This blog post was produced by University of Portsmouth History student Jenny Leng, as part of her work on the ‘Working with the Past’ module. The module asks students to work in groups on projects and to determine how they will present their findings; it gives them experience outside traditional degree work that will help them with their employability when they graduate. Previous blog posts from Portsmouth students can be found here and here. Our thanks to Jenny for this advance look at our new data, coming next month!
As Portsmouth is my hometown, I thought it only appropriate to research someone from the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project’s new dataset who also lived in the area. I settled on Godfrey Linegar – but that led on to a family connection I had to explore!
Godfrey Elliott Linegar was born in Sussex in 1902 to parents William and Lucy. Although Godfrey was born in Sussex, his accident occurred in Portsmouth. Godfrey did not follow in his father’s footsteps with his career choice – which was something of a break with social convention. His father, William, was a branch retail manager. However, at the age of 17, Godfrey worked in Newhaven as an electrician on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR). There he joined the Newhaven branch of the National Union of Railwaymen. He only remained there for two months in 1919, before moving to Portsmouth, living in Southsea.
He was working at the Portsmouth Town Station (now known as Portsmouth & Southsea station), again as an electrician. Unfortunately, there isn’t any information about why he moved to Portsmouth and his family were all based in Sussex and the surrounding areas.
In April 1922, Godfrey ‘met with fatal accident while at work on a lift on the morning of the 7th.’ (1) Witnesses revealed that, on that morning, Godfrey was tasked with the job of greasing the sides of a goods lift; a lift he had been working with every Friday. The lift was routinely examined that morning and said to be in good working order. A porter had claimed that he had taken at least four journeys in the lift with Godfrey working on top of the cage. Whilst the lift was still moving, Godfrey had looked over the gate to see its progress, and his neck became caught between the lift and an iron bar. The porter had already left the lift when on its lowest level and returned to see that the lift had travelled up. He ran upstairs, saw that Godfrey was still on top of the lift and went to get some spanners to try to remove the bar. There were several witnesses all claiming these were the correct actions needed to help Godfrey.
The inquest heard of an unknown man who was at the time in the lift. He was told by the ticket collector to put his foot on the treadle of the lift yet believed he had not told him to also pull the control rope. The lift worked on a system of treadles and ropes and had these two things been used the outcome could have been very different. Godfrey himself could have also pulled on the control rope to stop the lift.
However, there is a discrepancy within the coroner’s report as it also stated that another man had entered the lift and pulled the rope and pushed down on the treadle. This unexpectedly took the lift four inches higher. Brutally described, Godfrey’s head was jammed between the lift and framework. The inquest was adjourned whilst looking for the unknown man but to no avail. The Company’s engineer, Mr. Greenhaugh, agreed with the Coroner that action should be taken so if the foot did come off the treadle, the lift should automatically stop and therefore prevent such an event from happening again. The Coroner gave the verdict that Godfrey’s death was accidental.
We know from the accident report, to be included in the Project’s forthcoming data release, that the state investigation was critical of the LBSCR. Inspector JPS Main considered it ‘highly desirable that two skilled men’ should undertake similar work where necessary in future. He also saw the current arrangements as outdated – the method of control was out-of-date, and ‘safeguards against improper use are quite inadequate, and the gates are too low. It is, I consider, a matter for the serious consideration of the Company whether steps should not now be taken’ (1922 Quarter 2, Appendix B).
Godfrey’s obituary was filled with sympathetic messages from family, work colleagues and even members of the Portsmouth Railway Band, of which he was a member.(2) Godfrey was buried in Uckfield on 13 April 1922, where both of his parents resided at the time.
During my research, I happened to come across a man named Albert Linegar. With such an unusual name, I decided to see if there was a connection between himself and Godfrey. Albert was born in 1866 in Witley, Surrey. Albert had had many labouring jobs, but in approximately 1902 he became a porter for the London and South Western Railway and was stationed at Guildford. Albert was featured in the local newspaper in 1903 having been witness to an event in which two men had been found guilty of not paying for their train tickets. (3)
On 12 December 1908, Albert was involved in an accident, which also features in the Project’s forthcoming data release. An empty passenger train was being taken back to the Cobham line and Albert was aboard on the last carriage. He alighted the train to run ahead to make sure the points were in the correct position for the train to be set back to into the Cobham line. He slipped on woodwork covering some of the point rods. He fell, landing with his chin on the rail. This was attributed to the woodwork being slippery due to it being wet and was put down to a misadventure (1908 Quarter 4, Appendix B). So, Albert’s experience as a porter had been an interesting one, to say the least!
Delving further into Albert’s family, I found that his parents were called George and Caroline Linegar – the same George and Caroline who were Godfrey’s grandparents. Albert was therefore Godfrey’s great-uncle. In Godfrey’s newspaper obituary, an ‘Uncle Bert’ had left his condolences.(4) This was Albert’s son, also named Albert, and shows the close relationships within the extended family.
Albert (senior) was one of seven children. He had returned to the labouring trade by 1911. Albert had a similar life from Godfrey in that he also stepped away, if only for a while, from his family’s shared occupational choice and both had accidents whilst working as a railwayman, yet Albert had had the chance to marry and have four children. Albert died in 1919, aged 53.
Whilst this research has revealed heartbreak and loss, made more tragic by a death that may have been avoided, it has also allowed a great opportunity to discover connections within a family’s history – highlighting the importance of research. It is apparent that working on the railways in the past was incredibly hazardous, with accidents affecting families as well as those involved. Being a part of this project has allowed me to appreciate these workers and I thank the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project for helping me to bring this family to light.
(1) Sussex Express, 28 April 1922.
(2) Sussex Express, 14 April 1922.
(3) The Surrey Times, 7 November 1903.
(4) Sussex Express, 14 April 1922.