Death was an ever-present fact of life in the early-twentieth century and many people were concerned that they would have a respectable funeral. In Worsbrough Dale, a number of women from Jarratts Building belonged to the Good Intent Funeral Society. On Sunday 25th January 1903, two waggonettes set off from the Masons Arms, carrying mourners to the funeral of Annie Gawthorpe (nee McQuillan) in nearby Wombwell. Annie, a member of this funeral society, had grown up in Jarratts and most of her siblings still lived there or in the immediate vicinity.
The waggonettes were each licenced to carry eight passengers in the borough of Barnsley, six sitting inside and two on the box alongside the driver. Around 8.30 pm one was driving a group of nine middle-aged women back towards Jarratts. The party included Mary Booth, Eliza Cauldwell, Frances Fallis, Mary Padgett, and Mrs Bennett, the elderly landlady of the Masons Arms. The journey though Stairfoot, White Cross Woods and along Ticket Lane was uneventful and the women would have expected to be home in a matter of minutes.
Disaster struck as the waggonette entered the top of East Street. Initially the mare stood still as the driver, an experienced man named George Dry, pulled on the reins to prepare for the steep descent. Realising something was wrong he applied the brakes to the back wheels just as the normally docile mare bolted down the hill, dragging the heavy waggonette behind her. As it gathered speed sparks flew from the wheels and the alarmed passengers began to shout out in panic telling the driver to slow down. Dry pulled as hard as he could on the reins but to no avail. The horse galloped on into West Street where she mounted the left hand pavement, then, as Dry struggled to head her back into the road, she galloped across onto the opposite pavement. A wheel caught against a kerb stone and the waggonette overturned close to Worsbrough Dale Board School.
Mrs Bennett had jumped out shortly after the carriage went out of control, injuring her legs. The other occupants were all thrown out as it toppled over. Some were knocked unconscious and almost all sustained injuries. Frances Fallis and Mary Padgett each hurt a shoulder. When Eliza Cauldwell gave evidence to the crash investigation three days later she was still in considerable pain from injuries to her head and shoulders.
Tom Horton, a former policeman, witnessed the crash and organised candles and lamps and a party of men to help the dazed and injured passengers. He then noticed a hand sticking out from under the overturned carriage. When it was lifted fifty year old Mary Booth was discovered underneath it, dead. It was thought that she had been flung from her seat next to the driver and into the road. Her neck was broken as she fell.
The coroner enquired at length about whether the carriage was too full. He was shocked to learn that different local government areas applied different standards and that, unlike Barnsley, the West Riding of Yorkshire had no bye-laws to prevent overcrowding of a conveyance. He considered that as there were steep hills on the route to Wombwell the carriage was overloaded given that eight of the nine ladies in the waggon had been described as 'bulky'.
Despite his views about the weight being carried, the coroner concluded that the overcrowding had not caused the horse to bolt. The inquest jury decided that Mary was 'accidentally killed by being crushed under a waggonette, the horse of which was running away.' They complimented George Dry for his plucky conduct in trying to bring the horse back under control. The jurors came to no conclusion about what had caused the horse to bolt, though one piece of oral history about this accident indicates that the mare was hungry as no-one had fed her during the wait to bring the funeral party back.
The Booth family had to cope not only with the loss of a wife and mother in very tragic circumstances, but with the practicalities of living without her. Mary Booth had eleven children and most were living at home when she died. Her husband Arthur was an ailing man who could no longer earn a living and their older sons were working as miners to support the family. They would have expected food, laundry and cleaning to be provided for them. The daughters who were still at home were too young to take over this adult woman's role in 1903. It is likely that Mary's mother-in-law Susan, who lived with the family and was already in her mid-70s, would have had to take responsibility for most of the domestic chores, irrespective of her own state of health and help to bring up the younger children. The consequences of this accident for one family were profound.
This story has been compiled from reports in the British Newspaper Archive and census returns.
It is not clear who the other four passengers were. Newspapers mentioned Mary and Catherine Glover, Charlotte and Martha Hammond, Mrs Rodgers and Caroline Bowering.
Charlie Rouke - A Foolhardy Challenge
There were probably at least a hundred adult males and adolescent boys residing on the Jarratt's site at any time. There seems to have been a competitive spirit between some of them, as evidenced by the number who who had at least one court appearance and fine (often 5 shillings) for low-level gambling at pastimes such as pitch and toss and bounce ball. Occasionally, competitive high spirits led to serious consequences for those involved.
