Answers to Questions


ROWSON, Shenley, 1912

January, 2006




Peter Rolph (p.rolph @t from Dorset writes: Whilst surfing the net I came across and article by Croyden Caving club regarding the brickfields/caves/quarry in Shenley/Ridge.  My research has shown that the Rowson side of my family worked these pits for some years.  The article mentions a fire at the quarry foreman's house in 1912 where he and his family died. It also states that this fire is believed to have been started by a William Rowson (my ancestor). Do you have any information on this fire or could you advise me as to where I could obtain more information.

First of all I don't expect anything online - unless you are very lucky.

My first suggestion is perhaps not the one you might expect from a "Hertfordshire Genealogist".

Harry Pearman has done a lot of work documenting the "caves" around London, and is the Librarian for the William Pengelly Caves Studies Trust ( which is based in Devon. If anything more detailed has been published on the chalk mines and the associated incident, he almost certainly knows about it. I found him very helpful when I was doing some work on the cave literature on Coopers Hole, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset. This was in connection with the Time Team program on the cave - which arose from a caving article I published in about 1960. (B.T.W. I was also involved in the earliest events which lead to the foundation of the Pengelly Trust.)

Next I would try the Times Index. This is available at many large libraries (on CD or in book form) , and the CD may be available via a link at smaller libraries in some counties. If a family died in a fire it may well have made the National Press. Indexing is a little eccentric so if at first you don't get anything try different search terms. With luck this will give you a date and the name of the fatalities.

If this is successful you now know when to look on local newspapers for the area (British Library at Colindale) for more detailed accounts,

Next I would try HALS. There are several possibilities:

They have a vast card index (or at least they had - I think it is in the process of either being microfilmed, transferred to a computer, or both. It contains material from a wide variety of sources - including the Hertfordshire Countryside magazine - which sometimes contains articles on such incidents.

If the Coroner's Inquest records survive they will probably have them - but I know that in many cases they do not survive.

If there was a prosecution on Hertfordshire they will have relevant papers (but I don't know if there is a 100 year rule)

I don't know what local history books they have about Shenley but The Book of Shenley has many references to the Broom family - but all much earlier - and it does not mention the brickworks in the 20th century, or the chalk mines.

Just a note of Shenley brickmakers from the Kelly's Directories for Hertfordshire:

1902  & 1908   Boff Brothers, brick makers

1912 & 1914 & 1922 Frank Broom, brick maker.

That is probably enough to be going on with. Let me know if you find more about the fire.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

Page created January 2006