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A Young Teenager’s Accident

It’s been a while since we’ve featured a guest blog post, so we’re delighted to return to form with this contribution from long-time project friend Pam Smith. As well as helping us find out more about one of the people featured in our project database as part of our most recent data release, Pam puts the accident to George Featherstone in its local context, linking project data with wider sources. We’re keen to see this kind of work being done – and we’re always keen to hear from you if you’re doing it!


The Railway Work, Life and Death project data revealed a sole and poignant entry relating to the station in Rillington. George William FEATHERSTONE b. 1893, Howsham, had died aged 14 on 27 August 1908, where he was employed by the North Eastern Railway Company (NER). He had been a ‘Casual lad porter’ for 8 weeks. The nature of his fatal casualty due to his ‘thighs run over’ was recorded at 10.20 ‘whilst about the track’.[1] Details of the accident revealed that ‘five wagons were fly-shunted into a siding and due to the falling gradient required to be secured by the handbrakes. Featherstone placed a brake stick over the brake lever but it slipped causing him to fall in front of a wagon. The accident was mainly attributed to Featherstone’s youth and inexperience and it is hoped that the Company will issue instructions that lads less than 16 years old should not be employed in shunting operations’.

Furthermore, George’s death certificate recorded that he was a casual porter. He would have started his working life as an unskilled junior staff member helping passengers with their luggage before starting training to further his career. The cause of his death at York County Hospital on 27 August 1908 was certified as ‘Died from collapse following severe shock and haemorrhage caused by his falling on the Railway Line of the North Eastern Railway at Rillington Station and his legs being crushed by the wheel of a waggon passing over them and that he was accidentally killed.’[2] He was buried at Huttons Ambo two days later on 29 August 1908 and was survived by his parents John and Florence Featherstone and his siblings Harry, Hilda, Doris, Edith, John, Elsie and Frederick.[3] George’s family must have suffered a terrible loss of their young teenage son who was probably working in his first job. His accident and subsequent death was not reported in the newspapers. At the time of the 1901 census, George was living with his parents John, gamekeeper and Florence and three siblings in Village Street, Howsham. [4] Howsham is 11 miles away from Rillington.

Map showing the railway route through Rillington and the local geography.
Fig. 1 York-Scarborough Railway Map
Bill Fawcett – A History of the York-Scarborough Railway
I have tried to trace the copyright owner without success so if anyone feels they have a right to it and don’t want to see it being used, they should get in touch.


A brief history of the York – Scarborough line

The line had initiated in 1845 to open up access to the coast, and was owned by the York and North Midland Railway until 1854 when the North Eastern Railway took over from 1854-1923.[5] Fig. 1 shows the extent of the line from York to Scarborough with a branch line at Rillington heading north to Pickering and then onwards to Whitby.[6] George may well have heard about employment from his family at Huttons Ambo where there was a railway station and where his mother was born.

Black and white photograph, showing Rillington station in Yorkshire. Two railway lines pass through a station with an overall canopy. Staff stand on the platforms.
Fig. 2 Rillington Railway Station c. 1910
Old postcard collection – Pam Smith, Rillington One-Place Study.


Rillington Station

The interior of Rillington Station and signal box is shown in Fig. 2 with a porter waiting under the canopy with a heavy box and a suitcase balanced on a trolley to be transferred onto the incoming train. The case-owner and passenger may be standing close by. A small boy waits on the other side of the platform awaiting the incoming train travelling from west to east. The circumstances of what led up to George’s accident are clear from the RWLD database and expanded on his death certificate. It is also easy to see how anyone standing close to the edge of the platform, could have an untoward event near a steam engine. By the nature of the tragic death of a teenager it is heartening to see that the NER established a protocol which protected their junior staff in the future.


Pam Smith

Pam is a local historian, genealogist and a co-founder of Name and Place. From 2004, she has managed the one-place study of Rillington in North Yorkshire and is a founder member of the Historical Rillington Study Group. Pam is particularly interested in how the coming of the railway in 1845 affected population and societal change in the village as an increase in occupations alongside the railway workers such as brickmakers, publicans, milliners, tailors and cordwainers proliferated to accommodate the growing population.



[1] Railway Work, Life and Death Project – Data Release 19 Jul 2022 Case 845

[2] George William Featherstone, GRO Reference 1908 Sep Q, York, v9d p15

[3] John Featherstone, 1911 England Census,, RG14 28998

[4] George William Featherstone, 1901 England Census,, RG 13/4538

[5] North Yorkshire Moors Railway, Pickering to Rillington – A Brief History, A Levisham Station Group Publication, 2011

[6] Fawcett, Bill, A History of the York-Scarborough Railway, Hutton Press Ltd, 1995

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