When I first started to collect the census information for the Tower area a number of years ago I made a list of people and names that caught my attention, recently I went back to that list and found the name Elijah Sewell near the top of that list.


Elijah and his family were living in a house in Cloghphilip which is a townland that stretches from the Kerry Road northwards the Shournagh river and beyond.


What first caught my eye was the name Elijah which was extremely unusual for the area (in fact, there was twenty people recorded on the entire island of Ireland in the 1901 census with the first name Elijah and the majority of those were in Ulster), in Hebrew the meaning of the name Elijah is “Jehovah is God”; what also stood out was his occupation that was listed “Ferrucuaut Way Inspector”.


Unusually Google wasn’t much help with that particular job description but its search capabilities have improved immensely in the past five years and a quick search today will tell you that the occupation “Ferrucuaut Way Inspector” is in fact “Permanent Way Inspector” – whoever transcribed this particular census return for the National Archives a number of years ago misspelt what Elijah had put down in the record and that misspelling is what caught my eye.


Elijah Sewell was born towards the end of 1863 in Cambridge, England. His parents were George Sewell, a railway worker and Mary Sewell. Mary’s maiden name was Washington and her parents were William and, the rather exotically named, Bathsheba Washington (The name Bathsheba is also a Hebrew name. In Hebrew the meaning of the name Bathsheba is: Oath; Voluptuous ).


The family lived in an area called March which is a Fenland market town and civil parish in the Isle of Ely area of Cambridgeshire; probably on a street named Wisbeach Road,  and Mary’s father was an agricultural labourer. Bathsheba’s maiden name was Sanctuary and she was born in Hilgay, Norfolk about 1803 and she died in 1889.


Bathsheba’s parents were William (1765–1842) and Elizabeth Sanctuary (1769–1841), maiden name Gent, and they married in 1790 and the family lived in the picturesque village of Hilgay in Norfolk. It is a wonderful thing to able to trace a family so far back the family tree.


According to the 1861 census, two years before Elijah was born, George and Mary Sewell were living in March in Cambridgeshire with their two children, Louisa aged three and William who was just a year old. George was listed as a railway signalman.


It would appear that Elijah’s father died shortly before Elijah was born, about Oct 1863 . There is a listing for the death of George Sewell in the fourth quarter of 1863 North Witchford and then a birth registration for Elijah, also in the later part of 1863.


Mary Sewell married again in 1867 to a John Todd who was from West Auckland, Durham , again in North Witchford.  John Todd was a “platelayer” who worked on the railways.


In 1871 the Todd family are still living in March. Elijah was seven years old and the family was living in a house at number 71 John Road along with his older sister Marcia A. Sewell and their mother Mary and the rest of their new family, step-father John Todd, and new siblings Susannah and Jesse.


Ten years later during the 1881 census later the Sewell-Todd family were living at 13 Tillard St in Kirkdale, a mainly working-class area of Liverpool. Elijah is now seventeen and is following the family tradition and is working as a platelayer. The family has expanded with the addition of Elijah and Marcia’s older brother William, who was George and Mary’s first child and born in Carlise; and two additional half-siblings Alexander and Fredrick Todd (both born in Liverpool). Elijah’s step-father has by now been promoted to “Foreman Platelayer” and both William and Elijah are also employed as platelayers.


Railway platelayers were railway employees whose job is to inspect and maintain the permanent way of a railway installation. The term “platelayer” derives from the plates used to build plateways, an early form of railway. His normal duties would involve him doing track repairs and examinations as part of a gang in a specified area of track known as a “length”, together with the rest of his group. Most of his duties would take place on that length, usually up to five miles.


In later years William, Elijah’s older brother, would marry a woman from Liverpool and the family would move to Barry in Wales where William worked on the docks and they would raise their children. Their first son, Ernest Washington Sewell who was born in Liverpool would later die on the field of battle in Flanders in August 1916 and is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial.


On the 21st Jun 1884 Elijah’s name appears on a ships list, the Professor, that was leaving the port of Liverpool and is noted as being his first voyage. He was working for his passage but unfortunately we don’t know where he disembarked but it was Ireland so more than likely Dublin.


Elijah married Phoebe Elizabeth Moffat the following year, 1885, in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland church in Waterford, according to the marriage cert Elijah was living in Wicklow at the time. I would guess that Elijah’s younger half-sister, Susannah Todd, also made the move to Ireland either with her older brother or at a later date as the marriage is witnessed by a Susie Todd.


