Family Lessons 15: The One Armed Man

In the 1891 census, my 3x great grandfather, of Richard Street, Darwen, is described thus:

Thomas Windle, h(ead of household), m(arried), (aged) 51, (occupation:) watchman cotton mill, Darwen, lost left arm

With him lived his wife and seven children, whose ages ranged from 26 to three months. His lost arm clearly had not affected his ability to sire offspring. We searched the local newspapers of the time to see if they might shed light on his injury which the census entry deemed fit to include. Sure enough, the Blackburn Standard dated 16 September, 1876, proved helpful:

Serious Accident - On Thursday about 9.30 am an accident of a serious character happened at the machine shop of Messrs. J & R Shorrock, engineers and machinists, Bolton Road, Darwen, to a man named Thomas Windle, machine iron planer. He was in the act of putting on a strap which broke, and he got entangled in the loose end of the strap and was drawn up to the drum or pulley. He would have been taken round and undoubtedly killed upon the spot, had not a fellow workman, named Thompson, run, and caught hold of him until the engine was stopped. On the unfortunate man being released it was found that his right arm was broken, and other injuries of such a nature, that Mr John H Wraith, surgeon, having examined him, he was sent in a cab to the Blackburn Infirmary, where he now lays in a precarious state.

It seems like a rather unpleasant accident, and as one on his descendants, my gratitude to the late Mr Thompson is sincere. I am not entirely sure what a machine iron planer did, but I am confident it would have been a two-handed job, something Grandfather Windle would no longer have been able to do. Sixteen years later, he is a ‘watchman’. This would probably have meant working nights, keeping a lookout for intruders and fire. It was unskilled work, and his pay will have fallen accordingly. Yet he did what he could to support his family and remain an economically useful member of the community. Grandfather Windle’s voice cannot be heard; the newspaper merely speaks of him, the census clerk merely records facts about him, including his disability which he may have been at pains to point out. I cannot tell if he accepted his more difficult, poorer life with cheer and stoicism, or whether he nursed resentment for his fate, a continued bitterness for all the things he could no longer do.

If it is only facts we have, I conclude that he got on with life, and concentrated on what he could do, rather than what he could not. Moping about and feeling sorry buttered no parsnips and would not clothe his children. He therefore pursued an occupation he could manage, one that required eyes rather than arms.

I sometimes wonder at the things I cannot do, the goals I cannot achieve, the success which so often eludes. I am no great sportsman; I am no musician;  I’ll never be powerful or influential. I have no millions with which to fund world missions or found a charity. Instead, what can I do?

So she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”…So she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days. 1 Kings 17:12, 15. NKJV.

Use what you have. Be faithful with little, as well as much. 

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