On Saturday 23rd May 1903, Charles Rouke, a miner who lodged at No 26 with his elder brother Harry, went out for an afternoon drink with John Prescott who lodged at No 27. Both men were single and in their late 20s. The afternoon was reported to be pleasantly warm and after a few gills of beer in pubs in Barnsley, the pair returned three miles or so to the Keel Inn at Worsbrough for another drink. The fine weather was probably the reason why the talk turned to swimming and this led to an impromptu contest being arranged after Rouke declared that he was a better swimmer than his companion. They settled on a 50 yard stretch of the Dove and Dearne Canal at Lewden for the race. Prescott must have been acknowledged as a good swimmer because part of the challenge was that he would give Rouke a five yard start.
On their way to the canal they called in at the Mason's Arm for a further drink. The contest attracted the attention of other drinkers in the two hostelries as a small crowd of men accompanied them down to the canal. The group arrived at the canal at 5.30pm and measured out the course which was to end at the bridge over the canal. The race itself began at 5.45pm.
Prescott soon overhauled his rival and easily won by ten yards. Rouke completed the distance, climbed out onto the bank and then decided to jump back into the water where he splashed about for a few minutes. Prescott had continued swimming on his back in the canal and suddenly heard a shout that 'Charlie has gone down' from the onlookers. He immediately swam to try to locate the spot but by that time he was exhausted with his previous efforts and very cold. Some of the crowd helped him out of the water whilst three unnamed watchers leapt in to try to rescue Rouke.
Albert Grist of 12 Jarratts had become involved in the contest as umpire and was called to give evidence to the inquest. He was standing on the bridge when Rouke disappeared under the water. He rushed down from the bridge, tore off his clothes and plunged into the canal, making two fruitless attempts to help Rouke. Like the others he was defeated by the icy water which made it impossible for him to dive down the eleven feet necessary to reach the stricken man. Then he shouted to the onlookers to fetch and cast the safety drags. These located Rouke on the first throw, but he had been underwater for fifteen minutes by that point and was dead when he was finally pulled to dry land.
Grist was quizzed by the coroner about the condition of Prescott and Rouke when they began the contest and confirmed that both were slightly intoxicated and that swimming in the canal was a rash thing to do. Clearly the alcohol that had been consumed was affecting both men who were reported as just getting warm with the beer they had in them and feeling in form for anything. Interestingly there is no indication that anyone in the crowd advised caution or tried to stop the race. It suggests that knowledge about the fact that outdoor water can remain perilously cold on a hot day was not widespread at the start of the twentieth century. Nor was there any appreciation of the risks of contracting a water-borne disease or the dangers of acting under the influence of alcohol.
The Coroner's Jury decided that Rouke had accidentally drowned, probably because of cramp. They also commended Albert Grist for his plucky conduct in risking his own life to try to rescue Rouke.
Whether or not there was any betting on the outcome of the contest is unknown but it seems likely that there would have been. At the inquest, Prescott was the principal witness and he was questioned about this but strenuously denied that gambling was involved. Charlie Rouke's death was a needless tragedy which a bit of common sense amongst the gathered crowd might have prevented. Prescott was doubtless aware that the consequences for himself and others who had gathered to see the race would be draconian if the authorities found any evidence of a wager on the outcome of a reckless race.
Complied by Denise Bates from reports in the Barnsley Chornicle, British Newspaper Archive and Census records.
Bridget Ward - A fiery Irishwoman
The evening of Friday 29th April 1904 probably began as a typical spring evening for the residents of Jarratts. Young men sat outside their lodgings, smoking and relaxing after a day's strenuous shift at the pit. After hours of keeping house, women stood around gossiping and enjoying the fresh air. The atmosphere was shattered around 10.00pm when a police constable arrived, strode purposefully towards No 18 and handed a summons to Bridget Ward. Thirty-two year old Bridget had a fiery temper, a foul mouth and was under the influence of alcohol. The reason for the summons is not mentioned in newspaper reports but probably related to language she had used earlier.
Incensed, Bridget stormed out of her home to find husband Charles and an altercation ensued between the couple. This was overheard by her young brother-in-law John who was relaxing on the doorstep of his own lodgings in an adjacent yard. Bridget was not the only member of the Ward family with a hot temper. When Charles stalked away, John waded into the argument, insulting Bridget by calling her an 'Irish pig'. Unsurprisingly she responded in kind, heaping unrecorded aspersions on her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. John threatened to deal with her if she repeated the vile accusations which she promptly did before retreating indoors.
