24/09/2021

Soulsby searching

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One oddity that I had to wait over sixty years to understand was my middle name, Soulsby. My grandfather and father were also called Robert Soulsby Denton and I had been fobbed off with the family view that it was probably from an antecedent’s maiden name. The truth was much more interesting.

My great-great-grandfather (GGF2) Peter Denton (1809-1871) was an earthenware potter in Prescot Lancashire where the family had been based for a period, and where most were shown on censuses to be agricultural labourers. Peter moved away. Given his occupation you might assume he would have moved south to the Potteries, but his employer relocated him first to Hunslet in Yorkshire and then on to several Durham locations.

Census records show that a Hannah Cruddas (née Soulsby) died in 1860 and at some stage her daughter, Margaret aged ten, moved to Trimdon Grange to live with her uncle, Robert Soulsby (1822-1882), a Durham miner. Peter Denton’s son Joseph (1852-1935), a tailor and my GGF1, married this Margaret Cruddas in 1874. As her mother was Hannah Soulsby one could easily conclude that this was the derivation of the usage of the name.

 Joseph Denton, tailor,
my great grandfather

 Joseph Denton, tailor, my great grandfather

However, at 14:30 on 16 February 1882 there was a gas explosion on the Harvey seam at the Trimdon Grange Colliery. It resulted in the deaths of seventy-four men and boys; many were killed by the ‘after-damp’ gases produced following the explosion. The enquiry established that the mine was ‘not more than ordinarily gassy’ but it was a dusty mine and watering should have been carried out daily. Instead it was done ‘not in all places, but where it was absolutely necessary’. Chillingly, the enquiry concluded that the much-heralded Davy safety lamp being used by these miners ‘affords no security whatever against the occurrence of grave disasters of a similar kind’.

 Trimdon Grange Colliery – nothing left today

Trimdon Grange Colliery – nothing of it is left today

The youngest of the fatalities was twelve years old, the oldest sixty – the latter was Robert Soulsby, Margaret’s uncle. His death left behind a wife Anne and four children – see a video of a folk song commemorating the disaster at www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_rQRlf5btI . Do watch it until the end when it mentions Robert directly.

National press accounts of the disaster are available at www.dmm.org.uk/news18/8820217.htm

Centenary memorial

In 1982, at the centenary of the disaster Arthur Scargill, ‘King Arthur’ the leader of the National Union of Miners, unveiled a pit-wheel memorial. In 1989 the new Sedgefield MP Tony Blair (left) launched a campaign to restore it – seen here listening to a folk group.

Forty days after the disaster on 28 March 1882 Margaret and Joseph had their fourth baby (my grandfather) and named him Robert Soulsby in memory of his ill-fated great uncle.

Robert Soulsby Denton (1882-1947)

No deep mines remain in the Durham coalfield; there had been over a hundred at the coalfield’s production peak. Visiting the area in 2016, a Trimdon retailer told me that every year locals still assemble at the Trimdon Grange memorial, march through the town and are then bussed off to attend the Durham Miners’ Gala, held on the second Saturday in July. The gala has been celebrated annually since 1871 (except during world wars and miners’ strikes).

You would have thought this tale would have been passed down with the name but I only discovered this history when I was sixty-eight years old. However, I had already carried on the tradition. Given our more administrative world, to avoid confusion I used a prefix name; my son was Matthew Robert Soulsby and he named his first son Daniel Robert Soulsby. Keep it going Dan!

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