Thomas Hutchinson Wrigglesworth was a blacksmith and mechanic at Bentley’s brewery for over 30 years but his life came to a tragic end when he accidentally fell into a vat of boiling beer.
It happened on the morning of Friday 27 January 1905. At the age of 58 Thomas must have known his way around but he made a simple mistake which led to his death.
At about nine in the morning he had been measuring pipes when he slipped going down some steps and fell under a protecting rail into a large vat or tank, known as a “hop back,” where the beer was separated from the hops. It had just been filled from a large copper vessel.
Two workmen immediately pulled him out and he was taken, “in an extremely critical state,” as quickly as possible to the Leeds General Infirmary but he was so badly scalded that he passed he away the same afternoon.
About 3,000 gallons of beer into which he had fallen was run off down the drain in the presence of an excise officer.
Three years earlier part of the brewery had been destroyed in a large fire and with the insurance money the opportunity had been taken to install a more up-to-date brewing system. It was probably the copper pipes for this which Thomas had been working on.
The inquest into his death was held by deputy coroner John Walter Stead the following Monday at Leeds Town Hall. Thomas’s eldest son, Tom, a labourer at the brewery, said he saw his father after he’d been taken from the tank but didn’t recognise him.
Arthur Jowett, a boiler stoker, said there were rails around the vat and steps but he saw Thomas slip and fall into the beer. The Home Office’s Inspector of Factories, James Augustus Hine, asked if there was a lot of steam in the room but Jowett said there was not enough to prevent Thomas from seeing the steps.
The coroner said there appeared to be no negligence on the part of the brewery management and nobody should be blamed. The jury duly returned a verdict of “accidental death.”
Thomas had been a bell ringer at Woodlesford church and as he was being buried at Oulton on the day after the inquest a muffled peal of the six Woodlesford bells was rung for nearly three hours in his honour. Two of the ringers lived in Woodlesford. Joseph Haigh was a steam car driver and later a stoker at the brewery and George William Steel was a plumber who became a waterworks inspector for the local council. The other four – Joseph C. Abbishaw, Alfred Chapman, William Abbishaw and Walter Chapman – were regular ringers at Rothwell church.
Thomas was born in Oulton in 1847 and grew up at Dobson’s Fold, later renamed Beecroft Yard, off Church Street in Woodlesford. After a spell working as a labourer in the flour mill at Fleet Mills he was apprenticed as a blacksmith shoeing the horses at Bentley’s brewery. As he gained experience he would have moved on to more complicated mechanical work on the company’s fleet of traction engines, steam wagons, boilers and other equipment. No doubt his father had a hand in his son’s employment as by 1861 he was a carter for Bentley’s delivering beer.
In the summer of 1870 Thomas married Charlotte Bellwood at Rothwell church. Born at Hensall she was the daughter of a carrier, had worked as a farm servant, and was a couple of years older than him. Over the next 8 years they had three children – two boys, Tom and Arthur, and a girl, Sarah Ann, born in 1878. Sadly Charlotte died a year later and with young children to look after Thomas quickly sought a new wife who he married in Leeds in 1880. Mary Ann Gibbon was born in 1863 at Gilesgate Moor near Durham and was 16 years younger than him. As well as bringing up his existing children she went on to have a further eight of her own in houses on Farrer Lane and near the beck in Oulton at 2 St. John’s Yard.
After Thomas Hutchinson Wrigglesworth’s death most of his children went on to marry and work in a variety of occupations. Four of the boys all worked at Bentley’s. Tom continued as labourer, Arthur was a groom, Francis John became a clerk and Edwin was a caretaker. Walter worked as a joiner at Savile pit in Methley and Sarah Ann became a district nurse before marrying a miner. Two of the girl’s, Kate and Eveline, were machinists still living at home in 1911.
In his will Thomas left over £50 to Mary Ann. She used some of the money to set up a fish and chip shop in Oulton but just three weeks after it opened it burned to the ground.
Records in the West Yorkshire Archives reveal that this branch of the Wrigglesworth family appears to have had more than its fair share of tragedy as they show that Thomas Hutchinson Wrigglesworth’s father also died in unusual circumstances.
He was also called Thomas and was born in 1808, the son of John Wrigglesworth, a waterman on the Aire & Calder Navigation, who had married Hannah Hutchinson at Rothwell church in 1802. Both their families had long histories in the parish, mainly as tenant farmers, with the first Wrigglesworth recorded in the church registers in 1605. From 1620 parish clerks sometimes also used Wrigglesworth as a place name for Woodlesford showing they had a strong association with the village.
In 1837 Thomas Wrigglesworth had become a butcher living in Oulton when he married Sarah Batty, a farmer’s daughter from Little Preston. Four years later, after the birth of two daughters, the 1841 census lists him as a farmer in Oulton, wealthy enough to employ a female servant. However, a decade later when the next census was taken, he appears to have been in reduced circumstances having moved to Dobson’s Fold where he was recorded as an agricultural labourer. By 1861 he was employed at the brewery and still living with his wife and six children crammed into the same small house.
Over the 18 years between 1839 and 1857 Thomas and Sarah had at least 10 children, although there may have been others who died in infancy. One boy, Joseph Batty Wrigglesworth, was just a few months old when he died in 1851 but the same name was given to the next boy who came along two years later. Some of the children were baptised at the Wesleyan chapel in Woodlesford.
Sarah Wrigglesworth died at the age of 55 in July 1870 and was buried in the graveyard at Rothwell church. Less than two years later her husband joined her and it’s from the record of an inquest into his death that we learn that he committed suicide by cutting his own throat whilst butchering a pig.
