Tag Archives: balcombe

Picture Postcard Parade: Balcombe Tunnel, Brighton Railway, Looking South

20 Apr

Continuing on from last week’s postcard, the subject of this postcard is another stretch of the London to Brighton line, but a bit further north than last week’s one.

This is the northern entrance to Balcombe Tunnel, which is between Balcombe and Three Bridges stations in West Sussex. I was intrigued by the number of labourers at work on the railway, with apparent disregard for the train which appears to be emerging from the tunnel mouth (or is that just my imagination). I had a look at an aerial view of the area on Google Maps.


There is a bridge across the railway line just north of the tunnel, although it looks rather overgrown now, and looking at some old maps it looks like it pre-dates this postcard, but it is almost certainly where the photographer of this postcard was standing, but I still can’t quite work out what the labourers are doing. My guess is that they are working on stabilizing the embankment or on some form of drainage.

This is one of the delights of postcard collecting, some postcards were intended to capture events such as fun fairs or accidents, but this one has probably quite unintentionally captured something much more mundane, but just as important. It is most unlikely that the photographer set out to record men at work on the railway, but that is what he ended up capturing.

Ancestral Profile: Mary SMITH (c1807-1891?)

6 Dec

In recent weeks I have been jumping from branch to branch of my family tree when it came to choosing a subject for my weekly Ancestral Profile post, but this week I thought I would follow up last week’s post (featuring George MITCHELL) by writing about his wife Mary SMITH, my 4x great-grandmother.

Although Mary outlived her husband by nearly 50 years I know very little about her, this is not helped by the fact that her maiden name was SMITH and her married name was MITCHELL, neither of which are particularly uncommon. It also doesn’t help that each census return seems to give different information from which to calculate her date and place of birth.

The marriage to George MITCHELL took place on the 29th September 1828 in the parish of Cuckfield, Sussex. As I mentioned last week I haven’t checked the original marriage record for extra information. I also wrote last week that George and Mary had six children:

  1. Eliza MITCHELL (baptised 7th December 1828 in Cuckfield, Sussex)
  2. Mary Ann MITCHELL (baptised 30th January 1831 in Cuckfield, Sussex)
  3. Harriett MITCHELL (born c1834 in Slaugham, Sussex) [my 3x great-grandmother]
  4. Caroline MITCHELL (born Q3 1838 in Slaugham, Sussex)
  5. Alfred George MITCHELL (born 23rd February 1841 in Bolney, Sussex)
  6. William MITCHELL (baptised 14th April 1844 in Balcombe, Sussex)

It seems that her husband George died in October 1844 as the result of being hit by a steam engine, leaving Mary as a widow with six children. The 1851 census shows her as a pauper living in Slaugham, Sussex with her four youngest children.

I haven’t found Mary in the 1861 census, although there are several possibilities. In the 1871, 1881 and 1891 census she is living with (or next door to) her youngest son William and his family, initially in Bolney, Sussex and then Slaugham, Sussex. All of these show her as a widow and only the 1871 lists an occupation, which is “washerwoman”.

Below are the ages and places of birth from the various census years. In 1841 the age was rounded down, but taking the other years it looks like we are looking at a year of birth about 1807 +/- 2 years. All the places are quite consistent, in the same general area in mid sussex within a few miles of each other.

1841 – aged 30, born in Sussex
1851 – aged 42, born Cuckfield, Sussex
1861 – not found yet
1871 – aged 64, born Staplefield, Sussex
1881 – aged 76, born Cuckfield, Sussex
1891 – aged 84, born Slaugham, Sussex

There is a baptism in Cuckfield which seems to fit, Mary SMITH daughter of Samuel and Mary SMITH, baptised on 1 Nov 1807. Unfortunately there is also a Mary SMITH baptised in Cuckfield in 1805 who could just as easily be the one. Clearly more evidence is needed.

It seems likely that Mary died later in 1891. There is an entry in the GRO indexes for the death of an 85 year old in Q3 1891 in the Cuckfield Registration District. All of the parishes listed were in Cuckfield Registration District. I really need to buy the certificate to see if this is my Mary MITCHELL.

There is a corresponding burial in Balcombe, Sussex of an 85 year old Mary MITCHELL on the 19th September 1891. This would make sense if her husband was buried in Balcombe, but it looks like he was buried in Cuckfield. Why would she be buried in Balcombe when the 1891 census has her living in Slaugham? Did she spend her last few months living with someone else in Balcombe? Am I barking up the wrong tree?

Unplugged: “He did not appear to be a bit worse for what he had to drink…”

4 Dec

I mentioned on my Ancestral Profile post on Monday that I thought my 4x great-grandfather George MITCHELL might have been killed in an accident on the London to Brighton Railway, well today I had chance to try and find out more with a visit to the Brighton History Centre.

