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The Hartlepool man who was still hard at work in his garden in his 90s

Time for reflection and a pipe. Thomas Warnaby. Photo; courtesy of John Anderson.
Time for reflection and a pipe. Thomas Warnaby. Photo; courtesy of John Anderson.

It’s a subject of debate as to Thomas Warnaby’s age when he died.

But what is not in question is this – the man of Hartlepool was a real-life character who deserves every bit of praise.

Thomas at his gate.

Thomas at his gate.

His story comes to us courtesy of genealogist Jan Bridget who liaised with a branch of the Warnaby family before kindly sharing Thomas’s tale with us.

Thomas became famous for reaching the grand old age of 106. His story featured in Edwardian media all over the country as he was believed to have been the oldest person to vote in January 1910.

Jan added: “We are told Thomas could not remember his exact birthday but was emphatic in his declaration that he was 30 years of age at the time of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne.”

Thomas lived at Naisberry Woods near Hart for 28 years. For the last 15 of those, he was on his own as his wife Sarah had died in 1896.

Thomas preferred to shave himself and was still digging his garden up to the time of his death. Apart from being slightly deaf, he kept all of his faculties; he died a week after contracting a cold

Jan Bridget

Jan told us: “He was a tenant on the estate of the Baronet Sir Powlett Milbank, who bought him an armchair for his 106th birthday and let him live in his cottage rent free.

“When Thomas was buried at St Mary Magdalene, Hart, the Baronet erected a gravestone, saying “as a mark of respect for his great age and a wish to record it.”

But in Jan’s words, “now here’s the rub.

“It is highly unlikely Thomas was born in 1805 as he is the son of Edward and Elizabeth Warnaby. Edward and Elizabeth had four sons, all born and baptised in Barnsley at St Mary’s: the eldest, Edward, was baptised in July 1811; then Thomas, who, according to the baptismal records, was born on October 4, 1817, and baptised when he was two-years-old, on July 30, 1820.”

It’s no fault of Thomas that his age was in doubt.

Census records from 1841 show Thomas was 27. By 1861, Thomas seems to be on record as 52. By 1901, all of Thomas’ siblings and wife Sarah had died. He is recorded in the census as being 91 and in 1911, the year he died, as 105; in reality he is actually 95.

Thomas toiled all of his life in agriculture, first as a labourer and then running his own market garden business, said Jan.

“After moving to the North East from Barnsley, Thomas first lived in old Stranton village then he and his wife moved to an area of West Hartlepool which no longer exists called California.”

By 1881 he and Sarah lived at Hart Warren, and then Tile Sheds.

Jan concluded: “Thomas preferred to shave himself and was still digging his garden up to the time of his death. Apart from being slightly deaf, he kept all of his faculties; he died a week after contracting a cold.”

Whatever his age, he was a hard worker until the end.