Jonathan Rogers: only a year on the railways

In this guest post, Linda Whitaker has kindly written up the death of one of her ancestors, Jonathan Rogers. His accident was one of the many that took place before records of staff accidents were kept, so it’s great to be able to get some information about his case which otherwise wouldn’t feature in the project – and to have that put in the wider context of his family life, too. As is often the way, newspapers are our best source for cases like Jonathan’s, as are family histories for putting lives into context.

The comment made at the inquest, about riding on the wagons being against the rules but sometimes allowed, is very interesting, and points to a tacit acceptance by supervisory staff of rule-breaking, as it meant the work got done. This remained an issue deep into the 20th century. These sorts of throwaway comments are very revealing about attitudes to the rules and safety, on the part of the managers as much as the workers.

As always, we welcome guest posts – just get in touch with us with your idea!


Jonathan Rogers was the youngest brother of my father’s grandfather, my second great uncle. The family originally came from North Wales and possibly moved (via Liverpool) to Manchester for work. Jonathan’s father Zaccheus was a millwright, as were 3 of his 6 sons (sometimes recorded as engineer or iron moulder).

Jonathan Rogers, born in 1843, didn’t follow the family tradition and seems to have tried quite a few jobs. In 1861 he was living with his mother and working in a yarn warehouse. By 1871 he is listed as a ‘bar retailer’ at the Forresters Arms on Ashton Road in Openshaw, Manchester, and is married to Elizabeth (nee Fletcher, born in 1842) with one child (Ada Fletcher Rogers, born in 1870). Sadly only a year later when he is working as a shunter on the London and North Western Railway he died following an accident at work.

The Manchester Guardian on 7 May 1872 gives a report of the inquest which was held at the Royal Infirmary on the day that he died (6 May). He was found on Friday 3 May at 10pm on the track near Hyde Road Bridge ‘lying on the “four foot” the wheels of a train having passed over his foot’. He said he had been riding on the side of a wagon and fell off.

This would be a survivable injury today but without antibiotics and modern treatment methods it is likely he developed and succumbed to a severe infection or loss of blood. His address was given as St Ann St, Hyde Road, Openshaw.

His widow Elizabeth remarried in 1875 and had further children. Elizabeth Fletcher (Jonathan’s wife) was born in Manchester but her parents were from Peak Forest, Derbyshire and this is where Jonathan was buried. Their child Ada Fletcher Rogers was born in October 1870. Thanks to her middle name I was able to find Elizabeth and Ada in the 1881 census (below) but with the surname Rothwell. This is confirmed by the presence of Elizabeth’s mother – another Elizabeth Fletcher. Elizabeth was married in 1875 to John Rothwell, a coal dealer. So it looks likely that Elizabeth had family support until she remarried, as her parents owned houses in Manchester. She appears to have been more fortunate than others might have been in the same circumstances.

I learned of the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project from Mike Esbester, who spoke at a U3A Family History Conference in Buxton. Following discussion with him I looked back into Jonathan Rogers’ story and found out more about him and what happened to his family after his death.

I found the family grave in the parish church yard in Peak Forest, Derbyshire. It contains memorials to Elizabeth (Fletcher) Rogers’ parents, to Jonathan and to her second husband John Rothwell, herself (she died in 1915 aged 72) and 4 of their children who died very young. Jonathan’s daughter Ada died in 1954 aged 84. Both she and her husband Frederick Hornby and some of their children are buried in the same grave.


Linda Whitaker

I started researching my family history when I retired from the NHS. We had heard lots of stories about my mother’s family but little about my father’s. On interview he remembered an ancestor called Zaccheus Rogers. This made the search into the Rogers family a little easier as Rogers is a fairly common name, often misspelled as in Jonathan’s case. All the family including myself came from London so it was much to my surprise that I found Zaccheus in Manchester and that the family originated from North Wales. My great grandfather George Rogers was a bookbinder and had migrated to London in the mid-1860s. Jonathan Rogers was his younger brother. The Manchester and Lancashire FHS were very helpful in my research and I have also done some transcribing for them. Also the history of the development of the railways in this area is well documented.

I have written the story of the Rogers family and called it ‘Millwrights of Manchester’. It was written for the family but was published in The Manchester Genealogist Vol 50 No.1 2014. It is now out of date however as I have since discovered the Welsh connection through someone in Australia who read the article and wrote to say she had the family bible with the birth of Zaccheus and all his siblings recorded in it! It is so good to find the story behind our ancestors and to find out what happened next. Family history is neverendingly fascinating!

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