Posted by: Graham | January 20, 2010

Bolton Explosion Wed 21st Dec 350 Lost Lancashire

This disaster was the third largest loss of life in a British pit disaster and one that occurred less than two years after the West Stanley disaster. There were approximately 2500 men and boys employed by the Hulton Colliery Company at the time of the disaster and approximately 900 would have worked the day shift in five seams on the day of the explosion. The loss of life was actually 349 men and boys, with only 4 survivors coming out of the Pretoria pit alive, as it was known locally. Two of these subsequently died.

Pretoria Survivors

The two survivors from the Yard Mine workings were Joseph Staveley, William Davenport. In an account published in the Bolton Evening News Staveley describing what happened to him: “There was a lot of noise…I dropped my kit…The lamps went out and I ran towards the Arley Pit [No.4 shaft]…We were half way there when he [James Berry] stumbled and fell and I fell over him. My head was swimming and I felt very tired. There was no pain. I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep. I was so tired. I went to sleep…At first I thought I was in my bed. I tried to push the clothes from me and touched the body of James Berry. I found I was dressed and it all came back to me. Something had happened. Was I locked in the mine? I called to Berry but he did not answer. I listened for breathing but I heard no sound…I put my can to my mouth and ran. The mine was pitch black. I did not know where I was going”. [he found the water pipes and followed them to the pit eye where he knocked and shouted for the cage to come] “Lower the cage to the Yard Mine…my throat was sore with shouting”. Joseph Staveley, having survived the disaster, also went on to serve in and survive World War I and eventually died in 1954.

The disaster started with an explosion at 7.50am in the Plodder Mine. The official report into the disaster decided that there had been a build up of gas caused by a rockfall the day before and that a damaged safety lamp ignited the gas (methane/firedamp).

Crowds At The Pithead

As usual in such disasters whole families were devastated; Mrs Miram Tyldesley was perhaps the worst impacted losing her husband, 4 sons and 2 brothers. Such a loss is hardly imaginable nowadays. The disaster occcurred just before Christmas and that year Christmas Day was one of funerals with one diary account talking of funeral processions “criss crossing each other enroute to their denominations”.

Links:
Wikipedia
The Parish of Westhoughton
Staveley Genealogy
Bolton Revisited

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Posted by: Graham | September 6, 2009

1862 Jan 16th Wed Hartley Pumping Beam broke 215 lost

In an era when pit disasters were all too frequent, the Hartley Pit Disaster stood out and resulted in some changes in the industry.

The disaster was caused by the pumping beam breaking and falling into the pit shaft. The problem was that New Hartley Pit only had one shaft, which acted as both an up and down shaft. The pit was also subject to flooding and had a massive pump, the fracture of which started the disaster. The broken beam plunged down the one shaft and crashed into lift bringing eight men to the surface. The mass of broken metal and wood blocked the shaft which was only 12 feet wide.

Single Shaft at West Hartley

Single Shaft at West Hartley

To add to the misfortune, the accident happened during shift changeover, so almost double the number of men were in the pit than normal. So over 200 men were trapped. Initially it was thought that they could be freed and had enough food and air to last them. However, as so often poisonous gas had a deadly effect. It slowed the rescue efforts and in the meantime killed all those trapped in the mine.

After six days of work the rescuers finally reached the trapped men. All were dead. On the body of one miner a note was was found, written in pencil on a torn newspaper: “Friday afternoon, at half-past two Edward Armstrong, Thomas Gledston, John Hardy, Thomas Bell, and others, took extremely ill. We also had a prayer-meeting at a quarter to two, when Tibbs, Henry Sharp, J. Campbell, Henry Gibson and William Palmer. Tibbs exhorted us again, and Sharp also.

One young tally boy had the grim task of identifying the men and boys after they were brought to the surface.

