Margaret Wheatley

Grass covers forgotten grave of girl who died for dog.

“Let’s look after it” – Councillor.

Her story touched whole country’s heart.

In the village churchyard of St. Cuthbert’s, at West Herrington, near Sunderland, there is a cross of granite, and long grass now obscures the inscription: “We honour the name of Margaret Wheatley, aged 16, who lost her life in saving a dog, 4th June, 1936.”

They honoured her name, then they forgot. But Coun. Ernest Weightman, who represents the village on Sunderland Rural Council, means to have something done about it.

Margaret was a cheerful girl with a great love for animals. One day when she was at Fence Houses station, she saw a dog wander on to the line as a train was approaching.

Highest award
Margaret leaned forward and pushed the dog off the line, but she was unable to get clear before the train ran her down.

The story touched the heart of the whole country. The headstone of her grave was erected by the RSPCA. They also named their highest award, the Margaret Wheatley Cross, after her.

Since then, her grave has been neglected and forgotten, and few people realise how the award got its name.

“Margaret’s family moved from the district shortly after her death, and the grave never has been properly cared for” Coun. Weightman told the “Journal” last night.

Should be proud
“Her action is something the village should be proud of, and I think some organisation such as the local Girl Guides’ movement should interest themselves in the care and maintenance of Margaret’s grave.”

“I shall probably take the matter up with the local authority, but I would prefer to see some volunteers doing the job.”

As far as Coun. Weightman knows, this is the only headstone to have been erected by the RSPCA. “In giving her life, Margaret brought honour to this village, and we should be proud. But there are only a few people in the district who even know of the existence of her grave.”

Newcastle Journal. May 18 1956?

Margaret Wheatley

19th August

Councillor Weightman,
The Cottage,
West Herrington,
County Durham.

Dear Sir,


Margaret Wheatley.


With further reference to my letter dated the 19th May – the question of the condition of the late Margaret Wheatley’s grave was considered, and the Committee have accepted an estimate obtained from a local man for putting the grave in good order. Instructions have already been sent to my local Inspector asking him to have this matter attended to without delay. When this work has been completed my Inspector will take the necessary steps to maintain the grave in a satisfactory condition. We have been in touch with Mrs. Wheatley, the mother of the girl, and she has agreed that we shall take this action.

The delay in coming to a decision is very much regretted but the recent railway strike caused the meeting which was to have considered this matter, to be postponed due to the inability of sufficient members to reach these offices to form a quorum. A meeting of the appropriate Committee has since been held and instructions for the reconditioning of the grave were issued as soon as their findings were confirmed by the Society’s Council.

Thank you for your interest.
Yours faithfully,
Chief Secretary.

RSPCA tidies up a memorial

The Margaret Wheatley Cross is the highest award for bravery given by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The award is named after a Herrington girl who died when rescuing a dog from the railway track at Grange-over-Sands in 1936.

The RSPCA erected a headstone in memory of Margaret at her grave in St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard, West Herrington. Some time ago, the head office of the RSPCA asked its Durham inspector, Mr William Crisp, to check on the condition of the grave.

Ever since, Inspector Crisp has been maintaining the grave which he found in a neglected state. “It took me four hours to find it,” he says. “We feel it is important to keep it in good order.”

Margaret was only 16 when she died. She was enjoying a holiday at Grange. She managed to rescue the dog from the path of an oncoming train but was unable to get out of the way herself. Now the award named after her is given only to people who have performed rescues at great personal risk.

Sunderland Echo. Jan 3 1974

Selfless act: Heroine Margaret died while rescuing dog from rail line.

Animal-lovers honour girl.

Animal-lovers and local historians are joining forces to pay tribute to a local heroine who lost her life saving a dog.

The RSPCA named its highest gallantry award after Margaret Wheatley, of West Herrington, who was only 16 when she pushed the dog out of the way of an express train – but lost her footing on the embankment and fell in front of it herself.

To mark the 60th anniversary of her death. a special service is to be held at her graveside in West Herrington churchyard (opposite the Shoulder of Mutton) on Sunday at 2.30pm.

The grave is being tidied up by members of the newly-formed Herrington local history society.

Society member Douglas Smith asked people attending the service to bring a single flower in tribute.

RSPCA officials will be among those attending.

The RSPCA awarded Margaret the silver medal. which was its highest award before the inauguration of the Margaret Wheatley Cross.

The cross is now awarded only in exceptional circumstances. where people have put their personal safety at risk to protect animals.

Mr Smith said Margaret Wheatley was the daughter of a retired miner. On leaving school, she went into service and was staying with her mistress at Grange-over-Sands at the time of the accident.

The dog got out of the house at 9pm and Margaret went after it to the railway line. She pushed the dog off the track, slipped on the embankment and fell in front of the Carlisle express.

