain, following concussion, but of course l am unable exactly say from mere external examination. It is difficult to say whether the exposure would have made any great difference in this case. No doubt the danger would be increased the fact of the deceased being moved about. I could not say that death was accelerated in this particular case. It is a common error to mistake the condition in which this man was for a state of drunkenness.

William Matthews’ deposition

William Matthews said: I am a sawyer, and live at Waters Upton. On Tuesday evening I and deceased went for a ride on our tricycles. We called at the Buck’s Head, Long Lane, had some drink there, and remained about an hour. We left about a quarter-past nine, and rode together to Crudgington Road. Deceased then went on in front of me.
I met Mr. Percival [Purcell] by the Post Office, and stopped to talk to him. Samuel Owen came to us by the Rectory, and told us that the deceased had been upset. I asked if he was hurt, and Owen said the machine was worse hurt than the man. I came down to my wicket. Deceased was then under the tree. I stayed with him for some time.
Afterwards Police-constable Lee came, and Owen left. I remained with the deceased until 11-30. I asked him stop with me, and he said he would go home. I did not think he was hurt. He had had some beer, but came as far as I rode with him all right, and I thought he was quite able to get home. I did not think that be wished to stop. I have seen him drunk before. I found him in my pigsty next morning about eight o’clock.
I went to try and get a conveyance to take him home, and sent a telegram to Dr. Hollies. I then got deceased into my house, and did all I could for him. I saw deceased’s father when he came. Dr. Hollies afterwards came, but the man was dead then. I have known and worked with the deceased for some time, and he was an intimate acquaintance of mine.
places - Long Lane, The Bucks Head

The Buck’s Head at Long Lane as it appears today.

The verdict, and a reprimand

The Coroner then summed up, and the jury, after a short deliberation, returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased died from the result of injuries received by accidentally falling from a tricycle. They added a rider the effect that the witness Matthews was greatly to blame for not taking the deceased into his house, and requested the Coroner to censure him.—Matthews was then called in, and the Coroner severely reprimanded him for his conduct.

Was the censure of Thomas Matthews fair – was he really at fault? What would you have done in his position, and would it have made a difference? Hypothetical questions aside, would you recognise the symptoms of head injury and concussion (and know what to do) if you saw them today?

After the inquest

Two letters appeared in the Wellington Journal of 22 August 1891 (page 3). One was sent by Samuel Dodd’s sister, Margaret Wood, of Bolas Magna. She had “worked the tricycle” from which Sam had fallen, back to Bolas Magna – and found it was in good working order. She expressed, in terms which made her distress and bitterness clear, her disbelief that anyone examining the machine could say it was broken, “unless the witnesses kindly mended the machine, whilst leaving my brother to mend himself.”

The other letter was submitted by “one of the jurymen”, who was sympathetic to those who had not been able to tell that Samuel Dodd had been suffering from concussion rather than the effects of drink. Concerned that “Waters Upton is situate five miles from any medical man”, he suggested that “ambulance classes in country districts” should be established. How wonderful that his proposal was, in time, acted upon by the Waters Upton resident whose home was used for Sam Dodd’s inquest (and who may have been the anonymous juryman). The following report appeared on page 8 of the Wellington Journal of 22 October 1892:

Ambulance Class.—An ambulance class in connection with the Wellington Technical Instruction Committee has been established here by Mr. Wm. A. R. Ball, and the first lecture was delivered at the schoolroom on Monday evening by Dr. Hollies, Wellington. The register contains 25 members, and 22 of these answered to their names. The committee consists of Messrs. Walter Dugdale, H. F. Percival, J. N. Cornes, Humphreys, the Revs. J. B. Davies, L. V. Yonge, and H. T. Tetlow. The secretarial part of the duties are performed by Mr. William A. R. Ball.

Picture credits. The Old House in Whitchurch: Jaggery / South side of The Olde House, Dodington, Whitchurch / CC BY-SA 2.0; taken from Wikimedia Commons and modified, used, and made available for reuse under the same Creative Commons licence. All Hallows church at Rowton: Photo © Copyright A Holmes; taken from Geograph and modified, used and made available for reuse under a >Creative Commons licence. The Buck’s Head at Long Lane: Photo © Copyright Row17; taken from Geograph and modified, used and made available for reuse under a Creative Commons licence.

