Parlington Hall :: Shooting Party 1885

The article set out below is compiled from data provided by Rachel, who has researched her family history and discovered a very tragic event over a hundred years ago. In fact precisely 124 years ago on Wednesday 13th May 1885, by some coincidence I am recording this information on the anniversary and even more coincidental it is also a Wednesday! [13/05/2009] The article records the events of a shooting party at Parlington Park and details the tragic death of a part time gamekeeper, a George William Pratt from Garforth, who was also in full time employment as a miner at the Gascoigne mines in Garforth.


George William Pratt was born Garforth in 1855 to a William and Sarah Pratt (nee Hill). His father a miner also born in Garforth 1826. His mother was born in Parlington, Aberford 1831. The 1861 census shows the family in Chiltern, County Durham, the young William was six years old by this time. The entire family were lodging with friends, also a mining family. By 1871 the young William and his two younger brothers aged fourteen and seven along with his parents were living in Halton, in the Parish of Temple Newsham, near Leeds. Three of the four males in the family were all miners by this date, the youngest was described as a scholar, in the census of that year. By 1881 William was married and living in Moor Garforth with his wife Elizabeth (nee Mosby) and their three children; Nelly, George and Annie; [the child George was the Great Great Grandfather of Rachel who has collected the data]. Within four years he was killed just thirty years of age! The story of William as passed down to Rachel by her Grandfather George, was that his Grandfather had been a gamekeeper at Parlington. The information prompted Rachel to enquire further about the man in their family who was a gamekeeper on the Parlington Estate, to the then "Lord of the Manor", Colonel Frederick Charles Richard Trench-Gascoigne.

Unintended Consequences

William was seeking to supplement his family earnings by acting as a temporary gamekeeper, his untimely death left a widow with four young children and as if this wasn't bad enough Elizabeth herself died about ten years later in her early forties, a sad tale all round; and in a time where support was very limited. On a positive note William's son George obviously survived the ordeal and his recollections spurred Rachel to find out more of her ancestor. I have suggested including here as a fitting tribute to the late George William Pratt [1855-1885]

Leeds Mercury Newspaper 1885

Under the heading "Local and Other News" on May 14th 1885 in the Leeds Mercury newspaper is the following article about the unfortunate shooting of William Pratt. There were two articles in the column, the shooting of William Pratt followed an equally disturbing article of an accidental shooting in Leeds on Woodhouse Lane near Great George Street, not far from the General Infirmary.

The article continues √ČThe victim in the second case was William Pratt (30) described as a "rabbit keeper" living in Fidlers Lane Garforth Moor. As far as can be ascertained, Pratt whilst accompanying a shooting party at Parlington Park yesterday afternoon [Wednesday 13th May 1885], was accidentally shot in the thigh by one of the members of the party. He was taken to the nearest railway station and conveyed by train to Leeds, but died on the way to the General Infirmary. The deceased leaves a wife and four children.

A few days after the fatal shooting an inquest was held and a further article appeared in the Leeds Mercury [probably Saturday 16th May, 1885], titled: "The Shooting of a Game Watcher in Parlington Park".

This is a verbatim copy of the news article, clarification if required has been added by me in square brackets as thus; [Wednesday 13th May 1885]

Park House, near the scene of the Shooting

Park House, Parlington Park

Inquest Leeds Town Hall

An inquest was held at the Leeds Town Hall yesterday - before the borough coroner (Mr Malcolm) - touching the death of George [William] Pratt, of Garforth Moor, who was shot in Parlington Park on Wednesday afternoon. The deceased was a miner, and was ocassionally employed by Colonel Gascoigne as a watcher, and it was whilst accompanying a shooting party in Parlington Park that he was shot.

Mr Joseph Helm, farmer, of Barwick in Elmet, said he was a member of the shooting party which consisted of about twenty gentlemen who, by permission of Colonel Gascoigne, were shooting rooks in Parlington Park on Wednesday afternoon. All Colonel Gascoigne's gamekeepers excepting the head keeper were present. The party was broken up into sections and [the] witness was one of three or four persons shooting near the Park House when the deceased was shot. Pratt who was three or four yards away was directing their attention to a rook when a gun was discharged, the contents entering the deceased's right thigh. The injured man fell to the ground and several persons went to his assistance. Witness did not kow whose gun it was that went off; in fact no one seemed to know. It was not witness's for both barrels of his gun were loaded before and after the accident. The party had only been shooting about ten minutes when the occurrence happened, and there was no boisterousness or carelessness shown by them. It was evident that the person whose gun went off must not have been shooting a rook at the time it exploded. The trigger must have caught or become depressed.

