An accident to a goods train near Oxenholme station on Thursday evening dislocated the main line traffic on the London and North Western Co`s system for many hours. A goods train left Carlisle at 1.25 on Thursday afternoon bound for Bushbury near Crewe. When it arrived at Oxenholme about four o`clock it had to be shunted to make way for passenger traffic. When the 4.20 p.m. from Kendal for the south had departed from Oxenholme the goods train was signalled to come from the loop to the main up line , the goods engine was pulling about 42 wagons. The loop line does not finally join the main line until near Oxenholme No 1 signal box at Helmside. Signalman George Mattocks saw a portion of the train pass his box , when thirty-three of the wagons had passed he noticed one of them leaving the rails to be immediately followed by four others , he at once put the advance signal against the train and the driver pulled up. Two of the wagons turned over when under the bridge but fortunately they fell to the outside and traffic on the down line was not seriously impeded. The front portion of the train was sent to Milnthorpe and a gang of men at Oxenholme shed did what they could with jacks to get the trucks back on the rails. The weight of the trucks was too much so the breakdown gang with a steam crane was summoned from Tebay this arrived about seven o`clock , but was not sufficiently heavy for the task , consequently the Preston gang was telephoned for and arrived shortly before 9 o`clock with a fifty ton steam crane. Four of the trucks which were ordinary ten-tonners were easily accounted for, but a six wheel Caledonian truck which was loaded with heavy sheet steel for ship building created greater difficulty, the load having to be removed before the truck could be lifted , by 11.30 the four lighter trucks had been placed in the sidings. About mid-night when all the mail trains had passed through the men were able to work without interruption and the local platelayers were soon at work replacing the 100 yards of permanent way which had been torn up. The damage to the line was considerable but it was hoped the dislocation of traffic would cease today. Nobody was injured , trains were delayed considerably, some being more than an hour late. The cause of the accident is not known but is believed to be due to journal on a wagon breaking as it left the loop line points. Mr Raffles the Oxenholme stationmaster and the local staff worked with the help of Mr Knights the Carnforth stationmaster ( late of Oxenholme ). The officials in charge of the Preston Gang included Mr Dingley (Crewe) Inspector Hall (Lancaster) and Mr Chatwood (Preston).
At a meeting of the South Westmorland Rural District Council on Saturday, Major Cropper presented a report as to the housing scheme at Oxenholme. Tenders had been received, he stated, and these were so far beyond their worst fears that there seemed no other course open to them but to present them to the Ministry of Health. A representative of the Ministry had been down, and had suggested various reductions, but they were still at least 30 per cent. Above anything the Ministry would pass. At the price quoted the economic rents of the houses if erected would be £100 without rates.
The inquest was held at Oxenholme Railway Station, last evening, on the body of Thomas Grimshaw (41), insurance agent, 4, Queen-street, Lytham.
Deceased’s wife stated that her husband had complained of pains in his head and stomach for some time. The insurance company had written her stating that there was nothing wrong with his books. They had been at Endmoor for a little time, and she supposed him to have left to go back to Lytham. He was found dead on the line near Oxenholme on Saturday.
Evidence as to the finding of the body was given, but as to the train that passed over him it was impossible to trace it. The body was quite out of the way of any pathway.
A letter was read by the Coroner, which deceased probably wrote just before his death with the fountain pen found on him. It read:-
Mother also grumbling. Cannot help it. Hope you will get a better husband next time. Been good pals. Hope to meet [soon]. God bless baby and Tom. Hope got home all right.
The Coroner said there was no doubt the poor fellow was in a fit of temporary insanity and threw himself on the line.
A verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane” was returned by the jury.
On 31 January 1908 William Dawson, a highway superintendent for the council, was last seen leaving the Kent Tavern close to the River Kent in Kendal. Nearly two years later, on 7 December 1909 the council sanitary inspector made a gruesome discovery. He found William Dawson’s decomposed body in a quarantine hut on the Helm near Oxenholme.
Details of the inquest held the following day were published by the Westmorland Gazette a few days later. We have transcribed the full article below.
Corpse found after nearly two years
Two years ago next month, Mr. Wm. Dawson, a road surveyor in the employ of the South Westmorland District Council, mysteriously disappeared from Kendal, where he lived, and until this week there was absolutely no trace of his movements.
