In this guest blog post, Sue Page looks at the life & death of her Great Grandfather and the impact it had on his family over a longer period. Sue came along to the workshop session the project put on at Family Tree Live hoping to find out more – hopefully she did about the general area, though sadly we had to say that a great many records wouldn’t cover the case she wanted to know more about. Nonetheless, Sue has been able to track down a great deal of information from a variety of sources – and has been good enough to write it up, here: thanks Sue!
We’re always keen to hear from people about the worker accident cases they’re aware of, especially those which might not have made it into our project database yet – do get in touch, especially if you’d like to put a guest blog post together!
I first became interested in my family history when I discovered a photograph of my Grandfather, Arthur Ernest Page, in 2007. For reasons too complicated to go into, up until this point I had never seen a picture of him, and had not even known his name. The photograph showed him in navy uniform, and on the back was his name, followed the letters “DSM”. Knowing next to nothing about military history, I searched online and discovered that to be awarded a DSM was quite a big thing, and wanting to know more, my research into my family history began.
But this article is not about Arthur, it’s about his father (my Great-Grandfather), George Page, who was killed whilst working on the Midland Railway in 1899.
George was born in Flitwick, Bedfordshire, in 1845, and was one of nine children. His parents were Thomas Page (a one-time Parish Constable) and Sophia Page (nee Sharpe). Flitwick today is a small town, but in George’s day it was a village, and where Thomas and Sophia lived (Denel End) was one of the poorest parts of it. Thomas ran a grocery business in Denel End, and he and Sophia later became the publicans of The Wheat Sheaf public house in Flitwick, which stayed in the family from c1881 until 1922. It remained a pub until very recently, and I was lucky enough to be able to visit it and view my ancestor’s names on a list of previous landlords which was then displayed on the wall. Sadly, the building is no longer a pub, but now houses a Chinese restaurant.
George married Jane Whittington in November 1867, but she died soon afterwards in April 1868. The 1871 census shows George as being back living with his parents at Denel End, and working as an agricultural labourer. In 1874 he married Ann Odell, and they went on to have eleven children, although as was common at this time, not all of them survived to adulthood.
The 1881 and 1891 censuses show George as working as a railway labourer, and further research led to the discovery that he worked as a platelayer for the Midland Railway on the line which ran through Flitwick.
At the time of writing, I have been unable to discover anything more about George’s life (although my research is ongoing) However the circumstances surrounding his death and its impact on his family were reported in the local press, and the articles give us an insight not only into George’s death, but into what life would have been like for him and his family at the time:
Bedfordshire Times & Independent, 27th October 1899
Flitwick – Shocking Railway Fatality
“The manifestations of grief and sorrow with the widow and family of the poor man, Mr. George Page, who was knocked down on Tuesday morning while actually engaged in his daily work, are very deep and sincere on every hand. Deceased was one of those steady, upright, and honest working men whom to know was to respect, and whom one could always rely upon. He was especially looked up to by his comrades. He had been employed on the rail-way ever since the road was opened, and from that date had been a valued and trustworthy servant of the company.
Deceased was nearly 50 years of age and leaves behind a widow and 9 children.” Six “are still at home and are, unfortunately, totally unprovided for”.
Bedfordshire Mercury, 27th October 1899
(Inquest Report, held at the Nags Head Inn, Westoning, the day after George’s death)
Killed on the Line
“George Page, a platelayer on the Midland Railway, who was knocked down and killed by a train, about 8.45 on Tuesday. It appears that when Page started work at six o’ clock on Tuesday morning, he was told to go up the line to tighten some loose bolts. He took with him a long-handled spanner such as is commonly used for bolt tightening on the railway. It is surmised that about 8.45 two trains passed the spot at which he was working, and that the noise and smoke of one prevented him from hearing or seeing the other, and that he was knocked down and killed instantly”
“Eli Aldridge, a ganger, of Westoning, said he was working on the line on the 24th between Westoning and Flitwick. George Page was in his gang. About 8.30 Page was tightening some bolts about half a mile up the line. The spot where he was at work was in the parish of Flitton. About 9 o’ clock witness went up the line and found Page lying dead in the six-foot way of the up goods line. He had evidently been knocked down by a passing train. His head and face were smashed.”
