GGF1 Joseph Denton – Soulsby search cont’d

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Joseph Denton (b: 19 Sep 1852 at Evenwood Durham – d: 18 Oct 1935) proved to be something of an exception within our family, the menfolk of previous generations had been farm labourers or had worked in the earthenware pottery business; the latter included his father Peter.

Joseph however was a tailor. Sadly there is no means for me to establish just how and why that came about. It appears he worked away from his town, as the 1911 census usefully provides that he worked at ‘Cooperative House’.

The history of the nearby Bishops Auckland Co-operative Flour and Provision Society mentions that it had diversified into tailoring in March 1874, commenting that, while it was early days, the section was proving very promising. By March 1876 it was reporting a complement of ‘one cutter, fifteen tailors, and one machinist’, and the following year they opened a ready-made section.

In 1894, the Bishop Auckland Co-operative finished buildings its Newgate Street, these had taken twenty years to complete. They had cost £9,031 and one life – a labourer who was killed during construction. They were opened on July 14 with what the Northern Echo described as one of the greatest events this town has ever witnessed.

After a formal door-opening ceremony, between 4,000 and 5,000 peopke processed behind various brass bands to the grounds of Auckland Castle where they were treated to a free tea and a raft of speeches.

The newest wing contained the drapery and earthenware departments on the ground floor, the carpet and mantle departments on the first floor, and the furnishing department on the top floor. In the older wing there were departments devoted to grocery, flour and provisions, drapery, millinery, boots (manufactured and ready-made), tailoring and ready-made clothing, ironmongery, jewellery, dressmaking, jersey making and stocking making.

Joseph certainly looks well turned-out in this the only picture that I have found of him.

Joseph Denton, GGF1

It was my great-grandparents, Joseph and his wife Margaret (1851-1923), who introduced the name Soulsby into our lineage when they named their fourth child (and second son) Robert Soulsby Denton.

So our family folklore was wrong as Margaret’s maiden name was Cruddas. As mentioned above it was her mother, a GGM2 Hannah, who was the Soulsby. My first assumption was that some sort of closeness between them had led to Hannah’s maiden name being used as our middle name.

Trimdon Grange, Durham

But the baby was in fact named after Hannah’s brother Robert Soulsby (1822-1882), a miner in Durham throughout his life. Hannah had died in 1860 and Margaret, at the age of ten, had moved in with her uncle Robert Soulsby and his family in Trimdon Grange. However, it wasn’t this fact that led to his name being given to my grandfather. When Margaret and Joseph had their new baby on 28 March 1882, it was just one month after the Trimdon Grange Colliery Disaster (detailed below), they named my grandfather Robert Soulsby Denton in memory of his great uncle, who was one of the fatalities.

Chart indicating the connections
that linked the Robert Soulsbys

Trimdon Grange Colliery Disaster 1882

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 in fact were killed by the ‘after-damp’ gases produced following the explosion.

The enquiry established that the mine was not more than ordinarily gassy, but was a dusty mine and watering should have been carried out daily. It was done not in all places, but where it was absolutely necessary. It 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 of it is left today

The youngest fatality among the 74, was just twelve years old, the oldest was sixty – and this latter was Robert Soulsby – he left his wife Anne and four children.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_rQRlf5btI  has a video of a folk song commemorating the disaster, do watch until the end when it mentions Robert.

www.dmm.org.uk/news18/8820217.htm shows the national press accounts of the disaster.

A smaller pit wheel memorial in the
Trimdon Grange shopping precinct
©Bob Denton 2016

Nearby memorial in Trimdon,
resting place for forty-four of those lost
©Bob Denton 2016

One of the stones around Trimdon memorial
©Bob Denton 2016

Soulsby headstone
close to Trimdon memorial
©Bob Denton 2016
In 1982 for the centenary of the disaster Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Miners, unveiled a pitwheel memorial. In 1989 the young Sedgefield MP Tony Blair launched a campaign to restore it – seen here listening to a folk group performing beside that memorial.

When I visited Trimdon in 2016, a local retailer told me that every year the locals assemble at the memorial (pictured above) and march through the town before being bussed off to attend the Durham Miners’ Gala which is held on the second Saturday each July.

The gala has been celebrated annually since 1871, predating ‘our’ disaster’ although it was not held during either of the world wars or in 1921, 1922, 1926 and 1984 because of miners’ strikes. The Gala was also not held in 2020 or 2021 due to Covid restrictions.

In 2015 all four contenders in the Labour Party leadership election attended, although only Jeremy Corbyn was permitted to speak as he had the endorsement of the Durham Miners’ Association. There were over a hundred deep mines at the Durham coalfield’s production peak, none remain today.

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