Earliest Naming Of "Ordinary" Dead on Memorials

The Felling Pit Disaster of 1812

John Grundy, who through teaching, has had a long association with The Felling, was unanimously picked by The Felling Heritage Group as first choice for a celebrity to speak at its World War One Centenary Commemoration event on 15th July 2014*.
He accepted the invite and made a stirring speech, as is his style, aimed, primarily, at the school children. See for yourself in this snippet from the video of the whole event.



He was thinking on his feet and when expounding the virtues of us Felling folk today remembering those who answered the call in 1914-18 he suggested that it was not always like this.

The Crimean War 1854-56 was perhaps the first time that the ordinary soldier was treated with dignity and Florence Nightingdale rose to prominence because of her concern for the sick and wounded. The earliest war memorials, naming the "officer class" dead, were after 1856. See ** below

He made the point that over 100 years before the First World War the people of Felling had erected a monument listing the 92 men and boys who were killed in the Felling Pit Disaster of 1812 and he ventured that this was perhaps the first time in history that listing the names of ordinary people had been done. After an extensive internet search it seems that he is probably right and a lot of the credit for that monument with names must go to his fellow amateur historian and Cumbrian (near enough, as a Westmorelander) the Rev John Hodgson, vicar of Heworth Church at that time. He was very involved...it was he who investigated the disaster and he was one of the first, if not the first to test, in a live situation, the safety lamp that was developed by Davy as a result of the disaster at The Felling.

It is worth saying that, for at least two reasons, it is understandable that the event that triggered this listing and honouring of the "ordinary" dead happened first in industry. (In the military, prior to 1899, only the officer class were usually named.) The “foot soldiers” in industry, unlike their contemporaries in the military, were already “banding together as groups” (Luddism) to argue for better pay and conditions. ( and, for example,The River Tyne Keelmen rioted,100 years earlier, in 1710) 

Also all were killed in one confined space and, all but one small boy, could be named.***
It should also be said that the memorial stone is more than that. It is effectively a gravestone as all the bodies were buried in a mass grave
 In military operations at about this time the whereabouts and names of the dead were often unknown. In the American Civil War (1861-65), for example, record keeping was haphazard and grave locations were often lost. The U.S. Army exhumed from Southern graves the remains of 300,000 Union soldiers and re-interred them in national cemeteries but 54% were classified as “Unknown”. In looking at the American War of Independence, sometime earlier, as another example, not only were the dead not named but the number of those who lost their lives was so incredibly vague and amounted to guesswork.

  See here for this about The Battle of The Somme

A total of 19,240 British and Commonwealth troops were killed or died of wounds on the first day of battle alone. It is therefore not surprising that the Thiepval Memorial in France bears the names of 72,090 British and Commonwealth soldiers, all of whom went missing in action during the Battle of the Somme, were never found and who have no known grave.

The Postman's Park Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice is a public monument commemorating ordinary people who died saving the lives of others and who might otherwise have been forgotten. It was first proposed by painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts in 1887, 70 years after The Felling did it and it was another 13 years before Watts' idea was implemented

This is an interesting video of Wessington U3A War Memorials Project in which the point is made that The First World War really did mark the major occasion, in military events, of the naming of everyone, the lads at the pointy end not just the officer class


Here's another featuring Sgt Johnson Beharry, VC recipient because of outstanding bravery in Iraq, making the same point



So there you have it. Next time you're in Heworth churchyard take another look at the Felling Pit memorial, naming the names and reflect that, perhaps, this is the first time in the history of the World that this happened


*Why July and not 4th August, the actual Centenary of the commencement of WW1? Simply to centre the event around school children and the 4th August was after the start of the Summer recess.

**This is what the War Memorial Archives says

Officers 
For the period prior to the Boer War of 1899-1902 commemoration was mainly restricted to the officer class. Our records hold a rich vein of information for those who are lucky enough to have had an individual commemoration. Wealthier families could afford to erect a memorial and when they did they usually provided a myriad of additional information about the family itself as well as the person who was being commemorated. 
It is not just those who died in combat who are commemorated. You can also find details of those who have died of disease or accidents, so if your ancestor did not die in a conflict it is still worth seeing if there is a memorial commemorating them or their service. 

Other Ranks 
Commemoration of Other Ranks before the Boer War is rare, however they can be referred to on regimental memorials. These usually feature Other Ranks as a number rather than as individual names, whereas the Officers are more often named. Even so, we have recorded some Crimean War (1853-1856)  memorials which commemorate Other Ranks by name.


***
Marian Ternent of The Felling Heritage Group has said that she has identified the name of the 92nd body. If this is verifiable and happened now for a war event the name would be added to the grave. Is there an appetite for adding the name to the monument?