His public affairs had been properly conducted, his books were found absolutely correct, and so far as could be gathered beyond some personal troubles of a minor character, there was nothing that could account for his disappearance. He was a man well liked and a good public servant, and was generally of a cheerful disposition.
The last that was seen of him was on the night of January 31st, 1908, when he called at the Kent Tavern, Kendal, where he had left his gun some time before, and asked for that firearm, but there was no suspicion in the mind of those who saw him that he meditated putting an end to his life, as he was apparently as usual. Since then various rumours had been afloat as to his whereabouts, and it had been asserted that he had been seen in the United States. How unfounded those rumours were has now been proved.
In the course of his employment, Mr. Dawson had the oversight of a hut on Helm which had been used for purposes of quarantine in connection with outbreaks of smallpox. It was customary for him to visit this place at intervals to see that it was in good order., but until this week the place had not been opened by anyone connected with the Rural District Council.
On Tuesday morning Mr. Robert Dobson, the sanitary inspector for South Westmorland, visited the place, and as the proper key could not be found, he opened the door with a skeleton key. To his horror, he found the decomposed body of Mr. Dawson lying in such a position on the spring mattress of a bed, with a double barrelled gun in his hand, that there could be no two opinions as to how he had met with his end. The top of his head was blown off, the body decomposed and had almost dried up, and it was apparent that death had taken place many months before.
The Inquest: Some pertinent inquiries
The facts of the case were reported to Mr. G. E. Cartmel, the District Coroner, who held an inquest on Wednesday afternoon at the Station Inn, Oxenholme, which was attended by Mr. Milne, clerk to the South Westmorland Rural District Council.
The Coroner said they had met to inquire into the death of the deceased, who disappeared from the district in January, 1908, which was rather a long time since. Nothing further was heard of him except that he had gone out with his gun. It was wondered where he had gone as he had left everything in perfect order, and his disappearance was a complete mystery. Everything was done to find him, but nothing was heard of him until this week, when Mr. Dobson, the sanitary inspector, having occasion to go to a quarantine hut on Helm, found the decomposed body of deceased. He gave information to police, and Sergt. Miles went up and found the body lying on a bed, with the gun in his hands. The left hand was on one of the barrels and the thumb of the right hand on the trigger, one finger being on the stock. The deceased’s face was partly blown off, but he was perfectly recognisable as being the absent man. One of the barrels of the gun had been discharged, and in the other there was a full cartridge, and he thought the jury would have little difficulty, judging from the position of the deceased and the circumstances, that he had done away with himself. The deceased was possessed of the keys of the hut, and it seemed that after he had gone in he had locked the door and hung the key up behind it. Then he had shot himself on the bed. Of course it might be a matter for wonder that a person could be left in that place for about two years without being discovered. It did seem strange that some person had not gone up and looked about the place, because if an epidemic had broken out it must have been rather startling to have found a decomposed body there. Mr. Milne and Mr. Roscoe were present, and would perhaps be able to explain why the place had not been looked into before. Although it did not arise in connection with that case, certain remarks had been made that the place should have been so long locked up without being examined.
Mr. James B. Rooke, landlord of the Kent Tavern, Kendal, said he had known deceased for a number of years. He had seen the body and identified it was that of Wm. Dawson, who he believed was about 50 years of age. He was a road surveyor for the District Council. Before he identified the body he had told the police about some particular marks on the deceased’s gun, and he identified the gun produced as the one. Deceased took that gun from his (witness’s) house on the night of January 31st, 1908. He then seemed in good spirits. Not to witness’s knowledge had he had any trouble. Witness next saw deceased on Tuesday this week, lying on a mattress in the quarantine hut on Helm. In answer to a juror, he said the deceased was not under the influence of drink on the night of January 31st last year, and he had only complained of a little bit of cold, and that he had been spitting blood slightly.
Mr. Robt. Dobson, inspector of nuisances for the Rural District Council, said he had occasion to go up to the smallpox quarantine hut on Helm on Tuesday. He went for the purpose of lookin inside and seeing that all was right. He had not been up before. Deceased had always had care of the hut. He had the key of it. When deceased disappeared witness took over the highway business until another appointment had been made, and the council gave him the help of an assistant. On May 27th, 1908, he sent Mr. Thexton, the assistant, up to look at the place, and Thexton informed him the key witness had given him was not the right one, and that he could not get in the place. Witness mentioned that at the clerk’s office, and also mentioned when the new surveyor was appointed that it had been the duty of the deceased to keep an oversight of the hut. Witness had nothing to do with it except when patients were taken there, and after they had been removed and the place disinfected his duies in connection with it ceased.
