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Stapleton Road: the men, pt 1

Yesterday we discussed the institutional responses to the Stapleton Road accident; from this point onwards, we look more at the personal impacts, on the men involved and their the families.

Sadly for most of the men and families involved, we don’t have too much information. We’d dearly like to know more – about the individual’s wider life stories, about what happened to their families afterwards – in some cases, even just names of widows or children. We start today with 4 men, with the bare details we’ve located – but we absolutely welcome more, so if you have or find any additional information, please let us know.


Thomas Cousins (c.1867-1922)

We start with the one man of the 8-strong gang who wasn’t struck: Thomas Cousins. He appears in the GWR and Ministry of Transport records as T Cozens (his first name isn’t given), but everywhere else as Cousins or Couzens. This kind of discrepancy isn’t unusual, despite the usually efficient nature of railway record-keeping – indeed, it’s a wider issue, beyond the railways. The press initially gave his name as James Cousins for example – presumably scrambling to get information after the accident. Unfortunately we don’t have a photograph of Thomas.

Thomas was born around 1867. He was working on the Great Western Railway (GWR) by 8 October 1915 when, aged 44, he joined the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR), via the Pilning branch. His grade was given as labourer. He might well have been working on the GWR for some time before this – sadly we don’t know for sure. The surviving railway employment records tend to focus on what were at one point seen as the more ‘prestigious’ grades, including the locomotive crews, than on the track worker grades.

Though Thomas survived the accident physically unscathed, it must have been an incredibly difficult thing to have witnessed and been involved in. He attended the funerals of at least 3 of the men who died, when they were buried in Pilning. We don’t know how or why, but he died relatively soon after the accident – either late February or early March 1922. He was buried in the same churchyard as 4 of his workmates who died in the accident, St Peter’s, Pilning. He left a widow and a young family. The report of his funeral noted that the bier (a wheeled truck on which a coffin was placed) was drawn by railway colleagues and that there were ‘many floral tributes.’ It also listed several mourners, including C Hobbs – presumably Charles Hobbs, who was injured in the Stapleton Road accident but survived.


Joseph Barrett (c.1863-1921)

Joseph Barrett, from a press photo of the time.
Joseph Barrett – from the Western Daily Press, 30 September 1921.
(c) Mirrorpix

Joseph was the first man killed in the accident to be buried, at St Peter’s, Pilning. Born in 1863 to John and Ann Barrett, we think he married Annie (nee Hiscox) at St Werburgh’s church on 15 November 1890. He was 58 when he died; he and Annie had no children.

Of all the men involved in the Stapleton Road accident, we have probably the least detail on Joseph’s life. However, the report of his funeral gives us a glimpse. He was reported as ‘a well-known and popular personality in the village [of Pilning].’ His ‘sad fate and that of the others’ had caused grief ‘throughout the district.’ He had clearly played an active part in village life, including the serving on the committee for the Pilning Flower Show in August 1921. At ‘practically every house in the village the blinds were drawn, and the little church was filled with sorrowing relatives and friends.’ Over 100 railwaymen were estimated to have attended Joseph’s funeral, including immediate colleagues and a representative of the management. Given the connection to the Flower Show, there were plenty of floral tributes.

Joseph Barrett's funeral.
Joseph Barrett’s funeral, from the Western Daily Press, 30 September 1921.
(c) Mirrorpix


Charles Edmonds (c.1873-1921)

Charles was the ‘Ganger’ – the man in charge of the permanent-way gang. Unfortunately we don’t have a photograph of him. He joined the National Union of Railwaymen in September 1912, at the Stoke Gifford branch; he was a ‘packer’ – someone who would ensure the ballast underneath the track was firmly in place.

Born around 1873, he might have served with the merchant marine in the First World War. He married Elizabeth Sarah (nee Martin) on 25 August 1900 at St Mary’s, Almondsbury. On the 1911 census he was a labourer on the GWR. They were living in Pilning, with a three-month old adopted son, Ernest Frankeon.

The Edmonds family 1911 census return.
The Edmonds family on the 1911 census.
(c) The National Archives of the UK

Sadly Elizabeth was unable to attend Charles’ funeral as she was (understandably) ‘too ill to attend.’ He was buried at St Peter’s, Pilning. Charles’ sister and three brothers-in-law attended, along with other family members. A master Cyril Edmonds also attended; was this the adopted son, Ernest, renamed and fitted into the family?

Charles was buried in the same ceremony as Herbert George North (discussed below) and Charles Oakhill (discussed here). The report in the Western Daily Press noted

‘widespread sympathy with the relatives was shown not only by the drawn blinds at all the houses but there was a very large gathering at the church and outside, for only a small proportion of those who assembled were able to find room in the church and churchyard, others having to be content to stand in the roadway.’

As with Joseph’s funeral, large numbers of railway workers were present, including Thomas Cousins. At the service, the Rev. JH Homer Green said that the men’s relatives ‘had asked him to say how much they were touched by the loving sympathy of all their neighbours and others further away’ and that ‘the hearts of many were beating in sympathy with those who lived in that little village.’ The Bishop was also going to come and speak the following Sunday, in preference to writing to the families. Homer Green went on that the men were well respected in the area and ‘the whole parish had known and liked them as men who were good-natured and men who did the right thing’.


Herbert George North (c.1874-1921)

George North, from a press photo of the time.
George North, from the Western Daily Press, 30 September 1921.
(c) Mirrorpix

George North was born in around 1874. Again, when he joined the GWR isn’t clear, but on 19 June 1914 he joined the NUR’s Pilning branch, where he was a mason’s labourer. (The mason he worked with, H Bailey, joined at the same time, so presumably he ‘brought along’ George with him.) George’s age was given as 38 at the time, though he must have been 40. Both men transferred to another branch of the NUR in 1917, with no sign of a transfer back to Pilning or a change in his role. This is, however, definitely the right George North, as he is recorded as having died in October 1921 – not quite the right month, but close enough in terms of when news might have reached the NUR record-keepers. From the other information we have, we know he was a labourer in the permanent-way gang.

He left a widow but no children; she attended the funeral, along with George’s two brothers, two married sisters, his uncle and aunt and two nephews.


As will be clear to any family historians or genealogists reading – we’ve only scratched the surface with these men and their families. With more time (and greater expertise!) we could find out more – and we’ll certainly add it as we get it. Do feel free to send us any further detail you are aware of.

The next blog post in this series continues our account of the men involved, looking at Charles Oakhill.

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