A fatal tricycle accident at Waters Upton – Part 1

Fatal Tricycle Accident at Waters Upton
Dying, Not Drunk
A fatal tricycle accident, under most painful circumstances, occurred in the village of Waters Upton, on Tuesday night. A carpenter named Samuel Dodd had been out with a companion, William Matthews, both riding tricycles. On their way they called at the Buck’s Head Inn, Long Lane, after which they returned towards home, Matthews and Dodd parting company at Crudgington Road, the latter proceeding on his way to his lodgings. Later on, Dodd was discovered on the side the road at Waters Upton, with his tricycle on the top of him, and in a partially insensible condition. Matthews and others, including a police-officer, subsequently came up, and arrived at the conclusion that Dodd was drunk. The unfortunate man was, under this impression, left where he fell, and it was not until the following morning that it was found he had sustained serious injuries, when he was removed to the house of Matthews, where he died.
transport - tricycles by Mike Peel (Wikimedia Commons)

Frankby Tricycle dating from 1880-1890 (left) and a Victorian/Edwardian Tricycle (right) at Clitheroe Castle Museum.

So began a detailed report in the Wellington Journal of 15 August 1891 (page 6), on the tragic death of Samuel Dodd three days before. Samuel was not a resident of Waters Upton. He was born at Wrockwardine in Shropshire and baptised there on 18 December 1859 and by 1871 his family had moved to his father’s native parish of Bolas Magna where they remained, with Sam ‘flying the nest’ some time during his 20s to move into lodgings. But Samuel was clearly well known in Waters Upton, his untimely demise took place there, and the events surrounding his death involved several of the parish’s inhabitants. We’re going to get to know some of those people in this story, starting with Samuel’s drinking (and tricycling) buddy.

William Matthews.

When the census was taken earlier in 1891, William Matthews was enumerated as an unmarried, 43-year-old sawyer living alone at Waters Upton. I have found no record of his baptism in the relevant register but William’s first appearance on a census schedule, in 1851, shows that he was the son of William Matthews senior, a cordwainer (or shoe maker), and Ann (née Hobson), and born about 1848. His birth was registered in the first quarter of 1848 at Wellington.

By 1861 William junior, age 13, was a shoe maker like his father, but ten years on in 1871 he was enumerated as an agricultural labourer. Over the course of the next decade he adopted another type of employment, one which he seems to have settled on, as the 1881 census (like that of 1891) shows he was working as a sawyer. He seems to have liked a drop of beer too, an aspect of his life that I will explore in more detail another time.

The Inquest begins

The next resident of Waters Upton to appear in the Wellington Journal’s report is someone else to whom I will have to return in another article. For now, I will simply say that William Abraham Richard Ball appeared on the 1891 census as a 42-year-old tailor, living with his Waters Upton-born wife and children.

An inquest on the body was held at the house of Mr. W. A. R. Ball, Waters Upton, on Thursday morning, before J. V. T. Lander, Esq., coroner, and a jury of which Mr. J. Cornes was foreman.—The first witness called was Thomas Dodd, who deposed: l am a gardener, and live at Bolas Heath. The body which the jury have just viewed is that of my son, Samuel Dodd, who was a carpenter, and 31 years of age. He was living in lodgings at Long Waste. I last saw him alive on Monday morning. Yesterday morning I was sent for to see him at Waters Upton. I came, and found him dead.
I saw Matthews, who said he and the deceased had gone out with their tricycles after leaving work, and went to Long Waste. Deceased stayed to get his tea at his lodgings, and then they both rode to the Buck’s Head Inn, Long Lane. After a time they left together on their way to Waters Upton. Matthews said deceased rode in front of him, and that he thought he had gone to my house at Bolas. He further added that he saw no more of him that night.
Matthews also stated that on his getting up next morning he saw the deceased in his pigsty, and that he was very sorry for it; if he had known what was the matter he should have taken him into his house. I asked Matthews what had killed my son, and he said he did not know. Matthews said they had had no beer except at the Buck’s Head, and that the deceased was not drunk.—[Questioned by] the Foreman: Matthews said they had worked the usual time, and afterwards went to the Buck’s Head.
map - Waters Upton, Longwaste, Long Lane

Map showing locations visited by Samuel Dodd on the evening before he died, including Long Waste, the Buck’s Head at Long Lane (centre of circle, between the fork in the road and the canal), and Waters Upton.

