Friday, January 24, 2014

Death of a New Cross railwayman, 1896

Another interesting find from the Spectator's archive, from as recent as 17 December 1994, but telling an older story of a sad death in New Cross.

'Death of a railwayman'

'My great-grandfather did kill himself: not with a gun but by hanging from the top of the washhouse door at 30 Amersham Grove, New Cross, South London, on 6 July 1896. His name was Septimus George Littler. He was 39. His little son, Leonard, was a year old. It seems a neighbour found him. Said the West Kent Argus: 'Dr Makeham attended and pronounced life extinct.' At the inquest at the Old Boar pub on Deptford High Street the coroner, a Mr Carttar, recorded the cause of death as 'suicide by hanging. Mental derangement through failing to pass sight-tests as a Railway Signalman.'

It seems that he had been downgraded from a signalman to a ticket inspector on the South-Eastern railway. 'His father had been a butler, and he had started with the railway at the age of 22, later marrying Lydia Longhurst, whose family were 'riverside folk' in London. In the 1890s there was a near accident on the railway caused by a colour-blind driver, so the company brought in compulsory sight-tests. It was these... that Septimus George failed. He took his demotion badly, fell into acute depression, and was sent home by Dr Makeham to attend the Greenwich Infirmary. But in the summer of 1896 he relapsed. Suicide followed. His widow, Lydia Littler, my great-grandmother, became a single mum...

Lydia worked as a lavatory attendant by day, sewing men's shirts by night. She seems to have been almost destitute. When her son Leonard, my grandfather, was seven, she decided to send him to the orphanage. Leonard was sent to St Christopher's in Derby: the 'Railway Servants Orphanage'

The author of this piece, the great-grandson of Septimus George Littler, was journalist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks again to your Blog for a fascinating historic news item on the tragic death of a Railwayman, with the link to the more recent article detailed in the Spectator that this was former MP -Columnist Matthew Parris g-grandfather....the family grave lies in Ladywell & Brockley cemetery...


Mike Guilfoyle
Vice-Chair -FOBLC