The Station Master

The 1861 census for Filey Parish shows that John SIGSWORTH is stationmaster at Gristhorpe, married to Mary. He is fifty years old, his wife 39 and there are no children still at home. Given Mary’s age, it would be a simple matter to find children in the GRO Index, but I haven’t located a record of their marriage. John Sigsworth is a surprisingly common name in the area of Yorkshire around Easingwold and several men with that name married a Mary. But not this one, it seems.

A John Sigsworth born in November 1811 and baptised in Stillington could be the future station master but I am going with the John born to John and Alice née JACKSON.

“Our John” may be the 30-year-old male servant to Innkeeper Henry KIMBERLEY at Barton Hill, near Malton. Four years later the York to Scarborough railway would pass through the village, and a station built there. Maybe the romance of the railways made an impression on this John

I have failed to find the 1851 census so I can’t even hazard a guess at when John became a railway servant. But in 1861 he was here:-

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W. ARTHUR, the author of this photograph taken in 2006, 47 years after the station closed, has generously put the image into the public domain, so I have taken the liberty of making it somewhat brighter than the downloaded version. There’s a photo on Geograph offering a perspective that includes the railway line, which is still open.

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In 1871 the census enumerator found John at Gristhorpe Station still, but married to Emma, 22 years his junior and a native of Oxfordshire. (A later source gives her birthplace as the town itself.)

Mary had died on 29 June 1862 and is buried in St Oswald’s churchyard. Her stone has been moved to the north wall, by the church.

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John may have intended his passing to be recorded on the stone’s open space but Emma put paid to that idea. There’s a death registration in 1877 that fits him perfectly (aged 66) but I can’t support this with a burial record. That Emma, born in Oxford, is a widow in the 1881 census would seem to be confirmation but, rather than being 48 years old, the page image clearly shows her aged ‘67’. In 1891 she is the second wife of William SKIPSEY, a retired gardener, and a more reasonable 61-year-old. She wasn’t finished with misinforming enumerators. In 1901 she has aged considerably when compared with her husband and, rather than being 7 years his junior, is now ten years older than him. William, 80 in the census, died at the end of the year at 84 according to the GRO Index. Emma followed him into the unknown five years later, registered as 75 rather than 95!

William Skipsey has descendants on FST from his first marriage to Elizabeth ARMSTRONG. I don’t think John had any children at all. His life seems to have been uneventful, which is surprising, given his occupations. Inns see a fair bit of action and the railway has its moments. As one of John’s namesakes in the Easingwold area sadly demonstrated. He was one of the Raskelf Sigsworths. The village is just three miles from Easingwold and a John four years younger than our subject, and a railway labourer, married and raised a number of children born there to his wife Rachel WHORLTON. They named one of the boys John. About the same time in Raskelf, farmer James Sigsworth also had a son called John who worked as a potato dealer. In July 1881, a coroner’s inquest into this young man’s death, aged 32, heard that he…

 …met his father with some pigs in a cart at Brafferton. His father left there for Boroughbridge, and the deceased promised to follow. In this, however, he failed, and the last that was seen of him alive was at 10.30 on Tuesday night on the road between Helperby and Raskelf, where he passed a brickmaker named William Baines, of Raskelf, and said “Good night.” The deceased then appeared to be sober, and had on his arm an overcoat. A few hours after he was found lying on the four-foot way of the North-Eastern line, a little more than a mile from Raskelf. He was dead, and his legs were lying apart from the rest of the body more than a yard away, he being frightfully mutilated. A train had evidently passed over him…On Wednesday morning, about four o’clock, the driver of a goods train…stopped at Raskelf station and left the information that the body of a man was lying on the line about half-way between the railway bridge at Raskelf and the signal cabin. On going to the place indicated, the officials found the body of Mr. John Sigsworth, of Raskelf, potato dealer, quite dead, his legs being entirely severed from the body, which was laid in the four-foot. The body was conveyed to the house of his father, with whom he resided. The deceased had been to Helperby Feast on Tuesday, and it is believed he left that village about 11 p.m. on foot, and on crossing the railway had been run over by an express train. The deceased was not married.

Leeds Mercury, 22 July 1881

In early March 1888, another Raskelf boy called John Sigsworth died, aged twenty minutes. Life is a lottery.

