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Somerset Mining History. Wellsway Colliery, 1839.
Continuing this selection, of slightly more unusual Mining accidents from other areas, we now move to Somerset. Perhaps one of the first things you may think of, when you hear the name Midsomer Norton, is the actor John Nettles, as Detective Inspector Barnaby, trying to solve yet another Murder. Even he may have had trouble with this little mystery. It's not an area most would associate with Mining either, but it certainly was, they needed fuel for a growing Iron Industry as well. The people who live there, still remember the disaster in 1908, when 10 miners lost their lifes in an explosion of Coal dust, but this incident goes back much further in time, to November 1839 to be exact, although there is another date of Oct the same year in the records.
Wellsway Colliery, just like many here in our region, was one of the smaller mines. The Coal seams in Somerset were thinner, further down, and not always of good quality. The winding gear was fairly standard, as was the Rope Method, used to haul up both coal and men. Unlike chains, rope requires more frequent examination, as the tendency of the early owners was to get as much work as possible out of this piece of equipment. The rules said the maximun load should be 37 cwts, ( including the wooden tubs ) but this was routinely ignored, putting on an excessive strain, and shortening the ropes life span. On the day of the incident, 12 miners were loaded into a wooden contraption, ( the maximum number permitted was 10 ) and preparations began to lower them down. One man, William Summers, noted that the rope seemed to have a bit more spring in it than normal, they were the last words he ever spoke. As he finished speaking, the rope parted, and 12 miners were cast down the 756 foot deep shaft. George Kingston, ( the mines Bailiff ) standing at the pit head, was astonished at the speed of the accident, and for some time, was in a deep state of shock. The mines manager, Charles Ashman, was soon on the scene, and supervised the re-fitting of the rope to another platform, to effect a rescue bid. Thomas Hill, Thomas James, and John Fricker, were amongst the first party to go down, there was nothing they could do. Only Hill, was in a fit state to describe what they found at the bottom of the shaft, " A mass of steaming human gore " were the words he used. Only one of the bodies could be said to be in a recognisable condition, the rest had been torn apart, limb from limb, and horrible mangled. Worse news was to follow, 6 of the dead came from just two families, and rumours began, that the rope had been deliberately Cut.
In spite of a posted reward for information of £50, there were no takers, and what actually happened that day is still open to debate. My money's on the neglect theory.
James Keevill, 41, his twin sons, Mark and James jnr, both 13.
Richard Langford, 45, Farnham 15, and his other son Alfred,13.
John Barnett, 41, William Adams, 20, William Summers, 24, James Pearce,17.
Leonard Hooper Dowling, 13, and Amos Dano, just 12 years old.
The rumour of the cut rope, was again raised at the inquest, and accepted as an explanation, although there were no serious attempts to discover by whom, or why. It did however, deflect attention away from a possible charge of negligent Manslaughter, which was surely the cause of this disaster. ( One enterprising reporter, had already discovered, that the previous day, 16 men had been hauled to the surface on the same rope ) It created a cloud of suspicion over the village, and prompted an enormous crowd of over 4,000, to attend the mass burial in the village Churchyard. It also bought forth a Biblical quote on the memorial. " Thus saith the Lord, set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live ". The mines are all closed now, the last one in the 1960s, and the weather worn memorial stone was replaced in 1965. It has on it still, the information for anyone who looks at it, that the Rope was Cut.
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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