HEADS Robert (1823 – 1869)


Situated in the Unconsecrated/East Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery

Robert was born on the 29th December, 1823 in Byker.

In the 1841 Census, Robert is recorded as living with his parents, William (A Waterman) and Jane and his brothers,  James aged 25 and a ‘Sailor’ and John, aged 13, in Greenville Terrace in the parish of All Saints, Newcastle. At this time, the Census has Robert as being aged 15 and working as a ‘Ship Carpenter’. By 1847, Robert had married Eleanor and in the 1851 Census, they are recorded as living in William Street, Byker, with their two sons, Robert and Joseph. In the 1861 Census, the Heads are recorded as now living at 56, Smiths Dock, Byker and have added John, Isabella Jane and Ralph to their family; Robert is recorded as being a ‘Foreman Shipwright’. It looks like the family was further added to in 1865, with records showing that Frederick was baptized in the parish of All Saints, Poplar, Middlesex…. Robert and Eleanor Heads are identified as his parents, with Robert being identified as a ‘Shipwright’, so perhaps the family went south for a while in search of a new life before returning to Newcastle?

Robert’s death was reported in The Newcastle Daily Journal, dated Tuesday, August 3rd 1869, thus:- ‘Last night, an accident, which caused considerable excitement in the towns of Newcastle and Gateshead, occurred at the Gateshead end of the High Level Bridge, to the ordinary passenger train which leaves Sunderland at 5.5 and arrives at Newcastle at 5.50 p.m. It appears that the train had proceeded in safety to the Gateshead Station, where it stopped to set down passengers, after which it proceeded slowly to cross the High Level Bridge on its way to Newcastle. When the train had nearly got out of the way of the station, the last carriage but one was jolted from the line on one side, and in this manner proceeded from the end of the platform to the crossing of the Team Valley line, a distance of over 30 yards, jolting very severely all the way. The passengers naturally became very much alarmed and excited, and one of them, Mr. Robert Heads, of 23, Simpson Street, Newcastle, jumped from the carriage, which fell over upon him as he did so. There were several passengers in the carriage when it went over, none of whom, we are glad to say, were seriously injured. The signalman on the top of the High Level Bridge, seeing the occurrence, shouted to the engine driver, who pulled up the train as speedily as possible, and on the mangled remains of Mr. Head being removed from beneath the prostrate carriage, life was found to be quite extinct. The right arm had been nearly wrenched from his body, the left one terribly cut and bruised, and other parts of his body frightfully smashed. The body was removed to the first-class waiting room of the Team Valley Railway at Gateshead, and Drs. Heath and Rutherford, who happened to be passing at the time, were called in to see it, but the poor fellow had passed beyond the reach of their skill. The deceased was what is known as a ship’s husband, in the employment of Messrs. T. and W. Smith and Co., shipbuilders and rope manufacturers, Newcastle, and was 40 years of age. It is very remarkable that the last carriage of the train remained on the line, though the one which preceded it was thrown off. It is supposed that there had been something wrong with the flange of the wheel, and that it had caught the supplementary line which runs along the rails of the High Level Bridge for the purpose of keeping the trains on the line more securely, and had got by this means thrown off the rails.’

The Newcastle Daily Journal, dated Wednesday, August 4, 1869, carries a report on Robert’s Coroner’s Inquest, ‘An inquest on the body of Robert Heads, who was killed while travelling in a third class railway carriage near Gateshead Railway Station, on Monsay night, was held last evening at the Commercial Hotel, Half Moon Lane, Gateshead, before Mr. J. M. Favell, Coroner, and a jury, of which Mr. John Forster was foreman.

Mr. Usher, Passenger Superintendent, and Mr. Mitford, of the Engineering Department of the North-Eastern Railway Company, were present on behalf of that company. The following evidence was taken:-

Joseph Carter, sworn, said he was a shipwright living at St. Peter’s. The body lying in the waiting room at the Gateshead Railway Station was that of the deceased, Robert Heads, who was 43 years of age. He was a ship’s husband for Messrs. T. and W. Smith, shipbuilders, North Shields. He was married and had six children. He was on business at the time of the accident.

John Johnson, sworn, said he was a Porter employed by the North Eastern Railway Company at the Gateshead Station of the Team Valley Branch. John Johnson, continuing, said at a quarter to six o’clock yesterday, the five minutes past five train from Shields and Sunderland stopped at Gateshead, which is usual. He was standing on the platform, and his attention was drawn by the screams of the people to the train, which had just left the station, and was going forward across the High Level. He saw the last carriage but one of the train rocking, and he saw a gentleman in it open the door and jump out. The gentleman fell, and at the same moment the carriage fell upon him, close to the junction of the Team Valley line, and the train stopped a little further on, perhaps ten or twelve yards. He saw the deceased got out from underneath the carriage. The carriage was dragging over him, amongst the rails. He was quite dead when taken from underneath the carriage. He was very much torn in pieces, he could not say whether his head was off. He assisted in getting the body out. He did not know the cause of the carriage getting off the rails.

The Station Master at Gateshead, in reply to the Coroner, said there was only one complaint from the people who were in the carriage beside the deceased – a woman complained about her arm. There were no injuries worth mentioning. The Coroner: In all human probability, if the deceased had sat still, he would not have been killed.

The following verdict was unanimously come to by the jury:- That the deceased was killed by the falling of a railway carriage on the 2nd of August; but there was not sufficient evidence to show how the carriage got off the line.’

So, poor Robert; if only he had stayed inside the carriage, he would have survived the accident and not left behind a widow and six children. A split second decision to jump would have left his family absolutely traumatised.

Anyway, bless him, I love the tribute on his headstone, saying ‘His unassuming ability, integrity and kindness endeared him to a large circle of friends’

Robert’s monument also records the names of Joseph, his second son, and William, his third son, both of whom were interred at Ballast Hills, Isabella Jane, his only daughter, and Robert, who were both interred in Ilford Cemetery, another son, John, and his wife, Eleanor.

Their monument was one of those moved during the 1971 exhumations.