John Griffith Owen was born in Holyhead on Anglesey and, at the age of 17, moved to Settle to find work on the railway as a navvy. By November 1872, John had settled in to the town, performing for the Settle Temperance Lifeboat Crew Society. Incredibly, Settle folk raised enough money to build and launch six lifeboats between 1868 and 1912, saving 148 lives in all. Three boats were stationed in Anglesey, so John’s contribution was most apt.
On 18 February 1873, John was accidentally killed when the leg of a crane fell on him. He was just 18. His gravestone inscription includes a verse in Welsh, which translates as ‘Young John is now in his grave, John that is all ashes now,
But he’ll come back a second time A thousand times better’
Tom Twisleton, the local dialect poet, was captivated by John’s tragic story and wrote a poem of some 15 verses including: ‘But Hark! A strange sound is heard — The crane that o’erhangs them is broken; and the heavy jib falls ere a hand can be stirr’d, Or a sentence of warning be spoken.’