John sprang up and scaled the wall that separated the dwellings, ignoring the counsels of Emily Cauldwell and Grace McDonald to let the matter drop, and shrugging away the restraining hand of Clara Swift. He dashed to the door of his brother's house, kicking it open, apparently intent on using physical violence against Bridget who was holding an oil lamp that had no glass mantel. A short struggle ensued and then suddenly flames flared a yard above John's head and within seconds his upper torso was engulfed in flames as he fell backwards into the courtyard. By this time several men had arrived to stop the fight. They rolled the burning man on the ground and used their jackets to smother the fire. He was transferred to Becketts Hospital three miles away. It would have been a painful journey given that the skin on his head and upper body was blistered or destroyed, as was his eyesight. The next morning he discovered that he was blind.
Initially Bridget was arrested and charged with grievous bodily harm. Seven days later John died from exhaustion and delirium after giving a statement about what had happened. This was corroborated by statements from Clara Swift, Sarah Cope and John's fellow lodger Abraham Robinson. They all agreed that Bridget had deliberately hit John over the head with a lighted, unmantled oil lamp and then poured the oil over him as he lay in flames. The jury concluded that the cause of death was manslaughter by Bridget Ward. Later that day, at a committal hearing Barnsley's magistrates sent Bridget to stand trial and also approved her application for legal assistance for poor prisoners. An alternative interpretation of events was given by Bridget, that John had hit her and swiped the lamp out of her hand. It is unclear whether the different accounts arose from the angle at which the witnesses had observed the struggle or whether it hints at feuds and networks within Jarratts. Emily Cauldwell, Grace McDonald and Sarah Ann Finan all gave statements to the effect that John had struck Bridget and that the lamp had hit him during the struggle. There seems little doubt that Bridget had poured the remnants of the oil onto the burning man, though she always denied this.
She spent the next three months on remand in Wakefield Jail. At her trial in August, undoubtedly aided by the availability of her lawyer, a fuller account of the struggle was given. Realising that John was coming to attack her Bridget had scurried into her house and picked up a lamp that had a loose cover as she searched for the door key to lock John out. She instinctively raised her hands to protect her face when John began to lash out at her and one of these blows knocked the lamp out of her hand. The oil splashed out and onto his clothes and was set alight by the naked flame.
The jury struggled to reach a verdict, but finally acquitted her, accepting the contention that the fire had started accidentally and that she had had no intention of harming her brother-in-law. Perhaps relevant in the decision was advice from the judge that as Bridget had already spent three months in jail he would not give her a longer sentence if she was convicted. However explosive Bridget's temper and however obscene her normal vocabulary she was able to keep herself under control when it mattered. Her demeanour in court appears to have impressed the judge, and he regarded he expression of remorse as genuine.
A fortnight later the press reported an unusual sequel to the case. Bridget sued Charles for desertion and an order for maintenance. When she returned to Worsbrough after her trial the police had to persuade Charles to let her into the lodgings he had taken. The couple lived together for a matter of days during which time they were thrown out because of their continual rows. Charles took more lodgings for himself but refused to allow Bridget in, claiming that she had threatened to kill him three times in one day and that her temper was so well known that no-one would have her as a tenant. The last sight of this couple in the records was their court appearance when Charles was ordered to pay 7s 6d a week to his estranged wife as maintenance and Bridget was fined 10s for shouting obsenities in the street.
This story has been collated from reports in the British Newspaper Archive.
Sarah Cope - A life of tragedies
Coalmining was a very dangerous way to earn a living, with violent death underground an occupational hazard. The life of Sarah Ann Worrall (later Rathmell and then Cope) exemplifies the repeated hardship that a mining woman might be obliged to face.
Sarah was born in Ulverston, Lancashire in 1852, apparently the only child of a stone mason. By 1861 she was living in Rotherham with her widowed mother. In 1871, she was working as a servant in Kexborough, Barnsley alongside a young man named Joseph Rathmell. They married a couple of months after the census was taken and the date of their son's birth indicates that Sarah was a pregnant bride. The child was named Joseph and although he can be located in later censuses, he appears to have had no contact with his mother. The couple may also have had a daughter who lived for just a few months.
