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the Joneses of Pissy-Pôville

The British companies and engineers who came to France to construct the railways left some traces in the countryside.

Daniel, on a visit to Pissy-Poville cemetery, found the graves of two Welsh engineers who worked on these projects.

The Joneses
Some months ago in the cemetery of Pissy Pôville I discovered a gravestone with engravings in English. It is the gravestone of two Welsh brothers Thomas and William Jones, buried in the middle of the 19th century. The question was: what were 2 foreigners doing in this small village of France?
At that moment I had not the remotest idea of what I was about to find.

When I came back home I called the City Hall to get some information. I was told that these men belonged to a huge group of foreign workers. Most of them were British i.e. Irish, Welsh and English, and some were German and Belgian. They came to build the railroad tunnel between Maromme and Pissy Pôville.  

As early as 1843 it was decided to build the line from Rouen to Le Havre but problems appeared. The Cailly and Austreberthe valleys had to be crossed. Two bridges were necessary in Malaunay and Barentin, as well as a 2200-meter-long tunnel between Malaunay and Pissy-Pôville.

The management of works was entrusted to Joseph Locke a British engineer (1805-1860). Tunnels and bridges were under the responsibility of the British enterprise Mackenzie and Brassey.

Everything was hand-made so a lot of workers were needed : miners, diggers, brickmakers, bricklayers, carpenters, joiners, and so on. There were also interpreters, cooks, medical practitioners, churchmen.

Contractors were responsible for the construction of the tunnel. It enters the right bank of the Cailly river in Malaunay at the altitude of 63 meters and exits in Pissy Pôville at the altitude of 76 meters. At first it was supposed to be longer but a part of the ceiling collapsed. It's the reason why there are 2 tunnels. One is 2204 metres long, and the smaller one is 227 metres. We have here the longest tunnel on the Paris – Le Havre line.
Accidents happened but in the case of the Jones brothers, we don't know the cause of their deaths. Their acts of civil status say they died at home the 13th of April 1845 for Thomas Jones aged of 39 years and the 5th of June 1845 for William aged 52.

We know few things about the British labourers. The only events known are those written on official acts that is to say: births, weddings and deaths, most of the time.

The place of the Jones' grave was bought by John Jones. He was the third brother. He paid 675 francs for the eternal rest of his relatives. We can hardly believe the price. It's equivalent to about 5515 euros today. It represents more than 5 years of income for a laborer because he might earn between 500 and 1000 francs a year. This means that John Jones was rich enough. With this sum the city is in charge of maintaining the grave in good condition for ever, or at least for a long time.

In 1846 a 1st class mason earned 3 francs a day for 10 hours' work. A second class one 2.5. A miner 2.7 francs, a digger 2 francs and an ordinary laborer 1.5 francs.
As for prices: one kg of bread was 0,25 Fr, one kg of potatoes 0,08 Fr, one kg of pork 1 Fr, and one litre wine 0,10 Fr.

Most of the workers settled down for 3 or 4 years. After 1847 we find only few British acts of civil status in Pissy Pôville. There are 3 acts for 1848 , none for 1849 and one for 1850. We have the proof that some British workers were still there.

Only 3 of them married French women. On the 29th of January 1845, James Turner married Adèle Lemière. The 30th of April 1846 John Middleton married Onésime Eugénie Marc and the same day John Handforth married Eugénie Fortunée Tougard.

The others had already probably gone back to Great Britain.

article and photo by Daniel, October 2012

Bibliography (in French): Library of Rouen.

François Caron: Histoire des chemins de fer en France (1993)

Marcel Françoise (engineer): Histoire du chemin de fer et des tramways de Rouen arcticle dans la revue “ connaitre Rouen “

Loi du 11 juin 1842: www.19e.org/documents/economie/1842trainloi.htm

La valeur de l'argent & des choses à travers les âges (click): herve.laine-bucaille.pagesperso-orange.fr/valeurArgent.htm


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revised :  July / published : July / created : March 2013

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