Once again a local newspaper has proved itself to be an invaluable source, the report below was published in the Sussex Advertiser on Tuesday 5th November 1844. As usual there is not enough detail for me to be 100% certain that this is my man, but I am pretty confident. It is another tragic story, I don’t know why my relations (or in this case a direct ancestor) seem to get themselves in the newspapers so frequently.

FATAL ACCIDENT ON THE LONDON AND BRIGHTON RAILWAY.

An inquest was held on Tuesday last, at the Station Inn Hayward’s Heath, by Alfred Gell, Esq., Deputy Coroner, on the body of George Mitchell, a labourer, on the above railway, who met his death on Saturday, the 26th, in the awful manner shown in the following evidence given at the inquest.

Robert Whaley, sworn-I am an engine driver on the London and Brighton Railway, and live at Croydon. I left Brighton on Saturday night at half-past 11 o’clock with the engine No. 70 of the London and Brighton Railway Company, and arrived at the place where the accident occurred a few minutes before 12. We were in the Folly Hill cutting in the parish of Keymer, [p]roceeding at the rate of 15 miles an hour when I felt a sudden [j]erk of the engine; I said to the fireman that was with me, w[hat] is that, he said we had run over a man, I said that can’t be, he said he was sure of it for he saw a man’s hat fly past the engine, by this time we had stopped the engine and we went back about 30 yards but I could see nothing, my mate said here he is, and I then saw the deceased lying in the ditch which carries the water off from the line; we took him out and placed him by the side of the line, and started off to Hayward’s Heath station for assistance; we then took the body back to the Station Inn; this was about quarter past 12; It was a moonlight night and I could see a long distance before me; I am sure the man was not walking on the line or I must have seen him; my opinion is that he was lying down on the line; it was on the left hand side of the line from
Brighton; the deceased was quite dead when we took him out of the ditch; we had our usual signals on the engine and the deceased must have heard us coming had he not been asleep.

John Wright sworn: I am a fireman or stoker on the London and Brighton Railway; I was with the last witness at the time of the accident, in Folly Hill cutting; I felt the engine jerk and at the same instant saw a man’s hat fly past the engine; I said we have run over a man and Whaley said, “surely not,” we stopped the engine, took the lamp and found the deceased in the ditch.”-This witness corroborated the evidence of the engine-driver in most particulars.

Thomas Spry Byass sworn: I am a surgeon and reside at Cuckfield; about twenty minutes past one, on Sunday morning, I arrived at Hayward’s Heath Station; deceased was quite dead when I got there; I found a large wound in the abdomen, the intestines protruding, which was quite sufficient to cause sudden death; It appeared as if a heavy weight had pressed upon the body; I have no doubt but that deceased was dead in an instant after the accident happened.”

George Pratt sworn: I am a labourer and I live at St. John’s common; I saw deceased at Ellis’s Beer Shop, at Burgess Hill about nine o clock on Saturday night, and we drank together, he had one pint of beer when he first came in and had one glass with me; we then went to another beer shop, the New Anchor, kept by Agate, also at Burgess Hill; we stopped there till ten o’clock, during which time we had three pints of ale between us; I walked with deceased to Cants Bridge, which crosses the Railway; I asked him if he was going home and he said yes, but he did not want to get home till mid-night as there was a warrant out against him for poaching, and he has been away from home some time. He was working on the Line between Burgess Hill and The Hassocks; the deceased’s wife and family live at Balcombe, and I last saw him walking in that direction, on the Line, about two miles from Folly Cutting. He did not appear to be a bit worse for what he had to drink; I have known him for some years.”-

Verdict: that deceased was accidentally killed by the engine No. 70, of the London and Brighton Railway Company, passing over his body, and that there was no evidence to shew in what position deceased was in at the time the engine came up to him. Fine one [shill]ing on the engine.

Im[med]iately after the inquest, a subscription was entered into by the [c]oroner and Jury on behalf of the widow and six orphan children of the deceased, who are left in a most deplorable state of distress. The subscription list is lying at the Station Inn, and Mr. John Bennett, junior, landlord, will be happy to receive donations on behalf of the bereaved family.

This is a wonderfully detailed report of the accident and of the effects of the accident, the “widow and six orphan children” matches with my George MITCHELL’s family. There are so many questions going through my mind: What was the engine like? Where is Folly Cutting? How much was the subscription in the end? Did the family receive any poor relief? What about the warrant for poaching, what was that about? Are the beer shops still in existence? Where is Cants Bridge?

