Streets ahead in road safety... family history gems with Family Tree's Dear Karen


08 January 2020
Family Tree assistant editor Karen Clare loves sharing genealogical gems, tragic tales and fantastic family history stories in her regular Dear Karen column. Here she learns of a road safety-conscious ancestor and a double death registration…

Back in the December 2019 issue of Family Tree we reported the story about the origins of street bollards – it turns out many began life as cannons. Well, reading this historical snippet at Family Tree HQ prompted FT Editor Helen Tovey to confide a road-related tale about one of her ancestors.

The invention of 'Hastings Safety Lamps'

Says Helen: ‘My ancestor invented another piece of street furniture: pedestrian islands. They were named “Hastings Safety Lamps” after my Liverpool saddler John Hastings who came up with the idea for an island, with a street lamp on it, on which pedestrians could wait to safely cross the road. The Liverpool streets at the time were apparently pretty notorious for pedestrian perils and it was the death of one in a road accident outside his premises that led John to invent the island.’

Thanks to Helen for shining a light (if you excuse the pun) on the early days of traffic islands! 

It left us both wondering: does anyone else have a quirky inventor in their family tree? 

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A Priest's tale

Now, last year we learned of a chap called William Bemment, who apparently died... twice! (You can read the tale here.) Katy Morris got in touch to tell of a similar situation. The fellow involved was her husband’s 3x great-grandfather, John Priest, a miner who was killed aged 39 on 12 December 1852, in a roof fall at Williams Charity Colliery in Bedworth, Warwickshire. The inquest,  explains Katy, was carried out by the coroner, WH Seymour, who recorded the verdict of accidental death due to ‘fall of bind’ (a carboniferous rock). John Priest’s death was registered on 22 December 1852 – and it’s from there that the mystery unfolds.

Katy says: ‘I then discovered a second death certificate for John, with exactly the same information on it, registered on 19 March 1853. I have always wondered why it was registered twice? Did the coroner forget he had already done it? I guess we will never know. I have tried in vain so far to find any newspaper reports of his inquest and there are no coroners’ records to my knowledge (they were not required to keep them). I am ever hopeful that one day, a newspaper will appear in the British Newspaper Archive that mentions John’s inquest and provide more detail about what happened.’  

Tell me your family history tales!

Email your fascinating and funny family history gems to me at [email protected] and they could feature in my column.

• This is an abridged version of Dear Karen, published in the January 2020 issue of Family Tree. Buy your copy here

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Illustration © Ellie Keeble for Family Tree.

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