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Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Bilston Boiler Explosion, Ettingshall. Millfields.


From the very start of the regions plunge into the industrial revolution, there were accidents. Only to be expected really, given that some of the technology was new, and not to put too fine a point on it, a bit crude. Mining accidents were common place, and if the wrenching from the ground, of the source of power was hazadous, so were the results of applying it. James Watt, in his many improvements of the Steam Engine, never used high pressure steam. He concidered it far too dangerous. Others however, ploughed onwards, not realising, or maybe not caring, that theory, had outstripped the technology. Especially when it came to the making of Boilers. It's a matter of where to start when looking at the subject, there were so many Boiler explosions early on, that any figure presented, as the total deaths in any year, are meaningless, as reporting was so poor. We may rant and rave today, (and I have done it myself) at the conditions laid down by the Health and Safety at Work regulations, but I wonder where we would all be without it.



The results of a Boiler Explosion, Bradley/Bilston, about 1903.


This first one is one of the worst in the region, and, like many others, it was avoidable. The year is 1862, the Black Country was booming, and there was an almost unsatiable demand for Iron. Fortunes were made in a very short time, and it was in pursuit of such profit, that Thomas Rose found himself in Ettingshall, Bilston . He seemed to have found what he was seeking, in the fully equipped Iron Works at Millfields, which had lain idle for some time, prior to the present boom. He promptly bought it. Taking on over 40 men, he began prodution, in May. It went well, and he settled back. looking forward to great riches, but within a month, it all went belly up. Boiler Explosion, 13th April, 1862, the Headlines said,  a day Millfields would not easily forget, when he boiler at the works exploded. The blast was heard for miles, and the force of the mighty explosion,  demolished Chimneys, Walls, Outbuildings, in fact anything within a hundred yards of the factory. The shattered Boiler was hurled from it's bed, a huge piece weighing nearly 8 tons, smashed through the roof the shed, and flew through the air, to land the other side of the Railway line, over 3 hundred yards away. The Works were showered with scalding hot water, and Molten metal. That anyone could survive such destruction, defies belief, but some of the workers did, Miraculously. 12 year old Billy Williams, on only his second day at work, was near the Boiler when it began to shudder and leak. He was blown more than 200 yards from where he had been, with little more than a few bruises. Rescuers were quickly on the scene, but were faced with a huge pile of twisted metal, broken smouldering masonry, and the pitious cries of injured and dying men. Through out the day, from out of this appalling pile of debris, the dreadful, and gruesome task of searching for the bodies went on. Sometimes they only found the limbs or a head, and the death toll mounted. Three victims were found in a canal barge, over a 100 yards away. Identification took time, grief and confusion was all around, until at last, it was announced, that 20, had perished at the scene, and a further 8 from injuries. But how had it happened.?




The inquiry, like so many at the time, had to prove some kind of negligence, and like so many before and since, failed. It transpired, that the Boiler had been made in 1853, by John Elwell , at Priestfields, Wolverhampton.  It had never had more than a quick inspection since it had been installed, and non since the works was taken over by Thomas Rose. The day before, the Night engineer, Richard Rowley, had noted a loose rivet, and ordered that a " Peck of Bran " should be poured into the Boiler. The mind boggles, thats the same as recommending putting a few oats, or a raw egg in a car Radiator, which, because it's low pressure, will work. Most certainly though, not on a Boiler, that, by all acounts, was being operated, dispite it's age, at above the normal pressure safety limits. It was not clear, if the safety valve, or the pressure gauge, was even in working order at the time. No one was blamed, as to find fauly with the engineer, the job of the Coroner was to prove that the Boiler was without water, and the engineer knew it. He couldn't, and the engineer walked free. Meanwhile, 17 widows, and 36 orphaned children, were left to fend for themselves. Well they would have done, if had not the press made a great fuss of such a tragedy, and a fund was started. 10 of the victims were buried, in a mass grave, in Bilston Cemetery, accompanied by a crowd estimated at 4,000 strong. What happened to Thomas Rose, the Iron Works owner, you may ask. It's not been recorded, but I should hope his dreams of getting rich quick, died along with all the poor souls, who were sacrificed on the bonfire of Profit.

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

April 28, 2011 at 4:26 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Bilston Boiler Explosion, List of the Dead.


And as requested, a list of the poor souls who lost their lives.


John Aston, 34, Bradley.

John Aston, 36 Broad Street.

Joesph Bode, 18, Workhouse Fold.

William Cavanagh, 46, Gozzard Street.

James Clark, 38, Hall Green.

Samuel Cornfield, 40?. Catchems Corner.

Philir Cox, 18, Hall Fields.

James Dodd, 19, New Village.

Edward Goodman, 13, Wolverhampton Street.

Edward Goring, 18, Rough Hills.

John Hateley, 40, Daisy Bank.

William Henry Holloway, 19, Frost Street.

John Hughes, 24, Princes End.

Thomas Jordon, 22, Hartshorne Street.

Pete Keenan, 43, Wood Street.

James Lewis, 25, Chapel Street.

Peter Maughan, 35, Wolverhampton Street.

William Mills, 36, Moxley.

Henry Morris, 19, Temple Street.

William Nicklin, 24, Hall Fields.

Robert Owne, 20, Monmore Green.

John Plat, 30, Castle Street.

James Rowley, 22, Shropshire Row.

Dennis Ward, 20, Temple Street.

Joseph Warton, 40, Gibbet Lane.

Henry Harvey Watson, 22, Daisy Bank.

John Charles Wilson, 19, Daisy Bank.

Daniel Vadin, 27, Green Croft.


Just 6 weeks later, and also in Bilston, 7 men and boys were killed at Bradley Colliery. Another case of neglect, but again,no one was prosecuted.










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

April 30, 2011 at 3:17 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Walsall, Birchills, Boiler Accident.


Forward in time to May, 1880, and little has changed by way of introducing better working practices, and more importantly, adhering to safety regulations. The scene this time is Walsall, and the Birchills Hall Ironworks.


Edward Johnson, the works Manager, was on the way to speak to Thomas Cornfield, the Engineer, as to the progress of a Boiler, number 4, as production had not reached full capacity. Cornfield had just checked the pressure, and the 27 foot high, 10 foot diameter Boiler seemed to be OK. Before he could convey this to his Manager, there was a terrific hiss of steam, and an almighty explosion. Both men, miraculously escaped unharmed, which was more than could be said for the men working the Furnaces nearby. The devastation was immense. All that could be seen, was a smouldering pile of bricks, beams, metal girders, and scalding steam. The cries of injured men was horrific. Some, with flesh peeled off by the steam, were running around in agony, others lay dead and dying from multipule injuries. the rest were buried under the rubble, that had once been the Iron works. Out of a workforce of over 50, nearly half were to lose their lives. Most were killed outright, but, as some would say, the ulucky ones had to suffer a lingering death from burns. Even before the inquiry got underway, the state of No.4 Boiler, was the talk of the district. It transpired that regulations were in force that forbade the continuous use of such Boilers, and it should have been rested, 2 days and 2 nights, each week. The records showed, that the last inspection was 14 days prior to the explosion, since when it been in operation every day. There were no records of the many repairs carried out, no test results, which again was contrary to the regulations for a Boiler as old as this one. The Coroners jury did their best, but with so little to work on, The Birchills Iron Company escaped a negligence charge. Mind you. they did show some sympathy for the Widows and children of the dead, they paid for all the Funerals. Thousands attended on the day, that 22 coffins were committed to the ground. 3 more were to die in the days to come, as the Mayor of Walsall launched an apeal for a relief fund. No doubt there was a contribution from the Iron works owners, it should have cost them a lot more than mere money.