“The jury brought in a verdict of “Accidentally killed by a passing train”.
The jurors gave their fees to the widow, who, it was stated, had been left with a large family.”
Bedfordshire Mercury, 3rd November 1899
“Much respect was manifested on the occasion of the funeral of the late Mr George Page, of Denel End, The Midland Railway platelayer, aged 55, whose accidental death was sympathetically recorded last week. There was a large attendance at the parish church during the burial service on Saturday afternoon”
“The chief mourners were the deceased’s widow, sons, daughters, three brothers, two sisters, brother-in-law, and three nephews. His own gang on the line also followed, and the bearers of his remains were provided from Mr. Sheldrick’s gang”
“Some floral mementoes taken to the grave were most beautiful – “With dearest love from his broken-hearted wife and family”; “For our dear dad from his little boys””
Bedfordshire Mercury, 12th January 1900
“The Midland Railway Company would pay £150 to the widow and family of George Page, who was killed at Flitwick, on certain conditions”
Bedfordshire Mercury, 23rd February 1900
Page v. Midland Railway Co.
“This was a case brought before the Court for the apportionment of £150, which had been paid into court by the defendants on behalf of Mrs. Ann Page, of Flitwick (whose husband George Page was killed on the Midland Railway on October 24th last) and her family, nine in number, seven of whom were dependent on her”
“Mr. G Young (of Messrs Beale & Co, solicitors, of Birmingham) appeared for both Mrs. Page and for the Midland Railway Company, and, after stating that the Company had themselves taken up the woman’s case and consented to pay the amount of damages claimed, he asked the judge to issue an order for the payment to Mrs. Page of £10, for her to pay certain small bills which she had recently incurred for necessaries, and to order the payment to her of 15s weekly until all the money should be exhausted”
“His Honour said that he should have to take time to consider the second request; as to the £10, he would order that.”
Mr. Trethewy, appearing for the Guardians of the Ampthill Union, asked the judge to make an order for the repayment of £3 6s, an amount which had been paid to her in out-relief since the death of her husband; the Guardians, however, would not ask for costs.”
“His Honour made an order for the repayment of the £3 6s out of the amount in court, and expressed himself as pleased that the Guardians did not ask for costs. He then ordered the immediate payment to Mrs. Page of £10 for debts contracted, and a temporary payment of 15s weekly, pending final arrangements which he would make when the Registrar should have given him as full information as was possible about the family – the children’s requirements etc.”
N.B. According to The National Archives Currency Converter, £150 in 1900 was worth the equivalent of £11,725.83 in 2017, and would have been 454 days wages for a skilled worker. 15s was worth the equivalent of £58.63 in 2017, and would have been 2 days wages for a skilled worker.
Luton Times & Advertiser 2nd March 1900
RAILWAY FATALITY SEQUEL – At Ampthill County Court, on Friday week, Mrs. Page, the widow of George Page, a bricklayer, of Denel End, Flitwick, made a claim against the Midland Railway under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1897. Page met his death on Oct 24th, 1899, on the Midland Railway line, a mile south of Flitwick Station. – Mr. G. Young, of the firm of Messrs. Beal & Co., Birmingham, appeared for both the widow and the Company. He said that all the facts were admitted. Mrs. Page claimed £150, and that the Company had agreed to pay. – Mr. A.W. Trethewy, on behalf of the Ampthill Board of Guardians, applied for the sum of £3 6s, the payment of out-relief to the widow since November 13. – Mr. Young said that he did not suppose that the money had been paid into Court. – His Honour ordered the money to be paid over to the Ampthill Union, to come out of the entire fund. – Mr. Young then made an application as to how the £150 was to be distributed. As Mrs. Page had incurred a few debts, amounting to about £10, he suggested that the payment should be £10 down, and 15s a week until the fund was exhausted, which would not be for 182 weeks. He also suggested that the payments should commence immediately . – His Honour said he was not in a position to do that, as he would want to know a few more particulars before. He would refer the matter to to the Registrar to report upon. – Mr Trethewy said that if no order was made at present the woman would be applying for further relief, which would have to be granted, and which would necessitate a fresh application. – His Honour then made an order for the payment of 15s a week until final settlement was made, and in the meantime the Registrar was to look into the particulars, and if he found that bills were owing to pay them up to £10. – No costs were asked for either by Mr. Young or Mr. Trethewy.
