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Manton Tunnel injuries: Richard Shillaker & Thomas Shillcock

Our previous blog post on the Manton tunnel explosion of May 1924 explored the lives and families of those men who died, Thomas Cockerill and William Hibbert. This post is the first of two looking at the men who were injured and survived – and it’s uncovered a sad coincidence.


Richard Shillaker (1863-1942)

Richard Shillaker was one of the men born and raised in Manton, living and working in the area his entire life. He was born on 24 July 1863, and in his early working life was a farm labourer. His father, William, was a railway platelayer (track worker), and on the 1881 Census two of the family’s neighbours (a father and son) were also platelayers. Just like William Hibbert, it appears that Richard was familiar with the railways and the idea of railway work, by virtue of his family and neighbours.

By 1891, Richard’s mother had died, and he had his father living with him in Manton, as a boarder. Richard had by this point joined the Midland Railway, as a labourer (probably working on the tracks, potentially alongside his father).

Richard married Elizabeth Ann in 1892; four of their children died in infancy before the 1911 Census. Five children survived – three girls and two boys: Ivy, Alec, Lilian, Walter, and Gladys. Both sons would go to join the railway, as porters. Alec became a member of the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) at its Oakham branch in 1918; Walter also joined the NUR in 1918, at its Desford branch. Was their Union membership prompted by their father? Possibly. He joined the NUR as a platelayer in 1915, via its Oakham branch.

As we know, Richard was injured in the explosion at Manton tunnel. He and the other injured men were important witnesses to the explosion. The inquest into the deaths of Cockerill and Hibbert was postponed until Richard and the others could give their evidence, after a period of convalescence. At the inquest, heard on 31 July 1924, Richard gave evidence which, according to the Leicester Evening Mail, was ‘a story resembling the accounts of the liquid fire attacks during the war.’

At the inquest Richard ‘appeared in court with bandages on’. His evidence was crucial, as he was present at the fire’s ignition point. Understandably, his examination at the inquest focused on whether or not Richard might have carried a light flame, inadvertently, into the oil storage hut. During the inquest Richard ‘admitted that he might have carried the flame on his foot, but he did not see any there.’[1]

After his recovery, Richard appears to have returned to work on the railway, in his old role. In 1930 Elizabeth, Richard’s wife, died. By the time of the 1939 National Register, Richard was described as a ‘retired plate layer’ (age 76) and was living with his daughter Ivy and her husband Matthew Hinman. He died in 1942.

Richard and Elizabeth’s five children between them had six children. As a part of our research into the Manton tunnel accident, we tried to locate any direct descendants – but for three of Richard and Elizabeth’s children the lines appear to have petered out. Frustratingly, there are open questions about whether there were any descendants via the remaining two branches. Lilian May and Francis William Smith were married in the 1930s and had a daughter, Lilian A Smith, in 1935. Other than believing her to still be alive, we have been unable to make contact with her.

It also seems possible that Richard has great grandchildren, via Richard and Elizabeth’s daughter Gladys (1908-1999). After marriage she had three children, though efforts to trace those lines have come to nothing. Having thought we had addresses for all three great grandchildren, we have written to them. However, so far one of those letters has been returned to us without having reached the hoped for recipient. The other two letters are still in the system, or haven’t been returned.


Thomas Shillcock (1878-1941)

We know relatively little about Thomas Shillcock. He was born in October 1878, in Manton. He was another with a railway background: his father, Joseph, and his grandfather, Thomas, were both labourers on the Midland Railway.

Initially Thomas (junior) bucked the trend. On the 1901 Census he was cowman on a farm, albeit still in Manton. However, by 1908 he had reverted to type: in that year he joined the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (ASRS) union Oakham branch as a labourer. By 1911 he had returned to live with his parents; both Thomas and his father Joseph were now given on the Census as platelayers. At some point his ASRS membership had lapsed; he rejoined the union in 1913, shortly after it had become the NUR by merging with some other unions.

Thomas was married in late 1913, to Eliza Mary Cook. They don’t appear to have had any children. Thomas was still working on the railways in 1939, but died in 1941.

The Manton tunnel accident was not Thomas’ first occupational injury. We’ll be bringing records produced by the Midland Railway Company into the Railway Work, Life & Death project as part of a future update to our database of accidents to railway workers. This includes the accident that Thomas suffered on 27 June 1890, near Stamford. He broke a rib ‘by falling down when getting hay on railway bank, in his own time.’ He was injured again on 20 December 1905, when he had his foot bruised by a ‘keying hammer’ (a piece of equipment used to maintain the track).

Posed accident prevention image, showing a railwayman stepping out of the way of one train, but into the path of another approaching on the adjacent line.
Posed LNWR safety image, showing a similar issue to the one which led to the death of Thomas Shillcock snr.

There was a sad corollary to Thomas’ accident at Manton tunnel. It turns out that his grandfather, also called Thomas, was at work on the line at the same point on 28 January 1889. Aged 74, he was working as a point oiler. He moved out of the way of a train leaving Manton station, but ‘he stepped on to the other line and was almost immediately struck down by another train emerging at that moment from the tunnel.’[2] Thomas jnr would have been around 11 years old at the time. Did he know or understand what had happened? Did he later come to think about the accident whilst working at the same spot?


In our next post about the Manton tunnel accident, we turn to the third man injured, George Buckby, including some remarkable contributions from his daughter.


[1] Leicester Evening Mail, 1 August 1924, p.3.

[2] Leicester Journal, 1 February 1889, p.6.


  1. Pingback:Manton Tunnel fatalities: John Cockerill & William Hibbert - Railway Work, Life & Death

  2. Pingback:Manton Tunnel injury: George Buckby - Railway Work, Life & Death

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