J Cornes, incidentally, was almost certainly Joseph Cornes of nearby Crudgington in the parish of Ercall Magna. Although he never lived within the parish of Waters Upton (as far as I know), he was buried there (in 1897); his gravestone and a little more information about him can be found on his Memorial Inscription page.

Samuel Owen . . .

. . . was the next to give evidence. Although he was recorded (with his wife and three young children) as a resident of Waters Upton on the 1891 census, he had not lived there for long, and would not remain there for much longer either. Born ‘next door’ in the parish of Ercall Magna in 1857, Samuel still had his abode there when he married Rosa Fanny Mary Tanswell at nearby Wellington (where the bride lived, at Street Lane) on 9 September 1884. He was a joiner at that time, and a joiner still in 1891; the fact that his and Rosa’s eldest child Ellen was then, according to the census, 5 years old and born in Waters Upton suggests that the couple settled there very soon after they wed. Their other, younger offspring Emily (3) and Frederick (1) were also born in Waters Upton.

By 1901 however the Owens were living at Walton in Samuel’s native parish, with Samuel’s occupation recorded in the census as “Joiner (Carpenters)”. The same census shows that the next child born into the family after Frederick (aged 11) was 8 year old Rosa junior, at Waters Upton. The births of younger sons Owen, Harold and Charles however, aged 6, 3 and 1 respectively, all took place at Walton, suggesting that they relocated to that hamlet sometime around 1893. With four of the aforementioned children plus another addition, John, the Owen family was still at Walton in 1911. Samuel’s death was registered at Wellington in the last quarter of 1915; he was 57.

Let’s return to the Wellington Journal and find out what Samuel had to say about the events of the evening of 14 August 1891…

Samuel Owen deposed: l am a joiner, and live Waters Upton. On Tuesday night I left home about nine o’clock and went to the Swan Inn. I was returning home by the Post Office when I saw Matthews talking to the stationmaster, Mr. Perceval. I walked up the road with them. Matthews got off his tricycle and pushed it up the bank. At the top of the bank Matthews and the stationmaster stopped talking. I took Matthews’s tricycle and pushed it down the road, and as I came past Miss Walker’s I saw something on the right-hand side of the road, on the footpath, and I went to see what it was.
I found the deceased on the ground, and a tricycle on top of him. The tricycle was bent, and the wheel would not turn. I picked up the deceased and asked if he was hurt, and he replied, “None of your old tricks.” I told him the machine was broken, and he said, “Bother,” or something of that sort. He could walk with my assistance. I helped him to the wall and left him by it. I went to look for his hat, and when I came back I found he had been vomiting. I did not think he was hurt, but that he was drunk.
I went back to Mr. Perceval and Matthews and told them that “Sammy had had a spill.” They asked if deceased was hurt, and I said I thought the tricycle was smashed up more than Sam. Matthews then came with me to where the deceased had fallen from the wall, and was then in a sitting position against the wall. I asked deceased if he was going home, and he said, “Wait five minutes, and then I’ll come.” Police-constable Lee then arrived, and picked the deceased up, and said he thought he was drunk. I tried again to start him off home, but still he asked to be allowed to stop. Matthews was there, but I heard no mention of deceased’s going to Matthews’s house.
I did not know that deceased had been out with Matthews. Deceased made no complaint. I thought he was simply drunk, and that he had run against the kerbstone and upset the machine. Matthews had had beer, but he was not drunk, and seemed capable of taking care of himself. I left him with the deceased, who was then standing against the wall, and Matthews was talking to him. I heard Matthews tell him he had better go home. I quite thought he was starting home when I left. I have seen him before when has been in beer, and have started him home several nights.

The stationmaster

map - Crudgington, Sleap and railway station

Map published 1886 showing Crudgington, Sleap, and Crudgington railway station.

Who was Mr ‘Perceval’ (Percival), the stationmaster? The only other trace of him I found when I searched the British Newspaper Archive was a report in 1889 in which it was mentioned that he sent flowers to the funeral of John Bertie Davies, who had been employed at the station as a telegraph clerk (Wellington Journal, 7 September 1889, page 8). There was a Mr Herbert F Percival living in Waters Upton in 1891, but he was a farmer. The nearby railway station – with its stationmaster’s house – was at Crudgington, situated south of Waters Upton and in the parish of Ercall Magna (the track and the station are now long gone, but the house and a railway bridge remain).