Phoebe Elizabeth Moffett was born in Devon in 1859; her father Thomas was a soldier who was originally from Scotland and her mother Julia was from Cornwall. Unfortunately we have no way of knowing how Elijah and Phoebe, or Elizabeth as she was more commonly known by, met or how they ended up getting married in Waterford.


The following year, 1886, Elijah’s little sister Susanna married a man named John Timmis, a mechanical engineer, in New Ross, Wexford. Susanna’s father John Todd was present and witnessed the marriage. They had their first child, a daughter named Bertha Louisa Timmis, in Glamorgan in Wales in April 1887.


Susanna died at the young age of 21 the following year, September 1888, the death was registered in Kanturk and was witnessed by her mother Mary Todd. And it would appear that Susanna’s daughter Bertha was then  brought up by her aunt Louisa Sevey (nee Todd, Susanna’s sister) in Cadoxton Wales.


Elijah and Phoebe’s first son Francis Alexander Washington Sewell was baptised Dec 29th 1886 in  Holy Trinity, Hartlepool, Durham. It is unclear why the new family moved from the place where they married in Waterford back to the UK and why Durham was chosen considering that the Sewell-Todd family had all lived and worked on the other side of England.


The next recording of the family is with the birth of their first daughter, Julia Mary F Sewell in 1890 which was registered in Cork. According to the birth certificate the Sewell family were living in Kanturk, Elijah had his occupation recorded as a “Permanent Way Inspector of Railways” so he was still working on the railways. It is not known where in Kanturk the family were living.


Kanturk is a town in the north west of County Cork, situated at the confluence of the rivers Allow and Dallow, streaming further on as tributaries into the Blackwater. Presently the town does not have a railway but it did have a functioning railway station which opened on 1 April 1889.


The Kanturk & Newmarket Railway was officially opened as an independent railway using its own locomotive and stock. Built with private equity and a Baronial Guarantee. As usual the driving force behind the railways development were the local land owners, in this case the Aldworth family of Newmarket Court. The line was sometimes referred to as Lady Mary’s Railway as Lady Mary Aldworth took even more interest in the railway than her husband.


Following the usual squabbles with its adjoining neighbour the K&N was absorbed into the Great Southern & Western Railway by Feb.1892. Prior to the construction of the branch Banteer Station was known as Kanturk as the village of Banteer was insignificant compared to its larger neighbour. Passenger services were discontinued on the branch on the 27th January 1947 due to fuel shortages and never reintroduced. Passenger specials operated on the line until final closure in 1963.


No doubt this was the station and railway line that Elijah worked on and more than likely was present at the grand opening of the station. (If anyone is further interested in the history of Kanturk railway station there are some fantastic photos of the station today that can be found here.)


Later in the same year that the Kanturk railway station was opened Elijah and Elizabeth had their second daughter, Louisa Harriet Sewell; but by this stage the family had moved from Kanturk to Rochestown.


This is more than likely due to the fact that the Cork, Blackrock and Passage Railway had decided to improve profitability due to a loss of revenue on the line which was originally opened in 1850. The company decided to build a 9½ mile extension to Crosshaven. To reduce construction costs, the extension line would be built to narrow gauge and the original section converted. The last broad gauge train operated in October 1900; so it is reasonable to assume that once the Kanturk station and line had opened that Elijah had to move to source new employment.


Two years later , 1894, Elijah’s mother Mary Todd-Sewell-Washington, died in Sligo.  Her second husband, Elijah’s step-father, John Todd died in 1903 in county Wexford where he was working as a ganger, his death was caused by Syncope which is temporary loss of consciousness usually related to insufficient blood flow to the brain.


The following year, March 1895, Peter Joseph Sewell was born and the growing family were still registered as living in Rochestown. Nearly twelve months later the family suffered a tragedy when, at barely two years old, young Louisa Sewell died. It is difficult to make out from the death certificate what caused the young girl’s death, I think that there is possibly relate to the “femoral” but I cannot be sure.


In 1897 Albert Edward Victor was born and the family are still in Rochestown. Elizabeth Phoebe Sewell joined the family who had by now moved to Tower; Elizabeth’s birth certificate records the family as living in Cloghphilip. Elijah is still working on railways, his occupation is listed as “Permanent Way Inspector”.


