This week’s blog post is by guest author Jennifer Bromfield. Via her family history, we can see that she is a part of a ‘railway family’ stretching back several generations at least. Sadly this magnifies the chances of an ancestor having had an accident whilst working on the railway – and in this case, that proved to be true.
We’re grateful to Jennifer for sharing her family’s experiences via this blog post, and warmly encourage others to do so too, if they wish. Please just get in touch with us!
My grandfather Horace Waltham (1877-1918) was killed by a train outside Wimbledon Station on the 11 October 1918 (his eighteenth wedding anniversary). He was employed as a Signalman on the London & South Western Railway (LSWR). A graphic account of the accident appeared in the Wimbledon Borough News on Saturday 19 October 1918:
‘A particularly distressing story was unfolded at an inquest held by Dr W H Taylor at St George’s Hall on Monday evening of how Horace Waltham, 41 years of age, a Travelling Signalman of long service, who resided at 2 Watery Lane, Merton came by his death on the railway on Friday evening last week. Charlotte Sharman, 38 Watery Lane gave evidence of identification, deceased’s wife being in too delicate state to attend. Henry Waltham, retired Railway Signalman, 13 Fairlawn Road, Wimbledon, father of the deceased said his son had been engaged by the Railway Company for 27 years. For five days prior to his death Horace had been working at Medstead station and usually got home between 10 and 11 at night. On Friday night the train was stopped outside Wimbledon station, knowing the line well Horace got out with colleague Thomas Lovatt. They parted company, Thomas turned towards Wimbledon station and Horace going down the line; the 9.13 train from Waterloo to Claygate was passing. [At this point there was some debate as to whether Horace was laying across the line, had he touched the live rail and fallen or was it deliberate? Also he was carrying a sack of potatoes so may have dropped them and was in the process of retrieving them] The night was very dark and he did not carry a lantern. The Motorman of the Waterloo to Claygate train reported feeling a jar as if the train had run over something but this was not unusual. A Shunter found Horace’s food bag close to the signal box then found his body. The cause of death; his spine had been severed resulting in shock and haemorrhage therefore recorded as ‘found dead’.
Horace’s father Henry Waltham (1851-1945) was also a signalman for the LSWR. My father Alfred Stanley (Stan) Waltham (1910-1957) ended his career on the railways as a travelling ticket inspector. Horace’s elder son Leonard (1905-1964) was educated at St Stephen’s Choir School, Westminster. My theory being that this was the result of losing his father.
From the database accessible on the Railway Work, Life & Death project website I was able to confirm that my grandmother Catherine received support from the National Union of Railwaymen following her husband’s death; also the site confirmed date, place and cause of death. There is a tab ‘Orphan Fund’ which would appear to indicate that Stan and Len received support, although they are not named.
My grandmother took her husband’s death badly, possibly because she had lost her first-born, Frankie, age six months, to TB. I grew up knowing all about my father losing his dad at such a young age – he was eight and Len thirteen. Their mother Catherine was forced to return to work; before marriage she had worked in the Still Room at the Bishop’s Palace, Wells, Somerset and got a job as a cook at, I think, Wandsworth Police Station. It was there she met her second husband Albert Langley. They married in 1921 and their son Jack, half brother to Stan and Len, was born in 1922. During WW2 Jack was a Pilot, in 1944 he flew evacuation flights from Burma (Myanmar) to India carrying our lads to freedom from building the Burma railway but that’s another story.
Len worked for the railway between 24 July 1919 and 1927. Details of his employment are sketchy but I think he was a Porter at Motspur Park Station. After working in ‘Munitions’ in Swansea he set up an engineering company.
Dad started work in the office at Waterloo station in 1924 – I think. He refused to join the General Strike of 1926 (see certificate). Over the course of his career he was a Porter, Ticket Collector (at Wimbledon Chase station, where he met my mum) South Merton station, Station Foreman at Streatham Common finishing as a travelling ticket inspector out of Waterloo – where he started. On returning home after an early shift in June 1957 he suffered an aortic aneurism from which he did not survive; I was age twelve. My mother had died two years previously, he had remarried three months before his death.
In 1942 dad was working at South Merton station and organised the Nation War Savings Week for that year. The theme for that year was ‘Wings for Victory’ their aim was to raise £150 but an astonishing £1,130 was raised. £150 would provide uniforms for 24 Airmen but £1,130 would be a substantial contribution towards the £5000 cost of a Spitfire.
During my Dad’s time at Streatham Common station he raised money to provide a bed and fridge for the Southern Railway Servants’ Orphanage at Woking, this would have been during the early 1950s. Fridges were not in common use at the time. Dad took me and a few other employees from the station to the dedication and I was charged with presenting Matron with a bouquet of flowers.
I was offered a place at the orphanage on two occasions, the first after the death of my mother and the second following the death of my father; neither were taken up. I went to live with my Godfather’s family on the first occasion and dad had remarried three months before his death. I have a copy of a letter written to dad’s colleagues at Streatham Common station, they had collected money for flowers for my mother’s funeral and there was some left over which they suggested should be given to me. Dad wrote that with their permission he would send the money to the orphanage as he didn’t want me to benefit from my mother’s death.
Although I grew up in south London, the majority of my life had been in Sussex, we moved here when our daughter was four weeks old. The firm my husband worked for at the time was opening a depot on the south coast enabling us to make the move south. My husband was ordained into the Church of England in 1988, serving in several parishes until his retirement in 2012. I worked in Local Government before the birth of our daughter returning to work as a Library Assistant, my last job was an assistant in a Medical Library.
I remain proud of my Railway heritage.