Sunday, 10 June 2018

Stand Back from the Platform Edge

April 13th 1857, and nearby the clock shows 6pm. Returning to the station yard, and his job in managing the engine shed, is 42-year-old William McCabe. Having gone home a couple of hours earlier for his tea at his home in Newton, he walked coming along the siding before encountering a shunting engine and thus crossing the up line to the engine shed on the opposite side.


Some twenty years earlier McCabe had lost his leg in an accident when it was crushed by a wagon on the Manchester to Liverpool line. Because of this he wore a wooden leg and no longer worked on the engines but employed in the 'stationary job' in the engine shed. Whether it was the shunter that distracted him, or perhaps the difficulty negotiating the lines with a wooden leg, likely both, but he did not take notice of the warning whistle and shout from Thomas Pattison, the driver of the shunting engine warning of the engine approaching him from behind on the main line. Seconds later he was dead.


Coming along the up line in reverse, tender first, the locomotive travelling at 6mph was but 10 or 12 yards away from McCabe when the shout went up. Hit by the buffer he fell, with his head across the rail. The wheels pushed him along for a short distance before severing his head completely. The first person to reach the body was the driver from another nearby shunter - this man was none other than William McCabe's eldest son.


The body was quickly removed to the Vine Inn, Newton where the inquest was held the next day. A verdict of accidental death was recorded. William McCabe left a widow and six children.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Beaten to Death

In July 1839 Richard Howe is arrested and remanded in Stafford Gaol awaiting trial on the charge of the assault of his wife Mary. It emerged surgeon Mr C Waddell had been seeing Mary for some two years but saw nothing untoward until 25th July 1838 when he saw her when she complained of severe pains in her head, chest and liver. She told the surgeon her husband had caused the swelling to her face, her abdomen and the difficulty in breathing. He diagnosed the problem as inflammation of the pleura.


Next day he returned to find her condition had worsened and, when he returned on the third day, he found her so ill that her life was threatened. Every single day he returned to check on Mary's condition, doing so until August 5th, by which time he considered her out of danger. Yet still Mr Waddell paid regular visits to check on her condition. On 3rd January 1840 he discovered Mary complaining of severe pains in her side and began the daily visits once more, until 21st January, the day of her death.

The post mortem revealed little but an inflammation to the lungs. Both Waddell and Dr Edward Knight of the General Infirmary agreed the death had been due to the injuries she sustained in July the previous year. The court subsequently heard how she had spoken of her husband as a man fuelled by drink, how he crushed her frail body, and pushed her face down against his own chest until she felt she would be asphyxiated. A neighbour spoke of their many rows. How she heard Richard say he would ensure she would "maintain him" and that Mary had replied she had always "maintained him in his idleness". This had resulted in Richard threatening "if you call me idle again I'll split your face!" Soon after she had heard a scream. When she went to see if help was needed she was ordered out by the husband, a scuffle ensued and the neighbour removed from the house, at which time her punched her in the face. Another witness, William Hall, said he had also suffered at the hands of Richard Howe.

The jury retired and found Richard Howe guilty of Wilful Murder. He was hanged for his crime.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Castle Inn Fire

On 2nd November 1838.chambermaid Mary Gardner, cook Harriet Bonner, waitress Mary Ann Rooth, barmaid Caroline Smith and kitchen maids Mary Chatterton and Harriet Buswell had all retired to bed by 1:30am on the Friday morning. About two hours later the alarm cry went up when someone called out FIRE! Landlords Mr and Mrs Webb awoke and, on opening the door to the passage, discovered their path was blocked by the smoke and the great heat. On returning to their bedroom they escaped via the rear window, having attracted the attention of those below.


Initially the proprietors were assured the girls were safe. However, it soon became clear they were most likely still inside. A ladder was found and a search discovered the bodies of the girls. Five of the girls had died as a result of asphyxiation, barmaid Caroline Smith discovered at the top of the stairs with her hands and face badly burned. At the inquest a verdict of accidental death was recorded. The cause has never been understood.  


Four days later one of the most elaborate of public funerals ever seen in Tamworth took place. All the shops closed at 4pm as a mark of respect and to allow the funeral procession to come from the Kings Arms to the churchyard of St Editha's. The streets were thronged with mourners and, despite the vast numbers, all was completely silent. All six were buried in a communal grave, later topped by a memorial paid for by public subscription. The massive funeral costs were covered by their employer, Frederick Webb of the Castle Inn. 

In the 1960s the remains were removed and reburied at Wigginton Cemetery. Close to one corner of the church lies a headstone to William Smith and, as inscribed on that headstone, nearby the remains of his daughter, Caroline.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Guinea Biseau Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Resuming the alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest of Guinea Biseau's settlements.


Bissau, a city named from the island on which the original settlement began, itself probably from the tribe who lived here, and who were named from their former chief. Alternatively it may be a corruption of Bijago, the name of the ethnic group inhabiting this region.


Cacheu is in the region of the Papel people and is a name of Baunuk origin in meaning 'the place where we rest'.