Benjamin Harrison, 40  Joseph Harrison, 43  Joseph Fellows Turley, 20  William Osborne, 43  John Wooley, 41  Enoch Taylor, 37  Robert Griffiths, 35  Thomas Goulding, 34  William Banks, 27  William Hickson, 27  Richard Fletcher, 26  William Wooley, 26  Henry Heath, 23 Joseph Sleigh, 21  David Owen, 21  James Mercer, 20  James Griggs Higgs, 16  Joseph Rounds, 43  William Bryan, 31  Thomas Birch, 30 and  John Bryan, 6.


Young John, was delivering his father Williams lunch, and instead of leaving it at the gate, had taken it to his fathers place of work. Right next to the Boiler.

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

April 30, 2011 at 4:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Of a much similar, but smaller nature that the others, but no less deadly, was another Boiler incident, this time in Cradley Heath. The Iron foundry of Joseph Penn & Company, ( Quarry Bank ), was situated behind the back to back house's, just off Five Ways. The place was being run by John Penn, son of the now retired owner. The regulations, in 1906, covering the operation and safety of Boilers had not surprisingly been updated. Most of the larger Manufacturers had switched over to Electricity for power, leaving just a few, with the outdated steam methods. In order to compete in business, the golden rule, "keep costs low, to maximise profits" should always be applied, but this sometimes leads to unforeseen problems. John Penn had several problems, trade was bad, and the old upright Boiler needed constant attention. He, and his engineer, John Beddard, had spent many hours effecting running repairs, some of the plates had been repaired, and a few rivets replaced. It had however,not been inspected for some time. On the morning of 4th July,1906, it had developed a leak, and not wishing to shut it down, the two of them attempted to correct the fault, while it was under full pressure. It transpired, that neither the safety valve, nor the pressure gauge was working properly, and hadn't been for some time. At 8.30am, while they were working on the Boiler, it exploded, with an ear shattering roar. One of Penns workman, said at the inquiry, that it " took off like a Rocket ", the bottom of the Boiler throwing out broken metal like schrapnel. Both men were killed, and sevral men injured. People in the houses nearby suffered many broken windows, and were lucky not to be seriously hurt, as pieces of the wreakage rained down. The bulk of the boiler ended up in a garden, over 100 yards away, and just feet from the house. It was not possible, to prosecute anyone for this undoubted bit of negligence, as the one responsible, John Penn, was way beyond the reach of the law. Thankfully, today, the regulations should prevent such accidents. But where you may ask, could such a thing occur, I always remember the wise words of Fred Dibner, " Steam engines are just an explosion waiting to happen ". They do look nice though at the Shows.

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

May 2, 2011 at 11:50 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Smethwick, Rolf Street Fire.

The Fire Station, Rolf Street. 1920s.



Smethwick has it's own cross to bear as well, not a Boiler explosion, or a mining accident, but a tragedy from Fire. Driving along Rolfe Street, Smethwick today, you can't imagine how different it looked in 1929. Smethwick's Theatre Royal was here, and just opposite to it, a line of shops, with a series of tenement dwellings above. Sometime after midnight, on 1st September, 1929, a fire, caused by, it was said, an electrical fault, broke out in one of the shops. When the alarm was raised, only one of the Towns two appliances was on standby duty, and when it arrived, the hose's did not fit the fire-hydrants. There were three families living in the flats, and 3 young children, who jumped, were badly injured. They were the lucky ones, as 11 others trapped in the blaze, were all killed. After the shock and horror of such an event, serious questions began to be asked about the state of Smethwicks Fire Brigade. The results of a subsequent inquiry, were devastating for the Council, but at the end of the day, thats where the blame lay.


The Chief Fire Officer, Alexander Arnold, came in for some harsh treatment, as did his deputy, second officer Wilding. It appeared that Wilding had moved from his quarters at the Fire Station, and that an emergency fire bell had not been installed at his Council House. This was Arnolds responsibility, and although he had recieved a memo, he had left it to others, including he claimed, the Town Clerk. Wilding did not find out about the fire, until 2 hours after it been put out. The second appliance was being used by a full time fireman to convey to Hospital an " injured person ", and most of the part time firemen could not be reached at all. As the blame began to shift towards the whole Council, it was pointed out, that the private Brigade of Mitchells and Butlers, had acted with far more speed and efficiency than the one they employed. Resignations were called for, and a complete overall of the Brigade was proposed. There was worse to come however. It was alleged that no proper training routine was in place, and no regular checks of equipment had been carried out. Indeed, Arnold had signed off, as in working order, Hydrants, which had been painted over, reserve water tanks, and the two appliance's equipment, including it should be added, the hose's that wouldn't fit the Hydrants or the tanks, not long before the fire. Just to add to the misery, it was revealed that no less than 6 hose points were inside the Theatre itself, but they hadn't been used because the Chief Fire Officer did not have a key. No, but they did have Axes and Iron bars, entry should not have been difficult. Not all the blame could be attached to the Brigade, poor as it was, Smethwick Council were themselves hiding behind the old " Hindsight " excuse. The whole Brigade was dismissed, and a new Commander was bought in, the councillors after all, didn't want to lose any trust with the voters, did they.


The fire chief, Alexandra Arnold, and the main culprit of the whole sorry episode, is standing on the extreme left, front row.

Mary Ann Aston, 56. David Aston, (son), 34.

James Jones, 56, Mary Ann Jones, (wife),59. James Jones Jnr, 21

Alex MacDonald, 44, Thyrza MacDonald, (wife) , and their children, Hilda, (4), Hector,(2), Alex Jnr,(10 months)


They were all buried, on the same sad day, with a massive turn out of mourners. September 6th, 1929. The Fire Brigade which emerged from this debacle, became a source of pride and credit to the Town, they still are.

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

June 7, 2011 at 4:41 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Unicorn
Member
Posts: 46

It would appear that things only get put right after people have lost their lives.

June 8, 2011 at 10:23 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Bilston, New Colliery Gas Explosion.


