Tag Archives: hassocks

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.

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