Tally Boy

Tally Boy

The verdict of the inquest into the deaths stated that: “The Jury cannot close this painful inquiry without expressing their string opinion of the imperative necessity that all working collieries should have at least a second shaft or outlet, to afford the workmen the means of escape should any obstruction take place.” Following this and the national outcry a Act of Parliament was passed which made it compulsory for all new mines to have two shafts, and all existing mines had to have another shaft sunk before 1st January 1865.

Another result of the disaster and the realisation of the effect it had on the widows and orphans left without breadwinners was the creation of a Miner’s Permanent Relief Fund. This fund would based on contributions from miners and mine owners and was designed to provide assistance for all dependents of miners who had an accident at work.

The disaster, which took place a year before the West Stanley disaster, was thankfully not nearly as serious. This is probably just a matter of luck. There was a shift change and so only seventy odd men were down the pit. Of those down the pit only three survived.

Maypole Disaster 1908

Maypole Disaster 1908


Shortly after 5pm there was an explosion down the pit which blew out the headgear. Black clouds of smoke and poisonous vapours came out of the pit for hours. There were determined efforts to rescue men in the pit but what the rescuers found was destruction and bodies, both of miners and pit ponies. The rescue efforts carried on for three nights, whilst fires and small explosions occurred in the pit. On the third night a major explosion took place and much of the pit was set alight. In the end it was decided that the only way to put out the fire was the flood the pit. There was no hope that anyone remaining in the pit was still alive and so 100 million gallons on water was poured down the shafts to extinguish the flames.

The verdict of the inquest was that the explosion was caused by a combination of a build up of coal dust and gas, and the use of explosives to bring down coal from the ceiling.

Sources
This Is Lancashire

At 3.45pm on the 16th February 1909 a small explosion was heard from the Burns Colliery, in West Stanley. Less than a minute later there was a second, much louder explosion. At the top of the North Shaft was Ralph Stephenson, the colliery engineer. He told the Inquiry “I heard a roar and saw a red flame right down the shaft. As the roar increased I stepped quickly back and called to other men to keep clear. I then stumbled about four yards from the shaft and fell sideways and just at that moment I saw a large ball of fire issue from the mouth of the pit, followed by a thick black cloud. The cloud spread around about me whilst I was still on the ground. I was in darkness, still prostrate. When I was in the act of rising again the air in the shaft reversed and carried the remainder of the black cloud with it, and I was then in clear air.

Funeral Crowds

Funeral Crowds

This minute of action took the lives of 168 men and boys from West Stanley in one of the worst pit disasters in the 20th century in the UK. The effect was devastating on the community; in one street of 14 houses, 12 men died.

I first read of the West Stanley disaster in a history text book and when I mentioned it to my grandmother, she told me that as a ten year-old she walked the five miles to attend the mass funerals, which followed a week later. She was one of an estimated 200,000 who made their way to the mass funerals.

Much debate has gone into the cause of the explosions. The official Inquiry came to the following conclusion: “To sum up our observations, it appears fairly certain that a small initial explosion – a mere puff – was succeeded within about 50 seconds by a much more extensive and severer explosion which did practically all the damage, and which was projected from seam to seam. Where either of these explosions originated we are not prepared to say, but clearly it was not in the Tilley seam. The main explosion may have been initiated by an explosion of gas, but was undoubtedly propagated by coal dust. What the means of ignition were we cannot say.

Mark Henderson

Mark Henderson

One of the remarkable things about the disaster was the survival of a group of 26 men led to safety by Mark Henderson. Henderson was an experienced pit deputy. Seing the danger he led a group to a small gallery, away from the gas to a pocket of air. Initially there were 34 of them. Unfortunately some panicked and fled into the poison gas and perished. Thankfully Henderson persuaded the others to stay put. After many hours trapped in the dark, during which one badly injured man died, Henderson went out into the passageway and was able to make his way to the pit shaft where he found the one working telephone and was able to call telling a shocked individual at the pithead that there were 26 people still alive down below. The men were rescued after 14 hours underground.