Mr Sidney Greisbach, surgeon, Garforth, who was a member of the party, stated that he was about 120 yards from the deceased when the latter was shot. On hearing him cry out he went to him, and found him bleeding profusely from the main artery of the thigh and from the veins which were cut and torn. The gun from which the shot was discharged must have been within two or three yards of the deceased at the time of the mishap. An ambulance was sent for from a colliery about a mile distant, [probably the Sisters or Isabella pit] and witness having adopted measures for stopping the bleeding the deceased was removed to the Garforth Station, and thence by train to Leeds, witness accompanying him. Pratt was dead on their arrival at the Infirmary, having he believed, died on the way from the New Station [Leeds Main Station off City Square] to that institution.

Mr Mayo, resident surgical officer at the Leeds Infirmary, deposed to having made a post-mortem examination of the deceased and found one large wound 2½ inches in diameter, penetrating about four inches and dividing all the main blood vessels in the right thigh besides a number of small wounds. Everything appears to have been done to save the man's life.

Mr A. C. Summerscales, of Kirkstall, who was also one of the shooting party stated in answer to an observation of the coroner that he did not think it was his gun with which the deceased was shot. From the position it was in he did not think it could have been his.

The inquiry was adjourned until next Tuesday for the production of further evidence.

Headline: Leeds Mercury Wednesday 20th May, 1885

Sad Fatality to a Shooting Party at Parlington.

Re-Convened Inquest Leeds Town Hall

Mr J. C. Malcolm, the Leeds Borough Coroner, held an adjourned inquest yesterday afternoon [Tuesday] in the Borough Court of the Leeds Town Hall, on the body of George [William] Pratt (30) miner, of Garforth Moor. The evidence which had previously been given showed that deceased occasionally acted as gamekeeper to Colonel Gascoigne and on the 13th there was a large party at Parlington Park rook shooting, the deceased being engaged to assist the regular gamekeepers. Whilst the shooting was going on, deceased gave a loud cry, and fell. An examination showed that he was suffering from a gunshot wound in the right thigh, all the main blood vessels having been severed. The unfortunate man was removed to the Leeds Infirmary, but died on his way to that institution. Mr Griesbach [Greisbach], a surgeon, who was one of the shooting party, said that judging from the appearance of the wound, the gun must have been fired close to the deceased. The inquest had been adjourned to enable the authorities to ascertain whose gun had inflicted the injuries. Mr Warren appeared to watch the case on behalf of Mr A. S. [C] Summerscales, of Leeds.

• The first witness called was Mr P. F. Keay, agent to Colonel Gascoigne, who produced a plan of the scene of the accident.

Samual Longbottom, one of the keepers, said that he was instructed to attend the shooting party at Parlington Park on 13th inst., and he did so. There were between 20 or 30 guns present. He was outside the plantation and about 25 yards from the deceased. There was a group comprised of Mr Helm, Mr Thirkell, Mr Summerscales, Mr Braithwaite, and Mr Lunn, all of whom were near the deceased. His first knowledge of anything gone wrong was by hearing the deceased cry out. Nearest to the deceased on the left were Mr Helm and Mr Summerscales. Mr Thirkell would be to the right of the deceased, but further away still, and Mr Braithwaite was in the same direction. As soon as deceased cried out he ran to his assistance, and found him suffering from a gunshot wound in the right thigh. Deceased was lying on his left side, and he pointed and said "It is that gentleman's gun that has done it," meaning Mr Summerscales. Mr Summerscales was present and heard it. Witness did not hear him make any reply to the charge. Medical assistance was rendered by Mr Griesbach, and the deceased was then removed.

• By Mr Warren: Mr Summerscales was five or six yards from deceased when the accident occurred.

Robert Eddington, also a gamekeeper in the same employ, said he would be about thirty yards from deceased when accident occurred. He noticed that a gun had gone off accidentally, because the smoke kept to the ground. He could not swear that it was Mr Summerscales gun, but he was the nearest to the deceased, and the smoke was between them when the witness saw it. He hurried to the deceased, who was then lying on the ground. He pointed to Mr Summerscales and said "It was that gentleman's gun that did it." Mr Summerscales replied "It was not my gun that went off."

• By Mr Warren: The position of the smoke was quite consistent with the gun going off by accident. He had known guns go off by accident. Some had lighter triggers than others.

