We’re pleased to be able to feature another guest contribution, from family historian Enid Rispin looking back at the railway ancestors in her family – though with a tragic tale. It helps to illustrate the lasting damage of workplace accidents that stretched beyond the physical – something not generally revealed in the official accident reports, which concentrated only upon the immediate moment of the accident and its physical impacts. As the psychological effects of accidents didn’t make it into the official accounts, the insight provided by Enid’s blog post is helpful in giving us a different perspective on accidents.

We welcome guest contributions that touch on the issues raised by our project – focusing on worker safety in its widest context, including the family impacts of accidents. If you’ve an idea for a post, please get in touch – we’d be happy to discuss it with you.

Working backwards through the records of my Yorkshire family I was surprised to discover that although my great grandparents were married at the Register Office in Great Ouseburn in 1875 both were born near Peterborough – the groom in Helpstone and the bride in Stanground. Census records extended my knowledge and I discovered that my great great grandfather had left his work as an agricultural labourer to become a railway horsedriver. Later census records describe him as a railway labourer. A visit to the area found me halted at a level crossing near Helpstone to wait for a local train and then an express on the East Coast main line from London to Yorkshire. This surely prompted the move of my ancestors in search of alternative work.

Following up on parish registers and census records as well as birth, marriage and death records I was able to continue tracing backwards. The 1891 census showed my great great grandfather without an occupation aged 62 and suffering from ‘gout’.

Peterborough’s Great Eastern Railway station, c.1887

Courtesy: National Library of Scotland Maps.

I was surprised to find his death recorded soon after – in July 1891 – but was totally unprepared to find his death certificate gave the cause of death as ‘hanged himself whilst suffering from temporary insanity’. His occupation was ‘formerly horse driver on railway’. A death of this nature required an inquest and a report was found in the Peterborough Advertiser of 1 August 1891.

The newspaper report was graphic and describes him being ‘found hanging in an outhouse at the bottom of his garden early in the morning, quite dead.’ It explains that ‘For 32 years he had been employed as a shunter on the G.E. Railway, but had been on the sick list for about three years, having met with an accident, and the injuries had affected his head.’ Tragically his body was found by his wife. It was reported that ‘Last week the deceased attended the club feast, and went round the village at the head of the band, wearing his silk sash, apparently in the enjoyment of his usual health.’ His doctor ‘stated that he had attended the deceased for the last 5 or 6 years, and he had been unable to work nearly the whole of that time.’

Reading an old history of Stanground suggests that the ‘feast’ was that associated with St John’s Church and was generally held the first Monday in July. No records for accidents in the shunting yards at Stanground (or Peterborough) have been found but surely this was a railway workplace accident, followed by years of pain and the inability to work and concluding with a desperate way out.

Enid Rispin

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