It was of course not only coal that was mined. There were the Limestone workings, Ironstone mines, and the Fire Clay mines. It's this last sort of mine that is the subject of this post. I don't know what the Holiday weather was like in Bilston, in April 1846, but at the mine,owned by Messers Benton & Pemberton, Bilston New Colliery, on the Willenhall Road, the first shift after Easter was preparing for the days work. So about 6.30am, on 15th April, 5 men and boys were winched down the shaft, with orders to await the arrival of the " doggy ", to check the workings for gas, who would be in the second skip to come down. Although the mine was owned by Benton & Pemberton, it was being worked, on a lease, by George Roberts, and Edward Dunston. It's not clear who gave the order to wait, as neither man seemed to be on site at the time. The first skip reached the bottom, and out got William Jones, his son William, aged 23, Job Vinson, his young son, also Job, aged 13, and William Moody. For reasons no one could understand, William Jones Jnr, taking a lighted candle went off into the workings. He had not gone more that 6 yards, when there was an almighty explosion. The second skip was about a third of the way down, when the explosion occured, and it was blown back up the shaft, like a cork in a bottle. Such was the force, that it cleared the pit winding gear, and landed on the spoil heap which was some distance away. There were 5 men and a boy in this skip, three of the men were killed instantly, the boy died later, and 2 more were badly injured. One of the first on the scene was another miner, who was late for work. He rushed to the pit bank, and after helping an injured miner, he went down the other mine shaft with a rescue party where they found a another dead miner. The Inquest verdict was no surprise to anyone, Accidental Death.


William Jones, aged 23, married with 2 children and lived in Brook Street, Bilston. The only one killed in the mine.

Abraham Atkiss, aged 32, married with 4 children, and lived in Temple Street, Bilston.

Thomas Vinsom, aged 10, youngest son of Job, who lived in Oxford Street, Bilston.

John Evens, aged 18, single, and from Bridge Street.

Enoch Bettany, aged 16, single and also from Bridge Street, Bilston.


Job Vinson and his other son, together with Moody, were burned but all survived. William Cox and Edward Roberts, the other men in the second skip were very badly injured. Roberts was reported as having lost his arm, but there is no confirmation. I suppose Job Vinsom was grateful that he had lost only one son, it could have been so much worse.

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

August 17, 2011 at 3:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Bradley, Bilston, Iron Works, Batmans Hill Boiler Accident.


James Warren, a family man aged 41, left his home in Wesley Street, Bradley, to pay a visit to Tupper and Companies Ironworks, at Batmans Hill. He should have been with his wife at the annual tea party at Saint Martins Church, but as the mill manager at the works, he felt it his duty, to check on how the new Boiler was working. In truth, it was anything but new, the company had purchased it from another firm, the week before. It was already dark, on 20th January 1903, and a bit foggy as well, as he stood beside the Boiler, while a frantic Henry Southall, the engine driver, vainly tried to plug a leak on the main joint of the Boiler. It was the last thing he and the driver saw, as the overloaded boiler exploded, killing both of them instantly. The blast destroyed the building which housed the boiler, badly damaged the rest of the works, and flung huge chunks of metal more than a hundred yards. The residents of both Rose Street, and Wesley Street, who couldn't have failed to realise what had happened, rushed to the factory gates in such numbers that a Doctor, alerted by a patient, had difficulty reaching the scene. 13 other men were quickly rushed off to Wolverhampton General Hospital, where sadly. later that night, two more died from their injuries. James Warrens wife, was on the way to the works, from Slater Street, when she heard from another woman, that men had died, and that the works manager was one of them. The death toll would have been a lot higher, if the No. 2 mill had been in use as well.


There were two inquests, the first at The Victoria Inn, in Wesley Street, Bradley, and the second at Wolverhampton Town Hall. The Companies Managing Director, E.C.Lewis, the works chief engineer, James Higgs, and the man who passed the boiler fit to use, Francis Hill, faced a barrage of questions from the Government Inspectors. Hill was severely critisised, for his lax approach to safety, concidering that he had failed to spot the boiler tubes were clogged with dirt. They could not however, pin a charge on any of the management team, and the result was predictable, Accidental Death. All the dead men had families, and the widows were left in dire need following the tragedy, and if it hadn't been for the communties generousity, they would have starved.


Henry Southall, aged 39, engine driver, Stoke Street, Daisy Bank.

James Warren, aged 41, mill manager, Weslet Street, Bradley.

Edward Holloway,aged 36, roller, Wellington Road, Bilston.

Richard Cooper, aged 46, furnaceman, Hall Green Street, Bradley.


There is a point to Health and Safety Rules, you should never forget that. We today are lucky, back then, it was all left to chance and pure luck.

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

November 10, 2011 at 4:06 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Wolverhampton, Boiler Explosion,


I am indebted to Mike, for sending me details of this sad little tale from 1857.


Not far from Saint Geoges Church, in Wolverhampton, was to be found, the junction of two busy roads, Bilston Street, and Walsall Street. The surounding area was heavily populated, and set amongst the dwelling were a few factories, one of them belonging to Mr Benjamin Mason.  The old man had struggled long and hard to build up his little business, which made Fire Irons, and Smoothing Irons. The sort our parents, or, depending on your age, grandparents used to iron their clothes with. He had in recent months passed it on to his son to manage, while he put his feet up. The young Benjamin Mason was a chip off the old block, so to speak, and instead of replacing the old Boiler, which had been purchased, secondhand, some years before, to improve the output, he had it extended, and repaired. On the morning of 24 April, 1857, the works were fairly quiet, most of the men were absent for some reason, and only four were actually at work. About 3.45pm, the peace and quiet of the district was shattered by an enormous explosion. Houses in Pipers Row, Tower Street, Union Street, and many others were rocked on their foundations as the air filled with choking smoke, and dust. Bricks, stones, spars of timber, great lumps of iron, and a few body parts, rained down from above. Crowds of people rushed to the scene, but there was little to see, the works had all but vanished, under a huge pile of deris. So powerful was the blast, that a 13 inch thick wall of a nearby Malthouse, lay in ruins. Rescuers did what they could, but one man, found some distance away, having crashed through the roof a building, died within minutes of being discovered. Naked, bleeding, and horribly scalded, he had almost every bone in his body broken. Another worker also suffered terrible injuries, and died later that night from a massive brain concussion. The rescue went on, and they soon found the body of Mr Mason, or rather, what was left of it. Half of his head had been blown away, and his arms were missing, one would later be found in Bilston Street. His legs, in several pieces, were also found in the rubble. Some of the population suffered as well. Little Matthew William Turner. just 5 years old was cheerfully playing in the street, when he was suddenly cut to shreds by flying debris from the explosion. Isabella Hall, excited no doubt at going to school, and on way into the Town centre to buy a writing book, was crushed to death by the falling bricks and iron. Her father, Richard Hall, had arrived to see if he could help, but could only stand tearfully by, as his little girl was carried from the still smouldering ruins. " I saw the sleeve of a frock as a Policeman carried the body past me and I knew then that it was my little girl ". Yet amid all the destruction, there was a miraculous escape. Thomas Nightingale, who was a labourer at the works, was standing watching Benjamin Mason, and the works fireman, Joseph Cornfield, desperately trying to screw down the safety valve, as the main water feedpipe to the boiler had fractured. He walked away uninjured, from the carnage and rubble of the shattered works. So many people had now turned up, that Police Captain Segrave, and his assistant, Inspector Bennet, were forced to erect barriers to keep the area clear, so that rescue work could continue. Nothing however stops the thieves, and a number of watchers in the crowds, had their pockets picked. They managed to arrest one man, who had to be escorted away, least the angry crowd should lynch him.


The inquest, at the Blue Ball Inn, Bilston Street, heard all this, and about the slack inspections and botched repairs. It did not take long for the jury to come to a decision. " The deceased persons came to their death in consequences of injuries received by the explosion of the boiler and that such explosion was caused by the gross negligence of Benjamin Mason Junior ". Sadly, they couldn't bring him to trial for his misdeeds, he had already paid the ultimate price, with his life.