A Gruesome Sight
In answer to the Coroner, witness stated that he mentioned the matter of the hut in the council clerk’s office on November 22nd, and was instructed to break the door open or get in in some manner. For that purpose he got a skeleton key and went up on the previous morning. When he got inside he lit a lamp as it was very dark, the windows being blocked up. He saw marks across the floor which appeared to him at the time to be caused by rain water which had come in. On putting the lamp through into the other room he saw the body lying on the spring mattress, stretched out with the head towards the top of the bed. The butt end of the gun was towards the feet, and the muzzle close to the head. The left hand was on the barrel and the thumb of the right hand was on the trigger, the fore-finger lying on the stock.
The Coroner: You got in with a skeleton key. Hadn’t you thought of using a skeleton key before? – It was not my duty.
The Foreman: Did the new surveyor know it was his duty? – I mentioned it.
The Foreman: Whose duty was it to go there? – There was no necessity to go there.
The Foreman: Is this place supposed to be left a year and eleven months without being inspected? Supposing any of our children had had to be taken there? – That is a matter for the council.
The Coroner: Is it anyone’s duty to attend to it?
The Foreman: Is it the surveyor’s duty. Mr. Dobson: It is a special duty.
P.S. Miles said about ten o’clock on Tuesday morning he was informed of the finding of the body, and went with Mr. Dobson to the quarantine hut and saw it. It was in the position stated. The choke barrel of the gun had been discharged. The whole of the cranium part of the head had been blown away. There was 36s. 4½d. in the deceased’s possession, a pocket-book with a number of letters, and a receipt addressed to deceased from Clerk to the District Council, a knife and other smaller articles. Witness recognised deceased. The body was stripped and the clothes destroyed. Witness had since examined the place and found two large keys hanging behind the door, one of which opened the door of the hut. There was no doubt in witness’s mind as to deceased having committed the act himself. The gun was very rusty.
Mr. Milne explains
Asked by the Coroner if he desired to say anything, Mr. Milne said he would gladly explain the matter. He stated that the shed of which they had heard was purchased seven or eight years ago by the Rural District Council at a time when smallpox broke out. The idea was that it should be a place of reception for persons who might have come in contact with smallpox cases. It was kept expressly as a sort of isolation place until it was seen whether there was smallpox or not. He did not think any use had been made of the place for something like five years. Mr. Dawson was highway superintendent, and it was not his duty as highway superintendent to have anything to do with the shed. But at a time when Mr. Dobson was very much pressed with other work, Mr. Dawson was asked to keep an eye on the place when he was passing, and see that it appeared to be in order. The bedding which was in the place was taken away to Woodside hospital, where they had one or two cases of smallpox sometime ago. The furniture which was left was not perishable and would take no harm. Mr. Dawson went to the place occasionally, and after his death Mr. Dobson took over his duties until Mr. Nelson was appointed. He was not certain now as to the instructions given when Mr. Nelson was appointed, but he believed Mr. Nelson would tell them he received no instructions in regard to the quarantine shed. He (Mr. Milne) did not know that it was not being inspected, and it came upon him as a surprise. He had not yet referred to the instructions given by the councilat the time of Mr. Nelson’s appointment.
The Coroner: I think you will agree someone should have inspected it. Mr. Milne: It is very desirable. It is a most terrible and regrettable incident.
The Foreman: Do I understand you that this duty was put on to Mr. Dobson? Mr. Milne: No. It was found he had not the time, and Mr. Dawson was asked to look to it. That continued until Mr. Dawson left.
The Coroner: It was really no one’s duty after? Mr. Milne: I could not answer that , and in order to do so I should have to refer to instructions which were given.
The Foreman of the jury said he was given to understand that Mr. Dawson periodically visited this place and a fire was put in occasionally, and it is apparent he had instructions to see the sanitary arrangements were kept in good order. He considered that it was the new officer’s place to see the place was all right. The council had been negligent on their part in not appointing a man.
