Yesterday we started introducing the men involved in the Stapleton Road accident. Today we focus on just one man, for whom we have more information: Charles Oakhill.
Charles was born in 1870, to William and Mary Ann. He had 6 siblings, one of whom died in infancy. They were all born in and around the Bristol area: Henbury and Olveston. Ten month old Charles appears on the 1871 census – but his father, William, does not. Instead Mary Ann is listed as a widow. They appear in Henbury again in the 1881 census.
Charles married Elizabeth Maria, known as Minnie (bn. 30 October 1872), in approximately 1898. They appear on the 1901 census living in Almondsbury, with their first child, Hilda, born on 24 December 1899. His profession appears as ‘carrier country’, and is self-employed – in common with others from the accident for whom we have a census return, we can see that he didn’t always work on the railway.
Charles and Minnie’s family expanded: Edward Thomas was born on 7 March 1903 in Pilning, so by this point they had moved. Daisy Ethel was born on 12 November 1905 and their final child Ivy May was born on 7 November 1907. On the 1911 census Charles is still listed as a self-employed carrier.
All change by 12 April 1918, however, when he joined the National Union of Railwaymen, at the Pilning branch, as a labourer on the GWR. And there he remained until his death in 1921, though by this time he was an ‘underman’ (a worker in a permanent-way gang). Charles’ widow and children all attended his funeral, as did at least two nieces and one nephew. Members of the United Ancient Order of Druids ‘formed an archway with their staves as [Charles Oakhill’s] coffin was carried into the church.’
From the 1939 register we have a little more detail about what happened to Charles’ family after his death. His eldest child, Hilda, was living at 25 Clyde Road in Bristol, as a domestic servant. His widow Minnie had moved to Charles’ birthplace, Olveston, where she was living in 1 Woodbine Cottage. She was listed as undertaking unpaid domestic duties. Living with her were her daughter Ivy, who was a shop assistant, and her son Edward – now a shedman on the GWR. He might well have started on the railways before his father’s death – the 1921 census will, early next year, help with that.
On the same page of the register, the Oakhill name caught the eye again. Another Charles Oakhill – as would become evident, the nephew of the Charles Oakhill killed at Stapleton Road. This Charles also worked for the GWR, as a lampman – the Oakhills were fast becoming a railway family.
That wasn’t all, however. We were fortunate in that we contacted St Peter’s church in Pilning, the village near Bristol where Charles, George North, Joseph Barrett and Charles Edmonds were buried. Some years ago, they had done some research and recorded some details known locally about the accident and the local men involved. The lovely Churchwarden, Olwen, was very helpful and told us more – our thanks to her.
The late church organist – who worked on the railways – had married into the Oakhill family, and was able to recount some details of the Stapleton Road accident. Apparently the four men were buried in alphabetical order. Sadly the churchyard was cleared in the 1960s, to make maintenance easier, including removal of many gravestones and memorials. That included the gravestones for the four men killed at Stapleton Road; no-one had come forward to ‘claim’ the gravestones, and so they were moved. Even more sadly, record keeping in the company employed to do the work wasn’t sufficient, and where the gravestones ended up is unknown – as is the exact location of the men’s final resting place.
Better was to follow. Our details were passed along – never under-estimate the power or importance of word-of-mouth – and we received an email from Jonathan Edwardes, the Great Great Great Nephew of Charles Oakhill. It was wonderful to make contact with a relative of one of the men involved in the accident, and to be able to share information. Jonathan, it turned out, had also been a railwayman – as had his grandfather, Victor Oakhill, his great-grandfather William, and his Great Great uncles Charles (the lampman from the 1939 register), Sidney and Joe. Jonathan also noted the supposed alphabetical burial order of the Stapleton Road men, noting that with the grave next to them, their surnames formed the rather unfortunate ‘BONES’. Our thanks to Jonathan for his help and willingness to share.
So far as we’re aware, there aren’t any direct descendants of Charles Oakhill still alive – though if there are and we’ve missed them, please get in touch with us. In the next post, we’ll move on to Charles and Arthur Hobbs – another familial relationship, though sadly Arthur was to die in the accident.