The chronicle also mentions a strange event, which happened 24 years later. Two miners were working a different seam in the reopened pit when the roof collapsed and opened up the old pit. In front of them were the bodies of William Chaytor (55) and John Rodgers (57) who died in the 1909 disaster. One story is that John Rodgers, who was gambling man, always carried his money with him whilst working. He supposedly had £30 in gold, which he carried in a money belt. It was not on him when he was found in 1933.

For a miner such as James the disaster at West Stanley would have been a momentous event and a reminder of the risks that he and so many others ran to earn a living.

Sources:

Jack Hair Local Historian
Sunniside Local History Society
Durham Mining Museum
Northern Echo

This is the first item in the book which relate directly to Burnhope. It is quite possible that James knew both John and James McDuff. It is also the first mention of the danger and human cost of coal mining in the early 20th century.

The two brothers were Stonemen, a job which involved excavating rock other than coal in the pit. They had set a shot (explosive) which had not gone off and seem to have tried to drill another hole for another shot, when the original went off, injuring one brother and killing the other.

They were discovered by a deputy, who found one of the brothers crawling injured out of the dark. When the deputy investigated he found James on top of the exploded shot together up with the drilling equipment. There was an inquest into the death and also a report by the Mining Inspectorate.

Such accidents and deaths were an all too common occurence at this time in mining.

Sources

Durham Mining Museum

Thomas Craig was a twenty-six year old former miner who was convicted of the murder of Thomas Henderson who was twenty-five, the husband of his former sweetheart. He was hanged on 12th July 1910 in Durham Goal. The executioner was Henry Pierrepoint, the father of perhaps the most famous executioner in the UK, Albert Pierrepoint.

Henry Pierrepoint

Henry Pierrepoint


Thomas Craig had a relationship with a girl during 1908. Unfortunately for him, this relationship was broken, when he was sentenced to seven years in prison. He asked the girl to wait for him and she visited him in prison a number of times and wrote to him as well.

However, whilst Craig was in prison the girl met and married Thomas Henderson. She cut off all contact with Craig, though he wrote to her saying that he was looking forward to carrying on the relationship when he was released.

Upon his release in March 1910, Craig went to the girlfriend’s former home in Gateshead. When he saw the girl she told him that she had fallen in love with Henderson. Craig responded by shooting both the girl and Thomas Henderson. Thomas Henderson was killed, but Mrs Henderson survived and able to give evidence.

Craig was quickly arrested. He was tried and convicted at Durham Assizes on 26th June and hung less than a month later.

One footnote to this crime was that after the execution, Craig’s father called at the police station and said that his son had left the gun in his will to him and could he have it! Not surprisingly he was not allowed to have the weapon.

Sources:

Real Crime
The Pierrepoints

John Dickman was convicted of the murder of John Nisbet (not Nesbit) a colliery cashier on a train between Newcastle and Alnmouth and was hanged at Newcastle Jail on the 10th August 1910.

John Dickman

John Dickman

John Nisbet’s body was found on the train at Alnmouth Station by a porter. He had been shot five times in the head. A bag containing £370, he was was bringing from a bank in Newcastle, to pay the colliery wages was missing. It was later found at the bottom of a disused mine shaft near Morpeth.

John Dickman was brought up in Great Lumley in County Durham, only nine miles from Burnhope. However, the murder and subsequent trial was a sensational one and it became news around the world. Dickman had been a clerk at the Morpeth Colliery and then had drifted around. He became a profesional gambler, but by the time of the murder he was overdrawn and owed money and had had to pawn items with pawnbrokers.

Dickman was convicted on largely circumstantial evidence, which led many to question the conviction.

Dickman was on the train and knew Nisbet. Several witnesses testified that they saw Dickman with Nisbet. Professor Robert Boland of Durham University gave evidence that he had found blood on a glove and on a pair of trousers that Dickman had worn on the day of the murder and that Dickman’s Burberry overcoat displayed signs of being rubbed vigorously with paraffin, which could be used to remove blood stains. Dickman’s poor financial details were brought into evidence. Dickman had bought a ticket to Stannington, but got off in Morpeth, so had to pay an excess fare. Dickman’s explanation of the reason for this was very vague.

