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Manton Tunnel fatalities: John Cockerill & William Hibbert

In yesterday’s blog post, we explored what happened in the accident at Manton Tunnel, Rutland, on 24 May 1924, and the immediate aftermath. In today’s post, we start our look at the men involved and the impacts of the accident, including on their families. For the first of three posts, we look at the two men who died – John Cockerill and William Hibbert.


John Thomas Cockerill (1861-1924)

John Cockerill was born in Northamptonshire in 1861. In 1883 he married Emily Elizabeth. They had two sons, Edward Cockerill, and Frederick Charles Cockerill, born in 1887. We believe he started working for the Midland Railway in the 1890s. By 1901 John, Emily and Frederick were living in Wing; John was a platelayer (a trackworker).

By the 1911 Census, John had been joined on the railway by Frederick, who was also working as a labourer. Boarding with them were two railway colleagues. John and Emily remained living in Wing, although Frederick moved out at some point before the 1921 Census. In the 1921 return, as well as Emily, John listed two guests, one of whom worked on the railway, and two boarders, both working for the Midland Railway.

John joined the National Union of Railwaymen in 1916, through the Oakham branch. He transferred to the Manton branch in 1920 – possibly this was when it was established? Might he have been involved in establishing it? He remained a member until at least 1922. If so, he and his family would have missed out on the securities offered by Union membership, beyond the collective bargaining and representation union membership brought. This included immediate financial support after death, and potentially Union representation at investigations and help in securing compensation.

John died six days after the explosion; he remained in Stamford Infirmary, and Frederick and Emily were with him. He was reported as being conscious until three hours before his death, though he ‘did not appear to have any recollection of the occurrence.’ He was ‘generally respected’.[1] He was buried in St Peter and St Paul churchyard in Wing, close to where he’d lived.

Slightly unkept grave plot, with edge markers though no headstone. Grass and other graves in background, behind which trees and the church itself. A white rose and pink carnation lie on the grave.
John Cockerill’s grave, in Wing churchyard. Other family members are buried here too, a demonstration of the way the men involved in the accident were a part of their community & the area’s past. The edge marker has castings reading ‘John Thomas Cockerill, died May 30th 1924, aged 63.’

Emily died in 1937. Frederick Cockerill continued on the railway as a trackworker, at least until 1939. He and his wife Grace had a son and a daughter. Their son, Herbert, also had a family. We’re fortunate to have met a direct descendant of John Cockerill, Andrew Cockerill, and to have been in touch with Chris Cockerill Jnr, both Great Great Grandsons of John. It seems that there was relatively limited knowledge in the family about John’s accident, other than knowing he’d been involved.

Chris was able to add some further detail. It seems that within days of John’s death, Emily was requested by the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) to send her marriage certificate to Derby. Presumably this was to demonstrate her entitlement to compensation. She would likely have received up to £300 for the death of her husband.

Chris also noted that, as a child growing up in the area, he used to play on publicly-accessible land near Manton tunnel, though without being aware of what had happened. He also noted that as well as the connection to John’s railway service via his father, he also had railway heritage in this area on his mother’s side of the family. Apparently his mother would tell him stories that her father had told her: ‘at that tunnel seeing lit lanterns being waved from inside it but when they investigated nothing was ever found.’

Importantly Andrew and Chris, along with their father, Chris Cockerill Snr, will be part of the gathering held to mark the centenary later this week. We’ll be posting a blog about that gathering at the end of the week. For now, we’re appreciative of the Cockerill family’s help with details of John’s life.


William Henry Hibbert (1868-1924)

William Hibbert was born in Gorton, Manchester, on 5 November 1868. He had an elder brother, John, who joined the railway as an engine cleaner, so he was familiar with the railway as an industry. He joined the railway in 1882.

In 1888 he moved to Peterborough, and in 1893 married Louisa. They had one daughter, Freda Louisa, born in 1898. On the 1911 Census William and his family were living in Peterborough, at 33 Russell Street. His occupation was given as a coppersmith.

William had joined the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) on 17 October 1917, via its Peterborough No. 3 branch. He was listed as a coppersmith, age 49, though appears to have ended his membership in 1920 – like John Cockerill, potentially missing out on the benefits that came at death.

On the 1921 Census the family remained at 33 Russell Street. William was listed as a ‘Railway coppersmith repairing engines’ for the Midland Railway Company, based at the Peterborough Spital Bridge locomotive shed. Whilst Louisa was simply recorded as ‘at home,’ Freda – by this time aged 22 – was a chemist’s shorthand typist, for a chemists based in Cowgate, Peterborough.

William was the only one of the five casualties at Manton who lived outside Rutland. Tragically, he was only on site at Manton by chance. He was doing some preparation work ahead of the relaying scheduled for the following day. He arrived from Peterborough by train, and was walking past the junction to get to a pumping station to make some repairs. Having seen the fire he ‘joined the others with the object of giving what assistance he could’.[2]

William’s brother-in-law, an LMS engine driver, identified the body – only recognisable by his clothes and the papers in his pocket. This included an ‘Oceanic Insurance form issued with a privilege ticket signed by the deceased.’ Though the edges were burnt, it was legible, and insured the holder for £350.[3] This was a form of additional insurance, generally for rail travel, that enterprising firms started in the 19th century. They played upon concerns about the safety of rail travel, offering holders – or their dependents – a payout if they were unfortunate enough to be hurt in a railway accident.

In life William was a keen first-aider, working with the Red Cross during the First World War and with 30 years with St John Ambulance, through the railway. He seems to have been well regarded. At the funeral, one of William’s foremen apparently remarked ‘He was the best workman I had got.’[4]

William was also actively involved in the Park Road Baptist chapel, including as secretary of the Sunday School. The funeral service took place at the chapel, with the interment at Woodston Cemetery. It was well attended, though Louisa was not listed amongst those present – perhaps it was too challenging for her. At least 30 wreaths were laid on his grave, including from his workmates.[5]

At his death, William left £283.7.4 to Freda. In addition to this, and the presumed payout from Oceanic Insurance, Louisa and Freda would almost certainly have received compensation from the LMS, to a maximum of £300. Of course, none of this could not cover the emotional distress, but it might have helped with their financial security. It’s not clear when Louisa died. We know that Freda was lodging with others on the 1939 Register, and still working as a chemist’s clerk. She died, single and without have had children, in 1982.

Given there aren’t any surviving direct descendants, unfortunately we’ve only been able to base this account on the formal documents in which William and his family left a trace. They’re valuable, of course – but they only convey so much, and certainly little of the personal and emotional. What must this period have been like for Freda, William’s daughter, for example? It seems trite to say ‘incredibly tough’ – though of course it must have been. These are, as ever, the aspects which evade the traditional archival or documentary records, and which we know will have died with William, Louisa and Freda.


In the next post in this series, we start our look at the injured men, focusing on Richard Shillaker and Thomas Shillcock.


[1] Grantham Journal, 7 June 1924, p.10.

[2] Grantham Journal, 31 May 1924, p.11.

[3] Grantham Journal, 31 May 1924, p.11.

[4] Peterborough Standard, 30 May 1924, p. 12.

[5] Peterborough Standard, 30 May 1924, p. 12.


  1. Pingback:Manton Tunnel, 24 May 1924 - Railway Work, Life & Death

  2. Pingback:Manton tunnel injuries: Richard Shillaker & Thomas Shillcock - Railway Work, Life & Death

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