George MITCHELL was buried in Cuckfield (where it is likely he was born) although the family were living in Balcombe. I am guessing the parish of Balcombe washed their hands of him, not wanting to have to support his family financially. There might be some record of that? Does he have a gravestone at Cuckfield? It sounds like his family couldn’t afford one but perhaps the railway company might have done.

So many questions but only handful of answers. If I can find a death certificate for George, then I should have another piece of evidence for his date of birth (the burial record says he was 32 years old). This might enable me to find his baptism, probably in Cuckfield and push that branch of my family tree back another generation.

Ancestral Profile: George MITCHELL (1806?-1844?)

29 Nov

I have already written about one George MITCHELL in my family tree, but he was on my mother’s side of the family, this one is on my father’s side and was probably unrelated. This George MITCHELL was my 4x great-grandfather and in contrast with the other George MITCHELL I know almost nothing about his life.

The first record I have is his marriage to my 4x great-grandmother Mary SMITH. The marriage took place on the 29th September 1828 in the parish of Cuckfield, Sussex. As the marriage was before 1837 there is no mention of his father’s name, all I have is that they were both from Cuckfield and neither had been married before. I haven’t checked the original record, so there may be additional clues in the names of the witnesses, it is worth a look anyway.

In the 1841 census George and Mary are living in Bolney, Sussex but I can’t make out the name of the farm on which they are living. They have four children: Mary Ann, Harriett, Caroline and Alfred. The 1841 census provides the only piece of evidence for George’s birth, his age is given as 35 years and he was born in Sussex. In theory this should mean that George was aged between 35 and 39 years old, but this is by no means guaranteed.

By the 1851 census George has died and Mary is living as a widow, with four children: Harriett, Caroline, Alfred and William. This provides the only real evidence for George’s death, seemingly some time between the birth of William in 1844 and the 1851 census. Mary is shown as a pauper, so there may be some further clues among the records of the Poor Law Guardians.

It seems that George and Mary had six children, but apart from Harriett (my 3x great-grandmother) I know very little about what became of them. They were:

  1. Eliza MITCHELL (baptised 7th December 1828 in Cuckfield, Sussex)
  2. Mary Ann MITCHELL (baptised 30th January 1831 in Cuckfield, Sussex)
  3. Harriett MITCHELL (born c1834 in Slaugham, Sussex)
  4. Caroline MITCHELL (born Q3 1838 in Slaugham, Sussex)
  5. Alfred George MITCHELL (born 23rd February 1841 in Bolney, Sussex)
  6. William MITCHELL (baptised 14th April 1844 in Balcombe, Sussex)

The fact that William was baptised in Balcombe possibly provides a clue to the death of George. There is a burial recorded in Cuckfield on the 30th October 1844 of a 38 year old George MITCHELL from Balcombe. It seems quite likely that this was my 4x great-grandfather, and there is a chance that he was the victim of an accident on the London to Brighton railway. The Times newspaper refers to the victim as Thomas MITCHELL, but I can’t find a death registration for either Thomas or George MITCHELL in the right place at the right time. Local newspapers my clarify this situation as The Times might have got his name wrong.

Elkanah RUSSELL the bricklayer

24 Dec

Last night I was picking my way through my family history database, looking for things to do, and trying to fill in a few missing details. One of the relations I had come across during my research was Elkanah RUSSELL, but hadn’t really investigated him further.

I believe Elkanah was the brother of my 3x great-grandfather Thomas RUSSELL, and that they were both the sons of William and Ann RUSSELL from Salehurst, Sussex.

I decided I would try and find out a bit more about Elkanah, after all it would be useful to try and prove the connection with Thomas. I had a little difficulty finding Elkanah in the 1841 census, eventually I found him recorded as Elvah RUSSELL, with his wife Sarah and son William, in Balcombe, Sussex.

I almost dismissed this family because I wasn’t expecting to find them as far west as Balcombe, but they were definitely the correct family. As I looked at the census image I noticed something curious.

Nearly all the heads of household on the page were bricklayers (like Elkanah) or stone masons. I had seen this sort of thing before, there was obviously a major construction project underway in Balcombe in 1841.

There was something else curious about the census image, the addresses were all dittos (is that the correct plural of ditto?), so was the page before, and the page before that. Finally I found a name of a house “Railway hut near the viaduct”. Then it struck me, all these men were building the railway viaduct, that would take the railway line that ran from London to Brighton across the Ouse Valley.

Sure enough, a quick search online found that the viaduct was indeed built in 1841. I have passed over the viaduct many times, but in the future when I pass over it I will be able to say with pride that one of my relations helped build this marvellous piece of Victorian engineering.

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