John Hatton

John Hatton with the station ambulance team in 1911.

John Hatton lived and worked in Woodlesford before and after the First World War but after serving in the army and surviving the hostilities he met a tragic death a few years later.

Originally from Worcestershire, Hatton came to the village in June 1904 as a porter at the station when it was busy with consignments to and from Bentley’s brewery, from Armitage’s quarry, and for local farms, shops and businesses. He was born in 1881 at Tardebigge near Bromsgrove where his father, George, was a platelayer on the Midland Railway’s line between Birmingham and Gloucester. The son of an agricultural labourer George Hatton had migrated from Stanford in Bedfordshire to find work on the railway.

In June 1900 when he was 19 years old John followed his father into the ranks of the Midland Railway staff as a goods porter at Calverley and Rodley station between Leeds and Bradford. It’s not known why he moved to Yorkshire but it was common for young men to range widely across the Midland network. Railway records show his starting wages were 16 shillings a week and he lodged near the station in the home of Thomas Tempest, the toll collector for Calverley Bridge over the River Aire.

Calverley and Rodley station.

A couple of years later John transferred to Kirkstall Forge station as a porter but whilst he was at Calverley and Rodley he met his future wife. Catherine Alice Fawcett, known by her middle name, was the daughter of a Horsforth grocer and was only 17 years old when they married at St. Margaret’s church in Horsforth in March 1905 just under a year after John had moved to Woodlesford. Their marriage certificate states that he was living at Kitchener Street off Midland Street. By then he’d been promoted to foreman porter on 20 shillings which soon rose to 22 shillings so the improved wages probably gave them the confidence to marry and set up home together. Not long after Alice joined him in Woodlesford they rented a house at 19 Eshald Place.

By the time of the 1911 census John had been promoted again to become the station goods checker and he and Alice were living at 48 Alma Street. Their immediate neighbours were two other railwaymen and their families – Frank Ferrett, the senior clerk at the station, and Willie Tranmer, one of the platelaying gang maintaining the track. As if that wasn’t enough the Hattons had two other men from the station boarding with them and helping to pay the rent. George William Leaf, 23, had been born in Sheffield and was a porter and James Robert – “Jimmy” – Bushel, 25, from Pentney in Norfolk was a horse driver shunting wagons in the station yard. He was later promoted to goods checker and after marrying locally he worked on the railway and lived in Woodlesford for the rest of his life.

Also in the Hatton household was a three year old girl. Not their daughter, as you might expect, but Alice’s niece, and obviously named after her, she was christened Catherine Alice Wolstenholme. She had been born in Woodlesford and was the daughter of Alice’s younger sister Norah who had married a textile machinery draughtsman from Lancashire at the Register Office in Leeds in December 1906. The 1911 census records that Norah was with her husband Fred at his parent’s house in Bury where his father was a post office superintendent.

Brewery workers in about 1914. John Hatton is fifth from the right in the front row of standing men. 

The electoral registers indicate that John Hatton stopped working for the railway in about 1914 and became the yard foreman at Bentley’s brewery. Again it’s not known why he moved but the job came with a tied cottage at 32 Aberford Road near the brewery entrance, so living rent free may have helped the family’s finances. Then, at some point in the next couple of years, John must have volunteered to join the army. Unfortunately none of the surviving military records can be attributed to him and the only certainty, based on the badges he’s wearing in a wartime photograph, is that he was in an artillery regiment. It’s more than likely therefore that he witnessed horrific injuries and death on the Western Front in France or Belgium.

After the war John returned to his job at the brewery with the 1921 census showing him and Alice still at the brewery cottage along with a baby girl, Dorothy, who had been born in 1920. By this time Alice’s niece had gone to live with her mother. This followed a divorce which had been instigated by Fred Wolstenholme in 1916. It was relatively uncommon for working class people to divorce at that time although not completely unheard of. Fred’s petition shows he had separated from Norah after becoming fed up by her “frequently” committing adultery with a man called Harry Potter.

Catherine Alice Wolstenholme lived wth her auntie in Woodlesford.

The difficult relationship probably explains why Fred and Norah’s daughter had been living with her auntie in Woodlesford in 1911. Potter was an engineer from Horsforth and must have known Norah for many years. He had been working at a munitions factory in Glasgow during the war and a specific instance of adultery was cited as having taken place at the Talbot Hotel in Bradford on the night of 10 June 1916. At that time divorce cases were only heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London so it would have cost Fred a pretty penny to bring the case. Eventually after all the legal niceties he was granted a divorce in August 1917. Norah married Potter shortly afterwards and went to live with him at Consett where he was a blast furnance mechanic for the Consett Iron Company. 

