Benjamin Emery – a family mystery solved!

We’re really pleased to be able to feature this guest post from Yvonne Kerry. In the course of researching her family history she came across our project – with a useful conclusion for her search! What makes this doubly-pleasing is that Yvonne works in the railway industry today – a family line, perhaps.

We’re always keen for further guest contributions, especially where they make use of our database and wider project materials, so if you’ve an idea do please get in touch!

 

For a number of years on and off I have been researching my family tree. As an adopted child I wanted to get a sense of where my “real” roots lay. Over the course of my investigations I have made contact with a few 3rd and 4th cousins, both in the UK and Australia.

One such cousin contacted me last year. Whilst exchanging potted life stories, the cousin noted the fact that I worked within the rail industry and asked if I knew the story about Benjamin Emery, our mutual great-grandmother’s first husband. (Incidentally, I am descended from the second husband, not Benjamin.)

My cousin related the tale of Benjamin, who had apparently died young by being decapitated by a train. Did I perhaps know how to find out the truth of the tale? I didn’t but I couldn’t resist the challenge! Was it just a myth passed down the generations and embellished as it went?

Armed with the knowledge that Benjamin was a railway employee rather than a member of the public, I carried out internet searches about railway accidents in 1913, the year of Benjamin’s death. I was thinking at the time that Benjamin’s railway career must have been rather short! The 1911 census had him working in the cotton mills, yet he was a dead railway worker just 2 years later. My first round of searches led me to various accident reports but from a rail company  perspective and were very much centred on damage to rolling stock. Although deaths (mercifully none or isolated ones in most cases) were mentioned and counted, no names were given. Also there seemed to be nothing relevant for 1913. I needed something more employee-focused. I tried the Midland Railway Historical Society for assistance but they were unable to provide the details I needed. The initial problem is that neither my cousin nor I had any idea which railway company had employed Benjamin, so where would be a good place to start?

I tried yet more internet searches with different key words, aiming to focus more on employee accidents and the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project came up in my list of results. This turned out to be exactly what I was looking for! Not only was the focus of the study the years 1911-1915 but also the study concentrated on employees. The downloadable spreadsheet enabled me to do a quick search within on “Benjamin Emery” and there it was! Full details regarding the incident and Benjamin’s untimely death.

Brindle Heath junction, c.1915 – a tangle of lines.
Courtesy National Library of Scotland maps

While some of the details provided by my cousin were a little embellished, the crux of the story, a decapitation, turned out to be true. On 16 August 1913 Benjamin had been working at Brindle Heath Junction on the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, loose-shunting bolster-wagons which had started to run away from him. In an effort to regain control, Benjamin had stepped in front of the wagons, lost his footing and fallen into their path. The wagons took off his head as they ran him over. He was just 19.

Without the help of this very precise project I’m not sure that the details of the tale passed down would ever have been accurately verified. As well as the details of the accident, I was able to accurately ascertain which company employed Benjamin and even who had reported his death. Not only is the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project a rich source of information for anyone wishing to carry out genealogical research, it is a historically accurate guide of how poor railway safety measures were in those days! As a current railway employee, I am governed by a mountain of safety regulations. Things have changed dramatically with regards to railway safety in the last 100 years as this study enables us to compare and contrast. I have directed the Midland Railway Historical Society to the study as they may also find it useful.

I would like to say a massive thank-you for this research. In the end I was able to find the answer to a very specific and personally relevant question with ease. I hope that future collaboration may take place for further research and I would be happy to be part of that if the opportunity arises.

 

Yvonne Kerry

 Born in Derby, I had believed myself to be descended from a long line of Derbyshire folk until I started doing family history research,. As it turned out, I was the only member of the family to be born in Derby! Neither parent is originally from  Derby. My birth mother was from the area of Manchester known as Patricroft, part of modern-day Salford. It is approximately 3 miles from Brindle Heath, where Benjamin Emery met his untimely end. She was for a time employed in the cafe at Derby Station. My birth father was a railway shunter  and moved around where there was work. Although details are sketchy, I understand that he shunted coal wagons at Willington Power Station at some point. So, having been born in the spiritual home of railway engineering it was almost inevitable that I would be employed in the rail industry in some capacity. I started off in Midland House, just outside Derby Station as a possession planning clerk for the P-Way department within the old BR, moving up the pay grades into Health and Safety. Things were uncertain after privatisation and I left the railway for a time and retrained as a trainer. I am now back in the rail industry and deliver training courses on specialist technologies and software applications relating to railway gauging and track design. I have been in my current role for over 12 years.

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