Tag Archives: haywards heath

Unplugged: Swapping the hills for postcards

5 Feb

I should have been out walking on the South Downs today, but the weather was so miserable that we (my wife and I) decided not to bother. The weather here was nothing compared to the weather recently experienced around the world, just some light drizzle and strong wind, but it just wasn’t worth getting cold and wet when there will be plenty of opportunities later in the year to get out on the hills and hopefully enjoy the experience.

Instead of heading for the hills I headed for Haywards Heath, West Sussex and the Postcard and Collectors Fair at Clair Hall. The main reason I wanted to go was to get some storage supplies to house my growing collection of postcards. I need to have a bit of a sort out of my existing postcard albums to make their contents more logical and consistent, and also provide a new home for those postcards that don’t fit into any of my main collections and any modern postcards that I buy during my travels.

I had already decided that a cardboard box (like the ones the dealers use to hold their stock) would probably be the best bet for the odd historic and modern postcards, so I bought one of these along with a supply of protective plastic sleeves in two different sizes and a few plastic dividers. Now I am ready to spend some time organising my collections.

Of course I couldn’t come away without any postcards, although as you can see in the image above I didn’t buy that many. The postcard I bought were quite a cross-section in both age and subject, but there were a couple of real gems in there as well, which I am really pleased with (and will no doubt be showing off in due course). Time to get my scanner going again!

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.

Making the News: “An extraordinary double tragedy”

26 Nov

A couple of weeks ago I decided to follow up one of the mysteries that I uncovered in the National Probate Calendar, and it turned out to be one of the most heart-breaking stories that I have uncovered whilst researching my family history.

Whilst searching the probate calendar I came across the entries for a pair of GASSONs from Haywards Heath, Sussex. I wrote about my discovery and a few thoughts about what might have happened here. I suggested that their deaths might have been as a result of enemy bombing during the Second World War, but the truth is that although it could be attributed to the war, the story was far more tragic.

I will let the newspaper report from the Sussex Daily News dated Thursday 17th October 1940 tell the story:

COUPLE DIE IN DUG-OUT

HAYWARDS HEATH TRAGEDY

An extraordinary double tragedy which occurred at Haywards Heath was discovered on Tuesday afternoon at about 1.15, and the inquiry into it was held the same afternoon by East Sussex Coroner, Dr. E. F. Hoare.

Deceased were William Edward Gasson and his wife, Dorothy Gasson, of 3 North-road. They had been found dead in the dug-out in their garden.

In the dug-out was a brazier with coal ashes in it and an oil stove. The latter had not been used. There was also a candle.

Deceased were found in a sitting posture. Everything went to show that the previous night they had gone to their dug-out and had lighted the fire in the brazier, and that while they were sitting there the fumes had overcome them.

A neighbour made investigations on Tuesday on finding that the morning milk had not been taken in.

Evidence was given at the inquiry by the neighbour, Jesse Laker, and by the son, William Ernest Gasson, who did not live at the house.

The Coroner found death was due to carbon monoxide poisoning and recorded a verdict of “Death by misadventure.”

I have read some pretty sad stories in the course of my research, but this really touched a nerve and I was almost in tears as I read the article. I don’t know quite why it touched me so, they are not particularly close relations, but regardless of that it is still a really sad story.

The couple had only recently married (the son was from William’s first marriage) and to die in such an unnecessary and avoidable way when people were dying as a result enemy bombing (from which the GASSONs were trying to escape) seems desperately unlucky.

Interesting puzzle in the National Probate Calendar

18 Aug

During my rather haphazard searches of the National Probate Calendar last week I came across an interesting pair of entries that I felt warranted further investigation. Unfortunately the people concerned are pretty distant relations, but at least they are related.

The first entry I discovered was for Dorothy GASSON:

GASSON Dorothy of 3 North-road Haywards Heath Sussex widow who was last seen alive on 13 October 1940 and whose dead body was found on 15 October 1940 Administration (limited) Lewes 31 December to Robert George Richards public assistance officer. Effects £143 1s. 11d.

This seemed rather unusual, but presumably no-one knew the exact date that she had died, and I assumed that the “public assistance officer” was acting as executor in the absence of any other appointed executor or next of kin.

Further down the page was an entry for another GASSON also living at the same address:

GASSON William Edward of 3 North-road Haywards Heath Sussex died 15 October 1940 Probate Lewes 6 January to Percy William Woodland postman and Jessie Mary Woodland (wife of the said Percy William Woodland). Effects £280 16s. 8d.

The mystery deepens, my first thought was “why was the postman acting as executor?” but I guess there is probably some family connection. William died on the same day as Dorothy’s body was discovered, had someone seen William the day before so they knew he had died on the 15th October, but couldn’t be certain about Dorothy.

Several other questions came to mind, what was the relationship between Dorothy and William? How did they both die? Why was the postman not acting as executor for Dorothy as well as William?

The first question is probably the easiest to answer, according to the GRO Marriage Index William Edward GASSON married Dorothy BACKSHALL in Q2 1939 in the Cuckfield Registration District. This has got to be them, so they must be husband and wife, but had only been married for about a year when they died. Given the date, the most likely cause of death is probably as a result of their house being bombed during the Second World War

I checked the GRO Death Indexes for both Dorothy and William, and that just made matters worse, perhaps they weren’t husband and wife after all. Dorothy’s age was given as 41 years and William’s as 71 years. Perhaps Dorothy was a daughter from an earlier marriage or a niece, but for a 40 year old woman to marry a 70 year old man in 1939 seems unusual.

Now I have the question of whether to follow up the story further. Like I said earlier they are pretty distant relations, but I just can’t resist a mystery like this. I need to know what was going on. The problem is that I can’t afford two death certificates, probably a marriage certificate, a copy of a will and a grant of administration. Although it is an interesting puzzle I have more important things to spend my genealogy budget on. Instead I will add another item to my to-do list, to check the local newspapers for the time to see if any mention is made of their deaths.

The National Probate Calendar is certainly proving to be a very rich source of information, every time I find one of my relations it always seems to lead to new information and more research, without even going as far as ordering a copy of the will.

SFHG Annual Conference and AGM

20 Mar

Today was the Annual Conference and AGM of the Sussex Family History Group (SFHG) at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, West Sussex. Like last year it was an excellent conference, enjoyable, informative, well organised and well attended.

Before the three talks we heard the latest on The Keep (the new archive centre for East Sussex, Brighton and the University of Sussex). Although things have been a bit quiet lately, plans are progressing and we were shown drawings and impressions of the centre and told we could expect to see a planning application and consultations this summer. If all goes well doors are expected to open early 2013.

The first talk was by Derek Stidder who spoke on Mills and Millers of Sussex. This was especially interesting to me because of my ancestral connections with a couple of watermills in Sussex. There were some really great images of various types of mill across Sussex, as was pointed out, it is a huge subject area as virtually every village had its own mill at some time.

Next up was Dr Colin Chapman (originator of the Chapman County Code) speaking on Pre-1841 Censuses & Population Listings. Dr Chapman showed that a great deal of useful genealogical material can be found in population listings before the start of the decennial census in 1801 and even those censuses before 1841 are not as useless as many people would have you think.

After lunch the next speaker was Dr Janet Pennington whose talk was entitled Inns, Alehouses and Taverns of Sussex. Again this is another subject close to my heart, and this talk was wonderfully illustrated and informative. It also demonstrated the wealth of information contained in probate inventories.

So another great conference, three excellent speakers, along with a couple of stands (none of the major players). I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved for their hard work in making this conference such an excellent experience, and who make the SFHG such a wonderful organisation.

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