Yesterday we looked at William Bonehill and his family – another small family, though no less devasting an impact via the death of a husband and father. Today we see the other end of the scale: Edward Sherwood and his large family.
Edward was the only of the Wilmcote men to have travelled some distance over his life in order to reach Wilmcote. He was born around 1879, in Astley Abbotts, Shropshire. His mother was Ann Sherwood; his father, Edward, was a railway platelayer. This made Edward the only of the Wilmcote men who came to the railway with other family members already in the industry.
Or: other members of the family having been in the industry. It looks as though Edward’s father was no longer with his wife by the time of the 1891 census – possibly through separation, possibly through death. Edward Sherwood, along with two siblings, appears in the household of James and Ann Butler. Had his father died (in an accident?), and his mother re-married? What happened to Edward’s other siblings, seen on the 1881 census but not on the 1891 census? Edward was still at school at this point.
In 1901 Edward married Ellen (nee Sargeant, bn 1884), in Shropshire. They appear on the 1901 census in Broseley, Shropshire, with Edward listed as a railway platelayer. Also appearing is their 7-day old son, Edward. Presumably he was one of the two children to have died before the 1911 census, as he didn’t feature and the return recorded three children still living of the five born. By 1911, though, the family is in Wilmcote, and now includes Wilfred John (born 1906), George Harold (born 1907) and Violet Ellen (born 1909).
Over the following 10 years, six children followed, one of who died shortly after the birth, and the other at age 3. Of the living children, we have Ernest H (bn 1911), Denis Sidney (bn 1914), Leslie (bn 1919) and finally Elizabeth (bn 1921). By the time of the accident, therefore, we believe Edward and Ellen Sherwood had seven children.
In terms of his career, he joined the GWR in the late 1890s, according to the evidence from Ellen at the inquest. We know that Sherwood joined the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants trade union, via the Stratford-upon-Avon branch, in April 1912. He did so alongside 18 other men – including Wilmcote neighbour George Booker, who would be killed alongside him in the 1922 accident. He was excluded from the Union for some reason in December 1912, but rejoined the Union in October 1913. By this time it was known as the National Union of Railwaymen, having merged with a number of railway trades unions. We know that Edward served in France in the First World War, as part of the Royal Engineers in one of the railway companies.
Edward’s death left a large family to support. This had evidently been a burden before his death, as the Birmingham Daily Gazette noted that ‘the expense of maintaining a family of seven recently compelled him to cancel the order’ with the newsagent for the Gazette. It went on, to note that of the seven children, Wilfred, as the eldest, was the only wage-earner: 18s per week would have insufficient to support the Sherwood family, particularly as two of the children had some form of health complications.
In terms of what happened to Edward’s family after the accident, from electoral registers, we know Ellen remained in the Stratford area until 1929. After this she and others in the family moved to Somerton in Oxfordshire. From 1930 Ellen appears in reports of local vegetable growing and gardening competitions in the Somerton area. The compensation paid out by the GWR after Edward’s death – £300 – would have been insufficient to support the family, so presumably Ellen had to find employment. Might this have been in some role with the railway?
Railway companies often did make efforts to find disabled employees work – including as level crossing keepers. Ellen appears on the 1939 Register in Somerton as a level crossing keeper. Was she doing something similar in Warwickshire between 1922 and 1929, and the move to Somerton was simply a transfer?
There was a sad coda to this part of the story (as if more sadness were needed). Ellen’s father, William Sargeant, was hit and killed by a train on the level crossing his daughter was in charge of. Apparently after dinner on the evening of 26 April 1935 William went to do some gardening; Ellen told the inquest ‘Soon after I heard a train whistle blow and I went out and found my father lying dead by the side of the line.’ It was possible his hearing problems played a role, particularly alongside background noise from the wind, preventing him from hearing the approach of the train.
Also living with Ellen on the 1939 Register was her youngest son, Leslie, born in February 1919. By this time he was employed as an apprentice steelworks pattern maker. Possibly this was at the Somerton steel works, which had reopened in 1936 to make aircraft parts. It looks likely that Leslie married Barbara Lydiatt in 1941, and that they went on to have two children.
Of the other children, Wilfred might have married Nina P Bennett in 1927, and died in 1932 without having had children. George Harold Sherwood might have died in 1984. Violet Ellen seems to have followed her mother to Oxfordshire, marrying Walter G Reynolds in 1936 and having two children; she died in 1994.
Ernest H Sherwood appears on the 1939 Register as a signalman, so he was another who followed in his father’s footsteps, into the railway industry. It looks like he married Edith M Hudson in 1931, and they had two children.
On the 1939 Register, Denis Sidney Sherwood was a general labourer. Having married M Betty (Bessie) Sykes in 1935, they had at least two children, and possibly a third. Finally, Elizabeth Sherwood might have married Frederick Gallier in 1939, though we are unaware of any further detail about their family.
So – what does all this amount to? Clearly some of it is very sad to read – possibly even distressing. But by bringing it to our attention, it may yet help us to avoid similar issues in the future.
We haven’t been able to locate any living relative of Edward Sherwood – a shame, as we’ve made contact with relatives of the other three men killed at Wilmcote in 1922. The final man, George Booker, is the focus of the next blog post.
 Birmingham Daily Gazette, 27 March 1922, p.3.
 Banbury Advertiser, 2 May 1935, p.1.
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