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Forum Home > Dead and Buried. > Dudley Coroners Court.

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

There are a few intriging entries in the old records, some of which require a bit of reading between the lines. Take this one, from the 15th April, 1819. Joshua Sheppard, was crushed by the " Whimsey ", which for those who havn't any interest in Coal Mining, was a machine powered by a horse going round in circles, to wind the tubs up and down the shaft. It was suggested that he was playing around the equipment when his clothes got caught in it. He was just 7 years old, and it sounds like a plausable explanation, unless you know the social conditions of the time. He was, in all likelihood, actually looking after the thing, after all, the only real skill was stopping and starting the horse when required. Young boys of his age were employed underground, to open and close ventilation doors, one as young as 5 was found working in pit in Yorkshire, the same year. An accidental Death was recorded, which let the mine owner off the hook. Workhouses were supposed to provide basic medical care for the inmates, even if that care falls a long way short of our modern standards. Phoebe Sparrow, at 22, a young, fit, and pregnant woman, died in Dudley Workhouse, in 1815. It was said that she had caught a cold prior to her delivering the child, which had supposedly killed them both. Medical opinion was divided on the matter, some said the conditions were so bad in the Workhouse, it was a wonder anyone survived at all. The official verdict was " Inflamation of the Lungs ", which is just a tad more serious than a common cold. As Mining was a dangerous occupation, it's not surprising that quite a few ended up in a Coroners Court, which can be useful if the name happens to be in your family tree. John Lowe, aged 31, and born in Dudley, in 1784, was killed in the Buffery's Colliery, on the 31st August, 1815, by a large fall of coal. The death, (accidental) would otherwise have not come to light, as early Mining records are a bit thin on the ground. The same goes for the next lot. Thomas Farmer, aged 37, an experienced Shaft Sinker, died on the 30th March,1820, at the Tipton site of Messers Dixon and Daltons new enterprise. ( believed to be the Moat Colliery ) The next month, on the 27th April, the Dudley Coroner was told that John Homer, aged just 10, had been struck on the head by a heavy stone that had falled down the shaft. He had of course been standing at the bottom, waiting to load some full tubs. The 13th October,1825, saw two other mining deaths recorded. Isaac Smart, no age given, was buried under several tons of falling coal, and at the same mine, on the same day, John Holmes, (suggested age 12 ) assisting with sending down a horse, fell down the shaft when said horse objected. Yet another miner was killed on 9th December,1826, Samuel Davies being yet one more victim of tons of falling coal. The last one is a read between the lines again. Isaac Hickman,  (age in one report 13, but the records suggest 17 ) was the victim of some outright neglect. James Davies, a young lad employed to open and shut ventilation doors was reported at Hickmans Inquest, at the Bulls Head, Himley Road, Gornal Wood, to have failed to follow his instructions. This had, the Jury was told, led to a build up of Sulpherous Gas, that had caused Gun Powder, stored in the mine to explode. Aside from Hickman, 5 other miners had been badly injured. The mine was owned by Lord Ward, and there's no doubt, that on the day of the blast, 16th August,1859, someone other than just a simple door opener, had failed in his duty. A serious question was asked of the Coroner, as to just how indendent the selected Jury were, as they all seemed to be employed by Lord Ward. Some very disturbing details of management failure began to appear, and although the Coroner vouched for the Juries honesty, a verdict of " Manslaughter " was returned against the hapless youth. So much for Justice then, but you would have been pleased to learn, that the Magistrates threw out the charge. As I have said before, it just wouldn't do to sully the good name of those in positions of immense power.


If you have recognised a relative from the above, do let me know.