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

November 14, 2011 at 4:07 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Wednesbury, Darlaston, Boiler Explosion


So common were boiler explosions, that at times, they only warranted a small paragraph in a local Newspaper. If anyone has more details on this tragic event, especially on the men who died, I would be grateful to hear them. The area around both Wednesbury, and Darlaston, were well known for making Gun Locks and Barrels. This required the raw materials to be of a higher grade than normal, so specialist Iron works were needed. One such works, owned by a man called Richard Adams, had been in operation for many years. The furnace's were run with the assistance of a Steam Engine, connected to a 20 foot long boiler. Mr Adams seems to have been a thrifty man, ever mindful of the costs, particulary the consumption of coal, which ate into the profits. Like all the early Engines, it was not very economical, and as he fancied himself a bit of an engineer, he tried a few things to increase it's output. Any leaks of course, would lead to a drop in pressure, the engine slowed down, and production of Iron was reduced. Leaks were hastily patched, sometimes very badly, as was the case here, but all the others who used steam were often of the same mind. Profit before all else. Every boiler had a safety valve, and it was soon discovered, that by altering the way it worked, a higher pressure could be obtained, which made the engine go a bit quicker. Poor repairs and maintenance though, soon took a toll, and even higher pressures were then required to keep up the output. A disaster was just waiting to happen. On the morning of the 9th December, 1824, lady luck ran out for Richard Adams. Unable to screw down the safety valve any farther, he resorted to hanging a heavy weight on the valve, to keep it shut, and retain a full head of steam. His last instruction to his fireman, may have been to not allow the pressure to go over a certain level, we shall never now know, for, with a mighty roar, it burst into a thousand pieces. So distructive was the blast, that the whole engine was thrown of it's mountings, the walls and roof of the building, and two tall chimney stacks, were reduced to a pile of smoking rubble. Debris was scattered for a great distance over Wednesbury, as was the body of one of the workmen. He was found almost 400 feet from the scene. Richard Adams, was never prosecuted for this totally gross act of negligence, which had killed 4 of his men. Indeed, he was beyond the law, for he had been standing right next to the boiler when it exploded, and it's doubtful, if, when they lowered his coffin into his final resting place, all of his mortal remains were in it. Given the mindset of people long ago, it's hard to imagine that many mourned the loss, just a shrug of the shoulders, and then back to work. I doubt whether three more widows amongst so many would have caused much anguish either, after all, that was life, and beer money still had to be earned.

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

December 4, 2011 at 3:54 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Wolverhampton, Billiard, Snooker Hall Collapse.


Sometimes, you weren't safe, even when you had finished work for the day and were relaxing. So it was then, that on a pleasent April evening in 1920,  Alfred Breakwell, a 26 year old Railway worker, having finished his weeks work, as usual, left his home in Herbert Street, went for a quite game of Billard's. His favourite place, was the Saint George's Billiard Hall, in Garrick Street, Wolverhampton, just off Snow Hill. Billiards was far more popular then, as it is now, and the game attracted a lot of betting. About 7.30pm, he was about to execute a difficult " Cannon ", when some plaster fell from the ceiling and landed on the adjoining table. After a brief interlude that included a dust pan and brush, he settled back into his stance, to complete his delayed shot. He never made it, with a terrible roar, the entire building collapsed like a pack of cards, taking him, the table, and all the others standing around, in a rapid downward descent. The building fell into the street, or rather the roof section did, and unfortunately buried a shift worker, Harry Plimmer. He worked at Sunbeam Motors, was a 36 year old  married man from Dawley, Shropshire, and had just left his lodgings in Gordon Street. Rescuers were on the scene in seconds, as people from nearby house's rushed to help. Frantic efforts were of no avail however, for both Breakwell and Plimmer were dead. George Watt, 29, Thomas Wright, 22, and Joseph Hillman, 26, were rushed off to Hospital, and two others, Frederick Nash, 16, and Cyril Eades,17, were treated by a Doctor at the scene. ( Thats what you get for mispending your youth, apprently, although nothing like that ever happened to me ) What caused the building to collapse was never discovered, leaving the Coronor at the Inquest, to declare " Accidently Death ". I wonder if poor old Alred Breakwell is still haunting the area, forever doomed to set up the shot, but never being able to finish it. Picture in the Gallery.

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

February 29, 2012 at 3:38 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Dudley Port, 1922. Ammunition Explosion


This next disaster, at Dudley Port, in 1922, is always difficult to get your head round, something that shouldn't have happened, yet it did. I went back to the very start of it all, by taking a look at who was responsible, and, with added information from website member Pedro, we present this updated version of the worst peacetime event, in modern Black Country history. 


John Walter Knowles, was born at Gospel Oak, Tipton, Staffordshire in 1867. His birth was registered in Dudley, the nearest office, by his father, George. He was the second of 7 children. In the late 1870s, the family moved from this rather rural setting, and were next to be found at 43, Horseley Heath, Tipton, where Johns parents ran a Linen Drapery Business. The young John was set up in the quarrying business, dealing in broken stone, presumably for road making. During one of his visits to a quarry near Groveland Road, Tividale, he met the daughter of former Coal Master, Daniel Whale, who resided in a nice little cottage at the rear of The Wagon and Horses, on the Dudley Road. As well as mining, he also owned a small Iron works in Groveland Road. Louisa Kate Whale, like John, was the second born into the family, in 1873, which consisted of 7 other children. Again, like John, she was well educated, and they seemed to be well suited, which later events were to prove correct, and they married, in some style, in March,1893. Her father, never short of a few bob, installed the happy couple in " Grange House ", an 8 roomed comfortable place on the Dudley Road at Brades, Oldbury, not far from the old Tividale Hall. Dispite what was later claimed, right up until 1911, when Louisa's father died, and she inherited the Ironworks, Knowles always listed himself as a Metal and Leather Merchant, attested to by a bit of annimal cruelty in August 1905, when he was fined £3, with costs. He had taken a very sick horse, hauling a large load of Leather, all the way to Messers Dewsbury's, Warewell Street, Walsall, where the condition of the animal was noted by Police Constable  Ball. A vet ordered the poor suffering horse to be put down. The Ironworks, and by now also into Brass casting, was in decline, and the couple found the going tough. In 1915, Knowles was involved in two cases of fraud. George Wood and Sons, Brickmakers, Oldbury, went bust, and for a fee, Knowles went through a  process of claiming to be the owner of a motor car, which the Wood family were determind to keep out of the hands of their main creditor. It failed. In December, Knowles was forced to sue a Company, who stopped payment of a cheque when they found the goods he had supplied did not come up to the accepted industry standard.  He lost that one as well. The Groveland Works struggled through the Great War, and on the 17th February, 1918, it became clear how they had managed it. Messers Mckechnie Bros, Smethwick, producers of Brass, had noted that their stock, in some large quantities, seemed to have gone missing. They informed the Police, who kept watch on the premises. Samuel Jones, and Alfred Sargent, driving the Groveland Works lorry, and acting on the instructions of the " Boss ", pulled up outside the Smethwick Works, and took from one William Beetleston, several heavy sacks. The Police pounced, and all three were arrested, as later on was John Walter Knowles, and charged with receiving stolen goods. ( almost 3 cwt of Brass )  All good things come to and end, and twist and turn as he did, he failed to convince anyone he was innocent, and was sent to prison to complete a sentence of 18 months hard labour. Beetleston got 9 months, and the two employee's were acquitted. The situation, after he came out of prison in October 1920, was again looking pretty grim for the couple, and the business. They then had a stroke of luck, John Walter Knowles heard of a way to make some extra money, The Premier Aluminium Casting Company had been fortunate, they had been offered, and purchased, a large quantity of no longer needed ammunition. Between 45 and 47 million rounds of .22 ammunition to be exact, packed 1,000 rounds to a box. and then proceeded, with the Explosive Licence required, the task of breaking it up.