The entry for High Ercall in the 1891 Kelly’s Directory provided me with the answer: the name of the Crudgington stationmaster was actually James Purcell (which reinforces the old saying that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers)! The Wellington Journal did at least get his name right in their edition of 31 October 1891 when they included “Mr. Purcell, the popular and obliging stationmaster at Crudgington” among those who attended a concert at Crudgington. The concert had been organised at James Purcell’s request, to raise money for the Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund of the Great Western Railway. Attendees included Waters Upton residents John Bayley Davies, the rector – and the aforementioned Mr Percival, the farmer.

James Purcell, a Railway Station Master born at Cox Bank in Audlem, Cheshire, was enumerated on the 1891 census at Crudgington. He appears to have knocked a few years off his age for that census – although he said he was 34, in 1881 when he was a stationmaster at Adderley near Market Drayton, he was 27. We get to the truth by going back another ten years to the 1881 census, when James was a railway porter living with his parents and siblings in the place of his birth and his age was given as 19: a son of shoemaker James Purcell and his wife Charlotte, née Worrall, James junior was baptised at Audlem on 6 July 1851.

James’s employment took him to Shrewsbury in 1892, a report in the Wellington Journal of 26 November that year noting that: “Mr. Purcell has been stationmaster at Crudgington for upwards of 12 years [10 years at most in reality!], and his leaving seems to be generally regretted throughout the district.” James Purcell, 44, was still living in Shrewsbury when the 1901 census was taken, and was employed as a railway clerk (or more specifically, as a “Railway Canvasser”). He remained in Shrewsbury and in that employment until his death on 26 March 1912.

> On to Part 2.

Picture credits. Victorian / Edwardian tricycles: Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net); taken from Wikimedia Commons, modified, used and made available for reuse under a Creative Commons licence. Map showing Waters Upton, Crudgington, Long Lane, and Long Waste: Composite image made from extracts of Ordnance Survey One-Inch to the mile map sheets 138 and 152 published 1899, Crown Copyright expired; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. Map showing Crudgington, Sleap, and Crudgington railway station: Extract from Ordnance Survey Six-inch map sheet XXIX.SE published 1886, Crown Copyright expired; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a >Creative Commons licence.

Blacksmiths in Waters Upton – Part 2

< Back to Part 1.

James Ridgway, husband and father

Occupation - Blacksmith (2)

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

— The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published 1840.

James fathered six children in all. His first wife Ann née Jones bore him two daughters and three sons before her death, when aged just 39, on 6 March 1846. Those children were Harriet Ridgway (baptised 30 September 1838), Ellen (baptised 16 February 1840), William (17 October 1841), George (born in 1843, but no baptism record found), and James junior (baptised 26 January 1845).

None of these five children remained in Waters Upton. William did not stray far: like his father he became a blacksmith, but in a move which was the complete opposite of that made by James, he relocated from Waters Upton to Ercall Magna parish. William married Emma Lawley, a daughter of fellow blacksmith Henry Lawley and his wife Jane, who I mentioned in Part 1 of this article. I did promise that I would return to them!

Ellen’s various jobs in service are took her to Staffordshire and Yorkshire, and quite possibly other parts of the country too, before she returned to Shropshire and, like her brother William, settled in Ercall Magna. Ellen did not marry. Her sister Harriet on the other hand wed coach builder Richard Denchfield at Edgbaston, Warwickshire, on 24 May 1868, and lived with him at Balsall Heath.

The Ridgway siblings who moved the furthest however were without doubt George and James junior, who emigrated to New Zealand and became farmers (a story for another time perhaps).

Some five and half years after the loss of his first wife, James Ridgway married Harriet Mayne Knot, daughter of cooper Richard Knott, at Birmingham St Phillips on 3 November 1851. James stated that he was living in Bull Street at the time, but that was likely only a short term residence purely for the purposes of the nuptials.

Ridgway and Knott: Keeping it in the family

Harriet, incidentally, was James’s sister-in-law, his younger brother George Ridgway having wed Harriet’s younger sister Elizabeth Mayne Knott on 29 December 1846, also at Birmingham St Phillips. George, whose baptism at Waters Upton on 30 May 1824 I have already mentioned, followed James’s example and became a blacksmith like their father, but he remained in Cold Hatton.

I wonder how much of a surprise it was when Harriet discovered that she was pregnant and due to give birth to her first child at the age of 42. Charles John Ridgway was baptised at Waters Upton on 15 Apr 1855, and as we have seen he remained with his parents and entered the family business. He was enumerated as John Ridgway, a 16-year-old blacksmith’s assistant, when the 1871 census was taken, and as a fully-fledged blacksmith (26 and still known as John) ten years later in 1881.

