Saturday, 4 December 2010

You Learn Something Every Day

There is an old maxim that you learn something new every day and it certainly is true.

In the past week different people have told me about two men who lived in Coalville within the past 125 years, of whom I knew nothing, and both of whom in their ways were very much heroes.

Thomas Elsdon Ashford

As I was sat talking to a colleague a few days ago he asked me if I knew that a man who had won the Victoria Cross was buried in Whitwick. I said that I did not and my colleague began to tell me about Thomas Ashford:

Ashford was born in Suffolk and when he was old enough went to join the Royal Fusiliers. Whilst with that regiment he was posted to Afghanistan where in 1880 following an incident near Kandahar he was cited for conspicuous gallantry alongside a Lieutenant Chase

'in having rescued and carried for a distance of over 200 yards, under the fire of the enemy, a wounded soldier, Private Massey, of the Royal Fusiliers, who had taken shelter in a blockhouse. Several times they were compelled to rest, but they persevered in bringing him to a place of safety'.

After he left the Army Ashford went on to become a postman, lived in Thringstone, marrying a local girl Betty Ann Sisson.

When he died in 1913 thousands attended his funeral in Whitwick Church.

George Smith

Another colleague a few days ago told me about a man named George Smith, again someone I had never heard of but who I have since read about and came to understand his contribution to society:

Smith was born in 1831 in Tunstall, Staffordshire and from the age of 9 he began working in the potteries brickfields. At the same time as working 13 hours a day the young Smith received some education and through hard work he became the manager of a brickworks.

In 1857, by which time he was living in Coalville, Smith had discovered large seams of clay in the town and a brickworks had sprung up.

However, Smith could not condone and would not use child labour in the brickworks and began campaigning for a change in the law.

By 1871 Smith had managed to interest two parliamentarians to his cause, the Earl of Shaftesbury and A.J. Mundella and eventually with their support legislation was introduced which would ultimately lead to the banning of child labour.

Smith, a Methodist Sunday School teacher, who by this stage had been dismissed by his employers was living in extreme poverty but continued to fight for childrens rights ultimately being a fundamental contributor to further legislation protecting children living on canal boats.

Smith died in poverty in 1895 in Northamptonshire.

So, I sit here today typing with a tear in my eye at the memory of these two great men and I want to raise three points.

1. Today in Coalville George Smith will finally be getting some of the recognition he deserves when a blue heritage plaque will be unveiled in his memory on the newly named George Smith Drive off London Road. Please take the time to go and view it along with Thomas Ashford's gravestone in Whitwick.

2. There are many people, often unknown to us, who in the past have done remarkable things. Please do not let their contribution to history die. The internet is a terrific resource for recording information but in reality their efforts can only truly be passed by telling our children and grandchildren about these great people.

3. Thomas Ashford and George Smith were ordinary men who did amazing things. There is a potential for anyone to do such acts of courage and bravery but how many of us do?

Edmund Burke said 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing'. Ashford and Smith were good men who did not look on doing nothing and as such they are an example to us all.

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