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Charles Bennett Mugford, 1878-1959

In this post, guest author Jane Jarrett outlines her Grandfather’s life and career, including the accident that cost him his arm and changed his life in a variety of ways. It’s another reminder both of the personal impacts of railway accidents and of the ways in which the railway companies treated injured staff. The personal insight Jane offers is welcome, as it helps us understand more about the family and wider connections – the sort of details less commonly featured in the official railway industry records.


Charles was born on 28 September 1878 in St Austell, Cornwall, the tenth of eleven children born to William Trembeth Mugford and his wife Amy, nee Bennett.

He was given the same names as their seventh child who was born on 4 July 1873 but died aged nearly four.

The others were all girls except for two older brothers born in 1864 and 1867.  These two both left Cornwall as young men, one to Illinois USA and the other to Saskatchewan Canada.

Charles played football as a young man and was also in an orchestra as a violinist.  In 1893 he became apprenticed to W. Francis, Engineer, Brass Founder and Blacksmith of Bodmin Road, St Austell. Including a year as a ‘journeyman’ his apprenticeship finished in September 1900 with a handwritten certificate giving an excellent report. During his apprenticeship, he also studied at the St Austell Central Science, Art and Technical Classes in perspective and geometrical drawing.

I understand that he intended to leave Cornwall to work in the railway industry somewhere in South America. The main industry in Cornwall was mining which was in decline at the time. To this end, he obtained an appointment in the Great Western Railway works at Swindon presumably to obtain more relevant railway engineering experience.

I quote now from a report found in two Cornish newspapers of 20 and 21 December 1900:-

“recently, while working a hydraulic press there, his left arm was caught and so severely crushed that it had to be amputated.”

Thus, only about three months after leaving Cornwall, his parents and sisters, his dreams and plans for the future were destroyed.

I could not find any mention of this in the Swindon or Wiltshire newspapers. He would probably have been treated at the GWR Medical Fund Society Hospital near the Swindon GWR works, opened in 1872, although I have found no record of this. In our family it was known that, as was usual at the time, the GWR offered him either a pension or a job on recovery. He took the job, eventually rising to a high position in the costing department where he remained until his retirement. He had been fitted with an artificial arm, which I had seen but in those days it was not functional. The effect was that it appeared that he had one hand in his pocket all the time.

His character was strong and determined; maybe this was born in him or perhaps it stemmed from his accident. Only 18 months after the accident he passed a first stage Machine Drawing exam at the Swindon and North Wilts Technical School; fortunately he was right-handed. He cycled about the countryside on his bike, back-pedalling to brake. In 1907 he married Edith, a young schoolteacher, and in autumn 1908 they had a daughter who was to become my mother. They lived in Swindon until his retirement when they moved to the village of Bishopstone about six miles away and ran a Youth Hostel in part of their home. He was always very practical and I remember in later years he and my father carried out lots of ‘projects’ together.

The day he died he had been watching a TV programme about how people coped with physical handicap; he told his wife that he would write to the producers the next day to tell them what he could do but moments later he had a massive heart attack and he was gone aged 81 years.

I was fifteen at the time and I had loved and respected him. I never asked him about his past life, perhaps I was too young. Sometimes I regret that now; he might have liked to talk about it, I’ll never know.


Jane Jarrett

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