Tom "Tommy" Rushworth (1886-1923)
Durham City art dealer who was awarded the Military Medal when Acting Captain of 1/6 DLI
The relationship between the Rushworths and Durham started in the 1840s, when Timothy Rushworth, a Yorkshire born carver and gilder, decided to come to the city and set up a fine art business in the premises of 48 Saddler Street. Thomas Rushworth, one of Timothy’s sons, started helping his father with the family business and, when he died in 1883, became the firm’s owner.
Three years later, Thomas’ wife Elizabeth, native of Durham, gave birth to Tom, their second son. Tommy (as the members of his family used to call him) was sent to Durham School in 1901, where he took an active part in athletics. He was so interested in aquatics that “coxed” the School first crew in 1901-2 and “stroke” the second one in 1905, winning between thirty and forty medals at various regattas in the North (Durham Chronicle and County Advertiser of 28 June 1923).
After leaving the school in July 1905, Tommy decided to study Art, in order to be better qualified to participate in his father’s business at the Saddler Street fine art gallery and at the Assembly Rooms (40 North Bailey). The 1911 census shows the Rushworths living in 48 South Street and both Tommy and his older brother Walter were recorded as partners in the firm that their grandfather had named “Rushworth and Son”. Tommy’s mother Elizabeth had died three years before, but his sisters Theresa and Grace were still unmarried and were taking care of the family house.
The Great War broke out and on 8 August 1915 Tommy took a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (DLI). Attached to the 1st/6th Battalion DLI in 1917, he became Lieutenant on 1 July 1917 and Acting Captain on 11 June 1918. During the long time he was on active service on the Western Front, “he endured the hardships and monotony of trench warfare with optimistic cheerfulness, and, in the open, led his men with skill and courage” (County Advertiser, Friday, September 28, 1923).
Both his bravery in action and his popularity among the men were proved by two important events which occurred during wartime and at the end of the war. Because of his bravery at Concevreux on 27 May 1918, Tommy was awarded the Military Cross, “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” (London Gazette, 24 September 1918). According to Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Walton, his commanding officer in France, Tommy “held a bridgehead with a small party of men under heavy machine-gun fore until completely outflanked. He then withdrew his party successfully and took up another position in the rear, where he kept touch under circumstances of great difficulty with the Division on his right”.
In 1918 the war was finally over but Tommy remained with his regiment until 30 September 1919 and it was in this occasion that something very touching happened. According to the County Advertiser of 28 September 1923, at demobilisation there was a “little ceremony, namely the care of a bugle to which a pathetic interest attached. Mr. Rushworth’s popularity in the regiment was attested by a perfect unanimity that the precious bugle should be entrusted to his care”.
After demobilisation, Tommy returned to his family businesses but something tragic had happened during his absence. Walter, his only brother, had died in a nursing home in Newcastle in 1915, aged only 32. Tommy therefore had to take on the responsibility of helping his father with the fine art gallery and the Assembly Rooms. The main problem with that was that Tommy’s health was not as good as before the war. According to the County Advertiser of 28 September 1923, “it soon became evident that the stress and strain of four years incessant warfare, particularly the nerve-wracking hostile shell fire and the gruesome scenes on a stricken field had levied a heavy toll on a once robust constitution”.
Despite his health condition, a happy event took place in Tommy’s life two years after the demobilisation. In 1921 Tom Rushworth and Edith H. Storey married in Durham and settled down in 52 South Street. Edith was the daughter of late Joseph, a coal miner from Brandon, and Mary Ann, from Sacriston. She was born in Sacriston but in 1911, at the age of 18, was employed as a domestic at the Bells of 25 Western Hill, Durham (1911 census).
All that’s known about the next two years of their married life is that Edith was a faithful nurse for his husband, who had never completely recovered his former vigour. Tommy constantly needed rest and mid-September 1923 the couple set off for Blackpool, for a short holiday. The purpose of this change was to help Tommy recuperate but, unfortunately, it had not the desired effect and, after consultation with an eminent Liverpool specialist, they decided to return home. The couple reached Durham by a late express on Tuesday 25 September 1923 but Tommy’s condition got suddenly worse. Only few hours after their arrival, in the early morning of 26 September 1923, Tommy died in his bed, at 52 South Street.
The internment of the deceased took place at Bow Cemetery on Friday 28 September and was preceded by a service in the Church of St. Mary-le-Bow. According to the County Advertiser of 5 October 1923, “many leading citizens and a number of brave men” who had served with Tommy were there to honour the officer with their presence and many floral tokens.
In “An Appreciation” published in the newspaper cited above, a fellow-officer wrote few words to describe this beloved man who, even in the worst of the times, had not given up on the passion for art and entertainment that his father had passed down to him. “Captain Rushworth”, reported the nameless man, “was always foremost in the organisation of enjoyment, whether games or concerts. His love for antiques led him, with the writer of this note, into many queer houses in France, and oftimes he would lovingly handle some old chair or oaken chest, and sigh, ‘I wish I had this in Durham’. Judged by results, he was one of the most successful officers who ever led a company”.
Civil Parish: Durham North Bailey [St. Mary le Bow]
Birth date: 1886
Death date: 26-Sep-1923
Armed force/civilian: Army
Residence: 48 South Street, Durham (1901 and 1911 censuses and British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards)
52 South Street, Durham (1923 National Probate Calendar)
Education: Durham School, Durham
School of Art (Durham?)
Employment: Partner in “Rushworth and Son”, Fine art dealer, 61 Saddler Street, Durham (1911 census)
Family: Parents: Thomas Rushworth, Elizabeth Rushworth
Siblings: Walter Rushworth, Theresa Rushworth, Grace Rushworth (1901 and 1911 censuses)
Wife: Edith Hancock Rushworth nee Storey (1923 National Probate Calendar)
Medal(s): Military Cross (London Gazette, 24 September 1918)
British War Medal
Memorial(s): Durham Bow Cemetery (County Advertiser, Friday, September 28, 1923)
War Record 1914-18 Durham School (North East War Memorials Project)
Contributed by Silvia Rago, Durham at War intern
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