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

July 18, 2013 at 3:43 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Many of the case's that came before the Coroner were desperately sad. Most of them just normal, everyday accidents, that occur from time to time. This one, is from 1867, and but for a comment from the Coroner, would have gone unreported. The Railways were ever in need of Ballast, hundreds of ton of the small stone chippings you see between the sleepers on the line. This formed the actually road bed, on which the tracks were laid, and used almost every time maintenace work was carried out. ( It shifted with heavy loads, and had to be added too, to keep the track level ) The Great Western Railway bought the stuff from all parts, and most of it, at least in 1867, came from areas where the railway hadn't, or couldn't, reach. The Canal Wharfe was at Dudley Port, and the system of loading the waggons was for several to shunted slowly along the wharfe until each had been filled with about 10 tons of stone. The team who did the work, were all very experienced, and worked like the Devil was behind them, wielding their shovels in a virtual blur of motion. It was likened to watching several windmills in a stiff breeze. The men were paid by the ton, so it was important to them, to make sure all the waggons were full. On this morning, in September,1867, local man Jabez James, was suddenly struck with the notion that the waggons were going a bit too fast. If so, it meant that the weight of stone loaded would be lower than normal, so he headed for the nearest waggon brake. He would never live long enough to regret the decision. Reaching out for the brake lever, he found it a bit stiff, and in the process of taking a firmer grip, he slipped, and his legs went under the waggon's wheels. Now it wouldn't have made much difference, if the waggon had been empty, it would still have weighed in at over 4 tons, but as it happened, it was half full, about 9 tons. His legs were almost severed, and a Surgeon was sent for, who must have lived close by, for he was there in a few minutes. There was of course nothing he could do except bandage the wounds and try and stop the flow of blood. He called out for a cart, to take Jabez James to the General Hospital, Birmingham, which was also speedily managed, and off it went. Now it's almost 7 miles from Dudley Port to the city of Birmingham, and the cart had a top speed of about 6 mph. It's a wonder the jolting and bumps didn't finish Jabez off, but no, he survived the painful and agonising journey, only to die at about 1pm in the Hospital. The Coroners remarks came, when he learnt that Jabez James, had left behind a Wife, and 4 small children. A sad case indeed, but at least a bit of publicity helped to raise a few bob in a later collection for the family.

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

September 28, 2013 at 3:31 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Many who sat on Coroners Juries, must have encountered a steady stream of deaths in the areas many Pits. Some of them would have raised a few eyebrows at the time, and today, there would have been a far greater inquiry into the causes. Here are just three, from the 1870s, only two of which went any farther than the actual inquest.


About noon, on the 10th February, 1871, there was an explosion of fire-damp, ( Sulphur Gas ) at the Number 3 pit, Buffery Colliery, Dudley. This was a compact area of old mine workings, that had been in operation for over 80 years, each pit being owned and worked by small companies or even families. In this case it was Howell and Mason, who rarely employed more than 10 men to a pit, being one of the smaller outfits. On the day, there were just 6 men in the pit, including an undermanager, Peter Shaw, an experienced miner from Dixons Green, Dudley.  The other 5 men were, John Brown, who came from the Dock Area of Dudley, William Yardley, from Kates Hill, William Griffiths, who lived in Spittlesfold Dudley, John Parkes, from Causeway Green, Langley, Oldbury, and James Waterhouse, who hailed from Langley Green, Oldbury. According to Shaw, he took Waterhouse into a stall, ( working area ) to show him what was required during the shift.  His statement, and the Coroner only had his word on this, Waterhouse shoved his lighted candle in a pot hole, a term used to describe the undercutting of the coal seam. A pocket of gas exploded, causing severe injuries and burns to all six men, Waterhouse being the worst affected. The pit and working area had, according to Shaw, and not challenged by the miners, been inspected prior to the shift starting work, and was free of Sulphur gas. The men were all sent home apparently, those standing some distance from the explosion, being less injured, did not require Hospital treatment. Even so,  James Waterhouse was expected to fully recover from his injuries. In fact, 10 days later, he died. Faced, with the only available evidence, the verdict was a foregone conclusion, Accidently Death.


