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Forum Home > Accidents from around the Country. > A Somerset Chronicle of Mining.

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Most folks today, don't actually know, that parts of the lovely County of Somerset, were very busy mining areas. There were many pits around  Camerton, Paulton. and Radstock, even in the early 1800s, some of them, very deep. Most of the mined coal, fueled the Industry of Bristol, and, as in other areas, it was got at the expense of human lives. Not, I should add, always the fault of unscrupulous owners, as this selection of tales will show.


Camerton,1804.


Aaron Horler, aged 39, certainly filled the discription of most miners of the time, no doubt hardworking, and definately hard drinking. On the evening of the 4th August,1804, he was in a local Public House, knocking back a few before his shift started. The Landlord would breathe a sigh of relief when he left, for Aaron had been dancing on the tables and stools, and generally insulting most of the other customers. In high spirits then, he set off to walk, ( a bit unsteadily I presume ) to work at the pit, arriving when the rest of the shift had already gone down. Deciding not to wait for the Engine driver to lower him, he made the decision to simply slide down the rope to the shafts bottom. He may have done,or may have seen others do this rather stupid trick, but on this occassion, he overestimated his abilities. He was ok for the first few feet, but then he started to gather speed, and eventually, fell off the rope. It was a great distance to the bottom, and poor Aaron couldn't have been a pretty sight when they found him. The comment written, without mentioning his injuries, merely says. " His hands being much burnt ". I wouldn't have thought, on the way down, the last thought that passed through Aaron's mind was " bloody hell, my hands sting a bit ".


Camerton, 1805.


Rock and roof falls were fairly common in mines, so was the habit of piling up waste spoil. It's not really clear from the reports, which one was responsible for James Cottle's death, the important thing to remember in this little tale, is that he was only 8 years old. Incredibly, he had actually been working underground for a year before his death, and some seemed to think he bought about his own death by carelessness. A diarist of the time, a Mr Skinner, was scathing in a letter he wrote, lambasting both the mines owner, but saving the greater part of his wrath for the childs parents. How on earth he asked, could his mother, a School Mistress, allow her son to work at such an early age. Surely he argued, her wages did not require the assistance of what the child earned, and was not the father also in work. ( he well knew he was, and at the same pit ) I would like to say that this was an isolated case, but a trawl through other mining records around the Country suggest otherwise.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 12, 2016 at 10:09 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Camerton,1860.


Some older mining terms vary from region to region, and this one, " A Brancher ", I have not come across before. From what transpired before the incident though, I believe it's a term applied to what I understand to be a " Shot Firer ". Sometime during the long working day, George Willey, aged 14, and a driver of horses, was passing a spot in the mine where the blasting powder was kept. On this occasion, the Brancher was filling up his powder horn for the next operation, and young George, as young lads will, paused to watch him. It was a fatal mistake. In the powder box, was between 3 and 4 pounds of highly dangerous explosive powder. As the flask neared the full mark, a stray spark somehow got into the box. The resulting blast killed poor George, and I can't believe the brancher escaped death either. Although the brief entry doesn't mention it, the elder miner must have been smoking his pipe, for sparks do not appear willey-nilly down coal mines, casualy drifting about. it's that, or the careless miner dropped his candle, which fell into the box. Either way, innocent George Willey didn't get to see another day dawn.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 12, 2016 at 10:36 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Meanwhile, back in time, a most unusual accident, and a bit of swearing.


Camerton,1806.


William Britain, aged about 14, probably enjoyed his little job underground, for he got to do a lot of travelling. He was employed to drive a little cart, ( motive power one Ass ) carrying coal from the workings, to a large storage area at the bottom of the shaft. It required a bit of care of course, for the roadways were very narrow, low, and at times, very dark. having just unloaded a cargo, he set off back, at a merry little clip, to collect another load. He later observed, that the roof in front of him, seemed to be lower than when he had used it a short time ago, but, at the speed he was going, he didn't have time to stop. His head and upper torso struck the low roof, pitching him almost doubled up, into a somersault over the back of the cart. It broke his back and his spine, and although they got him to the surface, there was very little anyone could do, and he died a few hours later. The Ass escaped without a scratch.


Comerton, 1807.


Many think that the job of a " Banksman ", was easy compared to the dangers faced by a "proper " miner. This is not true, certainly in the case of James Edwards, aged 35, a married man with four children. His job was to unload baskets of coal from the chain as they came up the shaft. This required some care, for down below, there were men at the shaft bottom. It wouldn't do to spill a load back down the shaft. would it. Reaching out to steady a swinging basket, James lost his balance, frantically tried get back, failed, and plunged down the mine shaft. He was, in the words of whoever wrote the piece, " Dashed to pieces at the bottom ". if this wasn't upsetting enough for his Widow, what he wrote next was maybe even more so. " Horrid to say, his last words were an Oath ". I do believe, that any of us, finding ourselves going head first down a deep mine shaft, might just utter words stronger than  " Oh dear me ".


Now I hope that these few tales, from other areas, have been of interest, and given you a glimpse of what mining was like a bit farther back in time. Then again, maybe not all that different after all.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 12, 2016 at 11:18 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Now here is one incident that can be fairly laid at a mine owners door. Not only this owner, for at one time, until some rather stringent rules were bought in, a great many mines had the same system in place. It was simply never talked about.


Braysdown Colliery, Somerset, 23rd June,1843, and the night shift, comprising 6 men, were just going down to start. They all stood on some stout planking that covered the head of the shaft, and each man was holding a length of rope. At one end was loop, like a noose, and at the other, an iron hook. In turn, each man attached his hook to the winding engines chain, and put one foot in the loop, the driver then  hoisted them up off the planking, which was speedily removed, and then began to lower them down the shaft. Now if that discription scares you, it absolutely terrifies me. They had of course done this many times, and were quite used to it, but it was one way a mine owner could save a bit of money and time. Tonight however was going to be a bit different. When the men on the chain were about 100 feet down, whatever was connecting the chain drum to the gearing failed. The drum began to spin at an alarming rate, as the speed of the decent increased, the 6 men on the chain were doomed. About 20 feet from the bottom, work was in progress on some shaft repairs, and a thick wooden platform was in place. Men and heavy chain crashed into this with immense force, tearing them apart limb from limb. Underneath the platform stood two men, John Ashman and Richard Pickford. Both were very badly injured by flying bodyparts and debris. Ashman died a week later, bringing the total to 7 men. The only other named man was Richard Aylesbury, aged 25. I wonder if they had time to swear on the way down the shaft.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 12, 2016 at 12:11 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

All these deaths, apart from being from another mining area, could have happened here, and indeed, there are many with a direct comparison. The only ones that don't, are those of very young children. It's impossible to now find out, just how many children from the Black Country worked underground in the regions pits. There are a few mentioned as being killed or injured, but the true figure remains hidden, locked away somewhere in family archives, for very few parents, would ever admit that they sent the children to work in mines. ( Not those under 12 anyway ) I will close this little topic with the death of three more youngsters, all supposed accidents, but in truth, they really shouldn't have been down a mine in the first place.


Comerton,1857/1858.


David Langley was 11 years old. He was employed underground as a Water Filler, a job that involved bringing water to the coal face, where it would be used to lay the dust. His pay would have been just over a shilling per day, and if he came from a poor family, as most did, the income would have very welcome. There isn't any report on the circumstances of his death, on the 11th January,1857, except to say that he was actually Drowned in the Coal Pit. This in itself is unusual, not rare, but not usual. By a strange coincidence, almost 2 years later, his younger brother Daniel Langley, aged 12, and also a Water Filler, died in the same pit, and from the same cause, he was drowned. On the 5th December,1858, he was coming up a small underground air shaft, from a lower level of the mine, when he dropped his candle. Unable to see, he lost his footing and fell. He was drowned in the water at the bottom of this shaft, his body not being found for several hours. Now thats a real family blow.


Camerton,1862


There are many ways to suffocate down a mine, but George Latham, aged 13, seems to have found another. Employed as a haulier, a rather grand name for a lad whose job it was to push tubs around a mine, it wasn't the best job in the world. In every mine that had an incline, miners took great pleasure in " riding the tubs ", and some paid the fare with their lives. George, filled with all the zest for life of any teenager, was doing just that. The tub was fully loaded with mud, removed probably from one of the shaft sumps, when the tub suddenly jumped on the tracks,, throwing him forward into the sticky mud. Thats where they found him, head down, and very very dead. No matter which region you look at, and no matter how much you wish to blame the owners, there is no escaping the fact, that sometimes, the miner was his own worst enemy.



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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

February 12, 2016 at 4:10 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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