Bedfordshire Mercury 13th April 1900
“We understand that Arthur Page, about nine years of age (one of the youngest sons of the late Mr. George Page, a platelayer, who was killed whilst at work on the Midland Railway on the 24th October) has been elected to its orphanage at Derby”.
Luton Times & Advertiser 20th April 1900
COMPENSATION CLAIM – At Ampthill County Court, further consideration was given to a claim by Mrs. Page, widow of George Page, a bricklayer of Denel End, Flitwick, under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1897, Page met his death on October 24th, 1899, on the Midland Railway, a mile south of Flitwick station. At the last Court the Railway Company admitted the claim and agreed to pay £150 as asked for. The application was to decide how the money was to be distributed and the Railway Company suggested the payment of 15s a week. On the advice of His Honour the matter was referred to the Registrar to report upon. On Friday he presented his report and His Honour made an order for the payment of 15s a week to the widow for the maintenance of herself and children until October 12th, when the matter is to be re-considered by the Court.
Arthur entered the Railway Servant’s Orphange in Derby on the 5th April 1900, and remained there until 28th July 1904 (21 days after his 14th birthday). The only record I have been able to find of his time there is that his conduct was described as “very good”. He then returned to Flitwick, where he worked as a Booking Clerk for the Midland Railway until the 28th May 1909, when he joined the Navy as a Sick Berth Attendant. He served in WWI and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his part in the Raid on Zeebrugge in April 1918. He remained in the Navy until 1923, when he was “invalided out”, suffering from shellshock (or PTSD as we know it today). He remained in the caring professions, working firstly as a psychiatric nurse in a private hospital, and then as an ambulance foreman at Ampthill brickworks. He married in 1928, and my father was born later that year. The marriage did not last long.
The reason I tell Arthur’s story at the end of an article about the death of his father, is to illustrate the adversity with which the poor of the late-Victorian era were faced. George Page’s family was both large, and poor, and George’s death must have had an enormous impact on them financially, as well as emotionally. It appears to have taken approximately 6 months for the Court to finalise the decision regarding the payment of any compensation (with a solicitor who was representing both the Midland Railway and my Great Grandmother) and during this time the family were reliant on Poor Relief from the Ampthill Poor Law Union.
George’s wife Ann seems to have been a very strong woman, as although it seems that her financial circumstances remained the same throughout her life, she coped not only with the death of her husband and at least five of her children, but, with the exception of my Grandfather, seems to have managed to keep the family together despite everything. Ann died in 1934 at the age of 81.
To the best of my knowledge, the rest of Arthur’s young siblings stayed at home with their mother, and at present I have no way of knowing what led his mother Ann to single him out from the others and send him nearly 100 miles away to the orphanage in Derby – maybe she saw something in him that made her think he would benefit from leaving Flitwick, and took advantage of the circumstances, or maybe she felt that she had no other option. Although Arthur appears to have triumphed over his adversities, it is clear from my research that he lived with the mental scars of the sudden death of his father and the consequences forced upon him, for the rest of his life. Arthur died of cancer in 1957 at the age of 67.
After a long career as a Depot General Manager in overnight logistics (which I loved) I was diagnosed with cancer. This led to my having to take a year off work for treatment: major surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Although subsequently clear of the cancer, the treatment and ongoing medication have taken a toll on my health and made me look at my life differently, and as result I took the decision to give up my career in favour of a better work/life balance. At the time I was diagnosed I had only relatively recently discovered the picture of my Grandfather, and used my time both during my treatment and after to continue my research. I continue to discover fascinating facts about my ancestors and their lives. At some point during this process, my hobby became a passion, and I am currently studying to become a professional genealogist.
 This is incorrect, he was 55.
 George is mistakenly referred to as a bricklayer instead of a platelayer