Ralph Day (and some other Days)

People Of The S&DR

‘R Day dismissed for disorderly conduct’.1  during the works to build the Skerne bridge was recorded in the Stockton & Darlington Railway Company minutes for 17 December 1824.

So what do we know of Ralph Day? Indeed, can we be sure he was even called Ralph? After all, the minutes only mentioned R. Day. Our late Friend, Brendan Boyle, looked into this and his findings can be found in The Globe for April 2018. It was inevitable that Brendan would uncover numerous people with the surname Day, many of whom were stone masons and had a railway connection.

Anyway back to R. Day. By a process of elimination, Brendan worked out that our dismissed R. Day was from Front Street, Hetton-le Hole, 5 miles north of Durham City. He was married to Margaret Knox of Sedgefield in the year 1800.

Now, Hetton-le-Hole seems a bit far away from the S&DR for him to be working there, but Ralph Day (and he was a Ralph) had a useful contact from previous work. He was assistant to Ignatius Bonomi, the County Surveyor for bridges between 1823-4 and who had been brought in to advise George Stephenson on the design of the Skerne Bridge in Darlington. Before assisting Bonomi, he had tendered for bridge work being commissioned by Bonomi for several years, so would be well-known to him. Bonomi’s biographer June Crosby (1987) has described how Bonomi “liked to see employed on his work those whom he knew and trusted,” so a recommendation to the S&DR to make use of Day would have been perfectly normal.

So Ralph Day was employed by the S&DR in July 1824 as the inspector of works at the Skerne bridge. By the time Ralph worked on the Skerne Bridge he was 58 years of age, he was experienced as a stonemason, and as a manager and inspector of bridges. He also owned houses in Hetton-le-Hole and had the lease of a pub, the Lambton Hounds, in nearby Newbottle. And one of his jobs in 1823 had been supervising parapet work on the bridge over the Skerne at Burdon, just outside Darlington (Durham County Advertiser, 27 September 1823.) So he was no stranger to the area.

Ralph Day lasted only five months on the Skerne Bridge job and I guess we will never know what the disorderly conduct was that he was accused of. However there are  regular newspaper notices in the Durham County Advertiser from February 1824 published by the Penshaw Association for Prosecuting Felons. This consists of a list of people that the Association were keen to detect and prosecute considered guilty of theft, robbery, burglary or any other crime against the person or property of any of us. This list includes Ralph Day of Hetton le Hole. Was this our Ralph Day? Did he have some accusation hanging over his head? It didn’t go away because the notice was published every February from 1826 to 1829. So perhaps the February 1824 notice came to the attention of the railway committee later that year and they decided to distance themselves. We just don’t know.

Ralph’s replacement was none other than John Falcus Carter of Heighington – who you’ll remember from our last podcast went on to design the Company’s three public houses, its brewery, its weigh-house at Stockton (often incorrectly referred to as a ticket office…) and much more besides.

So Ralph Day was dismissed for disorderly conduct and presumably retreated to retirement in Hetton. He lived on until the age of 75 and died on the 23rd November 1841, “much and deservedly respected” according to his obituary in the  Newcastle Courant, on the 3rd December. Much and deservedly respected doesn’t sound like something you would say about a convicted felon though.

His wife Margaret lived until 1853 when their estate was passed to their children, as set out in Ralph’s earlier will, Alice, James and John Woodhouse Day. His son James became a stonemason. John Woodhouse Day became a colliery agent. Their daughter Alice Richardson appears to have pre-deceased both her parents however and her three children moved in with Ralph and Margaret after her death in 1841. That means that Ralph Day and his married grown up daughter Alice died in the same year. That must have been terribly hard for Margaret Day.

A different Day, went on to work with the S&DR on the Merchandising Station in Darlington, designed by John Carter and built 1826-7,  just up the road from the Skerne Bridge however.  Thomas Day was a stonemason in West Auckland. He teamed up with Matthew Gibbon to tender for works at the merchandising station, which they were awarded due to being the cheapest contract. Thomas had a younger brother called Ralph, who was also a mason, but it wasn’t our dismissed Ralph. Thomas Day went on to be the start of a family with Ann Crowder that would retain railway connections including their son Ralph, who became a locomotive driver. The two families appear to have been entirely separate at least in the early 19th century and only shared the use of Ralph as a forename and Day as their surname, their profession and some connection with the S&DR.

It sometimes feels that there were enough Days working on the railways to make a full week.

Caroline Hardie