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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Tragedy on the farm

It’s Farm Safety Week this week – an opportunity for all those who work in farming to stop for a moment to ponder the dangers of working in an industry which has the worst accident rate of all workplaces. According to the Farm Safety Foundation, farming accounts for 1.5% of the economy but 20% of all workplace deaths.

Our ancestral Ag Labs

Most family historians have the ubiquitous “Ag Labs” in their ancestry, and it’s sobering to remember that the dangers of farming would have been even more acute back then.

My husband’s 2x great-grandfather, William Percival, suffered a fatal fall from a haystack in the summer of 1889 at the age of 60. He fell while unloading hay from a wagon to the stack, landing with cruel misfortune on the axle of the cart and breaking his back. He died two days later.

In agony

Oldhouse Farm, Wakes Colne, Essex ( Robert Edwards)

Those 48 hours must have been horrific for him as he lay in agony from his injury, made even worse by the fact that, as he’d been helping out at Oldhouse Farm in Wakes Colne (pictured above), over a mile from where he lived, he’d have had to endure an excruciating journey as he was carried back home.

The inquest into William’s death was held at Oak Farm, Chappel, where William had lived, and was reported in the local press. William’s son, the Metropolitan Policeman who I’ve written about on this blog previously (see Assaulted in the Line of Duty), said his father had been suffering from giddy spells during the last month, and it seems likely that this caused William to fall from the stack.

Extract from Essex Newsman, courtesy of Find My Past

Accidental death

Newspaper reports spoke of William exclaiming that he felt as if he was dying and that he could not move his legs or arms. Dr Taylor, who attended him, diagnosed that the spine had been fractured. The inquest returned a verdict of Accidental Death.

William’s fate seemed especially poignant when I read this week on a local farming supplier’s website about the current situation:

The type of accidents seen on farms are depressingly familiar…They include falls from height, being struck by a moving object or vehicle, being trapped or crushed and being killed by or fatally injured by livestock.

Tragically, some things never change.

Any Ag Labs in your family history with tales of woe to tell?


Taking a break

The Bite-size blog is taking a summer break! I’ve a busy time ahead catching up with members of the family I haven't seen since before the pandemic struck. Though I’m sure I’ll also snatch some time to solve the odd family history conundrum, as well as working on the fifth Esme Quentin mystery.

I look forward to your company again in September!


To find out about the Esme Quentin books, click on the image below


Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick
Jul 23, 2021

That is so sad! Yes, I too have many Ag Labs in my tree, mostly from Wiltshire or Suffolk. Some died young, but I‘ve not checked causes of death so far! I hope you enjoy you summer break catching up with family! 😁

Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Jul 23, 2021
Replying to

Awww… very nice of you to say so! I’m not in the slightest fed up of hearing from you! It’s always appreciated when someone takes the time to add a comment. It’s good to share! 😁

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