By 1881, Sarah had moved to Pogmoor, a district of Barnsley, and was living as a servant with Joseph Cope and his sons George and Tom who was an unemployed coal miner. Tom was recorded as unmarried, whilst Sarah, who had a young daughter called Jessie, was noted to be a married woman. There seems little doubt that Jessie was Tom's child, indicating a relationship that must have been of at least two years duration already. Sarah had three further children, Mary Ann, Tom and Frank before she and Tom wed in 1887. Frank died a few weeks after the marriage. Two further sons of the marriage lived for just a few months.
In 1881, Joseph Rathmell had moved to back to the area where he had grown up, taking his son with him. In 1881 the boy was living with Joseph's parents. It is not apparent why he and Sarah were living apart or exactly when they separated. Sarah's subsequent marriage to Tom Cope in 1887 was bigamous. It is unlikely this was the innocent error of a woman who believed that she was free to remarry. The marriage register shows that Sarah had given her status as single and avoided declaring her father's name by pretending that she was born out of wedlock. So long as the truth was not discovered, this marriage ceremony meant that Sarah would be recognised as dependant on him, should Tom be harmed at work.
By Spring 1891 the couple were living at No 30 Jarratts but the decade was to be a difficult one for Sarah. Tom Cope was killed at Swaithe Main Colliery in October 1891, after being knocked down and then run over by heavy coal corves, whilst taking a short-cut in contravention of colliery rules. Five years later their eldest daughter Jessie died. More happily their other daughter Mary Ann married Ralph Lang.
Mining widows who lived in colliery houses were usually allowed to keep their home if they took in other miners as lodgers. Sarah immediately became a landlady, opening up her home to strangers, including Wigan miner James Whalley who was a similar age. Censuses for 1901 and 1911 reveal that he was the sole lodger, raising the possibility that they may have cohabited. The 1901 census records two young children in the household who were described as Sarah's son-in-law and daughter-in-law. The elder, Rowland, was born in Spring 1892 and must have been Tom's posthumous child. Ann, who was born in 1894, could not have been his. She died a few months after the census was taken, aged seven.
In 1897, when he was thirteen, young Tom went out to work as a pit boy to help to support his mother. Newspaper reports show that he grew into a popular and typical young man of the time. In 1902, he and three other youths were fined 5 shillings (25p) each for wagering on the game of pitch and toss they were playing. He also attended Bible classes, played for a local football team and was engaged to be married at Christmas 1907.
Shortly before 6am on Friday 15th November 1907, Tom set off for his shift at Barrow Colliery where he was a hanger-on. The work involved helping the men who were hewing coal by loading and moving it and keeping the working area tidy. When the shift finished at 4.00pm the miners were the first to leave the pit whilst the hangers-on cleared up at the coal faces. Tom was amongst the 17 workers who stepped into the last lift of the day, ready to be hauled to the surface.
Within seconds an accident had cost Tom and six other men their lives. When a lift cage was being loaded or unloaded, it was temporarily fastened to the bottom of the mine by hinged sheets of heavy iron which were dropped across a twelve inch (25cm) gap to form a temporary walkway. The sheets were held by spikes that were attached to the cage and they needed to be uncoupled before the cage was raised. Although the operatives at the bottom of the shaft knew the procedure perfectly they were too keen to send the final lift to the surface and gave the winders at the top the signal to begin before releasing the iron footplate. Held at the bottom, the cage tipped at a very acute angle in the lift-shaft as it gradually moved upwards until the force pulled it away from the metal plate. The lift cage then jerked back into its proper position but with such force that Tom was one of seven men who was thrown out of it and plummeted 60 yards to the bottom of the shaft. The men died instantly of fractured skulls and were so badly mutilated that their faces were unrecognisable. Tom's young colleague, Joe Ormston, who lived at No 34 Jarratt's, was also in the lift and survived unscathed.
Having identified Tom's mutilated body, Sarah had to give evidence to the accident inquest which opened on Monday morning. Newspaper reports capture her words and her grief. She was weeping bitterly and seemed barely aware of what was happening. She could say little other than 'my poor, poor lad' which she repeated several times as she was helped from the courtroom, scarcely able to walk without assistance.
Tom was buried at St Thomas's Church in Worsbrough Dale the following day. Thousands are reported to have lined the streets of the mining village and hundreds of miners followed the coffin as it was carried up the hill to the church yard. The funeral was reported to have been delayed by two hours in order to cope with the crowd. Amongst the floral tributes was one from the colliery owners who were also devastated by the tragedy at their pit. The inquest later confirmed that responsibility lay unequivocally with the two men who operated the lift shaft who had been grossly negligent in their duties. They escaped prosecution as it was deemed that criminal negligence was not involved.