All of this evidence was very circumstantial; no murder weapon was ever found (in fact forensic evidence suggested that two different guns had been used, which would be very strange for a single murderer), no one witnessed the murder, but what seems to have been damning for Dickman was his lack of defence other than denial and unconvincing account of events. The jury took more than two and a half hours to reach their guilty verdict. The judge said “in your hungry lust for gold you had no pity upon the victim whom you slew” and pronounced the death sentence.

There was a strong campaign on Dickman’s behalf and Churchill as the Home Secretary became involved and asked for further investigations. However, in the end he concluded that the sentence should stand. The Court of Appeal had also decided that the original verdict was safe.

Dickman was the last man hanged in Newcastle Jail. He went to his death with dignity and a stoicism, still protesting his innocence. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle reported that Dickman “marched to his execution as erect as a soldier, never flinching, even when the rope came into view.” The hangman was John Ellis.

Subsequently a prisoner confessed to the murder and many have thought his trial a major miscarriage of justice. However, others have linked Dickman to another unsolved mystery of the murder of Caroline Luard, who was shot near Ightham in Kent in 1908. There were even allegations of a conspiracy to frame Dickman for the Nisbet murder.

The case has been the subject of a number of books and television programmes. We will never know in the end, whether Dickman was a double murderer, the murderer of Nisbet or entirely innocent.  However, this was a major case reported on from the USA to Australia.

Sources

Spartacus
Real Crime
Newcastle Train Murder

The transition from Edward VII to George saw a continuity institutionally but a fundamental shift in characters. This would not have been very obvious to the average person in the country but George and Edward were very different people.

George V

George V


Edward had a reputation as a playboy, especially when he was the Prince of Wales. He had numerous mistresses including Lillie Langtry; Lady; Alice Keppel; and a prostitute called Giulia Barucci. George was very different. His official biographer Harold Nicholson wrote “He may be all right as a young midshipman and a wise old king, but when he was Duke of York … he did nothing at all but kill [i.e. shoot] animals and stick in stamps.”

Perhaps it was George, the rather boring safe individual, who decided that rather than commission new coronation robes has his father’s robes simply adjusted!

As such, perhaps he was right for United Kingdom in the 20th century, where monarchy played more of a ceremonial, symbolic and less political role.

Sources:

Wikipedia
Ede & Ravenscroft

Nine Monarchs

Nine Monarchs

The funeral of Edward VII, which took place two weeks after his death, was one of the most striking gatherings of that era. It was still a time of monarchy and so the elected representatives of countries were few and far between; Theodore Roosevelt and Stéphen Pichon representing the United States and France respectively, were consigned somewhat to the back, behind an array of royalty many of whom were to lose their kingdoms and/or their lives within the next decade.

A few months following the funeral the House of Commons were asked to vote £40,500 to the Royal Household to cover funeral expenses, one of those who objected was Keir Hardie the first independent Labour MP in Parliament argued “But the point is that the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two Houses of Parliament as such, were entirely excluded from recognition in connection with the ceremonials.”

Final Gathering of Royalty

Final Gathering of Royalty


The funeral was also striking as it brought together relatives (in many cases) who were shortly to become enemies. So the German Emperor Wilhelm II rode alongside George V, both dressed in the uniform of a British Field Marshal. Wilhelm was Edward’s nephew and Edward, with good reason, was known as The Uncle of Europe.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was present; his assassination four years later in Sarajevo would spark the conflict which was to end so many kingdoms and empires, including his own Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire. Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia, the brother of the Russian Tsar was present; he was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Prince Yusuf Izzeddin, the Crown Prince of the Ottoman Empire was present, by 1922 this Empire which had lasted since the 1299 was finished.

