Edward Gevaux: one accident in a wider life

In this guest blog post, Peter Bloomfield was able to use our database to add further detail to his existing research into North London Railway (NLR) staff, via the case of Edward Gevaux. There are several other NLR staff that appear in Peter’s database and ours, further demonstrating the possibilities for linking research undertaken for different purposes & drawing on a range of sources. What is particularly nice is that just like our project, Peter’s work drew upon and contributed to the work of family historians.

Sadly Peter died earlier this year, so we’re grateful to him for his research and this blog post, which we feature as a posthumous tribute. His extensive NLR staff website remains an excellent resource, available here.

 

From the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project database, we learn the details of Edward Gevaux’s accident on 8 May 1913. Gevaux was a labourer in a permanent way gang, on this day removing ashes from the space between two of the lines in the mass of track near Haggerston, on the North London Railway. They had a look-out man – someone whose job it was to keep watch for approaching trains and warn colleagues to move out of the way – who did tell the gang about an oncoming train.

The gang, including Gevaux, stepped clear, but for some reason Gevaux moved at the last minute into a position that was in the way of the train. The engine hit him, cutting his forehead. At the Railway Inspectorate investigation Gevaux claimed he’d accidentally left his shovel and basket too close to the line, so stepped forward to move them out of the way, without noting how close the train was. However, according to others in the gang, Gevaux actually resumed work ‘as though he had forgotten that the train was approaching.’ The Inspector, JH Armytage, was suspicious of the accuracy of Gevaux’s account, particularly as Gevaux admitted he didn’t remember why he’d moved into the path of the train until several weeks after the accident.[1]

Haggerston, North London Railway, 1915 – approximate site of Gevaux’s accident.
Courtesy National Library of Scotland maps

The order for Armytage to investigate, for the state, was made on June 11th – by which time the North London Railway had already undertaken its internal investigation. This happened on 19 May – rather more rapid – and concluded much the same as Armytage: that the accident was attributable to momentary forgetfulness by Gevaux. It also noted that Gevaux was ‘promptly conveyed to the Metropolitan Hospital’ for treatment – telling us something about what happened to injured workers in the pre-NHS age.[2]

So much for Gevaux’s accident. Where did it fit in his wider life? We know from census records for 1891, 1901 and 1911 that Gevaux’s father was also called Edward, born in 1862 and employed as a labourer himself. Edward Gevaux (senior) was married to MaryAnn, born in 1858. They had at least 4 children: Edward (born 1887), George (born 1891), William (born 1895) and MaryAnn (born 1898). Intriguingly the surname Gevaux was anglicised in the 1901 census to Gevana, but the previous spelling reappeared in 1911, by which time Edward (junior) was no longer living with his parents.

From army records, we know that Edward enlisted into the Essex Regiment in November 1904, serving until transferred to the army reserve in 1912, at which point it looks like he began his railway career on the North London Railway. During this time he joined the National Union of Railwaymen Bow No. 1 branch on 26 June 1913.[3] He also had his accident, which didn’t stop him being recalled to the colours on 6 August 1914. He served in France, receiving a gunshot wound to his left arm on 9 October 1914.[4] Made up to acting Corporal on 11 December 1914, then acting Sergeant on 7 June 1915, by the time of his appearance before a medical board on 9 June 1916 he was recommended for discharge as he was deemed permanently unfit. What happened after his discharge isn’t entirely clear, but it looks like he returned to the NLR; he appears once more in the NUR’s records in 1920, when on 11 March he was excluded from membership because he hadn’t paid his dues.

At this point the paper trail seems to run out, and Gevaux is lost from sight. Nevertheless, from all of these sources – railway company staff records, army records, census returns, trade union records and of course railway worker accident reports – we get a much fuller picture of the lives of railway staff.

 

Peter Bloomfield’s interest in the North London Railway started as a child and remained with him throughout his life. His working life was spent in the Army, but upon retirement he started spending more and more time at The National Archives, researching the NLR and its staff – particularly the lower echelons. He has amassed details of over 8,800 NLR workers, available via his website: https://www.railwaymen-nlr.org.uk/

[1] State Accident Report, quarter ending 30 June 1913, cd. 7144, Appendix B, p.78.

[2] The National Archives, RAIL 529/84, Officers’ Meeting, 17 June 1913, minute 1378.

[3] Modern Records Centre, NUR records, MSS.127/NU/OR/2/28, f222.

[4] TNA, RAIL 529/33, Board Meeting, 19 November 1914, minute 8152.

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