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Railway Families in Westmorland: the Worralls

Friday 2 July, 2021, by Karen Griffiths

The story of the Worrall family illustrates yet another side to working on the railway, namely that railway construction needed not only an army of labourers but also men with specialist trade skills. The first Westmorland Worrall we came across in our research was Thomas Worrall (49), in the 1861 census for the village of Crosby Garrett.

Crosby Garrett village centre showing location of prospect Villa. 25" OS 1903 National Library of Scotland CC-BY-NC-SA
Crosby Garrett village centre showing location of prospect Villa. 25″ OS 1903 National Library of Scotland CC-BY-NC-SA

Thomas it turns out was working as a ‘Mason (Stone)’. He is living somewhere near Prospect Villa in the village along with Mary his wife (47); daughter Susannah (19) a dressmaker; son Thomas R[obert] (18) also a Mason; son George (16) also a Mason, plus three male lodgers – another mason and two railway labourers from Scotland; Lancashire (Over Darwen) and Worcestershire respectively. Smardale Gill Viaduct on the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway was built in 1860-61 so we think it’s safe to assume that Thomas, his two sons and one of his lodgers were in Crosby Garrett specifically to help build that viaduct and any other stone masonry work required on that section of the railway line.

Distant view of Smardale Gill Viaduct.  cc-by-sa/2.0 - © steven ruffles -
Distant view of Smardale Gill Viaduct. cc-by-sa/2.0 – © steven ruffles –

The Northern Viaduct Trust which now looks after the Grade II* Listed Smardale Gill Viaduct has the following description of it on their website:

“It carried the railway 90 feet (27m) high above the valley and was constructed of locally quarried sandstone.  The viaduct has 14 arches of 30 feet span, and a total length of 553 feet (c170m). It was designed by the Cumbrian engineer Sir Thomas Bouch as part of the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, which crossed the Pennines to carry coke to the iron and steel furnaces in the Barrow area and West Cumberland. and was built in 1861 by Mr Wrigg, a contractor from Preston at a cost of £11,298. (Mr Wrigg also built the section of railway from Tebay to just east of the viaduct at a cost of £44,216). The viaduct was built wide enough for double track, but never carried more than a single line of rails.” ‘Smardale Gill Viaduct’ Date accessed 2 July 2021

Smardale Gill Viaduct cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Don Burgess -
Smardale Gill Viaduct cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Don Burgess –

Crosby Garrett Viaduct and Smardale Viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line were built more than ten years later by which time Thomas and his sons were no longer in the village.

Thomas and all three of his children were recorded as being born in the parish of Brampton [Bierlow], which is in the Dearne Valley, then in Yorkshire, now South Yorkshire. His wife, interestingly, came from Carlton a town just east of Nottingham. With that information we tracked Thomas back to his birthplace which was actually a rural hamlet called Melton Green, just south of West Melton village where there are quite a few Worralls in the 1841 census. This was coal mining country and West Melton isn’t far from the sites of the large collieries of Wath-on-Dearn and Manvers. Thomas Worrall is recorded in the 1841 census aged 25 at Melton Green, no occupation given, so we presume he was unemployed, while living at his mother and father’s house along with his wife Mary (26) and one year old daughter Mary [Ann]. His father George, born 1786, aged 55 was also born there and his occupation is given as St[one] Mason, so the trade was clearly passed down from father to son. We don’t know where George was working – it may have been at one of the nearby collieries lining mine shafts and doing other underground masonry work for instance.

The 1861 census tells us that Thomas and Mary had their three younger children while still living at Melton Green. However, their oldest daughter Mary Ann is recorded as being born in Eckington, Derbyshire 21 years earlier (ie 1840) so Thomas must have moved away from his birth place to Derbyshire as a young man, married, had daughter Mary Ann then returned to live with his parents soon after her birth. Eckington was in a coal and iron ore mining area with a large iron foundry at nearby Renishaw in the nineteenth century, so we assume there must have been construction work there for a keen young man starting out as a stone mason. Presumably when that work dried up he had to return with his young family and stay with his parents while he tried to find employment.

By the 1851 census, Thomas has clearly succeeded and we find he has moved his family more than a hundred miles away to Bardsea near Ulverston where he is employed as a Stone Mason. Bardsea is a tiny village on the west shore of Morecambe Bay, but knowing where he ends up in 1861 it seems very likely that he had moved all that way to take up work on the construction of the Ulverstone and Lancaster Railway including building the famous Six Arches Bridge in 1854 which carried the line across the Ulverston Canal.

Six Arches Bridge, Ulverston. From Google Street View
Six Arches Bridge, Ulverston. From Google Street View

As we know, having landed this job, Thomas remains in the field of railway construction, ending up fifty miles away in Crosby Garrett in 1861 probably working on the construction of the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway along with his two sons Thomas Robert (18) and George (16).

Sadly we lose Thomas [senior] some time before the 1871 census. It’s not so surprising. Being a stone mason was a highly skilled but physically extremely demanding job and it perhaps took its toll on Thomas who would have been just short of 60 in 1871. Mary, his widow, has returned to Melton Green by 1871 and we find her living with her daughter Susannah and her husband Henry Ramsden – a Miner. Thomas’ two sons both continue in the stone mason trade. We find Thomas Robert Worrall (27) married to Annie (26 – born in West Melton like her husband), and living in the pretty village of Wentworth, four miles south-west of West Melton. He is recorded as being employed as a Mason. Elsecar Colliery isn’t far so he may have worked there or perhaps he found employment at the nearby stately home Wentworth Woodhouse, home to the Rockinghams who founded the colliery in the late eighteenth century. His younger brother George (26) is married to Lucy (23 – also born in West Melton), and he is also working as a Stone Mason, living at Holly Bush Mount, Parkgate about five miles south-east of West Melton. Both Aldwarke Main Colliery (1867-1961) and the giant Parkgate Iron & Steel Works (1823-1982) are close by. Holly Bush Mount is now called Hollybush Street and the coal miners’ and steel workers’ terraced houses have long since been demolished.

Watch a film of workers in 1901 at the Parkgate Iron & Steel Company on the BFI website.

Hollybush Street (marked yellow centre top), Parkgate. Note proximity to Parkgate Iron & Steel Works and Aldwarke Main Colliery. 25″ OS 1903 National Library of Scotland CC-BY-NC-SA

The family connections to West Melton were clearly important to the Worrell boys and the heavy industries of the Dearne Valley must have offered steady work compared to the short term railway contracts their father chased across the north of England.

By 1881 we find Mary Worrall (67) widow of Thomas [senior] heading up a multi-generational household in Melton Green with Stone Mason son George and his wife Lucy having returned from the pollution and noise of Parkgate and daughter Susannah with husband Henry Ramsden, a Hewer [of] Coal and their five young children. Every single member of the household except Mary was born in West Melton. Since Henry works in a coal mine it seems likely that George employed his masonry skills there too – the closest – West Melton Colliery, was operational 1854-1886. Thomas Robert remains in Wentworth working as a Stone Mason. He and his wife are childless and seem to have adopted a young niece.

After this date the trail goes cold in the census for our stone mason family who so briefly touched Westmorland but whose roots lay so firmly in South Yorkshire.

< Previous ‘A Way Through’ blog post Railway Families in Westmorland: Robert Calvert

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Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


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