More newspapers from Staffordshire

There is so much material from Staffordshire that it justifies more than one page on the website.


Walsall Observer 1873 to 1885
Walsall 1

One thing that is striking when reading these articles is how careless parents were in allowing their children to play and roam freely - whether it is the 11 and 12 year olds who get out of their depth when bathing in the canal with no adult supervision, or the much younger children who played on the towing-path.

Names from Walsall Observer 1873 to 1885 (52kb)

Some areas of the canal were more dangerous than others.  The stretch of canal between Bridgeman Street and Wolverhampton Road was a notorious black spot.  In August 1882, six year old William Broadhurst drowned in that stretch of canal, and two other young children had fallen in there over the previous week.  The Coroner said, "There never was such an unfortunate bit of canal, for if he had held one inquest upon persons who had met with their death in it since he had been in office, he had held a hundred".

Articles from Walsall Observer 1873 to 1885 (240kb)


Walsall Observer 1886 to 1899
Walsall 2

Coal stealing.  But not as you know it.  Not a few pieces thrown on the towing path or into the canal for personal use, but coal stealing on an industrial scale.  A couple of tons of coal could, and did, regularly disappear en route between the colliery and the end user.

I would add here that I am old enough to remember what a hundredweight of coal looked like!

Names from Walsall Observer 1886 to 1899 (52kb)

The boatmen were not guiltless in this.  It was commonplace for them to throw coal off the boat onto the towing-path in exchange for a kettle of water, money, or even a packet of Woodbines.  But there were also organised "rings" of coal thieves - generally one adult and a large number of young boys, who would jump onto the boat when it was stationary and help themselves.  The boatman would be overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers, and also afraid to react in case things turned violent.

Articles from Walsall Observer 1886 to 1899 (386kb)


Walsall Observer 1900 to 1911

More coal stealing, and in summer 1911, a raft of child drownings.

The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, in a speech made in February 1909, expressed sympathy for boatmen, who he felt had been left behind in the scheme of things.  "The canal boatman seemed to belong to a different age.  He still wore the magnificent scarlet waistcoat, the womenfolk wore the distinctive dress of days past.  He went on exactly as did his forefathers, whilst everything else was improving, and social conditions became better and better".

Names from Walsall Observer 1900 to 1911 (51kb)

In September 1911, Harold Wall and John Davis squared up to each other over whose boat should take priority, and fisticuffs ensued.

Articles from Walsall Observer 1900 to 1911 (389kb)


Walsall Observer 1914 to 1929
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An interview from February 1915 with Ernest Somerfield details the true horrors of trench warfare, where the "Tommies" spent much of their time knee deep in mud.  Many cut off the bottom of their greatcoats because the flaps had become caked with slush and impeded movement.  Ernest himself was sent home from the front with frostbite.  He said, "I was walking across a turnip field when my feet became so heavy that I thought they were covered in mud.  But it was worse than that.  When I cut my boots off, my feet were as big and as black as a kettle".

Names from Walsall Observer 1914 to 1929 (51kb)

In February 1917, the ice boat had to be employed to clear the canal, where the ice was several inches thick and the waterway impassable.  When the ice boat sank, the boatmen in the local pub all cheered - after all, while they were laid up, they were still being paid!

In 1926, there were only two policewomen employed in the Walsall Police Force, and one of them, Miss Winifred McLintic, was severely bitten by boatman Joseph Hicklin when she tried to arrest him.

Articles from Walsall Observer 1914 to 1929 (708kb)


Burton Chronicle 1866 to 1898
Horninglow wharf

Articles here about two unusual accidents.

In the first, from November 1872, Samuel Till suffered a broken leg when he fell into the gravel he was carrying on his boat.  About a week later, he died from lockjaw as a result.  The verdict at the inquest was "Accidental death".

The photograph is of Horninglow Wharf.

Names from Burton Chronicle 1866 to 1898 (53kb)

An incident on Bonfire Night 1879 had long term repercussions for Thomas Wood, the son of a Wolverhampton boatman.  As part of Guy Fawkes celebrations, a local boy named William Duddell was playing with a pistol, firing it at random.  Duddell fired the unloaded pistol directly at Wood, at close range, and a deal of damage was caused by the gunpowder and wadding.  Thomas Wood spent 5 months in the Cottage Hospital at Barton-under-Needwood.

Since the act was not considered "malicious or intentional", Duddell was acquitted of a charge of wounding in February 1880.  In April 1881, Thomas Wood claimed compensation from William Duddell for his injuries, and was awarded the paltry sum of £15.

Articles from Burton Chronicle 1866 to 1898 (271kb)