Child farm labourer dies in Holbeach in 1916

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The practice of using child labour on farms ended in tragedy for one family at Holbeach in 1916.

Ten-year-old Joseph Sleight was working at Leadenhall Farm, on the Marsh, and was engaged in leading and driving horses attached to the potato carts.

Young Joseph was riding on a horse’s back when the animal took fright and bolted, throwing the boy off. The cart then passed over Joseph’s chest and he died from injuries 15 minutes later.

An inquest into his death before District Coroner Mr Charles M Bowser heard from Joseph’s father, also called Joseph, who said his son had been employed by Messrs Ward & Son for leading horses and other work.

He told the inquest he had always warned Joseph to be very careful.

Another youth, named Richardson, told the inquest the back chain came off the saddle when the horse bolted, causing Joseph to fall. He had failed to save Joseph from falling.

The gangmaster, William Henry Stearn, said the boy had been working for him for some time, and was engaged in driving horses and carts on the farm.

He said he had warned the lad not to ride on the horse’s back, but Joseph had occasionally done so, despite the warning.

He added Joseph was “a trustworthy boy”, and he considered him capable of driving horses which they had on the place. The horse, although powerful, was said to be a quiet one.

A verdict of death through misadventure was returned.

The pressure to use child labour was growing as it was announced that men aged 41 were to be called up for war.

There was also criticism of the medical examination that had decreed a man fit for garrison duty abroad, despite having had five operations within the last two years.