Samuel Cookson. Fatal Accident to a Boy

Samuel Cookson.  Fatal Accident to a Boy

On Saturday, 13 May, 1882 p. 5 The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, reported as follows:

‘An inquest was held before Dr. Prior, borough coroner, at The Corn Exchange, on Thursday morning, on the body of Samuel Cookson, aged 15, who was killed on the Midland Railway under circumstances detailed in the evidence. The Jury were Mr. T. Hague (foreman), Messrs. W. Coote, G. Walton, A. Wicken, S. Sharman, W. Smith, H. Maclin, T. Whitworth, J. Mays, J. Bucks, S. Groom, E. Bush, and W. Cockerell.

‘John Sergeant, printer’s apprentice, 8, St. Cuthbert’s Street, identified the body lying in the Mortuary as that of Samuel Cookson, who was also an apprentice with him at Mr. Walsh’s. On Tuesday evening at 8.45 they were together and coming from Poplar Avenue, with a view to getting on the Avenue Road. John Bailey was also with them, and they were out for a walk. They crossed the line at the level crossing near the bridge. Bailey and witness got over the line, and Cookson was caught by a train from Manchester. He saw the buffer catch him, and after the train had gone witness found the boy lying on the line between the four-foot. Bailey pulled him off the line and laid him on the path at the side. It was getting dusk and they could not clearly see his condition. His clothes appeared torn all to bits, and they could see that his legs were off.

‘P.s. Pedley here produced a catapult which he found in deceased’s pocket.

‘Witness said he had seen Cookson use the catapult and shooting into the river with it. He did not know whether Bailey had one; witness had not one with him. The train looked a long way off when he called out to Cookson to stop, but Cookson made no reply.

‘Mr Kinsey deposed that between 12 and 1 a.m. on Wednesday he was called to the Mortuary to see the body of the deceased. The head was crushed and only attached to the body by about an inch of skin; the arms and legs were cut off, and death was instantaneous. The injuries were such as would be inflicted in the manner described by the last witness.

‘John Bailey aged 16, employed at the Ordnance Survey Office, said he accompanied deceased and Sergeant on Tuesday evening. They had been to Poplar Avenue, and were returning by the line when the train came up. Witness got across and did not see the engine strike the deceased. He picked up the body and laid it at the side of the line; he noticed that the head and legs were off. Witness had a catapult with him but he did not remember using it; Cookson used his a few times, but not to shoot at the trains. He did not see Sergeant with a catapult.

‘The Coroner and Jury expressed their opinion that the witness must know whether he used his catapult or not, and it would be much better for him to answer yes or no.

‘Bailey adhered to his statement that he could not say whether or not he did use his catapult.

‘John Peacock, labourer, in the employ of the Corporation, stated that on Tuesday night he was at the Anglers’ Rest when he heard an alarm that an accident had occurred on the line. Witness and others hastened to the spot, accompanied by one, Papworth, who gave the alarm, and found the body lying on the up side of the line. A stretcher was procured, the body was put into a brake, attached to an engine, and witness assisted to convey it to the mortuary.

‘The Coroner said the evidence was clear enough, and the duty of the jury was plain. The boys were undoubtedly out on a mischievous expedition, and probably they were after the jack [rabbit or hare] in the ditches.

‘A verdict of “Accidental Death” was returned, Bailey was called in and advised as to his future conduct.

‘Mr. Potter, Inspector for the Midland Company, said several engines which passed the spot about the time mentioned were examined, but no blood was found, and none of the drivers knew anything about it.’

The Bedford Midland Railway Station opened in the 1860s and the line with its magnificent steam trains, would have attracted much interest in the area. Children are known to have been drawn to it, not appreciating the potential for accidents whilst at play. In the 1970s when the Writer was employed as a teacher in a Bedford school, children were repeatedly warned about the dangers of playing near the railway lines, particularly as holiday periods approached. It is to be hoped that with electrification of the lines, high speed trains and public awareness, railway accidents and fatalities among children at play have diminished or have ceased to occur.

The tragic death of Samuel Cookson, still a child, and the impact on his grieving family having lost their son and in such tragic circumstances must have been devastating. According to the 1881 census, the boy and his parents Sarah and Richard Cookson were living at 46 Hassett Street, Bedford. There had been another son, Harry, born in 1872, baptised on 7 August 1872 but died and was buried in Bedford Cemetery on 28 August 1872 aged only ten weeks. Samuel was born on 2 March 1866.

Little is known of Richard Cookson except that he worked as a warder at Bedford Gaol. He does not appear on the 1871 census as being at home, and a check reveals that he was not on the Bedford Gaol entry for that night (2 April 1871) either, so obviously not at work. What is known is that the well-known executioner William Calcraft, is listed in the census as being at the prison, as a prisoner named William Bull was due to be hanged at 8 am the next morning. Perhaps Richard Cookson was at his post at the prison that day, 3 April 1871,when the first execution to be held at the prison hidden from public view, since the last public hanging in 1868 (of William Worsley) took place.

Bedford Prison (top right) and 46 Hassett Street, marked with a red cross.

As for the unfortunate Samuel Cookson, it is known that he attended the Harpur Charity School in the centre of Bedford. The school register for 1873 confirms this and gives his date of birth as 2 March 1866. His burial in Bedford Cemetery took place c. 13 May 1882.

Copyright: Brenda Fraser-Newstead
22 January 2020


The Bedfordshire Times & Independent. Saturday, 13 May, 1882 p.5
1871 and 1881 Census
Burial Record grave reference G.10. 245
Date of death 9 May 1882
Buried 13 May 1882, aged 16
Foster Hill Road Cemetery Plan
Harpur Charity School Register, 1873


Courtesy Colin Woolf


A special mention of my gratitude to Maurice Nicholson and Colin Woolf for their continued help and support.