A Sweep as lucky as could be!


Over fifty years ago, as chimney sweep retired in the London Borough of Harrow, saddening his many customers who regarded him more as a friend. They missed his sunny, happy – go – lucky approach to life that had been his disposition from an early age.

That man, who died aged 88 more than a quarter – of – a – century ago, had every reason to be glad to be alive, for he was born in the most distressing and bizarre circumstances. Indeed the official birth certificate of Reginald Hubert Burrage recorded his place of birth in 1889 as “On the Great Eastern Railway”.

Let me explain.

One night 22 year old Rose Selina Burrage failed to return to her Burgh Castle home, where she kept house to her widower father, Horatio, a market garden labourer. He was not unduly alarmed thinking that she might have gone to Great Yarmouth. He was unaware that she was pregnant. Next morning a plate layer Jacob Saul walked along the Beccles – Great Yarmouth line on his way to work at Belton, he chanced upon a woman’s body by the track. The woman was fully dressed save for her hat, which was 20 Yards distant, and feared that she had been struck by the 03:25 mail train from Beccles. “Just as I was about to move the body I heard a child’s cry” he told the inquest on Rose! Shocked  and not knowing what else to do, he hurried the quarter – of – a – mile to Belton station to report it. Because the man who the body heard the cry  of a baby Burgh Castle widow Elizabeth Beckett, a practising midwife, hurried along the line to the scene and examined the as yet unidentified body. “I found under her a newly – born male child which was enveloped in her underclothing and was not separated from her” she said in evidence. according to a Great Yarmouth Gazette report Mrs Beckett  “did what she considered necessary”, and the child was then living.

A Gorleston doctor John Bately described Rose’s severe head and leg injuries and thought she would have been knocked insensible by the blow to the head and had died in about half – an – hour. He declared to the hushed hearing. “I would imagine the child was born while she was in that insensible state during the process of death. It was a full – timed, full – sized and full – grown baby”. The pain of her labour and her mental gloom would be quite sufficient to account for wandering away and make her not responsible for her actions. A verdict of “suicide” while in a state of temporary insanity was recorded by the coroner on poor Rose.

One cannot help but wonder how the baby managed to breath for perhaps two or three hours, if it was smothered under his mothers clothing, but survive it did. No mention was made in the press report of the possible identity of the baby’s fathers, although there were two men in Rose’s life. She was engaged to Jethro Baker, a railway porter at Geldeston station on the same line, but the coroner was told that he had not seen her for six months. And Henry Bottoms, an ostler at Belton Kings Head, gave evidence that he occasionally walked out with her, but was not engaged to her and had known for a fortnight she was pregnant – but that two days earlier she was not in low spirits and they had not fallen out.

it seems that the orphaned infant was destined to spend his formative years in institutuins, butthe good fortune that was to stay with Reginald Burrage for nearly nine decades was quickly evident when he was taken in by a Mrs Platford, who felt such love for the mite that she was determined to keep him.

Another Burgh Castle resident Mr William Porter wrote to the Gazette “I feel sure it could not be better cared for than where it is and I do not think there is any one else that has any desire to take it.  He did not think Mr and Mrs Platford’s reward ought to be entirely from Heaven, as it were, but needed to be on Earth and more material and immediate because these were hard – working folk. The foster father was a farm labourer and his wife would have  to devoteher time to the baby’s care.

In Christian England, I’m sure there are a great many people  who would like to give something for this little one under these  very painful circumstances” he continued Major Coomb and his wife were already soliciting subscriptions to a fund and he hoped Gazette readers would give generously. In the 1970’s I spoke to Violet Palfreyman from Essex one of the Platford’s grandchildren, who told me. They also had five children of their own, and raised Uncle Reg as one of their own although he was no relation. When you hear today of those adoptions, and children being put into care and all paid for, it is wonderful how in those days this baby was taken in and brought up as one of the family.

There was no adoption, but my grandfather must have had some (financial) help from someone because my grandfather was only a farm worker – on the plough. Uncle Reg was a man who could not care less in life and he was always happy – go – lucky. If ever a saying “A cat with nine lives ” applied to anybody it was to him. “He came into this world with nothing and left with nothin”. Reg Burrage went to sea at 11 having passed a trade examination ment for lads of 14, and back onshore worked in a shop and as a bus conductor in London, meeting his future wife Violet on the No:17 route from Acton to London Bridge – she was a barmaid were the bus turned around.

He joned the Royal Navy in 1915 and fought in the Battle of Jutland in the First World War.

Moving to Harrow in 1932 he turned to window cleaning and then to chimney sweeping and after retiring he took a part – time job at an American base then sold hot dogs at a former cinema.

Baby born on the right side of the track

Additional article to “A sweep as lucky could be”

In the autumn – winter of 1889 one of the most bizarre births ever recorded took place at Belton. The tragic and Reginald Hubert Burrage.

Certainly the unusual arrival into the world of baby Burrage was a major talking point, not only in the villages whose residents featured in the inquiries about him, but also among the gossiping townsfolk of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston.