The Coroner said he thought they had better confine themselves to questions and not give expressions of opinion. They must have bounds to their inquiry. No doubt Mr. Milne agreed that it was unfortunate. Mr. Milne: Most unfortunate.
The Jury then returned a verdict of “Death from a gun shot, self-inflicted whilst temporarily insane.”
Westmorland Gazette, 11 December 1909
More information about William Dawson established by Oxenholme Past:
William Dawson was born at Old Hutton in 1858 to Thomas Dawson and his wife Isabella nee Bell. By 1861 William’s father had died and Isabella and William were living in Shap. His mother married George Wilson at Shap in 1863 and they had a daughter shortly after. Sadly Isabella died in 1864 leaving two young children. By 1871 William aged 12 was a farm servant lodging with his employer.
In 1881, William, then aged 22 was an agricultural labourer living with his uncle Robert Benson and aunt Elizabeth Benson nee Bell, his late mother’s sister.
William married Margaret Bentham (1858-1947) in 1883. William and Margaret had three children together: James Dawson (1883-1965), Robert Benson Dawson (1885-1972) and Isabel Jane Marr nee Dawson (1886-1957).
In 1901 the family was living at East Bank, Scalthwaiterigg. William was now Highway Surveyor and Inspector.
On Monday a successful gathering was held to celebrate the third anniversary of the opening of the Mission Hall. Numerous guests, after partaking of a substantial tea, were addressed by Mrs. Isaac Braithwaite. The chair was occupied by Mr. John Parker, who referred briefly to the work and progress of the Mission under its earnest leader, Mrs. Page. The latter in a few well-chosen and touching words, thanked the members and workers for their help and sympathy. The tables were presided over by Mrs. W. Phizackerley, Mrs. Ellison, Mrs. Chris. Dobson, Mrs. J. Parker, assisted by many willing helpers. The programme included music and recitations by Miss Wilkinson, Mr. W. Phizackerley, Master C. Ewen, Miss Black, Misses Robinson, Miss Fanny Jackson, and Mr. Parker. Miss Wilkinson presided at the organ.
District Council Meetings – South Westmorland Rural
At the meeting of this council, held at Kendal on Saturday, Mr. A. Fulton presided.
– With regard to the water supply at Helmside and Natland Terrace, Dr. Cockill reported that the cottages at Helmside were 25 in number, and were supplied from a single pump to the north side of the buildings. Seven of them were situated at a distance of more than 200 feet from the pump. Each cottage has a soft water galvanised iron cistern of about 125 gallons capacity, which was filled from the rain water off the roofs. That, when full, allowed from 14 to 25 gallons of water per head according to the average population of the cottages. At a low computation that was not more than a three days supply in dry weather. All additional water had to be carried beside the usual daily amount for drinking and culinary purposes. The pump water appeared on the whole to be good, though at times there was a good deal of rusty deposit, due probably to the pipes in connection with the pump. That supply had only once been known to fail. He was of opinion the cottages mentioned, which formed 28 per cent of the houses erected there, were supplied with a sufficient supply of water within a reasonable distance. At Natland Terrace the houses were supplied from a single pump. The water was good and had never been known to fail. The houses were all within a reasonable distance of the source of supply. He was of opinion no objection could be taken to that supply. It was decided to press the Railway Company to make a more adequate supply.
Much regret was felt in the village on Saturday when it became known that Mrs. Nelson, the wife of Mr. Isaac Newton, of Helmside, had passed away, after undergoing an operation at the new County Hospital at Kendal. Mrs. Nelson was 51 years of age, and had lived at Oxenholme for the last 25 years. The interment took place at Natland on Tuesday, and was attended by a large body of relatives and friends. A staff of railwaymen acted as bearers, and in church the choir sang “Now the labourer’s task is o’er” and “O God our help in ages past.” The service, which was of impressive character, was conducted by the vicar, the Rev. E. J. Miller. Wreaths were sent by the Oxenholme railway staff, the Oxenholme mothers’ meeting, and by many sympathising relatives and friends. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. Hayes and Parkinson.
Westmorland Gazette, Saturday 13 February 1909
Note: Mrs. Nelson was Mrs. Charlotte Nelson nee Taylor
Mr Henry Preston, the new night stationmaster at Holyhead has been presented with a gold watch and chain, and gold studs and sleeve links, by the staff of Oxenholme Junction and some friends. A case of pipes was also presented to him by the telegraph department at the same station.
