Jennifer aston

The Unusual Obituary of Archibald Hugh Conway Fargus

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Archibald Hugh Conway Fargus: photo courtesy of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club

Dr Kim Price has already touched on the devastating effect that WWI had on the second and third generations of the Victorian Professions cohort in his blog post The Sludge of Flanders. There was significant loss of life, with the officer class to which most of our sample belonged suffering the greatest fatalities, but survivors also experienced great difficulties acclimatising to life back home.

Archibald Hugh Conway Fargus was the son of cohort member Bristolian auctioneer Frederick John Fargus, perhaps better known as novelist Hugh Conway. Educated at Clifton College, Haileybury, and Pembroke College, Cambridge, Archibald was ordained as a Vicar and joined the Royal Navy in 1907 as a Chaplain. Although he had left the Navy in 1913, the outbreak of WWI in 1914 prompted Archibald to reenlist, and he was assigned to H.M.S Monmouth which set sail for the Pacific in January 1914. In November 1914, the H.M.S Monmouth engaged in the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile where it was sunk, with the loss of all on board.

During his time at school and Cambridge, Archibald had proved himself to be a talented cricketer, winning his Blue for cricket in 1900 and 1901, and representing Gloucestershire County Cricket Club. This cricketing prowess meant that Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack picked up on the story of Archibald’s death at sea, and printed his obituary in their 1915 edition. Somewhat embarrassingly for Wisden (but much to Archibald’s relief!), he had in fact never been on board H.M.S Monmouth because he missed his train to the port, thus placing him in the very unusual position of being alive to read his own obituary. Somewhat ironically, Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack failed to record Archibald’s actual death in 1963, only finally printing his correct obituary in 1994.

Dr Jennifer Aston


With thanks to Roger Gibbons of Gloucester County Cricket Club. His book In Memoriam Gloucestershire Cricketers Killed in the Great War is available here


Anonymous Heroes: the Dinas Mine Rescue Service

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Dinas Mine Rescue Service c.1912.
Photograph courtesy of Merthyr Tydfil Local Studies Department


On a recent trip to Merthyr Tydfil Library, I was searching through several large boxes of uncatalogued photographs, newspaper articles, and photocopies of handwritten notes when I discovered the image of a mine rescue team above. There were no annotations on the back of the photograph to give any clue as to the names of the men, the date of the photograph, or even where it was taken. However, from the hair (and moustache!) style of the subjects, I estimated that the picture was probably taken circa 1910.

This was an exciting discovery. Although mining disasters had sadly long been commonplace, any serious rescue and recovery efforts only became possible after Johann Heinrich Dräger and his son Bernhard invented valves that allowed the successful removal of carbon dioxide and the regulation of oxygen flow in tanks in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Therefore, the equipment in this photograph must have been among the very earliest available[i].

Some online detective work led me to Andrew Watson at MRS Training and Rescue (formerly Mines Rescue Service), who confirmed that the equipment in the picture was the 1904 Dräger model which had been used by rescuers in the Courrières mining disaster in 1906, saving many lives. Astoundingly, despite the small amount of background shown in the picture, Andrew also managed to tell me where the photograph was taken; the Dinas Mine Rescue Station, some 16 miles south of Merthyr Tydfil. The station was opened by King George V and Queen Mary in June 1912, and I suggest that this picture is most likely from around this date.


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One last mystery remains: who were the men in the photograph? Or perhaps more accurately, who were the men and boys in the photograph? While none of the men are old, the two figures in the top left corner, particularly the one on the left, cannot be any older than their mid-teens. It is unlikely that we will ever discover the identity of any of the men (although if you recognise anyone, please do get in touch), but the harrowing accounts of miners and mine rescue workers from the early 1900s shows that serving in the Mines Rescue Service must have required an extraordinary amount of bravery, and one can only imagine the horrors they faced, even with cutting-edge breathing apparatus.


Dr Jennifer Aston

With thanks to Mary Oates at Merthyr Tydfil Library and Andrew Watson at MRS Training & Rescue.

[i] For more information see:

Capturing social capital


Dowlais employees wearing the uniforms of the Twelfth Glamorganshire Volunteer Rifle Corps. Dowlais House, 1870. Showing front row: Dr. Burns; William Jenkins [seated]; George T Clark, trustee seated]; Dr. Pearson Cresswell [seated]. Back row: M.C. Harrison; Matthew Hirst; Edward Williams; Matthew Truran; William Menelaus, general manager; George Martin; David James. Photograph courtesy of Glamorgan Archives, Wales.


An important part of our project is attempting to chart the interconnected nature of professional men and their families in the nineteenth century, and the photograph above is a wonderful representation of this.