Following this incident, in a Police Court on 23rd February, a case came up from the year before. William Turner, the Mine Agent for Evers & Co, was accused of failing to provide adequate ventilation in their Park Head Colliery. This was the result of the tragic death of 16 year old Zachariah Slater, whose body had been found in the Pit on 7th July, 1870. The charge had been bought by the Government Mine's Inspector, Mr J. P. Baker. The young Slater, had been found suffocated by Choke damp, in one of the mines roadways. Once again, statements were made that the Pit had been inspected at 6 am, prior to work starting, and again at 10 am, when no Choke damp had been found. Turner said that Slater should not have been in that section of the mine anyway, implying that he caused his own death. Choke damp was a deadly killer, the only way the early miners had of detecting it, was when the candles refused to burn. In this instance, and the case went to appeal, the choke damp was found to be two feet from the floor of the roadway, which would have been at the right height to overcome a crawling boy. Nevertheless, the case failed, and a belated inquest returned a verdict of Accidently Death.  The next one concerns that other major player in the Black Country Coalfields, The Earl of Dudley. His Agent, Matthew Fletcher, was facing a charge of failing to secure, and rope off, an area of the Number 18 Pit, Saltwells, knowing the area was dangerous. Once again, a teenager had been found suffocated in a roadway. Fletcher disputed that the area in question was dangerous, as work had been going on in that section some weeks before, and no choke damp had been recorded. The Pit, he said, had been inspected that morning, and was declared safe, which of course, hadn't been the case, otherwise no one would have died. Again, we have the implication that the lad shouldn't have been there anyway, although no one could say what instructions he had received prior to his untimely death. The Case, as was the other, was dismissed and the inquest produced the usual verdict. The question I get asked, is why nobody ever got prosecuted for so many apparent needless deaths, and it's not a hard one to answer. Who is going to speak up, when the only work about, for many men, is coal mining.

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

April 3, 2014 at 11:27 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

There are a few strange deaths in the records of Dudley Coroners Court, and this next one may well be another. Joseph Wright was born in Dudley on the 7th December, 1806. He was part of the Wright family, who had interests in coal mining, although there is not much evidence that he himself was a miner. He is listed in the town, in 1845, as being a Hairdresser, and conducted his business in Newhall Street, Dudley. At some stage in his life, and being a tradesman with a bit of spare cash, he joined, what many at the time, concidered to be a bit of a country club. The Queens Own Staffordshire Yeomanry was the reported unit, and of course, he had to supply his own Horse. He was still in the same trade in 1856, and it's safe to assume, although again, his name isn't in the units records as he didn't rise in the ranks, that he carried on with his service. The family meanwhile, appear to have operated several pits during this time, and Josephs name doesn't come to light again, until the 16th December, 1874. The last day he would spend on earth. Now you don't get much of a pension for service in the Militia, and he may have been feeling the pinch, for he took on the role of Colliery Clerk, at his brothers pit, in Dixons Green, Dudley. Not a very demanding role, for he was by now 68, but it did entail him actual venturing down the mine, for most Clerks were also timekeepers and stock takers as well. On this day, according to reports, he climbed into a skip, with some other miners, and the journey down the pit began. The skip arrived safely at the bottom with the miners, but Joseph Wright had beaten them to the bottom. He had fallen out of the skip near the top. Neither, Edwin, or Owen Wright, who worked the mine for their father, Josephs brother, could explain how the unfortunate event had taken place. Now here's the strange bit, neither could any of the men in the skip. At the most, a skip was just about four feet in diameter, and four or five men would surely have noticed if one fell out. No one suggested that he was in a suicidal mood, and he certainly wasn't earning a few bob cutting hair on the way down. The fall then, remains a mystery, and he never returned to his home in Kings Street, Dudley.  He did though, have a good send off, for his comrades in the Yeomanry put on a splendid show for the old man, when what passed for his mortal remains, were laid to rest in St Johns Church, Kates Hill. The Newspapers said he was shockingly disfigured after the fall, which of course was no surprise as he had fallen nearly a hundred feet. This type of tragic death was not uncommon in the region, but in most case's, there was at least a reason for the fall, such as the skip hitting the side of the shaft, or the rope breaking. As I said, a bit of a mystery, and not the kind of end one would normally expect for an old Soldier.

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

May 6, 2014 at 2:49 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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