George John Washington was born in 1901 and the family were living in Cloghphilip still. According to some of Elijah’s family who are still living in the area Elijah built a house on what was once the grounds of the famous St Ann’s Hydro Hotel. “Sunnymeade” was probably constructed in the early 1900’s and unfortunately was pulled down by the Council about twenty years ago. Below is a photo of the house that Elijah built for his family.


Reproduced with kind permission from the Sewell family


One of Elijah’s great-grand children have in their possession a fantastic photograph of Elijah, probably from the late thirties/early forties. In it, a very old Elijah with a magnificent long white beard is standing with his son Albert, who was born in 1897 while the family lived in Rochestown and Albert’s wife, a lovely, happy and smiling Jane O’Hara (updated 19/07/2018 to correct an error which identified Hannah O’Brien as his wife; please be aware that I am not 100% sure who the lady in the photo is) who has linked arms with her father-in-law which I like to think shows her affection for him. It is a wonderful memento to have of a man that was born over one hundred and sixty years ago in 1863. in addition, the photo was taken in front of the old Burnt Mills on the Shournagh Line, the remains of which are still visible today.

Reproduced with kind permission from the Sewell family


Elijah worked for most of his life on the railway; he started as a platelayer and worked his way up to Permanent Way Inspector. A Permanent Way Inspector (PWI) was a Railway Employee who had the responsibility for the condition of the railway track and associated embankments etc in his area of jurisdiction. (i.e the “Permanent Way”). He would make physical inspections of the track – sometimes on a push trolley. Maintenance staff would work in conjunction with the PWI to ensure the tracks were kept in good order and the safety of the railway was maintained.


According to the Sewell family Elijah worked on the Muskerry Light railway since the family settled in Cloghphilip. The Cork & Muskerry light railway consisted of a 15¾-mile 3 ft. gauge line from Cork to Coachford with a 2½-mile branch to Blarney. The Company was formed in 1883 and in 1886 obtained an Act of Parliament to build their line.


The 8½ miles from Cork Western Road to Blarney opened on 8 August 1887, and the remainder of the line opened on 18 March 1888. A branch to Donaughmore opened on 18 May 1893, bringing the total trackage of the railway to 27 miles. The Cork & Muskerry Light Railway was merged into Great Southern Railways in 1925 and closed on 29 December 1934. The line had seven locomotives, five 4-4-0 tanks and two 0-4-4 tanks.


The line was primarily built in the 1880s for tourists to link Cork to the tourist town of Blarney and its historic castle. Supporters of the railway line also aimed to provide improved transport for locals with livestock and farm produce between the farming area north-west of Cork and the city and for coal and minerals in the reverse direction.


Beginning on Bishop’s Marsh (now the River Lee Hotel), the Cork terminus was a single-storey building covered by a corrugated iron roof with a long platform.  From the terminus, the line crossed the south channel of the River Lee via a small bridge leading to Western Road.


The iron supports for the bridge can still be seen. The initial stops were at Victoria Cross, Carrigrohane and then northwards to Leemount, Healy’s Bridge and Coachford Junction. There were two branch lines, one to Coachford and the other from St Ann’s Hydro, near Blarney, which followed the Shournagh valley to Donoughmore.


People who lived in the villages along the line, Donoghmore, Tower, Blarney, Coachford, Leemount, all used the Muskerry tram as part of their everyday life to get to and from Cork city and home. It is hard to know what the split of passengers was, between tourist and local.


The line closed in 1934 which has been a huge loss to the local community; earlier this year, May 2018, a discovery was made by Blarney Castle estate when they started to clear away some overgrowth at the entrance  and they found the remains of what once was the turntable for the Muskerry tram at what was the station in Blarney. It is possible to think that Elijah may have been involved in the initial building of this turntable or was involved in the daily maintenance over the years.

Partially restored recently found turntable at the entrance to Blarney Castle


Elijah died in 1944 at home in “Sunnymeade”; he was 79 years old and according to the death certificate he was senile. His son Albert was present at his death.


I think it is a wonderful story how a man that came from the fens of England, a village that had a canal running through it, came to Ireland and worked on the railways, moving from village to village following the work until he settled in an idyllic spot in the lush, fertile grounds of St Anns Hydro and lived there until he died.