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.
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.
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…
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.