Waters Upton MIs - Ridgway, Alfred and Sarah AnnAnother Ridgway family was also living in Waters Upton in 1881, headed by 26-year-old Alfred Ridgway. Alfred was James and Harriet’s nephew and (Charles) John’s double first cousin, a son of George Ridgway and Elizabeth, née Knott. He was a wheelwright, so it is entirely possible that he worked in conjunction with his uncle James and cousin Charles John at the Waters Upton Smithy. Like his uncle, after settling in Waters Upton he stayed there until he died. He appeared on the 1891 census as a wheelwright once more, but the censuses of 1901 and 1911 show that he had broadened his business and became a carpenter and wheelwright.

An entry for the administration of his estate in the National Probate Calendar for 1925 shows that at the time of his death on 2 August that year, his residence was 8 Waters Upton. His wife Sarah Ann, née Woolley, survived him and was still living at Number 8 when the 1939 Register was taken on 29 September 1939. She lived right through the Second World War before following her late husband to grave on Christmas Eve 1945.

Tools of the trade

My searches of the British Newspaper Archive have not so far produced any newspaper reports relating to the Ridgway blacksmithing business in Waters Upton. I have however found items relating to blacksmiths in Shropshire more generally, including the fact that when established rural smiths advertised for men to work for them, they tended to look for those who were “steady”, “used to country work”, and a “good shoer” or a “good nailer on”.

Another notice relating to a sale by auction in 1884 is also of interest, as it consisted of “a Capital Lot of BLACKSMITHS’ TOOLS (in good condition), excellent anvil (nearly new), 4cwt. 1qr. 15lbs; Pair of 36in. Bellows (with frame and piping), 4 Blacksmiths’ Vices, &c., 75 dozen new Horse Shoes (various), a 3ft, 6in. Grindstone and frame, Drilling Machines, and other useful lots.” (Wellington Journal, 12 April 1884, page 1.)

Carry On Smithing: Charles John Ridgway takes over

Waters Upton MIs - Ridgway, James, Anne and HarrietJames Ridgway, blacksmith to the people of Waters Upton from at least 1837,  died on 24 February 1890 aged 78. Did he carry on smithing right to the end? In 1887 he was named as the occupier of “A FREEHOLD HOUSE and BLACKSMITH’S SHOP, with Garden and Appurtenances, situate in the Sandholes, in the village of Waters Upton” when these properties were once again put up for sale by auction. So it is entirely possible that he was still toiling at the forge in his mid-70s. On the other hand, it is perhaps also possible that as the senior Ridgway the occupancy of these properties would still have been under his name even if he had retired.

On James’s death, if not a little before, Charles John Ridgway took over the ‘family business’ and supported his widowed mother Harriet, who lived with him until her own passing on 21 March 1903 at the grand old age of 90.

Under the name John Ridgway, he appeared in the 1891 census and in trade directories for 1891 and 1895 as the blacksmith of Waters Upton. He was not always the only blacksmith in the village during that period. (If you have ever watched Little Britain, incidentally, I need to tell you that in my head I wrote part of that last sentence in the style of one of Matt Lucas’s characters.) An inquest held at Waters Upton in 1890 (about which I will shortly post an article) received evidence from, amongst others, Walter Welsh who began his short statement by saying “I am a blacksmith, and live at Waters Upton.” I suspect he was working at the Ridgway smithy, but had not been doing so for very long as he was not enumerated in the parish on the 1891 census. (He may have been the 22-year-old Walter G Welch living with his parents and a sister at Marbury in Cheshire when that census was taken; both he and his father were blacksmiths.)

By census time in 1901 Charles had reclaimed his original forename, being enumerated as Charles J Ridgway. And having reclaimed his birth name he kept it, appearing as Charles John Ridgway, blacksmith, on the 1911 census and in trade directories for 1909, 1913, and 1917, when he was 62 years old. At what point he retired, I do not yet know. He died, unmarried, at the age of 68, on 11 February 1924, leaving effects valued at £1803 19s 10d. So I think it is fair to conclude that the Ridgway ‘Vulcans’ of Waters Upton lived long and prospered.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

— The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published 1840.

