EUREKA MO­MENT

How Richard Frost un­cov­ered the truth about a blast that dev­as­tated his kin

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Claire Vaughan

How long have you been do­ing your fam­ily his­tory?

I started back in 2003 and have al­ways been fas­ci­nated by a par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent in­volv­ing my 3x great grand­par­ents, Richard and Sophia Frost.

What did you un­cover be­fore hit­ting your brick wall?

Hav­ing mar­ried in 1820, by 1839, 40-year-old Richard and Sophia, 41, were liv­ing in New­dale, near Ket­ley in Shrop­shire with their nine chil­dren and ex­pect­ing a tenth. On Satur­day 9 March 1839, Richard left home to work at the nearby coal mine, leav­ing Wil­liam, 15, and Matthew, 12, who had worked the ppre­vi­ous night,g and Sophiap in bed. Their other chil­dren, El­iz­a­beth, 13; Martha, 12; Mary Han­nah, 10; Louisa, seven; Jane, five; Richard, four; and John, 21 months were in or around the house. A col­lier, Richard su­per­in­tended work at the pit but that morn­ing had for­got­ten the gun­pow­der he in­tended to use, so sent a young woman to fetch some that was stored at his home. When the woman ar­rived, El­iz­a­beth brought her the keg of gun­pow­der, plac­ing it on an arm­chair by the fire­place. Hav­ing left the re­main­der in the kitchen, the young woman was head­ing back to the pit, about 100 yards away, when there was an ex­plo­sion and the three-storey Frost fam­ily home was lev­elled to the ground. Re­mark­ably, Sophia and four chil­dren sur­vived, al­beit bad­lyy in­jured.j How­ever, El­iz­a­beth, Mary Han­nah and John were killed in­stantly and four-year-old Richard died 10 days later. Lo­cal Quak­ers took the fam­ily in and the event re­ceived na­tion­wide news­pa­per cov­er­age. The chil­dren were buried at All Saints Church, Welling­ton.

What was stop­ping you pro­gress­ing your re­search?

I was keen to pin­point the ex­act lo­ca­tion of Richard and Sophia’s house, but am based in Ex­eter, so was re­liant on on­line re­sources. New­dale, Ket­ley and Welling­ton are now part of Telford and census in­for­ma­tion through­out the 19th cen­tury for this area is par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing be­cause it lacks the in­clu­sion of ex­act ad­dresses. The 1841 census sim­ply shows the fam­ily as liv­ing in ‘New­dale’ and the death cer­tifi­cates and in­quest re­port also state ‘New­dale’ with no other in­for­ma­tion. The news­pa­per re­ports of the time re­fer only to nearby Ket­ley. New­dale it­self was de­mol­ished in the 1960s.

How had you tried to solve it pre­vi­ously?

Welling­ton-based lo­cal his­to­rian, Al­lan Frost, him­self a great great grand­son of Richard and Sophia, had pre­vi­ously writ­ten about the events and been told that the ad­dress of the fate­ful house was 1 Stone Row. In my on­go­ing ef­forts, I con­tacted Telford Town Park Vis­i­tor Cen­tre and found a record of some work­ers’ cot­tages called Stone Row in the Malin­see area of the town. How­ever,

given that the young woman from the pit ap­pears to have only walked a short dis­tance, Malin­see isn’t close enough to New­dale.

What’s your ‘eureka mo­ment’?

It hap­pened dur­ing a visit to Welling­ton Li­brary in Fe­bru­ary 2015, thanks to the help of li­brar­ian, Jane Baker and com­mu­nity vol­un­teers there.

I found out that New­dale had been es­tab­lished by the Coal­brook­dale Com­pany in 1759 as one of the first pur­pose-built in­dus­trial set­tle­ments of its kind. Orig­i­nally, an iron-work­ing com­plex, the ven­ture was short-lived and closed in 1763. How­ever, coal in the area was sub­se­quently mined and the li­brary’s old Ord­nance Sur­vey maps and other doc­u­ments showed a dis­used mine and shafts in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity. A re­port of an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion in 1987 con­tained de­tails and plans of the hous­ing at New­dale. Th­ese also showed a Quaker Meet­ing House and a school, as well as 18 back-to-back cot­tages called, not Stone Row, but Long Row. There were other houses, too: three-storey ones marked as West Row. Re­ports of the ac­ci­dent de­scribed the Frosts’ house as three-storey.

How did it solve the prob­lem?

Th­ese orig­i­nal doc­u­ments showed me I’d been look­ing for the wrong name in the wrong place. Sud­denly, it all fell into place. West Row was clearly where it all hap­pened.

How did you feel when you dis­cov­ered the so­lu­tion?

It was won­der­ful to piece to­gether bits of in­for­ma­tion that not only made sense but also had a solid con­nec­tion with my an­ces­tors. I also vis­ited what had been New­dale. Noth­ing re­mains now, but stand­ing nearby is the Wagonway Bridge, built in 1759 to carry an early plate rail­way used for trans­port­ing ma­te­ri­als to and from the iron­works from Coal­brook­dale. Richard and Sophia prob­a­bly walked over this bridge.

Did you dis­cover any­thing else in­ter­est­ing along the way?

Ac­cord­ing to a let­ter in the Shrews­bury

Chron­i­cle, af­ter the ex­plo­sion, the fam­ily was taken in by lo­cal Quak­ers Sa­muel and Ann Simkin. I con­tacted a lo­cal Quaker his­to­rian, and even­tu­ally dis­cov­ered that Sa­muel had been a car­pen­ter and prom­i­nent mem­ber of the So­ci­ety of Friends Meet­ing House in New­dale. Through Ances­try, I con­tacted one of his de­scen­dants liv­ing in the US and found out that Sa­muel and Ann had em­i­grated there the year af­ter the ac­ci­dent. This pro­vided a lovely op­por­tu­nity to say a be­lated ‘thank you’ for their an­ces­tors’ kind­ness to mine.

Richard seem­ingly never re­cov­ered from all that hap­pened and died on 15 Au­gust 1847 aged just 48. Sophia, how­ever, lived to the grand age of 87 and died on 3 June 1885 in the pres­ence of Ebenezer, the baby she so nearly lost in that ter­ri­ble ac­ci­dent.

A head­stone re­mains at All Saints Church as a me­mo­rial to this tragic loss and it cer­tainly de­manded a visit. The stones had been moved to the perime­ter of the grave­yard. A plan of me­mo­rial in­scrip­tions in hand, I man­aged to find the last­ing me­mo­rial to Richard and Sophia’s chil­dren. Some­one had left flow­ers on it, some­one with the same con­nec­tion and the same think­ing as me.

What would your ad­vice be to other fam­ily his­to­ri­ans who hit an ob­sta­cle on their fam­ily tree?

Don’t for­get the lo­cal li­brary! I’ve cer­tainly fallen into the trap of fo­cussing just on the in­ter­net but us­ing those lo­cal con­tacts and other sources of in­for­ma­tion re­ally helps.

Theh in­questi re­port in­toi theh tragici ex­plo­sionl i states thath theh Frost fam­i­lyf il were liv­ingli i ini New­daled l

RichardRi h d F Frost’s’ an­ces­tors died in an ex­plo­sion

A re­port of an arche­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion in 1987 con­tained de­tails and plans of hous­ing at New­dale

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