Accidents and Alcohol

StationApproachFiley1_8mOn this day in 1869, a passenger train from Hull was approaching Filey about 3 pm. The driver was “in the habit of running down the incline from Hunmanby at considerable speed” and,  a second or two after passing under the Donkey Bridge, he noticed the signal protecting the station was set at danger. (The signal may have been in the same place as the one you can see in the photo, but distances given in the accident investigation report suggest it was a hundred yards or so further on.) At the bridge, he had shut off steam and whistled for the tender and guard’s brakes to be applied, and as he passed the signal he reversed steam and set the sand pipes going, slowing the train from 40 to ten miles per hour. He hit a stationary coal train on the downline just south of the station with quite a thump, throwing a couple of coal wagons off the track. Thankfully, none of the passenger carriages derailed. (Of the 150 people aboard, fifteen would complain of injuries.) The driver was not in a fit state to be questioned immediately, possibly because he was inebriated rather than hurt. A month later the Report stated, “This man appears to have been drinking since1st January 1870, and has now been dismissed from the service of the company.”

The passenger train had been running late so there was even less of an excuse for the station staff to have allowed the coal train to remain in its dangerous position.  The station master claimed to have given instructions for its removal well ahead of the expected arrival of the Hull train; the underlings, somewhat feebly, claimed not to have received said instructions. The danger should have been clear to everyone.

The Report doesn’t name names but the culpable station master was Charles MILNER, born in Huddersfield in 1807. He married in Gloucestershire and moved several times thereafter with his growing family. The first two children were born in Cheltenham, and the next three in Yorkshire at Sinderby, Pickering, and Starbeck.

Charles not only kept his job in Filey after the accident but his only son, Charles George, was stationmaster at Seamer in 1873 when they were both up before the court for “refusing to pay poor rates”. (The case was dismissed on a technicality.)

Eight years later the census finds the father retired in West Parade, Filey, with wife Mary and single daughter Jemima, aged 26. Charles George left it late to marry. He was 39 when he hitched his wagon to 25-year-old Asenath GREENHELD,  in Scarborough. Nine months or so later their only child, Bertha Frances, was born. Charles George left the railway company but not the rails. He worked as a salesman for a book publisher. The 1881 census catches him in an Exeter lodging house with a motley crew of wanderers, commercial travelers in hardware, “stuff goods”, fancy stationery – with a Clerk in Holy Orders to keep them honest, for a while at least.

Charles senior died in April 1886 and the following year Charles George moved his small family to Eastbourne in Sussex, where he bought a coal merchant’s business.  A few days before Christmas 1889 he went out for the evening on his own. At the Gildredge Hotel he had a whiskey, or maybe it was a gin, and ordered a joint of beef. He talked about “strikes and business” with a man who would give evidence at the coroner’s inquest.

When I went away I left him in the smoking-room talking to Mr. Turton and to little Mr. Moore who used to be coachman at Compton-place. I never saw deceased in a public house before. I was surprised to see him there. I think he was quite sober.

The jury found that the death was purely accidental, and “not brought about by intoxication”.

Two young men about town witnessed Charles Milner the younger’s death. One of them, Mr. G. BRADFORD said:-

I live at 9 Susan’s –road. Gilbert said to me, “Hallo! Here is one copped it already.” He then halloaed out, “Hallo! Old man, don’t attempt that. You can’t do it.” He said that because he saw deceased was close to the steps. Deceased made a grab at the pillar post to steady himself in going down or to save himself from falling. He fell at once. I went for the police, leaving Gilbert with deceased.

Charles had not fallen far but his neck was broken and he died before Dr. J.H. EWART arrived at the scene. He told the inquest that there was no evidence that Charles had imbibed a “great quantity” of alcohol.

One of the Jury, a Mr. COOMBER, suspected foul play and refused to sign the inquisition but it seems the verdict of accidental death was readily accepted by the people of the town

Great sympathy is felt for deceased’s family. The unanimous testimony of his friends is that he was a man of extremely temperate habits…

Old man? Charles George was 54 when he died. Had he made it to 65 he could have played a proud father role in the audience when the Eastbourne Philharmonic performed Sir Frederick Bridge’s “grand setting of Rudyard Kiplings patriotic ode” The Flag of England. Bertha Frances Milner was one of the sopranos in the choir.

Sources: North Eastern Railway accident report; Poor rates case, Driffield Times 31 May 1873, ‘Fatal Accident to an Eastbourne Coal Merchant’, Eastbourne Gazette, 25 December 1889, ‘The Flag of England’ Concert¸Eastbourne Gazette, 14 February 1900.

I have made a start connecting disparate MILNERs on the FamilySearch Tree.