Caesar

Caesar, the King's dog

Amongst all this pomp came a more human touch. The King’s favourite horse was led with his boots reversed in the stirrups. Behind that was the King’s white terrier, Caesar, led by a Highland gillie. These two animals were placed ahead of all the monarchy in the funeral procession. I have to say I think that this is wonderfully British. Animals, then royalty then elected politicians!

The funeral procession started at Buckingham Palace in London and moved through the streets of London to Paddington Station. Then a steam train took the coffin and funeral party to Windsor Central station. Naval ratings pulled the coffin on a gun carriage up to Windsor Castle and to Saint George’s Chapel where the the King was buried. On the way back to London the train was forced to take the slow track because of a mishap to an engine in Slough. Given the decimation of the monarchy, which was to take place over the next decade, they may have wished that the train had never made it back to London.

Video

Sources:

New York Times
Wikipedia
Thamesweb
Hansard

Following the death of his father Edward, George was the natural successor. He was the second son of Edward, but his older brother Albert Victor had died of pneumonia in 1892. So George was the legitimate successor. However, according to British law a new King or Queen must be proclaimed publicly and not by the new King or Queen.

“The fact of the accession of the new monarch is published to the nation by a proclamation which is issued as soon as conveniently may be after the death of the former monarch by the lords spiritual and temporal, members of the late monarch’s privy Council and the principal gentlement of quality, with the Lord Mayor, aldermen and citizens of London” (Halsbury’s Laws of England).

George V took the oath of succession at Saint James Palace on the 7th May and crowds gathered to hear the proclamation of the new King on that day. However, the authorities decided that they could not get the proclamation to all the key towns and cities around the country and Empire and so decided that the proclamation would take place on Monday 9th May. The proclamation was first made in the City of London at 8am by the Lord Mayor of London and then again in most towns and cities throughout the UK at 9am.

Proclamation at Windsor

Proclamation at Windsor


The text of the proclamation read as follows:

“Whitehall, May 7, 1910. On Friday night, the sixth of May instant, at a quarter to twelve o’clock, our late most gracious Sovereign King Edward the Seventh expired at Buckingham Palace in the sixtyninth year of His age, and the tenth of His reign. This event has caused one universal feeling of regret and sorrow to His late Majesty’s faithful and attached subjects, to whom He was endeared by the deep interest in their welfare which He invariably manifested, as well as by the eminent and impressive virtues which illustrated and adorned His character. Upon the intimation of this distressing event, the Lords of the Privy Council assembled this day at St. James’s Palace, and gave orders for proclaiming His present Majesty, Who made a most Gracious Declaration to them, and caused all the Lords and others of the late King’s Privy Council, who were then present, to be sworn of His Majesty’s Privy Council.

Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God to call to His mercy our late Sovereign Lord King Edward the Seventh, of Blessed and Glorious Memory, by whose Decease the Imperial Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Prince George Frederick Ernest Albert : We, therefore, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this Realm, being here assisted with these of His late Majesty’s Privy Council, with numbers of other Principal Gentlemen of Quality, with the Lord-Mayor, Aldermen, and citizens of London, do now hereby, with one Voice and Consent of Tongue and Heart, publish and proclaim, That the High and Mighty Prince George Frederick Ernest Albert, is now, by the Death of our late Sovereign, of Happy Memory, become our only lawful and rightful Liege Lord George the Fifth, by the Grace of God, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India: To whom we do acknowledge all Faith and constant Obedience, with all hearty and humble Affection: beseeching God, by whom Kings and Queens do reign, to bless the Royal Prince George the Fifth, with long and happy years to reign over Us.”

Given at the Court at St. James’s, this seventh day of May, in this year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and ten.”

The proclamations were usually read by local leaders such as mayors and in the presence of key civic leaders and wherever the proclamations were read crowds gathered to hear it.

Sources

Heraldica
New York Times

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