The scrap value of Brass and Lead had increased, so Knowles asked one of the Directors, Harry Andrews, if he could get hold of some of the ammunition for him. They delivered to him, at his Groveland Road Works, a consignment of  160 tons, for which Knowles paid them £500 as commision on the deal, and also, it was alleged, agreed to give them half of the profits of the scrap sales. He may have agreed the sums far to quickly, for he proceeded to cut a great many corners, in the pursuit of as much profit, as he could wring out of this blatent exploitation of young girls.


Premier Aluminium, obeying current safety rules, had their girls take the cartridges apart underwater, in small tanks fitted to the workbenches. There were no naked flames near the workshops, and a no-smoking rule was strictly enforced. The girls all wore protective clothing, rubber shoes, and the floor of the workshops were all wood. They worked in small groups, seperated by some distance, to minimize the danger should an accident occur. There were extractor fans, and the floor was swept daily, to prevent any possible build up of the propellent powder. It was fairly light work for the girls, who could earn between £3 and £4 a week, depending on their level of dexterity. All this was shown to Knowles prior to to the delivery, by Mr Dawkins, another director of Premier Aluminium, and he was also advised again, that he needed the appropiate explosive licence. Assured that he had one, the deal and the delivery went ahead.  What went on at the Groveland works however, was a far cry from all this, as both Mr and Mrs Knowles sought ways in which to make as much money as possible. The place selected for the operation, was the old casting pattern shop, it was 30 feet long, 27 feet wide, had a concrete floor, a stove in the middle used for heating iron bars, and no proper ventilation or extractor fans.



The girls they employed, ranging from 13 to 16 years old, were given no safety training, issued with no protective gear, and all wore the usual hob nailed boots, common for the period. They were paid between 2 shillings and 4 pence and 3 shillings and 4 pence a week, which was a very long way from that earned at Premier in Birmingham. The foundry foreman, Ebor Chadwick, was given the task of overseeing the operation, dispite having no experience with explosives, and once again, not even the rudiments of any safety training. He did though, warn Knowles of the danger of the stove in the workshop, a warning that Knowles brushed aside with the comment, " don't be silly ".The extracted propellent powder was collected in open boxes, a quantity of which found it's way onto the concrete floor, which was swept, according to knowles, every week. It wasn't,.as events would prove, and was then simply dumped in the nearby Birmingham Canal. The workforce assembled for the operation numbered 30, ( 28 on the day of the explosion ) and they all worked closely together, clustered around the stove, in the tiny workshop. It was of course, an accident just waiting to happen, and when it did, it was truly horrendous. The day would be ingrained in many minds for the rest of their lives, horrific images, far worse than some had seen on the battlefields of the Great war.


It was a cold morning on the 6th March,1922, one can picture the girls, happily chatting away to each other, seated on the ammunition boxes around little workshop. The little stove, probably fed with broken up ammo boxes, supplying at least a little comfort in the cramped and dingy little building. At approximately 11.45 am, the whole of Dudley Port resounded to what some at first thought was a clap of thunder.  The resultant thick black cloud and pugent fumes however, heralded what was in fact, a clap of doom, as the workshop blew up, throwing debris over a large area, and virtually demolishing the Groveland Factory.



There was a very short period of silence, then as rescurers rushed to the scene, the air was filled with the pitiful wailing of the injured girls. 13 were already dead before help arrived, killed instantly in the blast and the skin melting temperature of the fireball. Those still alive, naked and horrible burnt, were, as gently as possible, removed from the ruins, and conveyed to the nearby Guest Hospital, Dudley.



The Doctors worked long and hard throughout the day, but 3 more died before the day was done from the terrible burns they had received.  Of the 23 girls at work, 16 perished following the explosion that day, and despite some truly inspiring efforts 3 others would quietly slip away to their maker. in the following weeks. That four young girls survived at all is somewhat of a miracle, and testiment to the fairly new improved treatment known as Skin Grafting. One volunteer, had walked all the way from Sheffield, to offer some of his own flesh to save a life. There were many others, as the tragedy hit the headlines, ensuring that this perticular event would attract an Inquiry,  a few questions in the House of Commons, and a trial. There would be no hiding place this time for the negligence, no hiding place for the truth, this time, at least the victims would get some justice.


As expected, there very quickly followed the setting up of a Government Inquiry, only for it to be set aside while the trial of the arrested men was in progress at Stafford Assizes. John Knowles engaged the services of Sir Henry Curtis Bennett, and from the start, as he had done for most of his life, began the game of blaming others. Both men pleaded not guilty. One of the first witnesses was the furnaceman at Groveland, Chatwin. His evidence established that Knowles was at the factory every day, and was well aware of the conditions, and the way the cartridges were being dismantled. Bennett, tried to pin the blame for the way the process was carried out on poor Chatwin, who, not suprisingly denied it, he was after all only a humble furnaceman. Ebor Chadwick, claimed by knowles to have been in charge of the girls and the workshop, only ever went in there to collect patterns for the casting and moulding shop. He had though, managed to warn Knowles of the danger of the stove, although he did state, that he had no idea that Gunpowder could explode.



The two Directors of Premier Aluminium, who should really have taken more care about whom they trusted with dismantling the ammunition, could not be blamed for the total disregard shown for any safety standards by Knowles. He had seen the operation at their works, he knew he needed an explosive licence, and he knew he had to provide at least the bare minimum in protective clothing. His statement to the Court, given his past record as " an honest man ", is as tall a tale as you are ever likely to hear. He had , he told the Court, telephoned about a Licence, and had been told he didn't need one. He had he said, left all the details of the work to Chadwick, and had never, entered the workshop where the girls were. He said, he was a simple Metal Merchant and Brass Caster, a business he had been in for 30 years, and that he had never seen any of the precautions described, when he visted the Premier Aluminium Works. He would he said, now suffer some heavy financial loss'es, as the majority of the ammunition had been confiscated, and his buildings were not insured. There was no mention in this statement of 19 deaths, nor the terrible disablement and maiming of the survivors. The Judge, in his comments during his summing up. said that it was the worst case of Manslaughter, he had ever come across. He found it difficult to believe, that Knowles, a man with intelligence, could claim he knew nothing whatever about the explosive act, after being given advice, and some guidence, from Premier Aluminium Castings Ltd. Like many others he said, Knowles had chosen, in the pursuit of avericious greed, to exploit, and put in extreme danger, very young girls, desperate for work. It did not take the Jury long, to bring in a verdict of Guilty as charged against John Walter Knowles, and dismiss the charges against Ebor Chadwick, who had only done what he was ordered to do. Knowles was then sentenced to 5 years Penal Servitude, and there were many who thought the sentence far too short. Leave to appeal was refused, although later this was granted. and Knowles, asking for the sentence and conviction to be quashed, lost this one as well. Louisa, cutting her loss'es, sold what remained of the Groveland factory, to Thomas Dudley, who, two years later, would possibly come to believe the site was cursed.