An older and thinner John Hatton in army uniform.

Apart from the fact that John Hatton continued to work at the brewery little else is known about him until tragedy struck in 1927. The details come from two newspaper stories. The first, in the Yorkshire Evening Post on Tuesday 6 December, was headlined: “Headless Body Found. Bloundhound Used To Track Missing Woodlesford Man.” It went on to report that John’s body had been discovered in the canal not far from his home. He’d gone missing overnight on Monday to Tuesday the 15th of November nearly three weeks earlier. His wife raised the alarm and the police used a bloodhound to trace his movements to the canal bank. His body was spotted by a tugman on the canal. The head had been sliced off, probably by the propellor on a passing barge or tug.

The inquest was held locally the day after the gruesome discovery, most likely at the Boot and Shoe Inn at the end of Alma Street, and was reported in that week’s edition of the Wakefield Express. Alice said John had gone to bed after dinner suffering from a bad cold and was “light-headed.” She’d seen him at 10 p.m. but when she woke up 6.40 the following morning he had disappeared from the house. He hadn’t left a note and no one had seen him until the body was discovered. She identified it by a little finger on the left hand that had been trapped and a mark on the right leg.

Wesley Walker, a tugman from Dewsbury Road in Leeds, found the body floating in the canal between Swillington Bridge and Water Haigh colliery. He said it had evidently been caught by a “screw” from a tug and may have been stuck in the mud. The local police constable, Ernest Finbow, also told the inquest that Hatton had once shown him the marks on his left leg which may have been war wounds. He said the body was in a good state of preservation possibly because it had been in the canal mud. A police sergeant called Todhunter suggested John might have been delirious when he disappeared and the coroner remarked that usually a man in that condition had it in his mind to escape from the room he was in. He then recorded a verdict of “Found Drowned.” After the inquest John was buried in the churchyard at Oulton.

Yorkshire Evening Post, Tuesday 6 December 1927.

One line of questioing during the inquest suggests that John may have been suffering mentally after his experiences in the First World War. Alice was asked by the coroner if she was frightened of him. This may have been because many other wives in the 1920s were scared of their husbands who had come back from the fighting with what we now refer to as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Then it was known as shell shock and it drove many men to drink and domestic violence. In Woodlesford and Oulton there were several cases of domestic violence reported in the newspapers in that period. Alice said John never appeared depressed and there was nothing for him to trouble about “to her knowledge,” but she may have wanted to preserve a good public memory of him.

Although not mentioned at the inquest another factor in John Hatton’s state of mind could have been an incident just over a year earlier during the General Strike of 1926. Two men from Leeds had been arrested for stealing coal from railway trucks in the brewery sidings. John gave evidence in court identifying the missing coal and although the men got away with a fine it’s possible he had a guilty conscience about his involvement at a time when many families were on the breadline. It’s also a possibility that he had been threatened with some kind of retribution.

Much more likely though, and again not brought up at the inquest, was that John may have been worrying about the health of his daughter because just six months after his death she too passed away. By this time her mother had had to move out of the brewery cottage and was living on Quarry Hill in Oulton. A little later she moved to 5 Highfield Mount just up the road. To compound Alice’s misery there was yet another death in the family as her sister Norah also died in May 1928 at the age of 38. Within the space of six months she’d lost her husband, her sister and her daughter.

This is believed to be Alice Hatton.

Despite all this Alice seems to have recovered from her grief and shortly afterwards her niece and widowed mother came to live with her in Woodlesford. Joining them for a while as as a lodger and bringing much needed rent was a young brewer from Barnsley. He was John Pirrie Mckenzie who would go on to become the head brewer for Bentley’s Yorkshire Breweries.

By 1932 Alice, her mother and niece, had moved again to 6 Bentley Square in Oulton and a few years later in 1937 there would have been happiness for Alice when her niece married. Her husband was John Baillie Mackey, the son of an analytical chemist and businessman who had married into the Hargreaves family of Rothwell, well known over several generations as mining managers and agents. After this Alice decided to move away and in 1939 was employed as a foster mother in a children’s home in Dorchester run by the Dorset County Council. In 1948 she was awarded the British Empire Medal for her work there. She’s believed to have retired to Glossop in Derbyshire where she died in 1957.