On the night of Wednesday, 2 March 1892, the Coastguards at the Hilderthorpe Lifeboat Station called out the Volunteer Life Company and the lifeboat crew by firing two “rockets”. One of the gun-cotton detonators failed to explode and landed in the garden of William GRAY in West Street. If the new RNLI Station is on the site of the old one, the detonator didn’t fly far. You can see West Street at the top of the image above (though there seems to be little room for gardens nowadays). The Saturday Leeds Mercury reported that a boy called HUTCHINSON found the detonator on Thursday morning. He did a deal with another boy, receiving a knife in exchange. The new owner of the ordnance was one of five boys who conspired to take what was in effect a small bomb and “let it off” on Thursday evening. They placed it on a wall surrounding the Local Board’s tool-shed on Beck Hill (a short walk north of West Street) and one of the boys ignited it with a match. The explosion shook the neighbourhood and was heard all over the town. The first people who rushed to the scene found four of the “poor little fellows” lying senseless and bleeding on the ground. The fifth, John WILLIS had been able to run to his home in nearby Boynton’s Yard. Harry LYON and Arthur ATKINSON were conveyed to their home in Grundell Terrace (Nelson Street); Fred EDMUND was taken to Dr GODFREY’s surgery, his wounds dressed and then sent home; and after his wounds had been attended to, Tom WILLIAMSON was taken to the Lloyd Cottage Hospital.
The boys injuries received further attention from two more doctors (WETWAN and THOMPSON). Arthur Atkinson, 10, and his stepbrother Harry Lyon, 8, were considered the most seriously injured – some of the charge had penetrated Arthur’s lungs. Tom Williamson’s face and jaw were “shattered” and his left hand partially destroyed. Fred Edmund, 10, received injuries to his left hand and left leg. John Willis had “received a slight fracture of the skull and injury to the left eye”.
An addendum to the newspaper report ran –
Death of One of the Sufferers
Arthur Atkinson succumbed to his injuries at five o’clock yesterday morning at the hospital. Harry Lyon and Tom Williamson are in a critical state. Willis and Edmund are progressing favourably.
One of the survivors died some weeks later.
I happened upon this sad story in pursuit of information about John Henry’s father. George Francis was the illegitimate child of one Sarah Willis – but there is a second Sarah Willis born in the same year and location, and they appear to be first cousins. I was looking for a source that would show which Sarah was George’s mother. I have a hunch, because one Sarah “disappears”. At one census George is with a woman who claims to be his aunt. At the next census he has been given her family name – MORGAN – but marries later as a Willis.
I will write more about the Morgan/Willis situation another day but will end with “the boy named Hutchinson” who, sensibly, got rid of the bomb. William Gray of West Street was a Coal Merchant and at the previous year’s census his roof was sheltering six sons and three daughters. You would think one of these children would have found the dangerous object first. But next door was Holdsworth Hutchinson, a cordwainer, wife Ann, four sons and a daughter. I suspect ten-year-old Alfred was the finder who chose not to be a keeper. (Eldest Frederick was seventeen and an Ironmonger’s Assistant and third son Harold only seven and surely too young to barter with older boys.)
I wonder how the deaths affected Alfred Holdsworth Hutchinson. In 1901 he is following his father’s trade and living with brother Frederick, who is now married to Mary and father of a four year-old son. In 1911 Alfred is living alone, still single at thirty. He marries before the end of the year though. His bride is Rose Ethel SEARBY, daughter of a Hull provision dealer and somewhat mysteriously, they tie the knot in Hartlepool. Alfred takes her to Bridlington and at the end of September 1939 the census-taker finds them here…
… in the street where Arthur Atkinson had lived for such a short time.