Farim took its name from the title of the local Mandinka people's ruler. Earlier it had been known as Tubabodaga 'the ville of the whites'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Horse Play

On the evening of May 1st 1839, 12-year-old William Dicks had been apprenticed to Stephen Ingram, a surgeon of Stowe in Stafford. Dicks was in the stable bedding one of the mares when Ingram passed and heard the mare plunge. He entered to find Dicks lying on his side about five feet away from the horse's heels. The boy pleaded with him to help him up, saying he was frightened of the horse. Ingram, however, had watched the boy closely and replied "You rascal, you have been teasing the mare several times today".


However he took Dicks into his home and examined him. Clearly from the marks he had been kicked in the belly and had an impact mark on his head, likely from the resulting fall. He undressed the patient, put a poultice on his belly and dressed the head wound before putting him to bed. Later he bled the patient and also gave him a laxative - all perfectly reasonable treatments in early Victorian England. The boy was asleep by 8pm that night and awoke at 4am on the Friday morning when he reported having no pain in either belly or head. Ingram had slept in that same room to watch over him, he gave him more medicine on the Friday morning.

Ingram was out all day but returned at 5pm to find Dicks once again complaining of pains in his belly. He gave him more medicine before going to meet his mother who lived just 600 yards away, bringing her to see her son at about 6pm. In the intervening hour Dicks had moved and was found lying on his side under a hayrick. He maintained Ingram had placed him there despite the belly pains and had been there so long he was cold and very thirsty. He also said Ingram had said he deserved it as it had been his own fault.


Sarah Dicks was, as would be expected, a concerned mother and asked to take her son home with her. Ingram advised against it, so she summoned a Doctor Knight from Chartley who ordered young William be taken straight away to the infirmary. He arrived on the Saturday morning but, despite their care, died on the Monday morning. Post mortem revealed a severe wound to the head but deemed it was the lacerated bowel which had been the cause of death. The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death caused by the mare but censured Ingram saying he had not acted in any degree of professionalism or humanity considering his position.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Sir Francis Lyttleton Holyoaks Goodricke

On Saturday 30th May 1835 outside the Guildhall in Lichfield, Mr W Hand, the Under Sheriff, announced Sir Francis Lyttleton Holyoaks Goodricke had been elected MP for Staffordshire South. This was greeted by cheers which drowned out much of the hisses (note, no booing). The victor spoke of his thanks and reiterated his proposals on which he had been elected. He was then placed on a handsomely decorated chair on which Sir Francis would be transported to a celebratory reception at the Swan Hotel.


Things did not go quite to plan, for almost as soon as he was seated and the seat lifted the crowd's mood changed. Hooting began and accompanied by a rain of apparently rotten eggs. Worse followed when stones were thrown and, when one hit and cut his cheek, he vacated the seat before further injuries followed. The chair carried on its ceremonial route but the new MP and his party arrived at the Swan Hotel by a different route.


Just what gripe the crowd had was never recorded, although perhaps it was something to do with the count - for he had recorded a majority of just 24 votes over his opponent Colonel Anson.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Suicide Note

On the evening of November 1st 1911, Mrs Cole of 33 Stowe Street, Lichfield opened the door to find Master Marshall. The young lad clutched a note marked URGENT which he said had been given to him by a "big boy" earlier that day with instructions not to deliver it until the evening. By now a Mr Griffin, having found a neatly folded jacket and cap on the canal bridge at Shortbutts Lane, had found what he presumed was the owner of the discarded clothing under that bridge having drowned in the canal.


Earlier William Henry Mears, aged just sixteen, had left the offices of Mr C. J. Brown, a solicitor of St John Street, for whom he had worked for the last six weeks. William was the son of a widower but since the death of his mother in Hanley two years earlier had lived with his aunt, Mrs Cole. He had left his employer's offices at 1:30pm that day. When Mrs Cole opened the note she found it contained the following message: "Dear Aunt - I am tired of Lichfield. I am starting with chilblains again and I can't stand it. With best love your broken-hearted nephew, Willie. Give my love to cousin Sarah and all. I have no fault against my aunt. You will find me in the canal up the Birmingham Road. I would sooner die happy than live miserable."


At the subsequent inquest the aunt told of how he had complained of voices in his head and seemed quite stupid. He was deaf in one ear and restless at night. He suffered badly of chilblains the previous year, the discomfort causing him to cut his hand, his ear, feet, legs and arms to rid himself of the torture. With the advent of winter he complained often of how much he feared they would return. It seems he had returned to his aunt's house that afternoon, presumably when he wrote the note. He was seen by his aunt's cook, Louisa Phillips. He brought her a parcel, saying in contained chocolates but when she opened it found it contained shampoo powder. Next to see him was Mr Gilbert who pulled him from the bottom of the canal but he was stone cold.


The coroner in his summing up noted how the note had been dated two days prior to his death but thought this was likely because he had not known the correct date. This seems odd considering how erudite the letter and accurate the punctuation. However he went on to make even more extraordinary comments. Telling of how he had recently sat on another case of a young person committing suicide and wondered if this was not the result of them becoming "overly educated". The coroner also asked if young William had read the newspapers as, if so, could consider this to be further evidence of "a copycat suicide".