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“Big Pit” Far Green, Hanley, Over Wind - 1859 - Page 2


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A conversation took place in which several parties joined, from which gathered that the engineman must have stopped the engine, but not in time; that the cage was lying just where it fell at the time of the accident, and that it would take the engineman 10 to 12 seconds to stop the engine. At this stage of the proceedings the coroner appealed to the jury whether they had obtained sufficient evidence to enable him to issue his authority for the internment of the bodies. With this suggestion the jury unanimously agreed and the inquest adjourned till next morning.

The inquest resumed next day and Margaret Faulkner was the first witness called. She said I live at North Street, Hanley. I knew the deceased William Vernall, from a little boy. His body was brought home on Saturday afternoon in a cart. I helped to wash and lay it out. His head was completely cut off and was in two parts. I could tell it was his body by his clothes, by his tobacco box in his pocket and by three buttons on his waistcoat, one of which I sewed on myself. His face was so mutilated that I could not tell any part of his features.

Edward Shufflebottom, porter of the North Staffs Infirmary proved that the deceased, Thomas Bellis, was taken there between 3 and 4 o clock on Saturday afternoon, where he died an hour and a half afterwards.

When Samuel Tillett was called he said, I live at Southhampton Street, Hanley and am a collier. I work at the Big pit and went to work on Saturday morning and remained in the pit until two o clock, when I came up in the first cage with some other men. When I got out of the cage I met with Edward Williams, who was talking to another man. I stood between the pit mouth and the engine house. I asked Williams to give me the time of the men who had been working and he went into the engine house with me. I had just got my book out and had started to take the time, when the accident happened. I had been in the engine house about a minute at that time. When I went in Gallon was at the handle at the engine. I went through the double window into the engine house, I sat on the windowsill, which is about four feet from the floor, and Williams followed me through the window and sat by my side. The engine was at work and Gallon was at the handle, I never saw him away from it. I did not speak to him either before I got though the window nor afterwards, nor he to me. I have been through the window once before.

Williams said the engine house is not the usual place to take the time in, only when it rains. Gallon has never complained of our going in there because it intercepted his view. When questioned by the coroner, he said I heard the accident and jumped down and ran through the door, Gallon was at the handle as I passed him. When I got out the cage was down. I saw some men lying on the bank, but I do not know whom they were. I saw a little boy Thomas Jones, creeping out of the cage. I went for Mr. Roberts the ground bailiff and when I returned they were removed.

After more questions and answers, Mr. Wynne HMI of Mines was sworn, and said:

In consequence of information I received, I went to Lord Granville’s works on Monday morning; I examined the engine and measured the distances. The winding engine at the Big Pit was worked in my presence. The rope was let down and drawn up several times, and stopped and started again whenever I requested it, by Peter Griffiths the other engineer. I did not perceive the slightest difficulty in stopping it at any point whenever I wished. I consider it as good an engine as can be used and in every respect proper for what is required of it. I found the distance between the mouth of the pit and the handle of the engine to be 63 feet, which is a short distance. The height of the pulley wheel axle is 39 feet from the bank.

The last stroke of the engine would raise the cage about 50 feet. I paid particular attention to the indicators during the working of the engine, and found them working exceedingly well. As far as my knowledge goes of inventions I do not know that up to this time there is any better in use. There is one suggestion I would make as to the machinery. I should consider it more complete if the brake was made, and ordered to be applied regularly. The brake as I found it was used for the purpose of fastening the engine. In my opinion it would be better if it were to be applied regularly. It would be better as the engineman would then get habituated to it. I suggest that it be done and is the only recommendation I have to make.

I can only account for the accident by the man neglecting to stop the engine when he ought to have done. I myself have been up and down the pit more than half a dozen times and I never knew the cage to go more than a foot above the plates. The Coroner said, supposing the engineman was at the handle in the way the two witnesses have described, is it still your impression that he must have neglected to use it?

Mr. Wynne replied, undoubtedly it must have been neglect. There is no other possible way of accounting for it that his neglecting to stop the engine when he ought to have done and that was only a second and a half too late. I cannot too strongly express my disapprobation of those two men going into the engine house window, but that does not excuse the engineman, because he might of worked the pit without seeing its mouth, only when the banks man drew the catches. No doubt the two men attracted his attention at the moment.

Mr. Chief Superintendent Sweeting was then called and said:

Between 5 and 6 o clock on Saturday evening I went with Superintendent Cole to the house at which the prisoner was lodging. I told him I wanted to know how it was that the cage went over the pulley, and he said, while I was drawing up the men, two men came to the window and spoke to me. I said, “what do you say?” and they said, “are we in your way?” and I was then an instant too late to stop the engine in time. If the men had not been there, it would not have occurred. The engine and indicators were all in good order, the fault was entirely my own. I asked him who the men were? And he said Williams and Tillett.

Gallon was then brought in. He looked very dejected, and kept his eyes on the ground nearly the whole time. The evidence of Mr. Sweeting was read to him, when he said, “it is all quite right, but I did not leave the handle”.

When asked if he had any statement to make, he said he had nothing further to say and handed the Coroner two certificates to character from previous employers and testimonial signed by a large number of Lord Granville’s workpeople.

The Coroner then briefly recapitulated the leading facts as detailed in evidence by the witnesses and explained to the jury the law as it relates to the crime of manslaughter. The foreman said they were not clear in respect to the two men who went into the engine house, as they thought the accident would not have occurred but for them. Mr. Wynne, Inspector of Mines, said that he had been discussing with Mr. Bourne, Lord Granville’s mining agent, and others, whether they could reach these two men: but they were of the opinion that they could not. The engineman was the guardian of his own place and he only was responsible for allowing them to be there.

The jury then returned a verdict of Manslaughter against Gallon, accompanying with the expression of an opinion, that if the two men had not been in the engine house, the accident would not have occurred. Gallon has since been convicted of manslaughter at Staffordshire assizes and sentenced to 6 weeks imprisonment.

Ninety Hours Without Food and Light

At the Brookhouse colliery, Bucknall, North Staffs, on Monday morning the 7 th November 1859 a number of men were in the pit when water broke in, near where 8 men were employed. All the men but 3 got to a place of safety and were raised to the surface. The 3 less fortunate companions, Samual and Peter Bate, and a boy 14 years of age, named Ash remained. Despite every effort that could be made to recover them, it was not before the following Thursday that the water had subsided sufficiently to allow a rescue party getting to a level in the workings in which these men were known to have been engaged. The excitement was very keen among the crowd who stood on the bank waiting for news when it was reported that a voice replied to the descending rescuers.

After being prisoners in the mine for ninety hours, both men and boy were brought to the surface and as once more they came into daylight received such a cheer of welcome from the crowd they were never likely to forget. It appeared that they fled before the rushing water up an incline. They had a candle but the damp put this out, and during the first 24 hours they suffered very considerably from want of food and light. The 2 men placed the boy between them and the only knowledge they had of time was by passing their fingers gently over the hands of a watch, which one of them carried.

As soon as the water began to retire, they had greater freedom of breathing, though at one time they had made up their minds to face death, and write a few parting words to their friends on their food cans. It is stated that one of the men never slept throughout the period but that the boy had slept a good deal.

Pit Terminology - Glossary

John Lumsdon


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