Black Country Muse


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Five Ways Colliery, Cradley Heath. 1844.

It's correct name was The Whitehall Colliery, and it stood, just off St Annes Road, Cradley Heath. The pit was one of many that had been on the site over the years, right on top of a fairly thick coal seam. To the west was the Earl of Dudley's Saltwell Colliery Complex, and over to the east, The Fox oak Colliery. ( See Map )

The listed owner was Joseph Darby, and the ground Bailiff, ( Manager ) Mr Higgs. The Pit had the reputation locally, as the most dangerous in the district to work at. There had been many incidents, and Josph Darby, a man with an eye for profit, had very little experience of mining, and, it appears, no time at all for safety regulations.

Saturday the 26th October, 1844, and the shift had assembled, waiting for the all clear from Mr Higgs following his safety inspection with a lamp. He declared it ready, and at 6 am, 17 men and boys went down to begin work. There were no reported problems, and at 11am, Mr Darby appeared on the pit bank and instructed one of the butty's, Riichard Scriven, to go down and bring up some safety lamps. Why he did this isn't clear, for if there was a problem, they would all be needed at the coal face, not on the surface. Scriven did as he was told, and was lowered down the shaft. Almost as soon as he alighted at the bottom, there was a fearful explosion. Debris of all sorts came flying up the shaft, the skip that the butty had gone down in, props, doors, pieces of tubs, and the winding gear was shattered to bits. Smoke and fumes hung in the air like a giant cloud of doom, which as it turned out, was. The explosion had been heard all over Cradley Heath, and men poured into the yard from both the Saltwell, and Foxoak pits. A rescue mission, with a jury rigged winding, was quickly underway, and dispite the danger, 6 men were soon bought up, all alive. Thomas Evens, (very badly injured ) Benjamin Grey, brothers Thomas and Joseph Wright,  Thomas Pearson, and Emanual Hill. The mine was a total shambles, and it would be many more hours before it would be safe to resume the search for the rest of the shift.

It was dark in the yard, as a sad prossesion of dead men, were quietly, and gently, removed from the premises. There was much wailing and many tears, as they were identified, one by one, and then sent to their homes. Richard Scriven, 58, the pits main Butty, Thomas Scriven, 24, his son, and the other Butty, William Brookes, Benjamin Hill, Emanuals father, Charles Botfield, Joseph Nailer,22, Charles Roberts,18, and Thomas Weaver, aged 12. Most were barely recognisable, mutilated and burned as they were, Richard Scriven being almost decapitated, his head held on by a thin strip of skin. The damage was so bad, that the rescue party had been unable to locate three missing miners. They were finally found the next morning. John Evens,30, John Bennitt, 20, and James Roberts,20. The six men had only survived, because they had been working about 50 feet lower down the mine level, getting Iron Stone. Hearing the blast, they had rushed to the shaft and were eventually winched up. A Doctor, summoned to the scene, had performed heroics on the injured, but there was nothing he could do for the rest. Two of pits horses were also killed in the blast, and three more in the lower level were suffocated. 

Joseph Darby was given a very hard time at the Inquest, and to be honest, he should have got more than a good telling off. He had a diplorable safety record at the mine, and standing in the witness box, wringing his hands saying that he tried to do his best didn't work. One said his efforts were " Lamentable ". All those in the place where the blast occured were dead, so there were no witness's to what actually happened. That it was Sulphurous Gas was not in dispute, and dispite some miners saying that the mine was usually free of sulphur, is far from the truth. Both the Butty, the Bayliff, and certainly our Mr Darby, was well aware that the men worked by candle light. Why else would he ask the butty to bring up the lamps, other than to save a few bob on the fuel, and prevent them being damaged by the miners. ( They had a habit of unscrewing them and losing the bits ) No one will ever know what, or who, caused the explosion that cost 11 lives, and left many children orphans. Some time later, Joseph Darby sold the mine, it's bad luck continued, as you can read in another posted story on the website.

Just  a little end piece. When Richard Scriven went down to collect the lamps, he took with him, a bottle of beer for his son Tom. It was in the skip when it was blown out of the shaft like a cork out of a bottle. The bottle of beer was found, over 200 yards from the shaft. It was still intact. Cheers all.


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

February 13, 2016 at 4:46 PM Flag Quote & Reply