This afternoon Joseph Dixon, porter at Oxenholme station, was wheeling a truck of luggage down the north end of the platform, in order to cross the line, when it ran away from him. Dixon fell on the line and broke his left thigh. He was conveyed to the Kendal Hospital.
On the evening of New Year’s Day a terrible accident happened at Oxenholme Railway Station to John Pears, the foreman porter, causing his death. The deceased was married but had no family, and resided at Helmside, a row of cottages a little south of the railway station. When coming on duty about six o’clock it would appear that the deceased crossed the line, and was run into by the London express and literally cut to pieces. The deceased was a steady, quiet man, and much respected by his fellow workmen and the travelling public. An inquest was held on the body on Thursday evening by Mr. F. W. Watson, deputy coroner, when the following evidence was adduced:-
Sarah Pears, of Helmside, deposed: I am the widow of John Pears, the deceased. I last saw him alive last evening, about twenty minutes to six o’clock. My husband was foreman porter at Oxenholme Railway Station. He was due on duty at six o’clock. Before leaving home he was in his usual health and spirits. I had not the slightest reason to think that deceased contemplated any rash act. I am quite satisfied on this point. I attribute his death purely to accident. The deceased was 42 last March.
Henry Paine, brakesman, living at 8, Black Hall Yard, Kendal, deposed: I am in the employ of the London and North-Western Railway Company . I have known the deceased, John Pears, since I commenced work at Oxenholme nine years ago. He was a sober, steady man, and thoroughly acquainted with his duties. When I was coming off duty last evening, about six o’clock, I crossed the shunting yard to get to the platform. I walked along the six-foot way. When near Oxenholme Station I found a can and basket; the can had the deceased’s name stamped upon it. The evening was rather foggy and wet. I suspected that an accident had happened. On proceeding to search a little further south I found a human foot lying on the up loop line, on the shunting side. I then came to the office and told the station master what I had found. The station master and I proceeded back to the place, where we found the trunk of the deceased’s body lying in the four foot of the up main line. The trunk was mangled into a heap. Another person found some other portions of the body further south. I could not identify John Pears from his clothing, nor from any portion of the body that had been found. I cannot account for how the deceased got on to the line. The remains were found about forty yards from the southern end of the platform. I am not aware that the deceased had any duty which required him to cross the rails, but it is commonly done by the railway officials instead of using the sub way.
Thomas Moffat, station master at Oxenholme deposed: I have known the deceased, John Pears, nine years. He was a steady, trustworthy official, and acted as foreman porter. The deceased was due on duty at six o’clock last evening. I did not see him come on duty. A few minutes after six o’clock, the last witness came and reported to me the finding of the can and basket and a human foot. We returned together to continue the search. I corroborate what Paine has said as to the result of the search. Deceased might have been crossing the rails in the ordinary course of his duty. He had continually to do this when on duty. The London express is due to pass Oxenholme at 5-33 p.m., not stopping. Last night the express was late, passing through the station at 5-49. It was proceeding at a high rate of speed. I have no doubt the deceased was killed by that train. It is quite probable that he would think the express had passed and that the line was clear. By a juryman: A lamp underneath the bridge was not lighted; it was moonlight. There was no fog at the time. The platform lamps were all lighted. The lights from the signal box gives a good light where the remains were found. I could identify the deceased by the clothing and can.
Thomas Rumney, of Crewe, deposed: I am an engine-driver, and was in charge of the London express las evening due to pass through Oxenholme at 5-33. I passed through at 5-50. I neither saw, heard or felt anything in passing through Oxenholme, which we did at a rate of about 45 miles an hour. We ran through to Preston without a stop, and on arriving there I found portions of brains scattered against the side frame of the engine. I also observed the peak of a railway cap on the smoke box on the same side. The right buffer lamp was missing when we arrived at Preston. The lamp would be 4ft. or 5ft. from the ground, and this might probably cause death of deceased. The evening was a little hazy, but not so bad at Oxenholme as it was about Hayfell.
Inspector Shepherd, of Lancaster, here stated that there was another train on the down line being shunted when the express went through Oxenholme.
The Deputy-Coroner, however, did not think it was necessary to encumber the dispositions with this.
The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death.”