Murder and Mayhem on the Midland

A Talk by Chris and Judy Rouse

Judy and Chris Rouse

This article was published in the December 2015 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

Ed: At our recent Annual Gathering we had a fascinating talk from Judy and Chris Rouse about how they have used typical records a family historian might use to research interesting events that took place on the Midland Railway. Judy very kindly provided me with a synopsis of her talk which is reproduced below.
Since 1999 Judy and Chris Rouse have been compiling an index of people who had any connection with the Midland Railway Company, which came into being in 1844, and whose lines ultimately by the end of the nineteenth century covered virtually the whole of Great Britain.
During this time they have indexed over 49,000 names, including 23,000 staff names and in their talk they showed how three very brief snippets of information uncovered during their researches could be turned into a full story by a little bit of extra research using various commonly available family history resources. They went on to reveal that from the briefest initial information, much more detail can be revealed. They highlighted railway occupations and wages, army records, court and criminal records, addresses, physical descriptions, family relationships, religious persuasions and much
more, helping to bring the past to life, which others could do for their ancestors.
The incidents discussed were very different in date, location and social status, but they all demonstrated how we as Family Historians using just one small piece of information as a starting point, could amplify this to illustrate the social and economic lives of our nineteenth century ancestors.
The sad case of Lady Zetland’s maid
This originated as a brief report to the Board of Trade, and which concerned an accident which occurred on Wednesday 8th December 1847 on the Midland Counties Line. This was the early days of rail travel and involved the wife of Lord Zetland and her maid Emily Jeffs whilst travelling in their own private carriage which had been loaded onto the carriage truck on the train (see example below). The carriage caught fire and the maid, Emily Jeffs, fell from the carriage truck while the train continued to travel to its next station. One point made was that the plight of Emily Jeffs would probably never come to light if had not been for the prominence and persistence of her employers.
Ralph Thompson, An influenza epidemic and its aftermath
This was an even sadder case, but one for which Judy and Chris had been able to uncover the staff records and other information about many of the people involved.
Whilst indexing the records for Burton on Tent staff they found a reference to one member of staff having committed Suicide in 1891, and used railway staff records the census and provincial newspapers to create this case study.
A Midland Railway Murder – William Thomas and the murder of a Birmingham Coffee House Keeper

The third case discussed uncovered the events leading to the most serious crime that they had found to date in the Midland Railway staff ledgers:
Whilst transcribing the Birmingham and Saltley staff records for the period 1876–1908 they came across a reference to a murder committed by a member of staff, and were able to reconstruct the events leading up to the murder and the family backgrounds of both the murderer and his victim.

Many wealthy people when travelling by train preferred to travel in their own coaches which were loaded onto carriage trucks similar to this later example