And the victims, what about them, and the survivors of this tragic piece of Black Country history. There were in total, six survivors of the blast and fire according to some records, and the compensation awarded suggests that there were more than just the four. A Judge awarded these figures in early 1923.  Mrs Bryant, seriuosly, injured and her daughter killed, £1,230. 3 girls very serously injured, £900 each. Another girl, badly injured, £200. An injured child, £105, and to the dependents of the 19 dead girls, £75 each. A total of £5,660. Louis Knowles as the factory owner, paid into Court, a reported sum of £5,650, and did nothing but moan about the cost. There was a public appeal for the survivors, which raised £4,766, and the money was distributed by the trustees in the following manner. 3 girls, all now disfigured and disabled, were sent for training, at a special college, as commercial clerks. They received 12 shillings a week, and a £6 Dress allowance. The invested funds would then provide the disabled girls, 5 in total, with a lifetime income of 17 shillings a week, or a lump sum on reaching 21. of £133. Not much by todays standards, and at the end of this article, you may think it should have been a lot more.




Louisa Kate Knowles, most have forgotten, was also acquitted of the charge,but was ordered, as the Factory owner, to pay compensation of £10,000 to the families of the dead and injured. Only £5,650 of this was recorded as being received, exactly what the Judge had set when awarding damages Speaking some time later, Louisa Knowles said that the payment of £10,000 had ruined her business, and her life.  How, you should ask yourselves, for that sum was never paid, nor did they disclose to the Court then, or later, all their assets. There was no mention of the money left to her by her father when he died, nor was the sum received for the sale of the factory, nor the sum for sale of number 191, Dudley Road Brades Oldbury ( The Grange ) If they had no money, how come they managed to purchase, 61 Hagley Road West, Quinton, Birmingham, a rather grander house than the Grange, after John Walter Knowles was released from prison. They lived there from before 1930, until sometime after 1945, when they purchased 94, Lordswood Road, Harborne, Birmingham, and where he died on 28 the March,1951, leaving, in his will, £50,469.9s10d. Louisa died at the same address in 1955, leaving an estate valued at £93,000. Some folks would, if they were minded, call that Blood Money.

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April 11, 2012 at 4:45 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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Ammunition Explosion Victims, Dudley Port.


Having been reminded by several members, that I have not completed the post by adding the names, here they are.


Elizabeth Williams, 13, Cross Street, Tipton.

Pricilla Longmore,13, 337, Dudley Port.

Annie Naylor,14, 162, Dudley Port.

Mabel Weaver,14, 3, Victoria Terrace, Tipton.

Edith Richards, 14, Factory Road, Tipton.

Lucy Edwards, 14, Died some weeks later, 3, Sheepwash Street, Tipton.

Gladys Bryant,14, 15, West Street, Dudley Port.

Laura Dalloway,14, 36, Upper Church Street, Tividale.

Elizabeth Aston, 14, Died later, no address given.

Nellie Kay, 15, Dudley Port, Tipton.

Edith Drew,15, No1 House, 1 Court, Boat Row, Tipton.

Elsie Fellows,15, 196, Dudley Port.

Annie Edwards,15, 77, "A" Block, Munitions Huts, Dudley.

Lizzie Griffiths,15, Railway Street, Horseley Heath.

Violet May Franklin,15, 17, Cleton Street, Tipton.

Annie Freeth, 15, 42, Farley Street, Great Bridge.

Edith Jukes, 15, Died some time afterwards, no address given.

Margaret Burns,15, Sheepwash Lane, West Bromwich.

Hannah Hubbard,16, No1 House, 5 Court, Dudley Port.


There is a memorial in section O, a quiet corner of Tipton Cemetery.  I suspect the spot was never visited by the Knowles family. John Walter Knowles died in 1951, at his comfortable Birmingham home, to be followed in 1955, by his wife, Louisa Kate Knowles. It's said they left a tidy sum of money behind, just as well, for even if they could have taken it with them, it would have been severely scorched on the way to wherever they ended up.



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April 12, 2012 at 2:38 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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Brierley Hill, Glass Furnace Accident.


There are they say, only two things in life that are inescapable, Death and Taxes. It would appear, from the latest reports, that the latter is no longer true, but the former takes a bit more dodging than we are capable of. Some times when we least expect it. Just how much of Albert Ryder, 33, a married man with two children from 15, South Street, Brierley Hill and Enoch Oliver, 27, also married and with two children, of Campbell Street, Brockmoor, were actually buried, in 1893, is a matter of conjecture. They both worked at Messers Wright and Company, a Glass Bottle factory at The Delph, Brierley Hill. On the 20th November, together with Charles Henry Pearson, they were attending to the furnace, which had a capacity for nearly a100 tons of Molton Glass. ( Called in the trade, " Metal " ) It wasn't a new furnace, and neither was it as well maintained as it should have been. Leaks were pretty common in the glass industry, and the standard method of stopping one, was to direct water at it, hoping the glass would cool down enough to seal the hole. This normally worked, so when, at about 1.15 pm, a leak was found, this is what the three of them did. It was a " quick fix too many ", and one of the Firebricks, 3 feet long, 2 feet wide, and a foot thick, dropped out of the base of the furnace, directly over where they were standing. Charles Henry Pearson must have had a veritable band of guardian angels standing with him that day, as he managed to escape the deluge of the 2,400 degree molton glass. The other two were not so lucky, as the entire contents filled the pit, and spread out across the workshop floor, engulfing them as it went. I would, as would others, hope that death overtook them in an instant, as it's hard to picture a more terrible end. ( I had enough trouble, when I was younger, trying to get my head around why a man would fling himself into a vat of  hot spelter, in the Galvanising shop of the factory I worked at.) The rather grisley task of recovering the " bodies ", using hammers, chisels and crowbars, began as soon as the pile of glass cooled down. Apart from some bones, belt buckles, and nails from their boots, there wasn't much to recover. Albert Ryder was buried at South Street Baptist Church, and Enoch Oliver in Brierley Hill, with his father Charles, and brothers Alfred and  Allan in attendance, for they all worked at the same place. Both of the deceased men's mortal remains, still being encased in the glass, were put into a normal coffin. James Wright, the factories owner, expressed his sympathies to both mens families, said they would be greatly missed. With the arrogance so noteworthy of the time. he then said he hoped the other of his workman, would do all they could, to make up for being 3 men short. Needless to say, for the slipshod way he ran the place, and a total disregard for anyones safety, he was never prosecuted. Just another couple of " Accidental Deaths ".  Just after this item was published, I received a message from a decendant of Enoch Oliver, who told me that the only momento the family had of him, was a badly burnt belt buckle.