For the baby was born as his mother was dying alone in the darkness and lying beside a railway track, from injuries sustained when she was struck by a train – a successful suicide attempt.

“Shocking occurrence on the Great Eastern Railway,” said the tiny, sober, non – screaming headline above the report of the death and inquest in a Great Yarmouth newspaper. Today of course, with a story with those ingredients would be displayed much more boldly because the style and presentation of news papers in the 1990’s has changed, now in the 21st Century of course there is the internet and social media.

The tragedy of Miss Rose Selina Burrage aged 22 happened in November 1889. once rose had been a domestic servant, but for the four years since her mother’s death Rose had been living at home in Burgh Castle acting as housekeeper for her father Horatio, a market gardener’s labourer. at the inquest he said that he did not know that his daughter was pregnant there had been no family unpleasantness and, although she had seemed dejected for a few days, there had been nothing in her manner generally

Heard a Cry

When Rose failed to return home on the Friday night, the family searched in vain but gave up, presuming that Rose had gone to Great Yarmouth. As Rose left the house she said she was going to Mr Thrower’s to fetch a newspaper, but that was the last the family saw of her alive. For on the Saturday morning railway platelayer Jacob Saul, walking to work along the track towards Belton, discovered her body on the line. just as he was about to remove the corpse he heard a child cry, instead of investigating Jacob Saul ran to the station to report what he had found. Partly thanks to Jacob’s prompt reporting of the incident, but mainly due to the prompt skills of Burgh Castle midwife Mrs Elizabeth Becket the distressed baby was promptly brought into the world and lived to tell the tale, but it must have been touch and go, as they say for poor little Reginald.

For Railwaymen reckoned at the inquest that poor Rose was struck by the 03:25 mail/goods train from Beccles to Great Yarmouth but it was not until 07:00 that the midwife reached the spot where the mother and child lay. And Dr John Bately of  Gorleston gave evidence that the mother’s legs were mangled and crushed below the knees and her head was “much injured” she would have been knocked insensible by the blow on the head and died in about half an  hour he reckoned. There was a deathly hush in the inquest room as Dr Bately declared: “I would imagine the child was born while she was in insensible state – during the process of death. it was full – timed and full – grown and full – sized. how the baby survived will forever remain a mystery because apart from the blow that fatally injured his mother, Mrs Beckett found him under the corpse. not only that, but “it was enveloped in her underclothing,” she reported. the baby was still attached to his mother  – which, to a medical layman like myself, might have helped him to survive although he breathed puzzled me, and probably puzzled those involved over 100 years ago.

o what became of the infant who managed to survive such a traumatic birth? well within hours of the midwife finding him and ensuring that he was fit and well considering everything, he was at home with a Mr & Mrs Platford and was raised as their own child.


Indeed, when Reginald Burrage died in Middlesex at the age of 88, one of the Platfords, grandchildren a Mrs violet Palfreyman told the reporter from her home in Essex. My grandmother must have rushed to the spot while the midwife was still there and took the baby from her and took him home, they also had five children of their own but raised Uncle Reginald as one of their own although he was no relation. When you hear today of adoptions and children being put into care and all paid for, it is wonderful how in those old days this baby was taken in and brought up as one of the family. “There was no adoption but my grandmother must have had some(financial) help from someone because my grandfather was only a farm worker on the plough.” Within days of the news breaking a William Porter wrote from Burgh Castle to the paper suggesting that donations and subscriptions to be given to a fund to help the Platford family and its new addition. He argued that although Mrs Platford so loved the baby and she and her husband expected no reward on earth but only in heaven, “it is right that it should be so?” These were hard working people, the man a farm labourer and the woman having to give time to the baby’s care. He was sure Christians would like to give to help.

The local paper opened its columns to subscriptions.

By the way, the question of responsibility or financial help from the baby’s father never seems to have arisen. And his identity also stayed unrevealed. At the inquest it was reported that Rose was engaged to Jethro Tull, a Geldeston railway porter,  who had not seen her for six months, and an ostler at Belton Kings Head Henry Bottoms “walked out” with her occasionally but no report mentioned if either or neither was the father.

We might be unaware of the fathers identity, but we do know that Reginald flourished with the Platfords, he went to sea on a trawler when he was 11, worked in  a draper’s and then became a London bus conductor – meeting on the No: 17 Acton – London Bridge run the woman he was to marry, Violet a barmaid. They got married in 1915, the year he joined the Royal Navy, later he was in the Battle of Jutland.

Back in civvy street he was a window cleaner and chimney sweep. After retiring he did a part – time job at the PX store at a US base, then sold hotdogs at a cinema. Violet  Palfreyman soon after his death in 1977 said of Reginald Burrage her uncle he was a man who not care less in life and was always happy – go – lucky. If ever the saying ‘a cat with nine lives’ applied to anybody , it was him. He came into the world with nothing and left with nothing.