In memory of Caroline and Augusta Simcox Lea

Two of the Pensarn train crash victims buried here were sisters: Caroline and Augusta, daughters of Thomas Simcox Lea and Lavinia Ann Tarbutt. They were aged 29 and 27 respectively.

Thomas and Lavinia were married on 21 April 1835 by the bride’s brother, Rev Arthur C Tarbutt, Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford. Thomas was a widower with several children at the time. He was head of Kidderminster’s largest carpet maker and High Sheriff of Worcestershire.

Photo of Astley Hall, Worcestershire, c.1860sCaroline and Augusta were brought up at Astley Hall, near Stourport. The photo of the hall is thought to date from the 1860s and probably includes Caroline and Augusta.

Lavinia’s widowed mother Martha joined the family there in 1839. Much later, the hall was bought by the future prime minister Stanley Baldwin, who lived there from 1902 until his death in 1947.

Together, Thomas and Lavinia had five daughters (one of whom, Laura Sophia, was blind by the age of 11) and one son, Reginald Stephen, who became headmaster of a large boarding school in Nuneaton.

Photo of Simcox Lea memorial plaque in Astley church, WorcestershireCaroline and Augusta were unmarried and still living at Astley Hall when they boarded a train at Stourport station with their baggage on the morning of the crash. They joined the Irish Mail at Chester. Following the accident, their half-brother Frederick, vicar of Bow in London, arrived in Abergele. He identified a box containing articles of clothing belonging to his sisters. Among the debris, garments marked “A Lea”’ were found.

However, as neither body could be identified and as Frederick was unable “to prove that he saw his sisters in the train at Chester, his evidence did not amount to legal proof of their death”. As such, the coroner could not issue a death certificate and they were buried “as persons unknown”.

Within three months of Caroline and Augusta’s death, their 80-year-old father died of “exhaustion”. A newspaper reported that the tragedy had “hastened his death”. Their mother died in August 1869, a year after the accident. A plaque in memory of all four (pictured) can be seen in the Church of St Peter, Astley.

With thanks to Victor Powell for the photos. Sources include The National Archives on-line catalogue

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Footnotes: More about Lavinia and Thomas

Lavinia Tarbutt’s father was Oxford-educated William Brackstone Tarbett, initially a successful London Merchant and member of the Merchant Tailors company before being declared bankrupt in 1827. He contributed to many charitable causes and in 1826 paid £400 to become a governor of Christ’s Hospital, London, founded in 1558 as a school for London’s poor and orphaned children. He came into conflict with some members of the board in 1836 after presenting a petition to the House of Commons, which he later published in pamphlet form, criticising conditions in the hospital. These included the prevalence of ringworm and an extremely poor diet. He demanded a public inquiry, and the charity commissioners were directed to inquire into management at the hospital and other charitable establishments in London, leading to improvements.

Lavinia and her husband continued in the same philanthropic and charitable vein. Thomas Simcox Lea often championed the rights of the vulnerable and was involved with “the great missionary societies connected with the Church and with Nonconformists, and also in other good works in the cause of religion”. In 1852 the couple actively helped a widow who was at risk of being removed from the parish by the Poor Law union after her husband’s death. The widow wished to remain living locally to be near family and friends and “under the protection of Mrs Lea”, who sought suitable accommodation for her.