Following yesterday’s look at Charles Oakhill, and the railway connections in his family, today we turn to another railway family caught up in the Stapleton Road accident: the Hobbs.
Arthur Hobbs (1897-1921)
Arthur was the youngest of the men to die at Stapleton Road, at only 24. He was a labourer, and the only one of the gang who was unmarried. He also appears not to have joined the National Union of Railwaymen, so we have relatively little information on his railway career.
Arthur was born in the second quarter of 1897, in Flax Bourton. His birth registration gives him as Charles Arthur Hobbs, though the order of his names seems to have been swapped on occasion and he went by Arthur. Possibly this was to distinguish him from the other Charles Hobbs in his extended family – including his uncle, discussed below.
His mother was Emily Jane Hobbs; we haven’t had the opportunity to see if we can locate details of his father, if they are recorded, but it would appear he and Emily were unmarried. Emily appears on the 1901 census as a domestic servant, age 24. She was living in the family home, along with Arthur, age 3, who is noted as the grandson of Emily’s parents.
In 1902 Emily married Jesse Bishop, a widower, in Pilning. What did Jesse make of Arthur? Impossible to say now. Thirteen year old Arthur was listed on the 1911 census as a schoolboy, but not in the same house as his mother. Instead, he was (at least on the night of the census) staying with the Kirwen family at the Friends Meeting House in Bristol. Was this a more permanent arrangement?
Aged nearly 19, Arthur joined the army in Bristol on 28 February 1916. At this point he was living in Pilning, working as an ‘improver to shoeing and general smith’ – a blacksmith’s apprentice. It was these records which provided us with information about Arthur’s family life – and here our thanks to Jane Barton for her help both finding and understanding the military records.
On the rear of Arthur’s attestation record, his mother’s name is recorded as ‘Emily Bishop (maiden name Hobbs)’. This unlocked the puzzle about his mother: as noted, it seems that Arthur was born when Emily was unmarried, so he took the family name. On another sheet, Arthur appears initially to have provided his step-father’s name, Jesse Bishop, as next of kin – but thought better of it, and ruled through it and replaced it with his mother’s details. The military official responsible for the paperwork has followed the mores of the time and added the note ‘recruit illegitimate.’
Arthur was 5 feet 6 inches tall; his religion was given as C of E, which raises questions about the earlier relationships with the Kirwen family and the possible Quaker connections. Arthur’s medical record notes ‘defective teeth and vision of right eye.’ Whilst trying to join the Royal Berkshire Regiment, he was transferred to the Labour Corps – presumably as his eyesight was deemed insufficient to fight. On 20 June 1916 he arrived in France. He remained on service until 18 September 1919, though was punished for overstaying leave in the UK by 5 days in August 1919.
Presumably he joined the Great Western Railway (GWR) after demobilisation. Until the day of his accident, Arthur had been working in the Severn Tunnel. Tunnel work was dangerous (see this blog post, for example). Arthur’s shift at Stapleton Road was reported to be his first in the open air. Apparently ‘his mother was rejoicing in the idea that he had been removed from dangerous work to safe work when the news of the fatality reached her.’ We can only imagine how she must have felt.
His mother and step-father attended his funeral, along with his sister, and other family members. This included his uncle, who was not named in the report in the Western Daily Press, but presumably was Charles Hobbs who’d been injured in the same accident. Representatives of the GWR attended, as did ‘a number of the young man’s workmates, friends and comrades’. Tragically the report went on to say ‘Many of those present at the service went on to Pilning to take part in further proceedings there’ – the euphemistic way of saying the funeral of the four Pilning men killed in the same accident.
In life Arthur was evidently involved in local football, as two nearby clubs, East Compton and Henbury, sent wreaths. He was buried at St Mary’s, Henbury, the church he attended, having been at the harvest festival in the days before his death.
So far as we know, Arthur has no living descendants.
Charles Hobbs (1879–1945)
Charles Edward Hobbs was born in Henbury, on 30 March 1879 to Francis and Mary Ann Hobbs. He had 4 siblings – including Emily Jane, mother of Arthur Hobbs; Charles was therefore Arthur’s uncle. Our thanks again to Jane Barton for helping figure this connection out. It makes the Stapleton Road accident all the more tragic: Charles saw his nephew being killed.
As we know from the 1901 census, they spent at least some time living in the same house: Charles was 22 at that point, Arthur was 3. Charles followed in his father’s agricultural footsteps: Francis was a carter, Charles an agricultural labourer. They were living in Almondsbury.
By the time of the 1911 census, things had changed. In around 1907, Charles had married Martha, and at the census they were living in Pilning. Charles’ father, Francis, had likely died: his mother, Mary Ann, was living with them. Charles had by this point joined the railway, as a labourer. He and Martha don’t appear to have had any children.
Charles survived the Stapleton Road accident, attending the funerals of at least 5 of the 6 men killed. He continued to work on the GWR – what else would he do? He appears in the 1939 register as a permanent way lengthman, living with his wife Martha, in Marsh Common. Charles died in Bristol on 13 December 1945, leaving Martha just under £1000. How must he have coped following the Stapleton Road accident? Such questions are, sadly, lost to us now, but it must have been very difficult – including returning to the same type of work.
Tomorrow’s blog post considers the final man killed at Stapleton Road – Stephen Francis.