In February 1908, Sarah was awarded £160 (approx £15,000) compensation for Tom's death. This seems to be the highest compensation paid for the death of an unmarried man in this tragedy and reflects the loss of the financial support Tom was providing for his family.
It is not unusual for a mining family to experience more than one death at work, and Sarah had more grief to come. James Whalley's health began to fail in the summer of 1912 and one November night he was found dead at his place of work at Barrow Colliery. Sarah told the inquest that he had seemed fine when he set off for the pit. A post mortem revealed that his heart was abnormally enlarged, though the cause of death was given as a stroke. The local doctor had advised him to avoid strenuous tasks a few weeks earlier but Whalley had insisted on going back to work a few days earlier after a period of sickness absence. A man of 53 with no family to support him was in a difficult situation at that time if he was unable to earn his own living.
Sarah's sorrows were still not finished. Her son Rowland volunteered for the army as soon as war broke out in 1914, joining the York and Lancaster Regiment (1st Barnsley Battalion). He died of wounds in Flanders in June 1917. News of his death was conveyed to her at Jarratts in a letter written by Cannon R A Adderley.
"I was with your son and prayed with him a short time before he died. He went very suddenly. He was a very dear boy and was always most grateful for my ministrations. He had Holy Communion twice with me and I believe he died a good soldier of Jesus Christ. He was buried in Etaples British Cemetery. Please accept my deep sympathy in your sad loss and may God Comfort and sustain you."
Sarah Cope died in July 1921 aged 69. She was still living at 30 Jarratts. Of all her children, only one daughter survived her. Mary Ann had a large family of her own, naming some of the children after her father and siblings. Whether Sarah found any comfort for her own losses in her grandchildren is unknown. Coal mines and then the war to end all wars had taken an extraordinarily heavy toll on her.
Sourced from censuses, BMD and military service records, newspapers from the British Newspaper Archive and others held at Barnsley Archives.
Billy Hammond - Ten Minutes of Madness
On Saturday 11th November 1911, Billy Hammond returned to No 10 Jarratts, “brussen (drunk) again”, according to his father, William. Within minutes the elderly man was bleeding to death from a wound to his throat, after Billy took a table knife from a drawer in the kitchen and lashed at his father with it. Such are the bare facts of William Hammond’s death, but what had driven a decent man who had maintained his parents for more than twenty years to commit fratricide?
William Hammond was born in Royston, near Barnsley in 1838 and spent much of his early life moving around the local area with his parents and several siblings. By 1851, he was working as a miner with his father and elder brother. Charlotte Hodgson came from Elsecar, near Worsborough and in 1861, aged 16 she worked as a live-in servant in Barnsley. In May 1865, William and Charlotte were married in Sheffield.
In 1871, the couple were living at Worsborough where William worked as a miner at the Swaithe Main colliery and Charlotte looked after their children, Sarah, Walter and William, known as Billy. Albert, Effie, Elizabeth and Harry were born in the 1870’s and Charley in 1882. An unidentified sibling probably died in infancy as, according to the 1911 census, Charlotte had given birth to nine children.
The family moved around in the 1870’s but had returned by 1881 to live at Ebeneezer Square which was adjacent to Jarratts. They moved into No 10 during the first years of the 1880s. Then tragedy struck. Daughter Elizabeth drowned in an accident on her way home from school in 1885. Around the same time, William became too weak to work. Some years before his left hand had been amputated in an accident at work and he was no longer strong enough to manage with just one. As he became unable to maintain his family, his three eldest boys, Walter (16), William (14) and Albert (12) had to pick up the burden instead. Victorian society expected this from children, and did not provide any public welfare if a parent became too ill to work. The most the family might have received was a discretionary payment from the colliery owners or possibly a small pension from the local miner’s union, if William had subscribed to its sickness fund.
In 1886, Sarah married George Jagger and moved a mile away to Worsborough Bridge. By 1891, Effie (who became Mrs Edwards in 1892) had a job in Barnsley as a live-in servant, whilst the Hammonds had taken in a couple of lodgers. Walter and Billy, were lodging with Sarah and her family which suggests that they were working at the Barrow Colliery. William himself was considered a quarrelsome man, though it is unclear whether this had always been the case or if his bad temper stemmed from frustration caused by his increasing disability.