Postscript: After the Ridgways

The only information I have on blacksmiths in Waters Upton after the passing of Charles John Ridgway comes from the 1939 Register. Living at 4 Hanford Terrace at that time was a family headed by John H Leech, born 6 August 1897, occupation “Shoeing & General Smith”. A native of Shrewsbury, by 1911 John Henry Leech was living with his parents and siblings in the parish of Stanton on Hine Heath. Aged 13, he was an apprentice wheelwright. Maybe he switched masters after that and became an apprentice to a blacksmith, or perhaps as a wheelwright he picked up metal working skills which stood him in good stead when he later turned his hand to shoeing and smithing. He died in (or just before) 1982, by which times it appears he had returned to Shrewsbury.

Did John Leech take over from Charles John Ridgway? And was he the last blacksmith of Waters Upton? Who preceded and/or followed him if the answer to either or both of those questions is No? There’s still more to find out before I can close the book on the blacksmiths of Waters Upton.

Picture credits. Blacksmith in his smithy: From an 1885 edition of Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith; taken from the British Library Flickr photostream, no known copyright restrictions. Gravestones of Ridgway family members at Waters Upton: Both photos by Steve Jackson.

Blacksmiths in Waters Upton – Part 1

V is for Vulcan

This article is an extended version of a post I wrote as a contribution to the Society for One-Place Studies’ employment-themed A to Z Blogging Challenge in April 2020. One of the two letters I volunteered to cover was ‘V’. According to an online Dictionary of Old Occupations, “Vulcan [is] a term for a Blacksmith, possibly derived from the name of the Roman god”. So naturally I starting out by explaining: “I know what you’re thinking. I’m a big Star Trek fan, and it would be just my style to work out some way of shoehorning a green-blooded, pointy-eared alien into a one-place studies blog post! But as my Place is earth-bound Waters Upton, that would be illogical . . .”

Occupation - Blacksmith

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

— The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published 1840.

The blacksmith, with his forge, hammer and anvil, is probably one of the first people we think of when considering village occupations – even a village as small as Waters Upton had one. The earliest evidence I know of confirming the presence of one in the parish is a baptism recorded in the parish register covering the early 1600s, when one child’s father was described as a “blakesmith.”

Blacksmiths worked with iron to make everything from nails and horseshoes, and they repaired tools and farm implements, so their importance to the communities they served can easily be imagined. Many also worked closely with wheelwrights, as the wooden components of wheels for carts, wagons and carriages were held together by an outer rim of metal. Originally the metal took the form of strakes, lengths of iron which were nailed to the outside of wheels. In the mid-1800s however strakes were replaced by tyres, each one a single ring of iron made to fit the wheel tightly once it was cooled, with tire-bolts added to ensure it remained in place.

Death of a blacksmith

With the fires in their forges burning all day, blacksmiths were used to working in hot conditions. Not all blacksmiths received a warm welcome at Waters Upton however. On the night of Sunday the 2nd of October 1785 “a very rash and fatal Affair” occurred when a blacksmith from Ruyton with the amazing appellation of Octavius Caesar Augustus Hithcot visited the Waters Upton watering hole of innkeeper John Gower. Unfortunately “an Affray arose about some trifling Matters, when the Landlord took his Gun and shot the Blacksmith dead on the Spot.” Gower then absconded, with a 10 guinea reward on offer for his apprehension. I have yet to discover whether he was ever brought to justice.

The Ridgway family of Cold Hatton

Thankfully Waters Upton’s own blacksmiths, at least in the 1800s, seem to have fared rather better. Prior to the census we can use the parish’s baptism register to trace some of those smiths – but only from 1815 when the new-style printed register (which recorded the occupations of all the fathers named therein) was adopted by the newly-installed incumbent Richard Hill. The first blacksmiths recorded in that register lived in the nearby hamlets of Cold Hatton and Rowton, situated in the adjacent parish of Ercall Magna.

Among the blacksmiths of that parish who had their children baptised at Waters Upton was John Ridgway of Cold Hatton, whose wife was named Ann. Their daughters Sarah and Charlotte were baptised on 27 February 1820, and that joint ceremony was followed by the baptisms of sons George on 30 May 1824 and Robert on 20 March 1827. I will return to the Ridgways later.

map - Waters Upton area, 1833 OS

Map showing Waters Upton and nearby settlements, including Cold Hatton, Rowton and Crudginton.