Thomas took his own life on the morning of Saturday 6 April 1872 and it must have been a traumatic event for two of his daughters, Elizabeth and Martha, who were living with him. By then he was 64 years old and still working as a labourer at the brewery but had moved across to a slightly larger house on Stockings Lane, now Highfield Lane. His daughters were the principal witnesses at the inquest along with a neighbour and a fellow worker from the brewery. It took place just round the corner at the White Hart Inn the following Tuesday morning.
With the help of the landlord of the pub, Cockell Collin, the West Riding county coroner, Thomas Taylor, assembled a jury of twelve Woodlesford inhabitants to hear the evidence. Taylor, who had been appointed in 1852 and had the job until 1900, kept a meticulous handwritten notebook of each inquest he presided over. It’s from this record that the details of Thomas Wrigglesworth’s suicide emerge. His body would have been taken to the inquest to be visible to the jury and witnesses as they were sworn in.
The first account came from Elizabeth who was 26 and unmarried. Questioned by Taylor she said she’d moved back to live with her parents two years earlier to look after her mother during her “last illness.” About six months previously her father had what she described as a “low fever” which made him “delirious.” After about five weeks he’d recovered and gone back to work. There was no suggestion a local doctor had been to see him and it appears to have been an illness modern general practitioners would probably put down to a common cold or a mild flu.
Elizabeth said her father had always been thin and in recent weeks his appetite had “failed” but he continued to work regularly. Then came her graphic account of what had taken place the previous Saturday morning when Thomas returned home for his breakfast after getting up before dawn to feed the horses at the brewery. Apparently he’d come back about half an hour before his normal time and was in a grumpy mood.
“About 7 o clock I and my sister Martha were together when he came in. He scolded us for not getting up sooner and for not having his breakfast ready. While we were preparing breakfast he went to cut up a pig which he had killed last Friday afternoon and which was hanging up in the house. He had learnt butchering. He stood looking at the pig between each cut he made but did not say anything.
“After he had been cutting up the pig about a quarter of an hour he went into the back kitchen and then I heard a ruttling noise and I went to see what it was. I then saw his hands resting on his thighs. Blood was flowing from his throat. His handkerchief and butcher’s knife were on the stone table nearby. He said: “I’ve done it.” I ran out and made an alarm and Lydia Hartley went in. I went to a neighbour’s and did not see the deceased again alive. He had nothing to trouble or embarrass him that I know of.”
Born in Stanley, Lydia Hartley was the same age as Elizabeth and worked as a dressmaker. With her father, John, a miner, and her mother Charlotte, she’d lived next door to the Wrigglesworths since about 1864. She told the inquest that she hadn’t noticed anything different about Thomas but one evening about 3 weeks earlier he had told her that since he had had the fever his head was bad and that “he was afraid he should not be quite well again.”
She said she’d seen him frequently put his hands to his head. “I saw him kill a pig last Friday afternoon. He then seemed to be very lively. On Saturday morning about a quarter to 8 o’ clock I heard his daughter Elizabeth scream and I ran into their house and on looking into the back kitchen I saw him standing in a stooping position and having his hands on his thighs. He stared at me and said: “I’ve done it” three times. I said: “Surely not on purpose.”
“I then picked up an apron and folded it up and asked him to put it to his throat until I got him out. I took hold of his shoulder but he twisted round saying: “I won’t come out.” He raised up his hand to strike me. When he lifted up his head a large quantity of blood gushed out of the centre of his throat. I said: “What have you done it for?” He replied several times “I know” but I could not get him to state why. He began to tremble and then fell backward and I saw a large cut in his throat. He lived about 15 minutes. He has always appeared to be passionate but soon came round. His daughters have apparently feared him but tried to make him comfortable.”
Martha Wrigglesworth, who was only 16 years old, was the next to give a statement. She said that her father had told one of them that he was going to come home earlier than usual. “I was coming downstairs when he entered the house. He asked whether his breakfast was ready and he tapped me on the side of my face with his hand. He then took down one side of a pig and began to cut it down. In about a quarter of an hour my sister Elizabeth went to the door of the back kitchen and screamed. I looked in and saw him bleeding. I had lighted the fire after he came home. He had told us not to rake the fire as he wanted the pig to get cold.”
Her sister then returned to clarify her evidence having remembered that after she’d helped Martha get the breakfast ready he’d said: “I wont have it.” She put her bonnet on and left the house to go to Swillington House where she worked as a cleaner or “charwoman.”
“As I was passing the window he said: “Good morning, perhaps you’ll not see me alive again.” She turned back and said: “Well then I’ll not go at all today.” She continued: “He told me I was to go but I again said: “I’ll not go today.” Then he walked into the back kitchen. His eyes looked wild.”
The last witness was George Hewitt, nightwatchman at the brewery. He was 32 and lived at Denkin’s Yard just up from the White Hart at the corner of Applegarth. He said Thomas had complained of a pain in his head for the last fortnight. “Last Saturday morning about 10 minutes to 4 o’ clock he came to the brewery and he began to chop hay for the horses. About 5 o’ clock I saw him in the tun room and he told me he did not feel well and that he had more work than he could do but he seemed to be cheerful. He said he expected that he was to have help. He generally finished his work early in the afternoon.”
No further questions were asked, nor was a doctor called to give evidence on Thomas’s illness. A verdict was quickly reached that he had cut his throat “when of unsound mind.” The coroner made a note that he had paid labourer Charles Thompson personal expenses of £1 3 shillings. Presumably this was to be distributed amongst the jury to recompense them for their loss of wages.
That same afternoon Thomas Wrigglesworth was taken to Rothwell and buried with his wife.