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July 22, 2012 at 3:28 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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Stourbridge, Ironworks, Bradley and Company.


Now just for a change, this one isn't a boiler explosion, although it does concern an Ironworks, Messers Bradley and Company, Stourbridge. There is also no blame attached to the owners either, for this death is entirely due to inattention, or a bit too much of the curse of the time, drink. Henry Southall, employed by Bradley's as a roller of iron bars, was in all repects it seems a good workman, but on this day, in late December, 1844, it seems he was bit careless when chatting to his mates as the process of rolling red hot iron bars was in progress. He was reported to have reached out for the bar, missed, and in hit him in the thigh. Now hot iron isn't like cold iron, and where one would have simply broken his upper leg, the hot iron penetrated right through his thigh, exiting through his lower back. One can only imagine the pain this caused, and it wouldn't be a surprise to told that he passed out. When his fellow workers had extricated the bar, the wound was wrapped and poor Henry was speedily sent home. ( Not renowned as a bad employer, even Mr Bradley didn't want a death on his works premises ) Seen by a Doctor, the wound was properly dressed and attended to, although in 1844 that didn't amount to much. There were great hopes he would recover, and as he didn't die in the following months these hopes continued to rise. Sadly, it was not to be, for in December,1845, almost a year on from the accident, Henry Southall finally, and painfully, succumbed to the terrible injury. There were of course no proper training methods in those days, and a rollers experience, learned on the job, as in this case, sometimes came with a dreadful price attached.

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December 25, 2012 at 3:58 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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William Penn.


From the far corners of the old Empire, in this case New Zealand, comes a family tale from member Norman Holloway. His Ancesters are the Barnsley Family from Newtown, Cradley Heath, Gun barrel workers, and Chain makers for the famous Canal firm of Pickfords. The elder of the clan, Abraham Barnsley, had set up his works long before the Census started, and by 1856, it was doing very nicely thank you. Then, in early March, there was a terrible accident. William Penn, a young fit man of 20, was going about his normal job of oiling the machinery of the steam engine. No one could recal just how it happened, but the young man was dragged into the workings, entangled, and rapidly due to be crushed to death. His father, working nearby, saw what was happening and quickly shut down the steam valve, and the engine stopped. The local sawbones, W.E Johnson, Esq, surgeon to the nobility, was called in, for Abraham Barnsley was a good employer. Taken home, the young man, although in a serious condition, seemed to rally for a while. Sadly it was not to be, and just 3 days later, on the 18th March 1856, William Penn went off to join the heavenly band of engine oilers. Thanks Norman, nice little tale.

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

June 8, 2013 at 4:19 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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Brockmoor Boiler Explosion.


One of the largest employers in Brockmoor, Brierley Hill, in the 1880s were the firm of Brown and Freer, at their Leys Ironworks. Most of the 500 odd workforce came from the immediate area, and the plant worked 24 hours a day. Inside the works, were no less than 22 Boilers, working 44  furnaces, to produce the many varieties of Iron, required for a wide range of goods. These Boilers were all of the Rastrick design, being somewhat egg shaped. Maintenance was all important, if the levels of production were to be kept up, for any delay would mean a drop in profits. To have in place trusted men, was you might think, vital, but human beings are mere frail things, prone to act in odd ways, like staying in bed for an extra hour or so. Bear this in mind, it will come in useful later on in the story.


On the 11th October,1887, at about 10pm, the night shift was in full swing, and the Forge Manager, Thomas Hussey senior, was just leaving his little hut after a pleasent cup of tea, his first break since he had come on duty at 6.0pm. He hadn't gone more than three paces across the open yard, when there was a terific explosion, and a huge Boiler flew past him. The blast alerted everyone in Brockmoor, and crowds began to flock to the scene. Rocked by the shock wave, his senses for a short time having left him, he could do nothing as the works were plunged into darkness. The blast had extinguished all the gas lights, the air was filled with steam, bricks, chunks of iron, girders, and all manner of debris. Very soon the yard was filled with the screams of pain of the injured men, and the frantic cries of those who were uninjured, calling out for their friends. The scene was as awful as anything a film producer could come up with, and all in the blackness of a Brockmoor night. Chaos was soon restored to a bit of order, when the works manager, Daniel Green, organised exploration parties, and with hastily made torches, the full extent of the distruction became clear. The works were a complete shambles, fallen walls, shattered roofs, bricks and rubble everywhere. a veritable hot and steaming mountain of death and destruction lay all about. Thomas Hussey, the forge manager, was thanking his lucky stars over his narrow escape, when the first body was found. Pinned beneath a massive girder, was the smashed corpse of his 19 year old son, George Henry Hussey. There would be worse news for the family as the search went on. Many of the workforce of 200 men on the shift had been burned and scorched in the blast, and many had already leapt into the nearby canal, to ease the suffering and put out burning and smouldering clothing. Most of these would survive the terrible burns, but the blast would leave 11 men very badly burned and scalded. Three men, were initially allowed to go home. William Lewis, and James Guest, were admitted the next morning to the Dudley Guest Hospital, their injuries to severe to be treated at home. Samuel Meese, burned from head to foot, was found to be far to badly injured to be moved to hospital, and sadly died the next morning, at his home in Sun Street, Brockmoor. All through the night, and the next few days, Doctors Corder, Ashmead and Ellis, battled to save the badly injured men, but held out little hope for five of the worst. With two men already dead, George Hussey, and Joseph Beckley, who had been found a few feet away from hussey with his head smashed in, the population of Brockmoor could do little, except pray for a miracle.


It wasn't to be forthcoming that miracle, for within the next week, 5 more men died of their terrible injuries. William Hussey, aged 41, his son, Thomas Hussey, aged 24, another relative, Thomas Hussey Walters, aged 23, George Henry Hussey, aged 19, Samuel Meese ,aged 44,  Joseph Beckley aged 36, and  Edward Bytheway, aged 39. Thanks to the care and dedication of the staff at the Dudley Guest Hospital, some did eventualy recover. Abel James, William Lewis, William Cooper, and William Morcraft, all from Brockmoor, James Guest from Brierley Hill, and Edward Carder from Wordsley. All of course carried not just the scars from their ordeal, but the mental scars of the night of terror at the Leys. A night that would later be commemorated, on a memorial in Saint Johns Churchyard, Brockmoor, raised and paid for by public prescription.


There was of course an enquiry, held at Brierley Hill Town Hall, and conducted by the deputy Coroner, E.B.Thornycroft. It was routine stuff, until the Works Engineer was called to give evidence. Now it becomes clear, what I earlier called, human failings. Asked to explain the methods employed for Boiler inspection, and the checks on the safety valves, he explained his duties. " It was my duty but I did not get up in time on that morning, but I do frequently examine the boilers ".  When he was asked when the last time was, William Cresswell  answered thus. " On September 12th. I did not examine it since then. I should have done so last Tuesday but, as I have said, I did not get up ".  And with those few words, William Cresswell walked away from the enquiry, without a stain on his character, and turned his back on grieving widows and orphaned children. The enquiry reached the verdict, that the Rastrick Boiler had not exploded due to lack of water, but to a weak riveted seam, that had happened. due to over pressure in the boiler over a number of years. And who was responsible for the continued illegal operation of said Boiler ??  Accidental death they said, but I bet that wasn't what the packed congregation of the Church thought on the day they were all laid to rest.