Mr E. D. Lumb, farmer, Layfield [Leyfield] Farm, near Aberford, said he was present at the rook shooting party at Parlington, but he was not shooting. His attention was called to Mr Summerscales, who from the manner which he held his gun had evidently not had any experience in rook shooting. Deceased said something to him and Summerscales brought his gun on a level with the thigh of the deceased, and it immediately went off. The contents were lodged in the poor fellows thigh, he being only about two yards from the muzzle.

• By the Coroner: Could such a thing have happened without Mr Summerscales knowing that his gun had been fired?

[• Mr E. D. Lumb] I think not. I think any man would have known if his gun went off in his hands. I saw Mr Summerscales walking away, and I said, "Why are you not going to the poor fellow when you know you have shot him?" He replied, "I have not shot him;" but I said "You have shot him." I am certain he was walking away from the deceased. My attention was wholly occupied with him. He then went with me to the deceased, who said, "You did shoot me," but he again denied it.

• By Mr Warren: His eye was on Mr Summerscales all the time, and he did not see him fire once previous to the accident?

Mr F. Thirkell, farmer, Park House, Parlington, who was also present on the occasion in question, said Summerscales was between him and the deceased. His attention was attracted by a cry, and then he found the deceased lying on the ground. Both barrels of his gun were loaded, for he had just loaded previous to the accident. The injury must have been caused by the gun of either himself, Mr Helm, or Mr Summerscales. Deceased pointed to Mr Summerscales and said, "It was that gentleman who shot me," and Summerscales replied, "It is not;" but deceased again repeated the assertion.

• By Mr Warren: He did not hear Mr Lumb rebuke Summerscales for going away.

• By the Jury: He should have known if a gun had gone off in his hands.

Mr John Braithwaite, farmer, Aberford, said he was 50 yards from deceased at the time of the accident.

Mr H. W. Whittaker, who resides at the parsonage, Garforth, lent Mr Summerscales his gun. It was a central-fire breach loader, and would bear 2lbs [2 pounds weight] on each trigger. He had found it perfectly safe and had had it for eight or nine years.

• By Mr Warren: One trigger was a little lighter than the other.

Mr C. J. Wilks, gunmaker, Leeds, said he had examined the gun produced. It was in perfect order, but the left trigger was a deal lighter than ordinary. It would be very easy for anyone not knowing the gun to make a mistake with the trigger and have an accident.

• By Mr Warren: The discharge of such a gun as the one he had examined might be a pure accident and not the result of neglience.

William Wood, head keeper to Colonel Gascoigne, said that he was not present when the deceased was injured but he got to him five minutes afterwards.

Mr Summerscales, having been cautioned, said that at the time of the accident he believed he was holding his gun with the barrel to the ground when deceased was shot. He immediately went to him and said, -"I was showing the gentlemen the rooks when your gun went off." He had no knowledge that the gun had gone off, though it might have done during the excitement. He certainly never pulled the trigger. So far as he was concerned anything that happened was a pure accident. The gun was not his, and he had never used it before. He had tested the triggers and found that they went off very easily. He need hardly say how much he regretted the result of the accident. - In answer to Mr Warren, he said he immediately to the assistance of the deceased, whom he never left until he died, except for a short time when he was seeking some stones for the doctor. - In answer to the Coroner, he said that he took out a gun license on the morning of the accident, and it was the first license he had taken out.

Mr J. E. Plummer, of Headingley, who was also present at the time, said that as soon as the decease[d] was shot he requested all the shooters to draw their cartridges from their guns. When he got up to the deceased he pointed to Mr Summerscales and said, "That is the gentleman who did it." Mr Summerscales said he had not done it.

• By Mr Warren: Mr Summerscales was doing all he could to assist the deceased. - The Coroner said that the evidence had now been exhausted, and he thought the Jury would have no difficulty in finding who was responsible for firing the fatal shot. The question had narrowed itself down to one of whether Mr Summerscales had shown negligence in the manner in which he handled his gun, and had been guilty of such carelessness as would render him accountable to the law, or whether the death was due to misadventure. It was in Mr Summerscales favour that he was using a borrowed gun, one of the triggers of which was of a lighter pull than the other. He was evidently not an accomplished sportsman, and it was therefore his duty to be all the more careful in the manner which he handled his firearm.

The Jury found that death was due to a wound caused by Mr Summerscales gun. They, however stated: "We hesitate to find Mr Summerscales guilty of culpable negligence, but think it is a case to be inquired into by the magistrates."

The Coroner said that he should hand the recommendation of the jury to the police authorities. (No more information is available as to any later prosecution at the moment!)

Author's Note

What a travesty of justice, to be holding a shot gun which went off accidentally and to be unaware of the fact! Mr Summerscales I think you told some very big porkies!

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