She died several days later, on June 9 1936.

Sunderland Echo. Monday June 3 1996

Introductory address – June 9th 1996 at commemorative service.

“Two things I would ask you to note on the headstone. First the date given is June 4th – the day Margaret Hannah Wheatley tried to save a dog from the path of the Carlisle express. Another second and she too would have been clear; instead she was hit by the train.

She lived but a few days in hospital whilst attempts were made to save her. But the internal and head injuries were too severe and she died on June 9th 1936 – 60 years ago today.

She was known as a cheerful girl with a great love for animals. She was only 16. She had seen little of life, probably she went into domestic service straight from school. Her father mentioned that she sent her wages home each week to help out. So this was a youngster whose brief life showed a willing spirit; a generous heart.

Is it surprising then, that 300 were present at her funeral. That her generous sacrifice of her own safety for an animal should have touched the hearts of so many? That the Society dedicated to the welfare of animals in this land, should have named its highest gallantry award after her?

And so to the second item on the stone – the initial words “WE HONOUR THE NAME OF MARGARET WHEATLEY…”

This day, sixty years on, we gather to again honour the name of Margaret Wheatley and remember her generosity of spirit that gave rise to such a sacrifice.”

Herrington Local History Society

Margaret Wheatley’s grave

Report on commemoration service for Margaret Wheatley at West Herrington churchyard on June 9th 1996.

At 2:30pm on Sunday June 9th, it being 60 years that day since the funeral of Margaret Wheatley, twenty-nine people gathered at the grave. The short service was conducted by the Vicar of Shiney Row with St. Aidan’s, New Herrington (the churchyard falls within his parish jurisdiction). Flowers were then placed on the grave, including a wreath bearing the RSPCA ribbon and a card describing this as a token for bravery of the highest award.

Four RSPCA officers were present, together with another colleague. Also present was Mr Jack Wheatley, the youngest brother of Margaret, aged in his 70s and accompanied by his son. The occasion was made all the more poignant as he brought along a large photograph of the girl together with certificate of award and medal, and a photograph of the presentation to his father.

These documents were open for inspection at the church hall after the service where everyone joined for a cup of tea.

Later that afternoon a member of the Local History Society returned to arrange the flowers. Two ladies in their eighties from the houses opposite, were having a walk in the sunshine. One said she could recollect Margaret very well – “She was a lovely girl, known for her love of animals. Her father was a small man, her mother of bigger build, Margaret went straight from school into service at the age of 14.” The lady was carrying the Order of Service and remarked “Don’t be surprised if you find I’ve put some lilac on the grave later “.

Margaret Wheatley’s brother at her grave

Report on commemoration of Margaret Wheatley at West Herrington churchyard on Sunday July 9th 1996 at 2:30pm.

The service was conducted by the Rev David Boddy, Vicar of Shiney Row and Priest in Charge of St Aidan’s, New Herrington – West Herrington churchyard falls within the jurisdiction of St Aidan’s.

RSPCA officers present:

  • Kathy Curwen. RSPCA Regional Branch Co-ordinator
  • Superintendant David Millard. Regional Superintendant based in Leeds
  • Mrs Eileen Chamberlain. Vice Chairman RSPCA Council
  • Chief Inspector Rosemary Harrison, Officer covering this area
  • Members of Herrington Local History Society

The Grave was refurbished by Youth Volunteers of New Herrington who provided new green marble chippings inside the curb, and cut away the surrounding undergrowth. A metal vase became visible with this. Herrington Local History Society washed the stone, allowing the lettering to become more readable.

The stone cross stands on a heavy stone base. It is quite substantial and although listing slightly to one side, is in a fairly good condition. The inscription of lead lettering has become a little whitened, but can still be read sufficiently. It records that fact that the RSPCA provided the monument. Our members re-p1anted the letters for the occasion.

The small church of St Cuthbert (1839) which stood here, and where the original funeral must have been conducted, was demolished in 1975 after being declared redundant and in a bad state of repair. The churchyard continues to be the charge of St Aidan’s (new/modern) church at New Herrington, which stands just a few hundred yards away.

Plaque honours brave teenager

A plaque has been unveiled to further celebrate the bravery of a Sunderland girl honoured by the RSPCA.

A simple ceremony was held at Grange-over-Sands railway station, near Morecambe, in north west England, to commemorate the life of Margaret Wheatley.

Margaret, of New Herrington, died at the age of 16 while saving her employer’s dog in June 1936 on the railway near Grange-over-Sands. She was awarded the RSPCA Silver Medal For Gallantry.

In 1937 the RSPCA created a higher award – the Margaret Wheatley Cross.

Sunderland Echo. June 24 1997