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July 8, 2013 at 3:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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Blakedown Boiler Explosion.


It's a lovely part of north Worcestershire is Blakedown, or to give it a title it has previously been accorded, Churchill and Blakedown. It's a very rural area, but it it has, in the past, contributed to the Victorian Industrial Age. With a regular and reliable water supply, the area was home to a few water powered mills, one of which you find in my " Ancient Footsteps" topic, Baches, situated at Churchill. John Bradley, the Stourbridge Ironmaster, took over one the mills, this one in Blakedown, and converted it into an Ironworks, powering it with a 12 h.p steam Engine. Blakedown Forge, as it became known, was a succesful little enterprise, and set as it was, in very pleasant surrounding must have been a nice area to work in. ( Given of course that Forges were dirty places ) On the 16th July, a warm and sunny day by all accounts, much to the relief I suspect of the workforce, the Forge was shut down, while some vital maintenance work was carried out. A new Flywheel had to be fitted to the main shaft, some distance from the Boiler, and merely required the presence of three men, and three boys to effect the fixing. The Boiler was in operation, as the work was not expected to take long, and all went well until 10am. At this time there was a tremendous explosion, which blew the Boiler Heads, weighing over a ton, over thirty yards, through some trees, to land in the pool which had formerly powered the water wheel. The chimney stack was demolished, as was most of the Forge, bricks, timber, and other bits of debris, falling over 500 feet away, over a large area. Two of the young boys were very lucky, one escaping with just a graze from a falling bulk of timber. This was down to them being that little bit further from the Boiler than the rest, who were all buried under the by now smoking pile of rubble that had been the forge. Medical assistance was at once sent for, and Mr Cowen, ( who was also the Mayor of Kidderminster ) and Mr Stretton, were soon on the scene. Benjamin Hall, Edwin Carpenter, William Harrison, and his son Dennis William Harrison, were soon extracted from the rubble, seemingly barely alive, and very badly injured. Benjamin Hall and Edwin Carpenter showed improvement after a few days, but the father and son were reported as being not expected to survive. Dennis William Harrison died in the infirmery in Kidderminster a short time later, he was just 14 years old. Benjamin Hall, and aged, according to the records, 85, also later died in the infirmery. William Harrison, clung on to life for some 5 months, but died aged 58 in 1870. The Boiler, was an old one, ( possibly a Rastrick ) and it was apparent, at the enquiry, that some of the parts recovered from the scene, were in an advanced stage of corrosion. The firebars and boiler plates, through the constant heat, were hardly thicker than the average shilling piece. As with most of the case's of this kind, no blame was attached to the owners,John Bradley and Company, and as the furnace man was not on the site at the time, he couldn't explain what had gone wrong either. There's no mention of the Industrial past of this area in any research that I have found so far, maybe someone might care to add some to the Wikipedia entry.

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September 21, 2013 at 3:05 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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As the owner of a large Iron works, you would have expected Mr Barker to have his boilers inspected and repaired as required; well he said he did. The Chillington Iron Works wasn't a flimsy and fly-by-night organisation, as most folk of Wolverhampton will tell you. The works had 5 boilers serving the Steam Engines, and, according to the management, they had recently been serviced and repaired by Messers Thompsons, Bilston. It must have come as shock then, when in May,1860, one of the tubular Boilers exploded. Part of the large steam pipe that fed steam to the mill, was blasted against the smoke stack, which collapsed. Sadly, it mostly finished up in the Hoop Mill, injurying seven men. The Boiler, over 3 tons of it, was flung skywards, and is the way of nature, had to fall earthwards as well. The men working in the Guide Mill had a nasty shock when it crashed through the roof, injurying another three men. One of the boiler supports was destined to give Mr Baker the fright of his life, for it was blown clean over the Puddling Furnaces, and crashed into the counting house. He and his two clerks escaped with a few scratches from the flying Glass. The works Watchman, in bed after working all night, and his wife, had to be dug out a pile of rubble that was once their little home. Apart from a few broken bones, they were fine. Among all the mayhem and smoke, stood the only one that day, who would lose their life. It was one of the works Horses, and it had had it's hoof sheared off by a piece of flying iron. They shot it. A lucky escape then, for all concerned, except for that poor innocent horse.

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

November 13, 2013 at 3:38 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Throughout the many hours of researching that I do, I am still amazed, at just how many times, a verdict of  " Accidental Death " simply doesn't fit. The people responsible for the next story, would not have got away with this today, nor indeed, would you have expected them too.


At 6am, on the morning of the 17th July, 1891, ex-boatman Reuben Ward, was on the way to his work at William Cross and Sons, an Iron Foundry in Bromford Lane, West Bromwich. He did not notice anything unusual and went to his workplace in the moulding workshop. At 7am, there was a sudden loud noise, and the workshop roof was deluged with a great amount of boiling hot water. When he got outside, the yard was covered with bricks, timbers, and other rubble. It slowly dawned on him, that although he hadn't heard the explosion, the works Boiler had disintegrated. Men rushed to the scene from around the works, and frantic efforts were made to locate those who were quickly found to missing. It didn't take long, and when they were found, there was nothing anyone could do, for the three bodies laid out in the yard, had all breathed their last. The works timekeeper, Enoch Price, 63, and from 13, Tildasley Street, was a mangled wreak. John Bristow, 17, the third child in a family of 11, and one of the moulders, had been struck by iron girders, and buried in the fallen brickwork. He had lived with his family at 45, Bond Street, West Bromwich, and was listed in the Census, as being an idiot since birth. Harry Taylor, 13, whose father was a Carter at the same Iron works, was employed to stoke the Boiler, the man in charge however, wasn't even among the dead or injured. Now the Coroner, Edwin Hooper, might well have been a highly respected man in West Bromwich, but on this occasion, he really let the poor victims of this avoidable event down badly. For a start, the boiler was over 20 years old, and it hadn't been of any quality when it was made. The Iron was inferior, and over the years, it had been patched in a most deplorable manner by Messers Cross & Son. The Pressure guage was faulty, and had been for some time, giving a reading of 37lbs of pressure, when in actual fact, it should have said 60lbs. The owners claimed it had been inspected regularly, and a great deal of money had been spent on it's maintenace. In a speech of what could be described as " full of breath taking hypocracy ", Mr Cross added that the firm was very mindful of the safety of their employees, and that in any case, they would be unlikely to put their own safety at risk, for the Office was barely 10 yards from the boiler house. The Jury, following on from what the Coroner had already said, found that the " accident ", was caused by the poor construction of the boiler, and the faulty pressure guage. No mention of the codged repairs, the obvious lack of any inspections, or that the owners were responsible for the faulty steam guage. To rub salt into the wounds of the grieving families left behind, they said they attached no blame to Mr Cross, his son, or the engineer, who was in charge of the boiler, but seems to have been missing from his duties that day. Needless to say, no compensation was forthcoming either.

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

April 28, 2014 at 3:49 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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