West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
 
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Pontefract Family History [ Index ]

TRAGIC DEATH OF JACOB WOOLEY

COLONEL C.H. TETLEY Called to Give Evidence

Compiled from Material Submitted by Colin and Tracy Halkyard

Photographs of Jacob Wooley [top] and Jacob's wife, Rose (nee Ollerton) [below]
submitted by Tracy Halkyard

Jacob Wooley

As much a part of the history of the town are the family histories compiled by an ever-increasing number of dedicated enthusiasts. Computer technology and Internet access has completely transformed the way people of all ages are able to access family history records and with appropriate software possess a means of recording and displaying this information in a way that removes much of the confusion of the past. This has undoubtedly had a major influence on the growth and popularity of a craft that has appeared up to quite recent times evocative of a small cottage industry.

Genealogy has become an enjoyable and absorbing pastime for many, offering a great sense of satisfaction and personal achievement when new discoveries are made. Each new addition to the family tree offers opportunities for more in-depth research into the way our ancestors lived and went about their every day lives.

Rose Wooley nee Ollerton

Sometimes even those discoveries from recent times yield stories of intrigue and fascination and record events and occurrences that remind us how times and social attitudes have evolved – in some cases through much needed legislation. One such story of note from not so long ago relates to the death of Jacob Woolley in a road traffic accident in Pontefract on the 22nd May 1934. In the context of genealogy seventy years past is hardly something to arouse a sense of exhilaration but such events as occurred on that day defined some of the changes and reforms effected over the last seven decades which now appear more distant in our minds than in reality they really are.

Ironically, the year 1934 saw the introduction of a Road Traffic Act which, from the 1st June 1935, introduced compulsory driving tests for all drivers who started driving on or after 1st April 1934. The Act was introduced in a year when 7,343 people lost their lives as a result of a road traffic accident with only 2,500,000 vehicles on Great Britain’s roads.

To put this in perspective it is interesting to note that in the year 2003 some 3,508 people were killed on Britain's roads, less than half the number of fatalities as in 1934, with in excess of 30 million vehicles on the roads by that time. In the first year that driving tests were made compulsory the number of deaths on our roads fell by 900.

In 1934 there was no legislation prohibiting people from driving while under the influence of alcohol. Only as recently as 1967 did a Road Traffic Act enforce a major piece of drink/drive legislation which set the 80mg/100ml limit and introduced the breathalyser.

The following account of the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Jacob Woolley is reproduced from a newspaper report of a court case which featured in the Pontefract & Castleford Express in July 1934 and was submitted to me by Colin and Tracy Halkyard.

ASSIZE SEQUEL TO CUTSYKE MAN’S DEATH

COL. TETLEY’S EVIDENCE
JUDGES REASON FOR LENIENT SENTENCE

Jacob Woolley was 37 years old and returning home on his bicycle at the end of his first day’s work as a roadman after a long spell of unemployment. Married with three children, he and his wife Rose lived in Ramsden Street, Cutsyke. He was cycling through Tanshelf towards Glasshoughton at 5.10pm on Tuesday 22nd May 1934 when a car being driven from Glasshoughton towards Pontefract swerved first to the left and then to the right before colliding with Woolley’s bicycle. Jacob Woolley, who had been well on his proper side of the road and travelling at a reasonable speed, was flung high in the air and fell on the road at the other side, the bicycle being carried for some distance by the car.

Evidence given before Pontefract Borough Magistrates showed that the car travelled on at a fast speed and did not stop until it reached the Premier Picture House some 100 yards away from the point of impact. A witness told the Bench that the driver of the car did not get out but reversed his vehicle towards the scene of the accident.

A witness got into the car to show the accused where Dr. Hessel lived in Halfpenny Lane, and on returning, although the car could have been turned round, the accused reversed it all the way down Halfpenny Lane. The car mounted the footpath at one point and, still in reverse gear, hit a wall at the opposite side of Halfpenny Lane and after leaving the lane was still kept in reverse gear towards Tanshelf Station. Other evidence was to the effect that the accused was unsteady on his feet and when asked for an explanation of the accident he replied "I don’t remember". Later when charged he stated "I have had a few drinks – it looks like my fault."

Dr. Hessel, upon examining the accused, formed the opinion that he was under the influence of drink and unfit to drive a car.

Jacob Woolley was taken to Pontefract General Infirmary where he died the following morning from his injuries.

ACCUSED’S ACCOUNT OF THE TRAGEDY

The accused in evidence said he had visited a number of public houses accompanied by a beer tester. At each place they refined beer and as a result of the operation, which caused the beer to effervesce, he got a shower bath and his clothes smelled of beer. Up to lunchtime he had had four half-pints of beer but nothing to drink after that time.

He stated he was driving on the crown of the road when Woolley approached on his proper side. He was riding with his head down, but when he was about eight or nine feet away he lifted his head, appeared startled, and swerved in front of the car. The accused said he swerved to his right in an attempt to miss the cyclist.

A Castleford licensee, Mrs E. Fowler, was asked by the Judge if the beer was ever tested by taste and she replied that they just tasted it and then spit it out.

Hubert S. O’Hara, a cellar inspector employed by Joshua Tetley & Son Ltd., who was with the accused on the day of the accident was asked by the Judge if the firm permitted their drivers going from public house to public house to have a drink at them and he answered "I don’t suppose they do my Lord." He said he did not know if there was any rule forbidding them to drink.

The accused was found guilty of manslaughter but the Judge said he wanted to know whether a man in that position was allowed by his employers to take intoxicating liquor when he was discharging his duties for them. It made a great deal of difference with regard to the prisoner. If his employers allowed him to take a drink when he was driving from one to another of their public houses, the blame seemed to him to be considerably lessened. He believed the evidence showed conclusively that the accused was under the influence of drink at the time of the accident but postponed sentence until some responsible person from the brewery could enlighten him.

When the court later reconvened, Colonel C. H. Tetley, Chairman of the Company, was questioned by the Judge as to whether their employees on duty were allowed to take intoxicating liquor, and he said the Company had no rule against it but left it to the men’s good sense. Until this case their trust had never been misplaced.

The Judge said that in the circumstances there was a danger to the public at large, for whom some protection must be provided, and asked "So far as this man is concerned, he was doing nothing contrary to orders?"

Colonel Tetley replied "Nothing whatsoever Sir."

The Judge then asked "Was the inspector at liberty to allow him to drive although he was under the influence of drink?"

Colonel Tetley replied "He ought not to have done that."

"It does not seem right," continued the Judge, "that a man going from public house to public house and exposed to temptations, should be allowed to take drink. This is the first occasion this has happened in the experience of your Company, but it is very lamentable."

Passing sentence on the accused his Lordship said, "I am entitled to take into consideration the fact that this is your first offence and also the fact that your employers, on whose business you were engaged when you were driving the car, had not thought it necessary to make any rule forbidding you to take drink during your working hours. In my view such a regulation is imperatively required."

Those who take the responsibility of allowing a man to drive from public house to public house, and trust to their good sense in this matter, are incurring a very dangerous responsibility. But since you were not prohibited from taking drink and since your superior officer who was with you did not prohibit you from continuing to drive, blame for this mans death morally lies at his door also. I think I can deal with your case with more leniency than otherwise would be the case."

The accused was sentenced to eight months imprisonment and had his driving licence suspended for five years.


 

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