The 1901 census reveals that Walter was now living at No 3. He had married widowed Martha Glover and was stepfather to her three teenagers as well as the father of two young daughters. William had returned to No 10 and was working as a miner, along with Albert and Charley. Harry was boarding out. William and Charlotte also had a lodger and this, together with the income of their three sons, would have kept the family out of penury. It may also have affected whether any of them could contemplate marriage, especially as there was an additional mouth to feed. Grand-daughter Priscilla Jagger was living with the family. Although she did not have a paid job it seems likely that she was working informally around the house.
By 1911, William and Charlotte were an elderly couple by the standards of the time, and benefiting from the old age pension which had been introduced in 1909. Only Billy and Charley were at home. Harry and Albert had married and moved away from Jarratts. Priscilla, who was now Mrs Fallis, lived next door at No 11 with her husband and baby daughter. Although they were more financially secure, Charlotte still had to contend with problems. Her husband had become even more irritable and difficult to live with and Billy’s personality changed in November 1910 after a fall of coal at Barrow Colliery hit him on the head and cut it open.
Billy’s head was bandaged for four weeks and he had to take time off work. Although the skin knitted together well, below it was a permanent indentation in his head. At that time, a miner’s recovery from injury would have been judged in terms of whether he could work again. It is unlikely that his doctor would have been knowledgeable about the on-going mental or emotional effects of a traumatic head injury, or warned him that the injury he had sustained might have made him more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.
Those close to Billy, and Billy himself, realised that his injury was more than physical damage. Billy had been a quiet but sociable man, but now he sometimes spoke sharply to people. He often sat for hours, staring into space and ignoring those around him. He suffered from headaches and insomnia, perhaps sleeping for just an hour at night. His eyesight had changed and he could no longer read a newspaper by artificial light. Some though that he was more affected by alcohol than previously.
Billy was not a heavy drinker and reportedly he only went to the pub once a fortnight or so. On this evening, when he returned home at 10pm, his parents and niece Priscilla were sitting in the kitchen. As Billy took of his coat and scarf, William said ‘Tha’s come in brussen (drunk) again, tha….’.
His final three words were not printed in newspapers, which alluded instead to an offensive comment. They are on file at the National Archives. The two adjectives used by the old man are now commonplace, but remain obscene to many people. The final word was ‘pig’. As I read them, I was shocked that William could have made such a nasty comment to his son.
This was not the first time William had used abusive language to Billy but for some reason Billy reacted to the comment. Perhaps his head was more than usually painful, or something had upset him whilst he was out. He told William not to say those words again, but William kept muttering insults. Billy turned to the kitchen drawer, picked up a dinner knife and hit William across the face and neck with it. Charlotte had already left the room to fetch help. Priscilla tried to calm Billy but he suddenly had the strength of a madman. Realising that there was nothing she could do, Priscilla ran from the house. Shortly afterwards, alerted by the two women, neighbours Henry Baxter (No 12), Thomas Glover (No 2) and Thomas Brannan (No 8) were in the Hammond’s kitchen, struggling to hold Billy. Frances Fallis, who had heard Priscilla’s screams, was also there.
Billy’s frenzy lasted for less than ten minutes and he always said that he could remember nothing about it. When he became calm and realised what he had done, he asked the men holding him to let him leave the house so he could to go to the canal and end it all. Perhaps expecting that William would survive, they kept Billy in the kitchen until the police and a doctor arrived. William, still alive, was taken to Beckett’s Hospital where he died shortly after midnight.
In the aftermath of the attack, Billy had been arrested for attempted murder. When he appeared before Barnsley magistrates on Monday he faced a charge of murder and was sent for trial at Leeds Assizes. His case was heard on 30th November, when he was convicted and sentenced to death, with a recommendation to mercy by the judge.
Billy was represented in court by Charles Mellor, a barrister who was probably assigned to the case under the Poor Prisoner’s Defence Act of 1903. Mellor appears to have been competent, but his career was undistinguished and there is nothing in newspaper reports or the file at the National Archives which indicates that he was a strong advocate for Billy, whose case was complex. Insanity was an acknowledged defence in law but Billy was not insane, although the head injury had almost certainly affected him. A charge of manslaughter does not appear to have been considered, although the attack was unpremeditated and had no motive beyond a response to provocation. The knife itself was used to hit rather than stab.
