The Undertakers Conference Sheffield 28th May 1907 and the restoration of James Fegan.

In February 2020 I posted a article to my blog relating to the life and tragic death of Edward Guite, a native of Walkley, Sheffield. I used a cutting from the Nottingham Evening Post dated 29th May 1907 which contained a short report on Edward's transfer to Nottingham Forest FC. On the same page in the adjacent column was this report from an Undertakers Conference that took place in Sheffield on 28th May 1907.

To say I was surprised is an understatement. Mr James Fegan of Rochdale was reported as dead by his relatives. He was then passed into the care of the local undertaker Mr. Albert Heywood who proceeded to prepare the body of Mr. Fegan for interment. Three hours after the body had been prepared for the final journey, Mr Heywood "restored" Mr Fegan by plunging his hands into cold water. The effect of this action was nothing short of miraculous. Mr Fegan who was deemed to be dead made a rapid recovery and by late evening he was conversing freely with friends.     

Mr. H. A. Sherry, who spoke at the conference however admonished the undertaker for his actions. Whilst he acknowledged that it was the duty of undertakers to restore corpses when they found that life existed (it appears it has happened on a few occasions), they should not plunge the corpses hands into cold water. The thread of life may be delicate and such a profound shock could prove fatal. Mr Sherry said that no member of the British Embalmers Society would have done that i.e. plunge their hands into cold water but sadly fails to inform the audience what they should do to restore a corpse properly. He advocated that all undertakers should pursue a course of training so that that they could be more efficient in their duties which I assume involves the restoration of the occasional corpse.

Of course what he failed to address are the reasons why Mr. Fegan ended up in Mr. Heywood's custody in the first place.

And what of the "corpse" Mr James Fegan. The report states that he lived in Rochdale and was a travelller. I cannot be certain but I think that the following person is the corpse that lay in Mr. Heywoods care. It is from the 1911 Census and would fit with the facts of the report. He would have been 38 years old at the time of his death

I am more certain of Mr Heywood who restored Mr Fegan to life in such a dramatic fashion

Mr Heywood died in 1922 at the age of 65. It is worth noting that the value of the estate in the probate record is the equivalent of 300,000 in today's money. It appears the business of undertaking in C20th Rochdale was a profitable one. 

Name: Albert Heywood
Death Date: 22 April 1922
Death Place: Rochdale, Lancashire, England
Probate Date: 24 June 1922
Probate Registry: London, England

But James Fegan, the man Albert restored to life lived to be the ripe old age of 74, He lived another 33 years after been given up for dead by his relatives 


The UK National Register 1939

Name: James Fegan Gender: Male Marital status: Married
Birth Date: 20 Jan 1866
Residence Year: 1939
Address: 71 Bury Road Residence Place: Rochdale, Lancashire, England
Occupation: Cattle Dealer Retired
Schedule Number: 32
Sub Schedule Number: 1
Enumeration District: NNAF
Registration district: 470-1
Inferred Spouse: Bridget Fegan
Inferred Children: Patrick Fegan
Household Members: 
James Fegan
Bridget Fegan
Patrick Fegan
Ellen Fegan
Alice A Fegan

NAME James Fegan
VOLUME: 8c PAGE: 27 

And one final thought - did Mr. Heywood get paid for his "preparations" on James Fegan?  


Free BMD

The UK National Register 1939

UK Census 1911

Nottingham Evening Post 29th May 1907

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This page was last updated on 12/02/20 12:50