William Hill 1789-1854

by Jillian Trethewey, Hilary Southall and Clare Spicer  16/10/2021.

William Hill must have unloaded timber many times in his long working life without incident, but for some reason, on Monday 8 May 1854, a terrible accident occurred. This was reported in the Wells Journal:

“On Monday afternoon, as some men in the employment of Messrs. Watson, Luer, and Co., were landing some timber from a barge, at the No. 1 crane on the Eastern Quay, one of them, an old man, named Hill, whilst in the act of throwing the chain into the boat, over-balanced himself and fell over the Quay against the pieces of timber in the barge, injuring himself very much, especially in the head.”

William was born in Broomfield, in 1789, the son of Francis and Mary Hill.  Broomfield is a village about eight miles south-west of Bridgwateron the Quantocks.  William was working as a sawyer as early as 1815, but in Newport, Wales, where his elder daughter was born.  In 1818 he was a sawyer back in Bridgwater with his wife Elizabeth and their two daughters. In 1851, William was a sawyer of Ropers Lane, Bridgwater. In 1854 William and Elizabeth are again noted living there, although the lane had been renamed Albert Street.

Watson, Luer and Co. was one of a few shipbuilders in Bridgwater then. The memory of the small ship yard is recorded by Watson’s Lane, a modern road which runs from Eastover to Carvers Road, which in turn was named after Watson's successor in the yard. Sailing ships were built of wood so barge-loads of timber arriving at East Quay would have been routine and the shipyard was probably nearby.  Chains would have been wrapped around a heavy bundle of timber then the chain attached to the crane and the load hauled up to the quay. The chain would then be unhooked, removed from around the timber and thrown down to the barge again for the next load. There could be up to a 30 feet drop down to the water level of the River Parrett, so slipping or over-balancing and falling could easily cause serious injuries.

East Quay. The Crane is marked at the bottom, while the site of Watson's, later Carver's Yard is marked out above. The open space at the top was an assembly yard, below that the drydock. The lines in the riverbank mark a gridiron, upon which ships were rested when the tide went out.

William was taken to the Bridgwater infirmary, but died two days later.  He was sixty-five. An inquest was held and the verdict was accidental death.  His wife Mrs Elizabeth Hill, who was born at Hunnington Cliff, Devon,  died on 19 January 1858 aged eighty and is also buried in Wembdon Road Cemetery.  They were survived by their daughters Mrs Elizabeth Bryant and Mrs Mary Ann Wilkins, both of Bridgwater, and grandchildren.

  • William Hill buried on 10 May 1854 aged 65 years, Wembdon Road Cemetery I17. This is possibly modern Section J, Row 1, Plot 12.
  • Elizabeth Hill, his wife, buried on 25 January 1858 aged 80 years, Wembdon Road Cemetery 1 H12. This is a Pauper burial, and several others were buried here at a similar time.

Why Elizabeth was not buried in William's plot is unclear. The reason William had a private burial but his wife did not, was perhaps because his was an accidental death at work. Although there may not have been any insurance, his work mates, and perhaps his employer Watson Luer and Co, may have contributed some funds for his burial.


  • Death certificate of William Hill
  • Wells Journal 13 May 1854
  • Parish registers.
  • Census records.