William Jenkins (seated left on the front row) is one of the project’s cohort members, and the subject of another blog entry. He was connected to Edward Williams (standing third from left behind William) through the marriage of his daughter, Alexandra Octavia, to Edward’s son Penry. William and Edward were both members of the South Wales Institute of Engineers and the North of England Mining and Mechanical Engineers alongside Matthew Truran (stood to Edward’s left) and Matthew’s father Samuel (who sadly died in 1860 when a faulty pipe leaked poisonous gas into his office). However their connection ran even deeper, with newspaper reports of Matthew’s funeral revealing that Edward’s son Penry and his brother Aneurin (M.P for Middlesbrough) were Matthew’s nephews, thus making Edward and Matthew brothers-in-law, as well as colleagues.

Alongside volunteering together in the Twelfth Glamorganshire Volunteer Rifle Corps, and working together in the Dowlais Works, many of these men and their families also held important positions in the local community. David James (standing, far right) was the cousin of cohort members Frank James, who served for many years as Registrar to Merthyr Tydfil, and on the committees of the Merthyr Board of Guardians and School Board, and Charles Herbert James who served as M.P. for Merthyr Tydfil and was chairman of the Merthyr Newspaper Company.

It seems that the relationships and connections between the men who posed in their smart uniforms in front of Dowlais House in 1870 are almost too numerous to count. Yet the scope of the Professions project allows us to examine the professional and personal interactions of these men on a scale that has not previously been attempted. This analysis is slowly revealing an incredibly complex and intricate network of social capital, a concept that was central to defining and enforcing the boundaries of the professional classes.


Dr Jennifer Aston

Show Me The Money! Harold Robert Prideaux – Railway Clerk

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Staff wages, Great Western Railway, 1833-1956

One of the trickiest issues facing the Victorian Professions team is determining how much the Professionals in our cohort and their family members were actually earning. Whilst there was a pecking order of ‘pukka’ professions, such as law, medicine and the Church, over the ‘new’ professions such as accountancy, clerks and teaching, this was not always reflected in the associated salaries. The frequently poor lot of the clergy is a common trope in nineteenth-century literature, with authors including Trollope regularly questioning how a man could be expected to support a family in a decent manner on incomes as low as £80 per annum. To give some context, historians generally agree that an income of £200 – £300 would have been necessary to secure and maintain the trappings of middle-class status.

The image above is of the Great Western Railway Employment Record, and gives the name of the company’s clerks, their age, and the date that service commenced. The ledgers also provide the starting salary of the worker, but even more excitingly they detail any pay rises that the clerk was awarded thus allowing us to chart their journey through the company.


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Record of Harold Robert Prideaux

Focussing on the record of Harold Robert Prideaux (b.1870) shows very clearly why knowing the salary of a professional is so important. Harold is the son of cohort member Thomas Symes Prideaux (b.1814), a chemist and engineer who was born in Devon but worked in Merthyr Tydfil, and he began work as a Clerk for the Great Western Railway on 25th February 1886 at the age of 16. Harold’s starting annual salary was £25, which is not an enormous amount when one considers that a skilled artisan of the same period might earn upwards of £100 per annum, but this marks the beginning of his training and we can see that Harold’s wage quickly increased. By the time that Harold married Hebe Alice Connor (b.1874) in 1899, he was earning £125, an amount which had risen further to £140 p.a. when they welcomed their daughter Joan in 1901.

Harold must have continued to progress through the ranks at the Great Western Railway because although he is still recorded as a ‘Railway Clerk’ in the 1901 and 1911 census, his salary increases are greater than would be expected from simple annual increments. The seven years between 1920 and 1927 represent a very lucrative period for Harold, and his salary more than doubled from £650 to £1550, where it remained until his retirement in 1930 after forty-four years of service. A quick comparison of Harold’s record to others on the same page in the ledger show that although other clerks received the same pay rises in the initial stages of their career, none achieved the rapid increase in salary that Harold saw in the latter half of his time at the Great Western Railway; indeed, Frederick John Dawe who worked for the GWR as a clerk for thirty-eight years had a salary of £360 when he retired.

Without the staff records of the Great Western Railway, it would not have been possible to determine exactly how long Harold had worked as a clerk (he would only be picked up in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census records), or how his career had progressed from joining the company as a 16 year old trainee to retiring age 60 in 1930. Most importantly however, this source gives the Victorian Professions team some quantitative data about the salary of clerks in the GWR during the nineteenth century which we will be able to compare against the salaries of other professions – both actual salaries, and those discussed in contemporary literature – allowing us to draw wider conclusions about the status of clerks and their place in the professional world of nineteenth-century Britain.

Dr Jennifer Aston



Staff wages, Great Western Railway, UK, Railway Employment Records, 1833-1956 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Accessed via Last accessed 10/09/2015

Middle class income information see: L. Davidoff & C. Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850, (London, 2002 edn), p.23-24

Artisan wage information see: D.E.C. Eversley, ‘Industry and Trade 1550-1880’, in W.B. Stephens [ed.], VCH Warwickshire VII, pp. 81-139, p. 136