James Waterhouse Taylor (1840-1894)

James Waterhouse Taylor was an auctioneer who died as the result of an accident at Sefton Mills.


He was born in Meltham in 1840, the son of clothier and publican Abraham Taylor (of the New Inn on Mill Moor Road) and his wife Martha, and was baptised on 8 November 1840 at St. Bartholomew.

He married cotton winder Hannah Hirst (1831-1887)[1], daughter of Charles Brook Hirst[2] and his wife Sarah, at the Queen Street Chapel in Huddersfield on 23 October 1864 and gave his occupation as "licensed jeweller".[3] They had at least one child:

  • Charles Hirst Taylor (c.1870-1928)[4]

Hannah also appears to have had an illegitimate daughter, Angelina Hirst, born around 1859, who is listed residing with the family in the 1881 Census. Prior to then, she had lived with her grandparents.[5]

The 1871 Census gives the family living at Mill Moor Top, Meltham, where James' occupation was given as "cotton spinner".

By the time of the 1881 Census, he was listed as a "cab proprietor"[6] and was reportedly known locally as "Jim o' Abb's". It is possible at this point he was working for auctioneers Eddison and Taylor of Huddersfield, perhaps handling their local deliveries.

According to History of the Meltham Industrial Co-operative Trading Society Limited (1911):

He was a distinct personality and of genial disposition, quaint in his remarks, and a ready wit which made him notorious with both young and old.

Hannah died on 23 July 1887 at the Swan Inn, Meltham, which was run by her brother, innkeeper Charles William Hirst. She was buried 27 July 1887 at St. James, Meltham Mills.

He married Clara Rhodes (1861-1916?)[7], daughter of stone merchant William Rhodes, on 2 November 1892 at St. John, Huddersfield.

The 1891 Census lists him as a widower cab proprietor of Cheddle, Meltham, with his 21-year-old son working as a horse stabler.

By 1894 he was working as an auctioneer for Eddison and Taylor.[8]

On the afternoon of 8 November 1894, he was involved in the auction of heavy woollen machinery and raw materials in the weaving shed of the bankrupt Sefton Mills in Meltham.[9] Apparently he had been warned about the stability of a section of the shed's wooden floor and reportedly told the 200 or so people in the shed to avoid standing near that area.

Lot 48 of the auction was a platform weighing machine and had been placed on display near to the unstable section of the floor. Just as the sale of the machine had been completed at 2:30pm, the floor gave way and caused around 30 to 40 people, including Taylor, to tumble down into a disused gasometer tank below. The 14 foot tank had recently been drained of water, but around 18 inches of sludge and mud remained at the bottom.

Some of the people who fell were trapped under flooring and auction items — James Bentley Crosland, son of Alderman James Crosland, was found face down in the mud under the debris and had suffocated. Ropes and ladders were fetched to aid with the rescue of the victims.

Taylor suffered a broken left leg and collar bone in the accident but was able to help coordinate the rescue efforts. Along with some of the other seriously injured, he was placed on the 4pm train from Meltham to Huddersfield and then conveyed to Huddersfield Infirmary.

At the inquest, held on 10 November at the Victoria Hotel, it was reported by some of the witnesses that Taylor had asked people to spread out in the shed and not to all stand in one place. Taylor was still in the Infirmary and the Coroner lamented that Taylor had not been able to attend to provide details of who exactly had warned him about the stability of the floor, as none of the witnesses knew.

The Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Nov/1894) reported that Taylor was "progressing favourably" but, towards the end of November, he caught pneumonia and died at 6pm on Thursday 6 December.[10] As the inquest into Crosland's death had been completed, it was felt unnecessary to held a second inquest into Taylor's death.[11]

His probate record records that he left an estate worth just over £28 to his wife, Clara.

Notes and References

  1. Hannah's age varies widely in the available historic records, but she was born 21 October 1831 and baptised 6 February 1832 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Holmfirth.
  2. Occupation given as "woollen mule spinner".
  3. With thanks to Bob Hirst for corrections.
  4. Worked as cab man and a teamer (i.e likely owned horses). Married 9 January 1892 to Emma(?) Cook, but she died shortly after. Married 31 August 1893 to Alice Ann Bailey and later worked as a fireman in Barnsley.
  5. Angelina worked as a cotton bobbin winder (1881 Census). She was married 23 March 1884 to Fred Waterhouse and gave her father's name as "manufacturer Edward Heap".
  6. Meaning he owned a horse drawn vehicle, which may have been used for deliveries.
  7. Born 2 June 1861 and baptised 4 August 1861 at Huddersfield Parish Church. She may be the Clara Taylor who died in 1916, aged 54.
  8. This was a company set up by Thomas Albert Taylor (1843-1898) and John Edison. After Edison's death, the firm became "Edison, Taylor and Booth". Thomas Albert was injured in the Sefton Mills accident of 1894 and reportedly never fully recovered. It is uncertain if James Waterhouse Taylor was related to Thomas Albert Taylor.
  9. Newspaper reports imply that he was the auctioneer, but Thomas Albert Taylor (1843-1898) was also present and may have fulfilled that role.
  10. "The Meltham Catastrophe: Another Death" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (07/Dec/1894).
  11. "The Meltham Catastrophe: Another Death" in Huddersfield Chronicle (08/Dec/1894).