Humphreys, Fox and Robinson in Waters Upton

The first blacksmith who I can say for sure was a resident of Waters Upton in the 1800s was John Humphreys. He and his wife Elizabeth were living in nearby Crudgington (again in Ercall Magna parish) when their son Henry was baptised at Waters Upton on 22 April 1821. By 25 May 1823 however, when the couple’s next son, Ambrose, was baptised there, the family’s abode was Waters Upton. They were still there when daughter Rachael was baptised on 9 October 1825, but it appears that within a year of this John had moved on and a new arrival was supplying smithing services to the village.

Marianne, the daughter of blacksmith Richard Fox and his wife Elizabeth, of Waters Upton, was baptised at St Michael’s on 11 September 1826. Two years later, on 8 September 1828, the same ceremony was performed for another Fox ‘cub’, Martha. After that, no more Waters Upton blacksmiths appear in the baptism register until 2 March 1833, at which point it seems the village forge was being tended by a Thomas Robinson.

Vickers and Buttery of Rowton and Lawley of Cold Hatton

Another gap follows, during which time it is not clear who the village blacksmith was. Three baptisms for children of two more blacksmiths living beyond the parish boundary are worthy of mention here. On 17 April 1835 Wright Willett, the Curate, seethed as he recorded the baptism of Elizabeth the illegitimate daughter of George Vickers and Ann Buttery of Rowton. He described George as a “Blacksmith & Married Man!!!” and Ann as a “Widow & Sister in law to Vickers!!!” (It looks like the wayward Ann’s late husband had followed the same trade, as Mary, daughter of Joseph Buttery, blacksmith, and Ann, of Rowton, had been baptised at Waters Upton on 12 Sep 1830.)

The other two blacksmith baby baptisms I want to mention are those of Andrew and Ann, children of Henry and Jane Lawley of Cold Hatton, which took place on 8 June 1834 and 27 Mar 1836 respectively. The Lawleys will feature in this article again, in connection with the Ridgway family – to which I will now return.

James Ridgway, blacksmith of Waters Upton

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

— The Village Blacksmith, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, published 1840.

James Ridgway was an elder son of the above-mentioned John and Ann Ridgway of Cold Hatton, and was baptised at Waters Upton on 10 March 1811. He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a blacksmith, and he took his trade with him when he moved to Waters Upton. I don’t know exactly when he ‘set up shop’ there, but he was a resident of the village by 1837 when he married Ann Jones at Cound in Shropshire on 20 June.

The Tithe Commutation records and map for Waters Upton produced in 1837 show that James Ridgway occupied a “House Buildings & Garden” on the North / West side of the village’s main thoroughfare, plus the “Smith’s Shop” more or less directly opposite on the South / East side of the road.

Map - Waters Upton, Church, Smithy and Swan Inn

Map showing the Smithy in Waters Upton, and the house across the road which was occupied by James Ridgway and his family.

In May 1848 the properties occupied by James were put up for sale by auction, and were described as “Lot 2.—All that BRICK and TILE DWELLING HOUSE, erected within a short period, together with the Blacksmith’s Shop, Pent-house, Piggeries, Gardens, Pond, and Croft of Land thereto adjoining, pleasantly situate, and adjoining the Turnpike Road in Waters Upton aforesaid, containing by admeasurement 2R. 11P., now in the several possessions of Samuel Tudor and James Ridgway. This lot is exceedingly well situated for a Blacksmith […]”. The sale did not mean that James’s occupancy of the house and blacksmith’s shop came to end, in all probability the only impact was that he paid rent to someone else afterwards. One question I have, given that the dwelling house was said to be “erected within a short period”, is how long had the blacksmith’s shop been in that location?

Census records (for 1841, ’51, ’61, ’71 and ‘81) and trade directories (for 1851, ’63, ’71 and ‘80) show that James Ridgway remained in Waters Upton, working as a blacksmith, for the rest of his life. The only other blacksmiths I have discovered pursuing the same trade in the village during that time were Henry Cheshire (wife Elizabeth), who probably worked briefly for James and whose son Charles was baptised on 14 November 1848, and James’s son Charles John Ridgway.

> On to Part 2.

Picture credits. Blacksmith’s shop, late 1800s: Painting by Albert Brument; public domain image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Map showing Waters Upton and nearby settlements: This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth; it is used under a Creative Commons licence. Map of Waters Upton showing the location of the smithy: From Ordnance Survey 25 Inch map XXIX.8 published 1901, Crown Copyright expired; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence.