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Alaska.
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Everyone will be aware by now, that the recent accident was caused by flooding from old mine workings. There is already one such incident, out of many others, posted in this topic. It wasn't just the old workings that caused problems, sometimes, the problem was all to plain to see on the surface.


The Wood Farm Colliery Company, operated several mines, in Short Heath and Sneyd, just north of Willenhall. Not large mines, most of then had a workforce of between 30 or 40 men. Allens Rough Colliery, sent down it's night shift of 19 men at 10pm, on the 15 July, 1905. The pits owned by the company, all worked, a local 4 foot coal seam, and nobody took a great deal of notice, that the seam ran under the Wyrley and Essington Canal. Obviously they knew it was there, it was difficult to miss, but apart from not digging to near the surface, there had never been a problem. Half an hour after midnight, and the four men working in the lower part of the mine heard the roof creak, and then were deluged in a mighty rush of water. Two men were, in seconds, drowned, the other two, ran for their lives. Richard Ratcliffe, who came from Lane Head, managed to stay afloat in the pitch black, and together with his 17 year friend, reached the bottom of the up shaft. Their frantic shouting bought the cage down, and Ratcliffe somehow managed to get in it. Harry Head, the young lad with him, was clinging on to tunnel props, and Ratcliffe made some desperate efforts to drag him into the cage. The speed and power of the water were however just too much for the youngster, and he was swept away into the darkness of the mine. One cannot imagine the terror and fear that must have gone through his mind, as he battled for his life in the inky blackness. Richard Ratcliffe was hauled to the surface, the other 16 miners, who were chest deep in water, were trapped, unable to reach the shaft.  Rescue efforts began at once, and the miners, who had rushed to the scene, and  assisted by members of the local Police force, made desperate efforts to lower the water level in the mine. Anything that could hold water was lowered down the shaft, and nearly 5 hours later, down went the rescue party. The 16 miners were winched back to the pit head, via the air shaft. The three bodies were recovered the next day. The inquest, at the The Crown Inn, Short Heath, was a bit unusual, in that as well as the Mines Inspector, the management of the Canal Company were present as well. There was no problem with the mines shoring timbers, nor had there been any leaking water, prior to the incident. At a later inpection though, it was discovered, that above the mines roof, was a large pocket of sand, which had soaked up a great quantity of water. It was the weight of this, that had caused the collapse, releasing the water from the canal into the mine. There was now also, a 10 foot crater in Snyed Lane, which was directly above the workings. It was impossible, to lay the blame at the door of either the mine owners, or the Canal Company, so a verdict of accidently death was recorded. Superintendant Spendlove, and Inspector Goodwin, were praised for the valiant effort made by themselves and the men from their division during the rescue attempt. I can't think of worse way to end your life.


Harry Head, 17, from Short Heath. His relative, Sidney, was rescued.

Charles Hughes, 21, from Bloxwich.

Samuel Corser, 26, from Green Lane, Short Heath. His relative, James, from Leamore was also rescued.


Altogether, a rather sad and tragic incident, but an all too familiar story in the mining industry. One that still resonates today.



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

September 22, 2011 at 4:28 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

The area to the west and northwest of West Bromwich, was littered with old pit mounds and abandoned shafts, long before the mid 1800s. One of the earliest recorded mining disasters was in October, 1821. There is no information regarding the exact location of The Ebenezer Colliery, and only scant records of the details. Both Coal and Ironstone were mined from this pit, that is until the roof fell in, and killed 6 men. The names of these local men though, have survived, so on the offchance that someone reading this recognises a relative, here they are.


James Nash, Thomas Lawson, Rowland Morris, John Cotterell, John Hicks, and John Butler.


There were to be many other deaths in the mines of West Bromwich, but in 1871 occured the largest loss of life to date. Black Lake Colliery was situated at Hill Top, on the road to Wednesbury, and near to the railway line. The pit, owned by James Horton and Son, had two shifts, the night one being a lot smaller than the day time shift. They changed over as normal, on Wednesday 21st November, little knowing, that this would be the last time they ever saw each other. It was only when the Hostler went down at 10pm to see to the ponies, did anyone know that the mine had a problem, It was on fire. Running for his life, he called down the skip, and was hauled back to the surface. John Lawlor, the pit manager, was soon on the scene, as was the area's mines Inspector, and as the news spread around the town, a large crowd of very concerned relatives. Members of the dayshift, alarmed by the news, volunteered to form a rescue party, and down they went. Not for long though, the fire was so intense, they were soon back at the pithead. The manager, mine inspector and a local mining engineer, then went down to make an assessment. A short distance from the shaft, the entire roof had collapsed, and it was impossible to go on, so it was proposed that a relief tunnel should be dug, to reach the trapped miners who were just 7 in number. For 24 hours this work went on, at a rate of about 2 yards an hour, until the party finally reached the stable area. All the 9 pit ponies were dead, suffocated by the fumes, and with the fire still raging, it was impossible to proceed any further. There comes a time, in any rescue attempt, when you have to take stock of the situation. This was now done, and after consulting all the relatives, it was decided to allow the mine to flood, putting out the fire. It had been apparent, even to those without mining experience, that no one could have survived in those conditions, the dead ponies more than proving the point. The Black Country, generous to a fault, quickly raised over £100, and other donation began to flow in. The end of the story though, was still some time in the future.


Daniel Plant, 59, a resident of Claypit Lane.

Henry Corbett, 53, who came from Cronehills.

Thomas Hodgetts, 49, who lived in Hargate Lane.

Edward Cane, 47, from Swan Village.

Daniel Bailey, 33, and from Crookhay.

John Joseph Roberts, 31, living in Waterloo Street, Tipton.

Daniel Tate, 25, also from Waterloo Street, Tipton.

Thomas Haden, 12, and from Swan Village.


If anyone has trouble finding the recorded deaths, or burial dates of these 7 men and 1 boy, there is a good reason. It would be many days, before the conditions in the mine would be deemed safe enough to go back down. There was to be a great deal of anger directed at the owners, and the inspectors, for the delay, but the more experienced realised that to waste more lives would be futile. It was only in mid January of 1872, that the bodies were recovered. Non of them had been burnt, they had all been suffocated, just as the ponies had been. They were listed as dying in their sleep, as this was the position they appeared to be in when found. There is no way of knowing just when death had occured, was it the 21st, or did they hang on until the 23rd, the day the ponies were found ? Unlike other mine accidents, this one had not produced an explosion, and the likely cause is that candles, stuck onto the wooden pit props, either set fire to the timber, or ignited gas from the coal face. In the end, it really dosn't matter, for 7 men and a young boy had died. and the only comfort for the relatives, was that it had not been a violent end. Some reports put Thomas Haden's age as 13, the age I have selected, comes from his death certificate, which clearly says 12. There is a map of the area, in the Gallery.

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

October 16, 2011 at 3:06 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404



In the topic " Black Country Mining ",  I made a mention of one William Mills. As stated, he started life as a Butcher, but progressed into mining, it was after all, much more profitable. He had built, for the time, large house at the top of Waterfall Lane, Rowley Regis. The money for this, came from other mines he owned, one of which in 1857, was the Gwane Colliery, on the Rowley Hills. Not a new mine this one, it had previously been an Ironstone mine called The Whitestone. A second shaft had been sunk to a depth of 155 yards,(465 feet ) which had passed through a thick seam of coal at 135 yards. ( 405 feet ) This thick seam, like all the others, produced a great deal of gas, and ventilation was vital for the mens safety. The tunnels, better known as Roadways, were about 8 feet square for some of their lengths, reducing to little more than crawling space, before opening up into several small caverns. Mills was of course, no mining engineer, but as a man of some substance, he had influence in the area. A self important man. Which may go some way to explaining why he several times disregarded the mines Inspectors recommendations. Lionel Brough, the inspector in question, had visited the mine on several occassions, only to find that improvements to the ventilation, had not been carried out. He left, after inspecting the mine in August 1857, a very angry man. He was too be proved sadly right about the ventilation, as on the 10th September, a roof fall blocked off the narrow passages, the gas rapidily built up, and there was a fearsome explosion. Six men were killed instantly, two more died within a few hours, and one more a few days later. Most of the blame for this avoidable event was placed at the doors of the miners themselves, it was claimed they had disobeyed instructions regarding naked flames. It's hard to believe they were to blame, for in the report of the accident, there was no mention of any safety lamps being available at the mine.


James Griffiths, 46, married with 8 children. George French,56, married with 5 children. Abraham Sherwood,31,  married with 4 children. James Dainty,19, a single man. John Madley,35, Daniel Chinn,34, Thomas Silver, 20, William Timmins, 24, and the youngest, John Darby, just 12 years old.


( Some inquest reports do not mention George French. His home was in Blackheath, and a seperate hearing was held at the Shoulder of Mutton, on the corner of Birmingham Road. )


William Mills escaped all censure and blame for this disaster. He would show more concern for his beloved horse's than for the death of 9 local men, 6 of whom had wifes and children. They never even fined the arrogant, pompus, overweight Butcher, who continued to enjoy all the comforts of a coal fueled fortune.

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

October 28, 2011 at 4:24 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Another mine on fire, this time it was the Steers Meadow Colliery, in Wednesbury. Like many others, it had been burning for some time, and a wall, or " Dam ", as they were called, had been erected to seal it off. The area of the fire though, when the coal had been consumed, was subject to sudden collapses, and this, on the 28th February, 1863, was exactly what occured. The mine was very close to the River Tame, and the fall of rock weakened the ground, allowing the river to flood in. Hearing the approaching water, the miners headed for the highest part of the workings, all except one, who ran towards the nearest shaft. Unfortunately, he ran towards the cause of the flooding, and was drowned. Two miners, and a young lad, secured some higher positions, although the water began to steadily rise. The roof in the part they were trapped in, was much higher than in other parts of the mine, so they lifted up the young lad, Job Jones. Unable to get up themselves, and Jones was not strong enough to offer assistance, they were soon overcome by the water. Jones could only listen, to their last agonising struggle for life. Up on the surface, desperate efforts were made to stem the flow of the river into the workings. The level in the mine dropped as the water drained away to the mines lower levels, but it failed to put out the fire, which, with the collapsed dam, was growing in strength. The rescue attempts went on for many days, and two bodies were bought out, Jones being found alive after some 100 hours in the pit. In the end, the fire won the battle, the body of the third miner was never found, and eventually that section of the mine was shut down, and the shaft closed and filled. Job Jones, despite losing his brother in the disaster, made a full recovery. Just another mining accident to add to a long list of others, and a few more sad Tombstones. The names of the dead are listed below.


James Gettings, (or Gittings ) Charles Pitt, and Edward Jones. He being the one who sadly ran the wrong way. If anyone has anymore information on this tragic event, I will be pleased to hear it.

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

December 18, 2011 at 4:18 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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I have already said, that miners rarely get a second chance after making a mistake. You would have thought, that the job itself would have induced a sense of self-preservation in all the miners, sadly, that would be wrong. As mines go, The Willingsworth Colliery, situated in Ocker Hill, Tipton, and owned by Thomas Treece, wasn't all that big. In 1883 it was barely making any profit, and the workforce was not of the best. At the end of the shift, on 6th January 1883, three men decided to take a short cut to the surface. Their chosen way out, was via the drainage shaft. The mine was a bit on the wet side, and at the bottom of this shaft was a sump, which was emptied by what was called a " Tank ". This was a large iron contraption, had a hinged bottom which opened inwards to let in the water, the pressure of which kept it shut on the way up the shaft. Attached to the tank was a rope, which when pulled at the top of the shaft, emptied the water into a channel which then flowed away. Charles Morgan, 50, Henry J Price, 41, and George Firmstone, 33, all natives of Sedgley, and experienced men who should have had more sense, climbed onto the tank, hanging on to the rope. As it neared the top of the shaft, the rope parted, and all three plummeted nearly 400 feet back down the shaft. Three lives lost, three families left fatherless, all just to save a few minutes of time. A case where the mine owner was entirely blameless, rare indeed.

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

January 16, 2012 at 3:50 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Thousands of motorists use Hamstead Road, and the Old Walsall Road, heading for either Walsall, or Great Barr. I wonder just how many, who pass the small memorial, at the junction in Hamstead Village, realise just what it commorates. It stands not far from the site of the old Hamstead  Colliery, where, on 4th March,1908, 25 miners, and a member of the Yorkshire Mines Rescue Team, all lost their lives. Like a great many other tragic events in mining, this could have been prevented, had safety advice been followed from years before, and proper maintenance been carried out.




The Fire started between 5 and 5.30pm, when 31 miners were working a deep part of the mine. To give you some idea, both shafts were over 600 yards deep, ( 1,836 feet ) the main shaft 15 feet in diameter, and the other, which had the ventilation fan above it, just 12 feet. At the bottom of this shaft was a furnace, which helped to create the updraft which circulated air through the mine. South Staffordshire pits were not noted for large amounts of Firedamp, so the adopted lighting method was the good old Candle. The days supply of which, were kept in a big wooden box at the base of the main shaft. There had been a fire a the pit just a week before, when the under Manager had been overcome with fumes, and subsequently died. It had not it seemed, raised the levels of awareness.


One of the pits deputies, William Carter, had gone below, on a report that the signal bell had been rung several times. Finding nothing wrong, and assuming it was a miner playing tricks, he went into the timekeepers little hut, some distance from the shaft. Emerging about 5.30pm, he smelled something burning and saw smoke. Enlisting one Harry Leach, they went to investigate but didn't get very far, as the smoke thickened. Back at the hut, Frank Donlan, Harry Oakley, and George Webb, were frantically looking for the ladder, so they could attach a fire hose to a water connection that was at least 14 feet off the ground. By the time they found the ladder, the task was hopeless, all the power failed and the lights went out. Carter, who was in charge of the cage, ventured a short distance down the roadway, and saw a wall of flame, and dense choking smoke advancing. He was joined by the by now panic stricken stable hands, and loaded 9 men into the cage and sent it up to the surface. ( The permitted load was 6 men ) Next came 3 miners, who had been working near the shaft, and after calling out for any more, and getting no response, Carter climbed in the cage and signalled the engine man to winch up. No one on the surface, was aware that a fire had started below, and Carters first act, was to rush and tell the acting under manager Mr Waterhouse. Within half an hour, thick black smoke was pouring out of the number 2 shaft. Miners went back down the No 1 shaft, but were beaten back by the smoke. H.M. Inspectors of Mines were informed and about 8 45pm. 6 volunteer miners went back down, via the number 1 shaft. The attempt, which got to within 25 yards of the bottom had to be abandoned due to the poor conditions. Even so, they had heard the ominous sounds of cave-ins and falling roofs. The Engineman shut down the fan, in an effort to restrict the flow of air feeding the fire, and the Handsworth Fire Brigade, began to pump water down the shaft. Non of this worked, and had they but known it, it was already far too late. Two more desperate attempts were made, when further heavy falls were heard, and they found the mine was now full of poisonous fumes. The Mines Rescue service were called, as they had the breating apperatus and training for events of this type. but as their base was now in Yorkshire, they would not arrive at the scene until 2.30pm the next day. I suspect they may have already guessed what they would find.


The Rescue Team, forced back on their first attempt, found, still alive, one of the Colliery Cats, and took it to the surface.



The next attempt, also forced back, found 2 of the pits 30 Horses and Ponies, both bought safely out. In the desperate race to find anyone alive, on the 3rd Attempt, one man, John Welsby, summoned up every last ounce of his strength to go forward. The effort was too much, he died from extreme heat exhustion, and lack of oxygen as his tanks ran out, his body not being recovered until the 6th March, along with the 25 miners who had been suffocated, burned, and crushed, by the searing fumes, flames, and falling rock and coal.


Joseph Howell, 35, a pit deputy, John Guest,27, another deputy, Charles Summerfield, 34, face worker, John Summerfield, 26, a driver, Walter Summerfield, 21, another driver. ( What you would describe as a complete family disaster ) William Underhill, 48, face worker, Enoch Burton, 39, Joseph Titley, 25, Ernest Jones, 31, Samuel Turner, 40, Edwin Johnson, 30, Henry Watts, 47, Thomas Cole, 34, and Alfred Thomas Curtis, 34, all coal loaders. Albert ( Abnor ) Williamson, 44, pikeman, John Hodgkiss,17, timekeeper, John Hodgson, 29, William Lawley, 27, both dam minders, Samuel Mitchell, 44, Henry Underhill, 17, his father also listed above, James Hancox, 23, Arthur Merrick, 23, James Bradley, 45, Thomas Hollyoak, 39, and Richard Ashton, all horse drivers.


They came from all around the district, most of them married men with family's,some lived in Hamstead Village, some came from  West Bromwich, some from Walsall, and some from Handsworth and Great Barr. It was the biggest loss of life for many years, in this part of the South Staffordshire Coal Field, and quite possibly, for it's valiant rescue attempt, the most notable. The cause of the fire?, almost certainly by the careless discarding of a spent candle, which set fire to the Candle Box and the wooden framework used for loading the coal. This shorted the wires for the signalling system, hence the bell ringing on the surface.The Fan, bought second hand in 1886, was totally inadequate for the job, and should have been replaced, along with the wiring, 3 years previously when advised. The Telephone system, which was out of order the day before the incident, and had not been repaired. A Complacent management, who again put profit before safety, take your pick. Next time you drive that way, take a little pause at the memorial, and ponder on the sacrifices made in the pursuit of industrial might.


Elsewhere on the site, I have mentioned the Edward Medal, given for courage and bravery in industry. there were 7 awarded for the efforts at Hamstead. 1st Class, ( Silver )  Walter Clifford, James Cranwick, James Hopwood, John Henry Throne, and James Whittingham. 2nd Class. ( Bronze ) Joseph Outram, and John Welsby, ( Posthumous award )  All these men, came willingly down from Yorkshire, to render assistance to fellow miners, trapped and in danger, deep underground.

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

February 23, 2012 at 3:48 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Like nearly all the mine owners at the time, only a few men were employed on a night shift. The main task on this shift, was to drop the undermined coal that the previous shift had been working on, the day shift would then spend most of the time taking this to the surface, and start the job all over again. Salter and Raybould, at their Heathfield Colliery, West Bromwich, only had 7 men on it's night shift, and when they handed over to the day shift, at 6.0am,on 9th February,1848, all seemed to be in order. There were, in total, just 29 men in this shift, and they hadn't been down long before the whole district was rocked by a violent explosion. It being a single shaft mine, huge flames shot up it, flinging all manner of debris into the air. No one needed to be told, that the site of this large bang was the Heathfield Colliery. Only 5 miners escaped without injury, and concidering the force of the blast, it's a wonder anyone got out alive. 8 men were very badly injured, and 16 men and boys were killed. The names are listed below.


John Lowe, 33, Henry Rodway, 19, John Caselly, 22, Robert Harper, 38, Richard Bullock, 28, William Noak, Walter White, George Bird, Joseph Taylor, William Johnson, James Sudley, John Grice, Joseph Halford, Ambrose Salter, 23, ( or Slater ) Charles Horton, 27,and Peter Taylor, 19.


The Inquest was held in the Dartmouth Hotel, and it produced some conflicting evidence. One of the un-injured, blamed a miner for lighting his candle underneath the coal overhang, that had been created when the night shift dropped it. Another said that gas had suddenly appeared, giving no time for any warning. Those who had been nearest the blast, and survived, told a different tale though, and they blamed the Pits doggy. ( foreman ) He had failed, so they said, to heed warnings from the night shift about the dust and also the build up of gas from the newly exposed coal face. John Meeks, 33, now faced a charge laid on him by the Coroner, of Manslaughter, and he was bound over to appear at the next Staffordshire Assizes. The owners, appealed this decision, much to Meeks relief, and the case against him was dropped, the verdict reduced to Accidental Death. They seem to have been a lucky family the Meeks, his father, also called John Meeks, had been found not guilty of a Murder in 1822.

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

March 18, 2012 at 5:17 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Bunkers Hill, Bilston.

I852 was a pretty bad year for mining accidents. This next accident, was somewhat overshadowed, by a far larger one at the Middle Duffery Mine, Aberdare, Monmothshire. 68 men and boys were killed on 10th May 1852, which itself followed the death of 27 miners the month before, at another Welsh Pit. Thankfully, the death toll in Bilston was only 5.


Formstone, Thompson and Dummock, the owners of the Ironstone mine at Bunkers Hill, Bilston, like the workforce, looked forward to a few days off. The mine closed for the weekend on Friday 13th June, 1852, the only man with anything to do was the Ostler, who went down on the Sunday, to feed and water the 5 horses. A simple task, yet in his haste to get home, he forgot to close one of the roadway gates, to ensure the mine was ventilated properly. Serious repercussions were to follow. At 6.0am on Monday 16th June, 10 men were lowered down the shaft in a skip to begin work. Neither the manager, or the pits deputy it seems, carried out a safety check looking for gas. 12 men and boys went down in second skip, and as it neared the bottom, there was a terrible explosion, which was heard all over Bilston. Quickly reversing the winding engine, the skip was hauled back up, it was empty except for a young boy hanging upside down in the rigging chains. Although badly burned, he was still alive. Non of the miners were directly employed by the owners, they were contracted, via two " Butties",  William Taylor, and William Rhodes. Both of these men were still on the surface, and rushed to the shaft after the explosion. Down below, there were 22 miners, all of them now gathered at the bottom of the shaft waiting for rescue. William Wright, a banksman, arrived to find both the butties in a state of deep shock, with tears streaming down their faces, the cries of the injured coming from the shaft having proved to be to much to bear. When the foul air had cleared, he persuaded them and other miner, to go down the shaft. The four of them had to give up the first attempt, still to much gas. A while later they went back down, bringing up 3 miners, only one of whom, Isiah Nooks, was in a fit state to talk. Over the next hour, the rest were bought up, and the grim count began. Samuel Hazelwood, one of the rescuers, thought there had been a gunpowder explosion, as one lad, was missing most of skull. He was they only killed outright in the mine, the rest died later from their injuries and horrible burns. The full story came out at the Inquest, at the Royal Oak, Portobello, when it was disclosed that only candles were used in the mine, there were no safety lamps. It made no difference to the verdict though, Accidental Death being recorded by the jury. The mine was back in business within 2 days of the accident.


Samuel Bowen, 13, the only one to die in the mine.

James Priest, 14, Died from burns.

John Lane,19, Injuries and burns.

Enoch Yates,19, Injuries and burns.

Richard Ellis,38, Died from burns.


Thomas Stevens, the last one taken out of the pit was just 11 years old, and although badly burned, he made a remarkable recovery. Do let me know if you recognise a relative.

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

April 22, 2012 at 3:35 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Sir Horace Paul, owned a great deal of land in the Black Country, and also a few mines as well. There was an area in Tipton called the " Pumphouses ", but some dispute as to just where. The mine was called Majors Colliery, and is listed as either Tipton, or Dudley Port. The mine was worked on behalf of Sir Horace, by two local butties, James Barlow, and his brother, Thomas Barlow. They employed a workforce of 30 men, and a number of young boys, all of whom were hard at it on 2nd November,1835, when a massive explosion tore through the mine. So loud and powerful was the blast, that it was heard over 2 miles away. The mine was 280 yards deep, ( 840 feet ) and had workings at two levels, one at 120 yards down, and the other at 160 yards, the lower level having been worked out. One witness discribed the explosion as " like a discharge from a cannon ", and he should have known better than most, he had been at the Battle of Waterloo. Burning coal was hurled up the shaft, and a huge pall of smoke engulfed parts of Dudley and Tipton. The first reports said that there were 13 dead and 8 injured, but in the end the figure was put at 16 men and boys.  One miner had sadly perished, in a vain, but valient attempt at rescue, going down the shaft. Details of the dead, are a bit scant, as is a full report of the accident itself. I have no doubt, we are looking at yet another case of naked candles being the cause of the explosion. Anyone with more details, please contact me, and I will ensure they are included.

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

May 23, 2012 at 11:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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As you leave Bloxwich, heading towards Lichfield, you arrive at a place that has managed to retain that " Village " feel about it. This is Pelsall. In times past, it was a hive of industry, which is why the Wyrley and Essington Canal runs through it. From at least the early 1700s, Coal, which was very near the surface, has been mined here.  Not the famous South Staffordshire Seam, but the southern edge of the Cannock Coal Field, and as this seam was only 6 foot thick, and didn't require deep mining, it was easy to get at. By the 1800s, there was an established Iron works, and a short distance away, the Limestone works at Hays Head. ( the site today of Newton Farm )  The surrounding area, was littered with both working and abandoned shafts, for the problem in this part of the coalfield was water. The Village, in 1841, contained over 30 men listed as Nailers, as well as Miners and Ironworkers. There were three major Ironworks, Davis and Bloomer owned the one Iron Works, York Foundry owned another, ( both closed by 1890 ) and Ernest Wilkes, at Mouse Hill, owned the third, which managed to survive until 1977. Next door to Wilkes Iron Works, was a mine, Known as Pelsall Hall Colliery, but more commnly refered to as Mouse Hill Pit. In 1872, it suffered a disaster. Some distance from the shaft, in a field, the ground suddenly dropped a few feet, to form a circular depression. Putting it down to an old filled in shaft, work in the mine continued. It had always been a wet pit, so no importance was attached, when the flow from the coal face suddenly increased. On the 14 November,1872, just as a miner swung his pick at the coal face, a large hole opened up, and a tremendous gush of water entered the workings. They had struck the old mine working, which had been steadily filling up with water for over 90 years. Some of the miners escaped, and were winched up the shaft, but another 22 were now trapped in the mine. Most of the trapped men, made it to the higher part of the mine, and settled down to wait for rescue. It came far to late, not for want of any effort on behalf of the rescuers, there was simply too much water to pump away. When they did finally get down, several men and horses, all dead were quickly found, and when they reached the spot, where the main body of miners had sought safety, they had all been overcome with chokedamp. Two of the rescue party had been affected during earlier attempts as well. In total, 22 miners lost their lives, the youngest 13, the oldest, 70. Three members of the same family were among the dead, as were a father and son, and two brothers. The names can be seen on a large memorial in Pelsalls Parish Churchyard, and a fuller version of the disaster can be found on the Pelsall History Website. I have been asked by the contributor of the article, to dedicate the piece, to the memory of another Pelsall resident, Donna Cooper. This young lady, just 13 years old, was killed by a speeding stolen car in 1993. The driver, Carl Sherwood,17, from nearby Goscote, was on bail for a similar offence some weeks before, when two men were injured. So was Nigel Button,26, Sherwoods accomplice, from Blakenall  Heath. Admitting Manslaughter, Sherwood was sentenced to 7 years detention, he served just half, and Button, convicted of Aggrevated Vehicle taking, was sentenced to 4 and a half years. ( On appeal, this was reduced to just 12 months ). The Judge voiced his displeasure, at allowing both men bail, for such a serious offence prior to Donna Coopers sad, and avoidable death. Nothing changes does it .There is a memorial garden in Pelsall, set aside to remember her short and innocent life.

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

June 14, 2012 at 3:59 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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The Nicotine Addicts.


Not too far up the road from Pelsall, straddling the Walsall boundry, is the old mining Town  of Brownhills. In it's hayday, it had been surrounded with Pits, but in the 1930s, they had mostly been worked out and closed down. The Grove Colliery, was one of a handful still working, although the workforce was much reduced. It was owned by W. Harrison Ltd, and managed by their agent, N. Forrest. The mines manager, Mr J Patterson, had been instructed to prepare another coal face to work, in the shallow seam mine. On 1st October,1930, the Coal cutting machinery and the Conveyor, were being dismantled, and moved to the new position. This involved moving the heavy gear down the No I and No 2 roadways, through several ventilating doors, one of which was a double door. This was for both the incoming and outgoing coal tubs, and was not a recommended safe practice. The airflow was measured by the fireman as 3,480 cubic feet per minute. During the operation, mainly because there had previously been an ignition of gas while carrying out this work, all the men were using electric safety lamps. The fireman, coal cutter, and the electrician, each had a Flame safety lamp, to detect the presence of any gas. To emphasise the danger, a large notice had been placed, 100 yards from the shaft, in both roadways, that warned that naked lights were not to be used beyond that point. To assist the men dismantling the machines, there were also two air powered turbo electric lights, as well as the normal roadway lights. 14 men were assigned to the task, while the rest of the shift worked in another district, at a higher level. No one in the mine, or on the surface, heard the explosion, that occured at exactly 9.18 pm, and it was only discovered when another fireman, Joseph Dodd, went down to check with his counterpart, John Scoffham, at 10.00 pm.  Not finding him at the bottom of the shaft, Dodd went off down the roadway, expecting to meet him, but found only damage to doorways, consistant with a blast. Summoning the rest of the shift, they began a rescue mission only to be turned back by firedamp and a roof fall. There was no alternative but  to call in the nearest Rescue Brigade.


It took many hours to clear the roadways, and many more to bring out the fourteen bodies of the dead miners. The time was pin-pointed exactly, as one miners watch had been smashed and stopped at 9.18pm, but as to the cause of the explosion, there were no indications. Every piece of electrical equipment was checked, every circuit tested, and every connection inspected, and not a single problems was found. This was of course, not what the dead mens relatives wanted to hear, they were demanding answers. The answer came at the inquiry, and it was not what they expected. The Mining regulations required, that every time a shift went down, 10% had to be randomly searched for contraband. ( Matches, Lighters etc ) It was clear this had not been done. A search of the clothes of the 14 dead men had disclosed, that 6 of them, had either matches, lighters, cigarettes, pipes, or tobacco, in their pockets. So little regard did they have for their own safety, that those who didn't smoke, had failed to report  this fact to the mines manager, or the fireman. ( They must have known, there's no way you can work in such close proximity to someone and not know they didn't smoke underground ) So, for the sake of a quick couple of drags on a fag, 14 men died, amongst them, one of the firemen, John Scoffham. The names are listed below.


Alfred Boden, 50, John Brownridge, 38, Bejamin Corbett,52, John Hackett,31, Alfred Heath, 33, John Holland, 41, David Howdle, 30, James Malley, 34, Alec Martin, 32, William Robbins, 44, John Scoffham, 46, Harry Smith, 38, John Whittaker, 44, and William Whitkar, 62. ( Father and son )


There's more than a grain of truth in todays warning on all tobacco products. " Smoking can damage your Health ".

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

June 25, 2012 at 4:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Tidal Wave.


Now you may think thats a strange title for a post on Mining, especially when you learn it refers to the Old Bradley Collier, owned by G. B. Thornycroft. The mine was situated in an old mining area, and there were a great many shafts and abandoned works. In June,1862, all work on the Staffordshire Thick Seam had ground to a halt, as water was constantly flooding the coal face. Two pumps had been installed, and work was underway to divert water away to lower level in a effort to drain the workings. The mine's surveyor, John Harvey, had directed that caution should be used in driving forward a new roadway, to connect with the coal seam. It was usual to use long boring rods when carrying out work of this kind, as the small holes would give adquate warning if water was encountered. This measure seems to have not been employed, and to progress the work, a section of the roof was blasted away. This must have weakened the wall of coal, holding back a large quantity of water from previous working. The first indication that all was not well, on the surface, was the unmistakable sound of rushing water, amplified as the pressure pushed the air up the shaft. There were reported to be 40 men working underground that day, Friday, most of them in the upper levels, which reduced the number of men in danger to just 7. Rescue was already underway when the mines inspector arrived at 5 pm, the two pumps working flat out to lower the water level. 2 bodies were recovered from near the shaft entrance, in the Engine pit,  but the level being now constant from a steady inflow, it was decided to use an older shaft. During the next day, Saturday, another body was recovered from the deep mud, and 3 more bodies were later recovered from the shaft area, as was also the pits pony.  The last one  was found on the Sunday afternoon, in the sump below the Engine, at the bottom of the main shaft. Amongst those who were drowned in the inrush of black and filthy water, were three youngsters, and I have listed them below.


Thomas Dunning, 48, a pit Deputy.

Job Wilkes, 38, a Miner.

Charles Deakin, 22, a Miner.

Samuel Speed, 20, another Miner.

William Schofield, 15. Frederick  Cound, 15, and Isaac Dunning, 12.


There was really no excuse for this accident, the dangers were well known by the management of the mine. Skipping safety regulations to bring the coal face back into production was the typical reaction of many owners, and despite the reporting of Captain Thornycroft never leaving the pit while the rescue was underway, he bears a great deal of the blame for the 7 deaths. That he didn't,  given his standing as one of the local Magistrates, and being a wealthy individual, would have come as no surprise to many. Although Harvey was eventually dragged in front of the Magistrates, he was never committed to trial for Manslaughter. ( The Pit Deputy, also to blame, was one of the victims, as was his young son, who also lost his life. ) Perhaps they thought it was unfair to blame just one man, maybe they were right, but there was scant regard for the 4 dead men, their families, and the 3 boys. There was, as is sometimes the case, one very lucky man from the mine. Benjamin Rigby, the pits Butty, ( the man who supplied the workforce ) had gone to the surface to arrange the lowering of material required to complete the work. A fortuitous decision as it turned out.

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

November 10, 2012 at 4:08 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

I may have mentioned elsewhere, that unless 5 or more miners are killed in a single incident, it is not classed as a disaster. No comfort for the poor relatives I know, but thats the way it's always been. This is the reason, up until now, I havn't included Sandwell Park Colliery, West Bromwich. In this instance, non of the unfortunate victims actually died in the Pit itself, but in hospital, or at home. Also, elsewhere on the website, I have said this was one of the most dangerous pits to work in, especially in 1894. On the 27th October,1894, four men were engaged in dropping the coal face, and loading the tubs. The exact cause of the explosion, probably fire damp, released when the coal came down, was never established. It wasn't the blast which caused the deaths, it was the superheated air created by the explosion. Once breathed in, it sears the linings of the throat and lungs, which leads to a very painful death. It could have been a candle, a spark from a pick, or more likely, given the lax safety measures, a miner smoking, that instigated the blast. In any case, all four men were bought out alive, and, as far as the records go, conveyed to hospital. Thomas Harris, aged 39, was the first to die, about 3pm the next day, 28th. The condition they were in was well known, and it would have been apparent to the families of the other three, that there was no hope. Samuel Webster, aged 39, was the next to go, two days later on the 30th. He was swiftly followed, on the 31st, by his brother, James Webster, aged 47. The last one was William Adams, aged 38, who died on 1st November, and most likely had been taken home after the explosion. As I said before, in another post, not every mining accident, even one with 4 deaths, made a big newspaper splash. There had not been you see, a massive rescue operation to report. As for the other incidents that year, on th 26th May, 37 year old William Whitehouse, was killed when there was a large fall of coal, which dislodged the pit props, and bought down even more. Two months later, on the 3rd July, Frederick Millington, aged 37, was killed in a similar fashion. Very badly injured, just feet away from a place of safety he had tried to reach, he died before they could get him to the surface. Just 12 days before the Fire damp explosion, Samuel Richards, aged 33, had the bad luck to get caught in the pits winding gear. He had been almost torn to bits, before anyone realised, and signalled for the engine to stop. All in all then, a very bad year for the pit, and an even worse one for the widows and children.

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

April 4, 2013 at 3:44 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Now for all those in West Bromwich, here's an accident that isn't in the records. It concerns the old Bush Colliery, situated in Lambert's End, near to the present day Bull Lane. By all accounts, at least from the standards of the time, it was a very well run and safe pit, never having a recorded death, or a serious injury, for over 10 years. As mines go, it wasn't very big, only needing one horse to drag the loaded tubs to the shaft bottom, and one to work the Gin. About 12 men worked the mine, under the direction of the Butty, Mr Foster, and they had just stopped for a well earned Lunch break. John Pearson, the young horse driver, leaving the horse with the miners, was detailed, before he started his break, to adjust a waggon rail that had come adrift. Mr Foster, having orders for the afternoon work, was walking towards the small group from the shaft. Without any warning, the entire roof fell, slightly injuring Foster and Pearson, but completely burying the four miners and the horse. The rest of the shift, already on the way to join the lunch party, rushed to the scene at the noise of the fall. Re-inforced by those on the surface, a frantic effort was mounted, and after 15 minutes, they pulled from under the rubble, Daniel Moss. He was badly injured, but still alive, and he was quickly winched up and taken home. For the next three hours, in relays, for the roadway was too small for more than two men to work at a time, they dug away at the fall. John Harvey was the first to be dragged clear, quickly followed by Benjamin Cashmore, and then Thomas Harpwood. All three though, being badly crushed, were dead, as indeed was the horse. Daniel Moss, aged 34, a native of Somerset, died several hours later, at his home in Lamberts End, never regaining consciousness, at his bedside, his wife and five children. In New Village, Oldbury,, the wife and six children of Thomas Harpwood,aged 45, waited for the dreaded news that wasn't long in coming. John Harvey, aged 34, although he was never to know it, had his wife waiting for him in the little pit yard, who was then faced with the task of telling her four children he would never be coming home. They had both been born in Blackheath, and had only recently moved to Oldbury. The last one, Benjamin Cashmore, aged 34, had lost his son just the year before, and his wife would now find the house in Beech Road a cold and lonely place. The men had, for many months, always had their lunch in the same spot, and in that time, there had never been a problem. The death toll would have been a lot higher, if they all downed tools at the same time, and sat down to enjoy a meal break. " In the midst of Life " goes the prayer, and in this case, in the middle of dinner as well.

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

April 5, 2013 at 4:21 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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I get asked a lot of questions about Black Country mining. Sometimes it's just the location of a Pit, at others, it's an equiry about a long dead relative. Last year I was asked for any information on a Josiah Wakeman, supposedly killed in a pit. Not only was there no record of his death at a mine, there's no record of his death in 1915, in the national BMD archives either. I have suggested that it would be wise to find the correct date of death, and send for the Certificate. I have also been asked to help find the Army records of a man whose death is recorded in March 1915. The young lady asuming, that it's a death on the Western Front. Sadly, there aren't any, for he wasn't killed in the Great War, but in a mining accident in Oct/Nov, 1914. The mine in question was Sandfields, near Pensnett, and but for the War, it would have been shut down by the owners, William Parrish and Company. Coal of course was needed to power the industrial process, that ensured the Armed Forces had the tools to fight the war with. It could have course have been entirely likely, that Alfred Price, 39, and John Gabriel, 37, would have ended up at the front if they had volunteered in early 1914. It's possible that they would have been blown up, for in any case, thats exactly what happened to them down the mine, when a pocket of gas exploded. For all I know, Alfred Price and John Gabriel may have not wanted to fight a War, but in the end they gave their lives to support the war effort anyway.


There a little story about the Company that owned Sandfields Colliery, and a few others in the vacinity of Bromley and Pensnett. William Parrish & Co, were not renowned for their generousity towards the workforce they employed. borne out by this bit of trouble in 1902. The Coronation of Queen Victoria's successor, Edward VII, had been fixed for 26th June, 1902, and for most folk. it was a day off work to celebrate. Now a good celebration in the Black Country, requires the consumtion of a great deal of Beer and Ale, otherwise it's just a little party. In order to recover from the days Celebrations, it was the custom, to take the next day off as well. Mr Parish wasn't happy about this, for it meant that the men would get an extended unofficial holiday as the " unofficial extra day " ran into the weekend as well. The men of course, would lose the pay, but Mr Parish would suffer the loss of 4 days production of coal. He had a few other problems as well, such as being pressed to increase the low level of wages he paid, to which he had refused, making the miners unhappy bunnies. The Coronation, as history records, went well, and as expected, Mr Parish's workforce enjoyed themselves. They were somewhat dismayed, a couple of weeks later, when 45 of their number received a summons, for being absent from work without consent. ( ie, for having too long a holiday ) It had been a long time since so many had been summoned under this deplorable bit of labour law, it's not surprising that dark mutterings about strike action across the area began to be whispered. So worried were the other Mine owners, that pressure was applied to Mr Parish, who had no option but to withdraw the damages action he had started against his miners, and also had to increase the wages. Edward VII died in 1911, William Parish's coal empire expired around 1919, some of the miners didn't survive the War, but the tale of a Black Country Scrooge lives on.

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

December 27, 2013 at 2:49 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

" Dying for a fag."


Sandhills Colliery was just a stones throw from the site of the Sandfields Pit. In the 1930s, it was owned and managed by Guy Pitt and Company, and, being quite small, and only one of a handful of mines still working in the area, had escaped most of the regulations then in force. They say that old habits die hard, and in this case, those words certainly ring true. On the 24th November, 1933, the shift working the mine was drawing to a close, when suddenly there was a short lived, but violent explosion at the coal face. Cyril Street, a loader from Pensnett, described the noise as like a whistle, and told the subsequent inquest that he was blown down the roadway some distance by the blast. He survived some terrible injuries, which was more than the three other men he was working with did. Joseph Burns, aged 57, a married man with at least 5 children, and from Wall Heath, Kingswinford, was killed on the spot. Joseph Wood, aged 52, also married and with 2 children, would never again greet his family in Bromley Lane, Kingswinford. Nor would Enoch Thomas Fox, aged 29, another married man with a 4 year old daughter, and also from Bromley Lane. The explosion, which didn't do the mine a great deal of damage, was caused by the presence of a pocket of gas in the workings, which hadn't been checked during the shift. The ignition of the gas was caused by a naked flame, and as the mine used electric lighting, it wouldn't take the mines Inspector long to find the cause.


Elijah Rowley was the senior Mines Inspector for the area, and as soon as was deemed safe enough for an inspection, early the next morning, down he went. The first thing he discovered was another pocket of gas at the coal face, which was ordered to be cleared. Regulations in some small mines tended to be bit on the lax side, and this should have been checked prior to anyone going down the pit. Walking up the roadway, Elijah Rowley passed a warning notice, " No Naked Flames Beyond this Point " , but strangely, no warning about smoking. ( The notice was at least 20 years old, and concidering that 14 miners had needlessly lost their lives through smoking, at the Grove Colliery, Brownhills, three years before, it should have been replaced)  The next things he saw, according to his report, was a series of spent and live matches on the way to the coal face, and a few discarded cigarette butts. After removing some of the small bits of coal at the face, he discovered an un-smoked cigarette, and a spent match. The cause of the explosion was clear, but which one of the dead miners had struck the match, would now forever remain a mystery; the culprit was a very dead man. It was disclosed at the Inquest, that the owners were not under any obligations to implement the regulations regarding Explosive Dangers, other than the warning about naked flames. There was no system in place, for the searching of any miners prior to starting a shift, for Matches or Cigarettes. Nor was there any proper inspection for the presence of gas in the workings either. Neither of these minor breaches of the regulations however, affected the Inquest verdict of " Accidental Death ", for the miners themselves, had caused their own deaths by a gross display of utter contempt of the dangers involved. This sheer lunatic behaviour, had resulted in three widows, and eight orphaned children. Ultimately, it also led to the closure of the pit, for the mine was placed within the regulations, which made it uneconomical to operate. I have recently received a present, a small box of cigars, and written in bold letters on the package are the words, " Smoking Kills ". As this story illustrates, it most certainly does.



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

December 31, 2013 at 3:09 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Hall End Colliery, West Bromwich, 1884.


Not every explosion in a mine brings the roof down, or leaves behind much evidence that there has been an explosion at all. This scene would have greeted anyone, not experienced in mining in West Bromwich, in 1884. Mind you, as no one had been killed in the blast, at 4.30pm on Saturday the 6th September, you would have not believed it to be as serious as it turned out. The Hall End Colliery, was a fairly old mine complex, the thick seams having been worked out some years before. In January of 1884, Messers Philips and Simmons, two old mining families from the area, decided to open up a new coal face in the old workings. The face was reached by decending the old No 10 shaft, ( near Church Lane ) and proceeding through the older workings and past disused sections. New Seam Working was a dangerous game, the build up of gas could be swift and deadly, and most of the miners would have preferred to work elsewhere. A job though, is a job, and mining was on the decline, the peak having been around 1872 in the Black Country. It doesn't say in the records, how many were employed at the pit, but it couldn't have been that many, as the night shift, ( according to the inquiry records ) only consisted of 17 men. The colliery " doggie ", George Lee, was said to have inspected the area with a safety lamp prior, to the shift starting work at 3pm, but in light of what happened, he may have not been as thorough as he should have been. Just because fire damp had not been detected before the shift began, doesn't mean that it wasn't present at other times, and bearing in mind the known properties of  new coal seams, it was unwise to allow miners to use candles rather than the safety lamps. It was stated, that Lee. on the instructions of Benjamin Green, had warned the men not to venture into the old workings, as there was gas present, which contradicts the earlier statement that there was no danger. There most certainly was. Prior to the shift starting, an explosive shot had been fired, and it had failed to go off, thus making an area at the end of the seam highly dangerous. Non of the miners were aware of any other problems in this section, assuming the warning to stay away, was as a result of the miss-fire. A warning to only use the safety lamps was not given, or indeed, any attempt made to enforce the regulations regarding their use. There are no indications when a gas explosion occurs, just a flash of light, a searing blast, and utter darkness, for in this case, all the candles went out. Men were blown backwards, most of them were burnt, had suffered broken limbs, and you can imagine the painful crawl along pitch black tunnels back to the mines shaft. The blast had been heard on the surface though, and help was on the way. Of sixteen men caught by the blast, 11 warranted Hospital treatment with serious burns, and another man was taken as a precaution. The visible injuries were bad enough, cuts, abrasions, broken limbs, but the main danger, was from shock and internal damage, as would soon be revealed.


Explosions of this type produce not just a shock wave, but heat up the surrounding air many degrees higher than a human being can stand. Not just on the outside, but without air, non of us will live long, and super heated air will have the same effect on the inside. Only 5 men of the 17 or so recorded on the night shift were un-injured, one near the shaft with the tubs, and the others either on the way back or to the coal face. Meanwhile, at the District Hospital, it had become apparent that several men were in a very bad condition indeed. The first death occurred on Tuesday 9th September, the second on the 11th, the third on the 13th, the fourth on the 15th, the fifth on the 16th, the sixth on the 17th, and the last on the 18th September. The deaths, spread over so many days, delayed the inquest of course, and as most came from the local area, this increased the anguish of the families who could only wait and pray. As it turned out, all in vain. The list of the dead is below.


Charles Durnell, 42, Edwin Hughes, 31, William Birks, 51, Charles Dancer, 27, Joseph Broom, 40, Benjamin Tranter, 40, Edward Lawley, 30.


Inquests are strange things, well they were back over 130 years ago. The Coroner, and the Jury, were required to view the dead bodies prior to sitting. This was fine when it was a single death, but this inquest drew a comment from the Coroner, Edwin Hooper. The first deaths had been viewed in the Hospital, but others required viewing in their homes, where they had been taken. The Coroner complained that the health of those concerned had been put at risk, due to the filthy and unsanitary conditions of the houses they had been too, and that a fever was raging in the district at the time as well. He tactfully never named which homes. There are a few points that stand out from the inquiry, when it concluded on 14th October, 1884. George Grice, who was one the mines shot firer's, reported that prevoius shots had resulted in an increase of air into the mine, a sure sign that the action had also caused the ignition of gas. He had left work about 2.45pm on the day of the explosion, and had not fired the shot that failed to go off. George Satchwell, one of the deputies, who also wasn't on the night shift that day, was well aware of the dangers, and did not pass on his concerns to the other deputies, nor indeed, to any of the men. The men were directed though, to work at the other end of the seam, and to avoid the area, but at no time, were any instructions to use safety lamps only, passed to the miners. So seven men needlessly lost their lives, in an accident that was avoidable, made worse, by the owners informing the inquiry, that the men themselves had refused to work with the safety lamps, as it slowed down the work and cost them money. It's no wonder that the Jury agreed to censure the three deputies, George Lee, George Satchwell, and Benjamin Green, and also the mines owners, the Phillips and Simmons families. Just another few names on a long list of the dead.

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

April 12, 2014 at 4:14 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Cophall Colliery. Walsall/West Bromwich.


This story features a man who is also mentioned in some other mining incidents, The Coroner, Edwin Hooper. Among the many who hardly raised an eyebrow, Edwin Hooper stood out, for he was totally unafraid to speak his mind, when he believed that lives had been needlessly lost. He wasn't afraid to name names either.


The Cophall Coal and Ironstone Company, a small outfit in the 1860s, composed of a few families, who, as befits the time, and the abysmal safety breaches, operated on a shoestring budget. Even so, they had to abide by the basic rules and regulations, and it was a pity some of their employees weren't a bit more deligent in their work. The mines Deputy, John Hubbard, who, at 37, had put in many years as an Ironstone miner. This did not though, qualify him as a man who had much sense, it merely indicated he had survived thus far, without anything falling on him. Whatever he was thinking, after leaving his home at No.11, Birchills Street, Walsall, on the way to the pit on the morning of the 11th July, 1866, it wasn't revising the mining regulations. He already knew, from the day before, that repair work was needed on the pits No.3 roadway, so almost as soon as he arrived, he ordered two men, John Woodhouse, aged 21, and William Long, to go down and begin the repairs. Long was an experienced man, and asked Hubbard if the area was free of Gas, and Hubbard assured him he had inspected the roadway and it was fine. He then handed Long a safety lamp, and told him to check for himself if he was unhappy. From elsewhere in this topic, you will know, that the light given out by a safety lamp, was far below the level of a candle. So it came to pass, that after John Hubbard had made several visits to see that all was well, when he found the two men using candles, he said, and did, nothing. Some hours later, it became apparent that there had been an underground explosion, and Hubbard went down to see the damage. As he entered the No.3 roadway, he met Long and Woodhouse walking away from the blast area, and they were both sent to the surface. The miners, badly burned, were treated on the surface , the wounds bandaged after being smeared in oil. William Long managed to walk home, but John Woodhouse required a cab, and at no stage were they taken to a Hospital. John Woodhouse died on the 27th July, and William Long on the 6th August.  John Hubbard was about to face his own roasting, from the Coroner.


After hearing all the evidence, the Coroner, Edwin Hooper, was not a happy man. He suspected that all was not as it seemed, and the man in the frame was the pit's deputy, John Hubbard. So ill had been the two injured men, that statements had proved impossible to be obtained. Summing up for the Jury, Hooper made the point, that if there was no gas present when William Long enquired, why had Hubbard made so many visits to the area to check. The implication being of course, that Hubbard hadn't actually made an inspection, but as he knew the mine well, he may have suspected that gas would be present, and that was why he handed over a safety lamp. The regulations were quite clear on the matter, should gas be even suspected, the men should not be allowed to use the candles, a rule that Hubbard had failed to enforce. The Jury, who probably didn't actually need to be told that something was amiss, after delivering a verdict of Accidental Death, asked the Coroner to add a rider, admonishing John Hubbard for his gross negligence in the matter. Edwin Hooper, with the question of why Hubbard had asked so many times about gas unanswered, told the Jury, that had it been possible to prove that there was gas in the mine that morning, then John Hubbard would have been facing a charge of Manslaughter. 


Hubbard never again worked as a pit deputy, not surpring really, after such an act of stupidity had cost two men their lives. He seems to have moved away to Aldridge, shortly afterwards, where he continued to work as an ordinary miner. He died in 1900, aged 72, far more years than the two unfortunate men he completely let down in 1866.

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

July 8, 2014 at 4:05 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

A bit further back in time, 1854 to be precise, but a familiar place, Five Ways, Cradley Heath.  The old Whitehall Colliery, still in operation after the disaster of 1851, (see topics above )  and, it seems still awaiting the improvements recommended by the Coroner. The pit still did not have adequate ventilation. the owner, George Dudley, like many who had a shoe string budget, simply didn't bother. The day shift has just finished work, on the 31st July,1854, and were in the process of returning to the surface, ( some were already halfway up the shaft ) when a violent explosion filled the pit with acrid smoke and choking gases. In an almost identical repeat of 4 years earlier, 18 men were injured in the blast, 10 of them seriously. There were 4 horses in the pit, only one being so badly injured it had to put down. Frantic efforts soon had all the injured on the surface where it was found that most of the injuries were not as bad as first feared, 8 men being slightly burnt, and two others giving cause for concern. Francis Southall died three days later, and William Hodgets, 26, two after that. Because this event so closely mirrored the one in 1851, it raised some rather important questions, which caused the Inquest to be adjourned for a few days. When it resumed, it was fairly clear that no improvements had been carried out to the ventilation system, but no charges were bought against anyone for this " oversight ".  A verdict of Accidental Death was a foregone conclusion, and the names of two more unlucky miners was added to the roll of never ending needless deaths.

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

April 14, 2015 at 2:59 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Pedro
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Posts: 25

Alaska. at December 18, 2011 at 4:18 PM

Another mine on fire, this time it was the Steers Meadow Colliery, in Wednesbury. Like many others, it had been burning for some time, and a wall, or " Dam ", as they were called, had been erected to seal it off. The area of the fire though, when the coal had been consumed, was subject to sudden collapses, and this, on the 28th February, 1863, was exactly what occured. The mine was very close to the River Tame, and the fall of rock weakened the ground, allowing the river to flood in. Hearing the approaching water, the miners headed for the highest part of the workings, all except one, who ran towards the nearest shaft. Unfortunately, he ran towards the cause of the flooding, and was drowned. Two miners, and a young lad, secured some higher positions, although the water began to steadily rise. The roof in the part they were trapped in, was much higher than in other parts of the mine, so they lifted up the young lad, Job Jones. Unable to get up themselves, and Jones was not strong enough to offer assistance, they were soon overcome by the water. Jones could only listen, to their last agonising struggle for life. Up on the surface, desperate efforts were made to stem the flow of the river into the workings. The level in the mine dropped as the water drained away to the mines lower levels, but it failed to put out the fire, which, with the collapsed dam, was growing in strength. The rescue attempts went on for many days, and two bodies were bought out, Jones being found alive after some 100 hours in the pit. In the end, the fire won the battle, the body of the third miner was never found, and eventually that section of the mine was shut down, and the shaft closed and filled. Job Jones, despite losing his brother in the disaster, made a full recovery. Just another mining accident to add to a long list of others, and a few more sad Tombstones. The names of the dead are listed below.


James Gettings, (or Gittings ) Charles Pitt, and Edward Jones. He being the one who sadly ran the wrong way. If anyone has anymore information on this tragic event, I will be pleased to hear it.

 

 

While looking through back issues of the Black Country Society's magazine, Blackcountryman, I noticed the title “An Appalling Colliery Accident.” (Volume 10, Issue 2). The short article concerned the Steer's Meadow disaster of the 19th February 1863 in Wednesbury. The description of events was in some ways similar to that as described by Alaska, but it added a conclusion....

 

"The possible cause of the accident was discussed at length in the district. The general opinion was that the owner, Mr Tolley had worked the coal under the Brook, causing the surface to subside. This theory, however is not supported by the surveyors plan, which shows the pillars of coal had been left. It is likely that these pillars were gradually being destroyed by the fire underground. The workings were only 20 yards deep. Similar incidents involving the collapse of the surface, known as "crowning in" were common in the district at the time."

(Refs: J Baker, Mines Inspector report, and Brierley Hill Advertiser)

 

Like many of the accidents, recorders seem to write an account from the initial press reports without referring to the Inquest, which can take place sometime after the event. Looking at the Inquest I think I must write a short piece for the magazine to set the record straight, and Black Country Muse is great place to reach people who may be interested in the subject.

 

The Birmingham Daily Gazette gives a detailed record of the adjourned Inquest in the 26 March 1863 edition; a much abridged mention of some of the main points…..

 

Witness Isaiah Beach, miner, said that he had heard talk around Christmas of the fear to work at night due to fire stink. The next morning after the accident he had gone down the pit but water was up to his middle. He went again at 2 o'clock, and then the following morning, when the water had subsided, and heard Job's voice.

 

Job, the boy, was called as witness. He was 14 years old and had been working in the Pit for six months as a "pitcher" and to carry dirt. He had gone down with his brother Edward Jones, and when the water flowed in he followed Gethings, but his brother went the other way. He said that after his rescue Mr Tolley had never been once to see if he was dead or alive, but the doggy had called upon him.

 

Joseph Whitworth stated that he was a miner, but he left Mr Tolley’s employment about a week before the accident. He then had the sack from the doggy as he came up the pit, and brought his son, because they were afraid of being stifled by fire. He was always of the opinion that water would break through from the brook, as he had seen water trickle through the rock in the pit. The witness, and others, had told Mr Tolley that they were afraid to work at night because of the danger from fire and water, as there was not a whimsey man. To this Mr Tolley had left word with the banksman that if they were afraid to work because there was no whimsey man , “they might play.”…

 

 

The Coroner, with Mr Baker and Mr Wynn (Inspectors) asked this witness and several others questions as to the workings of the pit, as shown by the plans furnished for Mr Tolley…They were totally inadequate for the purposes of the Jury, and it showed great neglect on the part of the owner of the colliery in not providing better ones.

 

Mr Tolley said he was the owner of the pit, and had had the management for 9 years…..he had not heard of any complaints as to the state of the pit…he had been in pit management for 40 years, and considered the pit as safe as any in England…..he did not recollect Mr Wynn calling on him in 1855 and warning him not to work coal under the brook course.

 

 

Mr Wynn (Mines Inspector) said he had visited the colliery and saw Tolley. He had received information that he was working very near the brook course. Tolley assured Wynn that this was not the case, but he had no plans to show him….Wynn warned him that the dam of the brook would “crown in” and let the water into the men.

 

The Coroner summed up the evidence, and after about 5 minutes consideration the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death,” and added to their verdict that they considered that Mr Tolley’s conduct in not trying sooner after the accident to get the men out of the pit, showed great neglect on his part. They also considered it very strange that Mr Tolley had kept no plan of the colliery. The evidence given by Mr Wynn confirmed them in their opinion as to Mr Tolley’s neglect, and they considered that a severe censure should be passed upon Mr Tolley for his conduct……Mr Tolley was then called before the jury, and the Coroner severely censured him, and advised him to be cautious as to the manner in which he carried out any further workings of the pit…the inquiry occupied upwards of 9 hours.

 

(The owner of the pit was actually a Mr Jones, and William Tolley was Chartermaster.)

December 26, 2015 at 5:28 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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