The prosecution called Charlotte Hammond, Priscilla Fallis, Frances Fallis, Henry Baxter, Thomas Brannan, Thomas Glover to establish the facts. This must have been doubly distressing for them as they were sympathetic to Billy and it is clear that they tried to add context, by discussing the effect of the head injury, which they believed was the cause of Billy’s sudden loss of control.
Doctor Beverley, who had tried to save William Hammond after the attack, knew Billy’s medical history but had no personal experience of head injury cases and had only seen him that night when he had recovered from his frenzy. He was aware that a head injury could lead to violent behaviour, but thought that Billy must have known that hitting someone with a knife was wrong.
Doctor John Benson Cooke, the Medical Officer at Wakefield Jail, who had examined Billy on 13th and again on 20th November, provided a report about the blow to his head. He acknowledged that injuries to the head such as that which Billy sustained may be followed by violent outbursts of temper with defective powers of control over the actions and impulses. He also confirmed that head injuries could render the brain liable to greater disturbance after alcoholic excesses than would otherwise be the case. Despite all of this, he felt there was not enough evidence to state positively that the prisoner’s head injury had had this effect on him.
Billy had no expert witness who could challenge the report. As Benson Cooke had not seen Billy after he had consumed alcohol he could not know what influence it did have on him. A different barrister might have queried whether there was enough evidence to state positively that the injury had not had any effect.
As soon as Billy was sentenced, his solicitor, ably helped by the Barnsley Chronicle, organised a petition to the Home Secretary appealing for the death sentence to be commuted. Over 10,000 signatures poured in and, after an anxious three weeks (during which a date for execution had been set), the sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. The reasons for this were Billy’s previous good character, provocation by the victim, and the absence of premeditation. When the news was received, Charlotte was allowed to visit her son in Wakefield Jail. It may have been the last time they saw each other. Charlotte died in August 1912, and Billy had been sent to Maidstone to serve his sentence.
Sending a man so far away could make it difficult to maintain contact with family and friends but in this respect the Hammonds and other Jarratts residents were exemplary. Billy’s prison file shows that he regularly received letters from a number of correspondents. Nor were his family and friends ready to accept the situation. Several petitions and pleas for his release were put forward, pointing out that many juries would have returned a verdict of manslaughter and asking how long he would have been kept in jail had that been the verdict. Ten years after conviction the Home Office approached trial judge for his opinion about how long a sentence was appropriate, but he declined to get involved. The Home Office decided that ten years was too short a sentence for murder, but by 1924 they had intimated that if Billy’s conduct remained good, he could be considered for release when he had served twenty years.
The impact of head injury was not officially acknowledged, but, whilst looking at the prison files I formed the impression that the Home Office and the prison officials were embarrassed by Billy’s continued incarceration. He was a model prisoner and only contravened the rules once, by ringing his bell without cause for seven minutes. He enjoyed the outdoors and after periods of jute picking and cleaning, he spent much of his time working in the prison gardens.
Billy’s health deteriorated in jail. He lost weight, and developed severe problems of infection with his teeth and gums. In 1924, his teeth were removed and he was provided with dentures at the public expense as his family were too poor to pay. The cost of this was £7 7s 0d. He also had problems with his vision and had to spend his prison earnings on glasses made up to his prescription as the ones provided by the prison were useless for him.
In 1926, the question of release was raised again and, on this occasion, the Home Office decided that he could be released on licence on 11th November, when he had served fifteen years. Billy intended to return to Barnsley and resume work as a miner. As the miners were on strike in a bitter industrial dispute when the decision to release him was made, I have wondered whether getting a worker back into the pits was a consideration, especially as the standard requirement of reporting regularly to the police was waived.
On 11th November Billy left prison and took a train north. It is not clear what he was wearing. As winter was approaching it had been agreed that he would be provided with an overcoat at the public expense, but the approval was subsequently cancelled.
Around this time Billy was described by a prison official as a decent fellow, but weak. Should do well if helped. The Hammond family were there to help and his plan was to stay in Sheffield with his brother Charley and family. I do not know what happened to him after he arrived in Yorkshire, but I have been told that he never returned to Jarratts, where some of his relatives still lived.
This is one of the most heartbreaking stories I have ever come across and it has not been an easy one to write. The murder of William Hammond cast a shadow over the Hammond family and over the wider Jarratts community for decades. William Hammond might have had a difficult personality, but he did not deserve to bleed to death from a wound inflicted by his son. Billy Hammond was a quiet, hard working, decent man who maintained his parents for years, but his life was blighted by a head injury at a time when knowledge about the effect of such injuries was not great, and he seems more sinned against than sinning. King Coal, this was not your finest hour.
Compiled from newspaper reports accessed at Barnsley Archives and via the British Newspaper Archive, from records held at the National Archives and recollections of former residents of Jarratts.
The picture of William (Billy) Hammond is from The Leeds Mercury Wednesday November 15 1911 Ⓒ JOHNSTON PRESS PLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED and is reproduced with kind permission of the British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).
Pte Peter Finan - A Hero of the Somme
Peter Finan was born in Worsborough Dale in August 1888 and grew up at 19 Jarratts Buildings. Erected as homes for colliery workers in the late-1850s, this densely packed development of 54 back-to-back houses was already past its prime.
Like many children who came from Jarratts at that time, Peter lived in a complex family environment. This was the result of extended families not having enough money to live as separate households and the tendency of widowed men and women to form new relationships as a matter of practicality. A woman often needed the financial security a working man could provide, whilst a working man with children needed someone to look after his home.
Peter's father was John Finan, an Irishman who had come from Galway, via Derbyshire, to work in the local collieries. His mother, Catherine, was from Rotherham and had been married briefly to Worsbrough miner Thomas Stanley with whom she had one son, Richard. Catherine appears to have moved into 19 Jarratts as a housekeeper to widower John, three of his sons and his aunt and uncle shortly after her husband died. By 1887 John and Catherine were cohabiting and after Peter they had a second son before they married in autumn 1891.
John died in 1900 and Catherine took over the tenancy of their home at Jarratts. By 1901, the family consisted of her three sons, one of John's and John's elderly uncle.
Catherine remarried again in 1903, this time to John Bennett, a miner who lived at Jarratts and who moved into No 19. The family were still there in 1911, probably enjoying a reasonable lifestyle as the four men in the family, including Peter, were employed at the colliery. Peter, now 23, had worked his way up to the role of trammer and would have been well on the way to becoming a fully-fledged hewer of coal.
Peter married 18-year-old Phoebe Patterson from Worsborough Bridge in May 1912 and their son, Harold was born in March 1913. When war broke out in 1914, he volunteered for the local PALS regiment which recruited in Worsborough on 1st and 2nd October. He was allocated to the Yorks and Lancaster regiment as a member of the 13th Battalion, serving as 13/318. His records show that he was 5 feet 8 inches tall, and weighed 10 stones. He was described as having a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair and was a member of the Church of England.
He spent the months until December 1915 training in England, during which time he blotted his copy book on a couple of occasions. He was discovered to be absent from his barracks at Ripon at 1.00pm on 23rd August 1915 and to have returned at 10.30pm the following day. There is no indication why he was away but it may be that he travelled to Worsborough for some reason. As a punishment he was confined to barracks for three days and also forfeited three days pay.
On 1st October 1915, the anniversary of signing on, he was involved in a nocturnal incident when an officer unexpectedly visited the barracks and found Peter gambling after lights out. The situation must have escalated as other charges listed were that he did not comply with an order and created a disturbance in the barrack room. This resulted in his being confined to barracks for seven days.
Peter's active service began on 28th December 1915 when he embarked for the Mediterranean at Devonport. He served in Egypt until March before sailing on to France. He arrived there on 11th March 1916.
Peter died on the first day of the Somme, 1st July 1916, probably during the first minutes. It is likely that he was caught in the shelling and blasted into pieces as his body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial. His family first knew that he was missing when they received a letter from Peter's half-brother Richard Stanley. He was serving with the same regiment and immediately wrote home with the worrying news that Peter had not been seen since the start of the attack. Official confirmation followed in the middle of July.
In 1917 Phoebe Finan was granted a pension of 18s 6d for herself and two children. This is something of a mystery at present as BMD records give no indication that Phoebe had given birth to a second child. Possibly the release of the 1921 census will shed light on this. Phoebe herself remarried in 1919.
For the Finan family Peter's death was part of a wider tragedy. Richard Stanley survived the Somme and was promoted to Lance Corporal. He died of wounds in 1917 and is buried at the Medlinghem Military Cemetery in Belgium.
This article has been sourced from BMD records, censuses, military records and newspapers. It was inspired by the picture of Peter that was displayed outside Barnsley Town Hall from July-November 2016 to commemorate the Somme Campaign and the men who gave their lives.