Another Terrific Colliery Accident

Whitwick Colliery

Another Whitwick Disaster

In the early days of Coalville, miners came from the surrounding villages to work in the new deep mines before there was need to bring men from further afield. This particularly applied to the workforce at Whitwick Colliery who were encouraged to live in Club Row, later called Coalville place, houses built opposite the colliery by the Coalville Building Club. One of those first workers, who arrived with his young family from the vicinity of Worthington after 1834, was Samuel Smith. In 1841 he was living in Club Row with his wife Elizabeth and his children Sarah Ann, Mary, William and James. Like many other Whitwick workers they attended the nearby Baptist Chapel and the children attended the School. The family soon gained respect in the growing community and the children were later baptised as adults in the chapel. The family appear to have moved away for a time since they are not in the district in the 1851 census but they returned shortly after only for Samuel to meet a terrible death at the colliery on the 20th. January 1853, he being buried in the Baptist burial ground on the following Sunday, the 23rd.
This is how the death was reported in a local paper, The Leicester Chronicle.

COALVILLE Another terrific colliery accident.

Another accident took place at one of the Whitwick Pits near this village on the evening of Thursday, the 20th instant which occasioned a greater sensation in the neighbourhood than any that has occurred during many years.

The unfortunate subject of this fearful calamity was called Samuel Smith, a man about the age of 42, who also has worked many years in the coal works at Whitwick. He was a tall, handsome and portly man and universally respected, not only by the proprietors but by his fellow workmen and the inhabitants of the nearby community among whom he was well known.

The accident happened between 6 & 7 in the evening. A cry of alarm was raised which quickly spread over the whole village, hundreds of persons of both sexes and all ages were seen hurrying towards the scene of the calamity. The usual weekly service was about to be held at the nearby General Baptist Chapel by the Rev. J. Yates of Hugglescote. A number of persons were assembled at that place of worship awaiting the arrival of the minister but the cries of terror heard from without quickly emptied the pews and benches, many of the congregation mixing with the personages rushing by the doors in the direction of the colliery. On arriving there the scene was truly appalling. Within a few feet of No 2 Pit (which is that nearer the road leading from Coalville to Whitwick) lay the mangled, lifeless body of poor Smith in a pool of blood. The fire burning upon the pit bank cast a flaming and lurid light all around. The voice of lamentation was heard at intervals mixing with the cries of workmen who were in considerable numbers endeavouring to replace the ponderous pit rope on the groove of the wheel from which it had been jerked by the force of the engine and many a tear was dashed from the blackened faces of those hard handed sons of toil as they gazed on the spectacle before them.

The body was shortly afterwards conveyed to the house which had long been the deceased happy home, for he was greatly beloved by his family. On Sunday afternoon he was buried in the graveyard of the Baptist Chapel, in that place, crowds of inhabitants as well as numbers of persons from the adjacent villages being present to pay their last tribute of respect to a friend and companion who had been so suddenly and lamentably taken from them. The funeral service was performed by the Rev. H. Smith, the resident Baptist minister.

A Coroner’s Inquest was opened at the Victoria In on the afternoon of Friday, 21st inst. to investigate the circumstances which led to the above catastrophe. The jury being duly sworn only one witness was examined to show how the deceased came by his death and that such death took place from injuries received in the colliery the law now requiring the agents or owners of such mines and collieries to transmit a statement of the causes of all fatal accidents to one of Her Majesties principal Secretaries of State within 24 hours after their occurrence. This proof having been given by Mr. Wm. Stenson (jun) the agent of the Whitwick Colliery Co., Robert Robinson, a workman called a puller-off, whose business is to draw off the loaded tubs or wagons from the iron frame or cage on which they are raised to the top of the pit, was examined. This witness was much upset in giving the necessary evidence. He stated that on the night in question he was at the top of No.2 pit and saw the cage and tubs come to the surface but they passed by him so rapidly upwards that he did not see the deceased on top of the tubs, neither did he see him fall instantly on the tub striking against the steelwork that supports the wheel. The witness perceived a large amount of stones and rubbish falling down upon him when he turned to run out of danger. At the same moment he heard the sound of something falling heavily near him. He turned and saw the deceased lying on the ground. He instantly went forward to him, raised his head and put his hand on the left side of his throat, but his heart had ceased to beat. Blood was running from him at the nose and mouth and spouted from his ears in spouts as thick as a mans finger. He was dead.

The inquest was then adjourned to Wednesday, 26th inst.At 11 o`clock of that day the jury again met the Coroner at the Victoria Inn, Mr.Stenson (jun) again being present produced a written acknowledgement of his communication from the Secretary of State’s office. Before entering upon the evidence the Coroner and jury went and viewed the pit where the disaster occurred and also inspected the machinery in the engine house. Returning to the jury room, the Coroner proceeded to examine the witnesses, the agent Mr. Stenson and his son being present and also Mr. William Woolerton, the man who had worked the engine at the time of the accident. Five witnesses were examined, some of them at considerable length. The evidence of these it is not necessary fully to detail. It will suffice to give the following particulars condensed from the statements given by them collectively.

The deceased went to the pit about six in the evening of Thursday. His work was in what is termed a heading about 25yds from the bottom. The heading is a sort of cutting, an excavation in the side of the pit for erecting a sort of flue or chimney to convey smoke to the surface from a steam engine at the bottom. There were three with the deceased when they went down, one of whom was his youngest son. These younger workmen had to fill the wagons with the rubbish taken out of the heading. The words used as a signal to the banksman before sending up the tubs are “go on”, if it contains nothing but rubbish, but if it is to carry up any of the workmen the words “coming up” are used. Deceased said he must go up again as he had forgotten something. He ordered one of the witnesses to put some more loading into the corners and middle of the tub which was done. He then seamed to be preparing to go up with the loaded tub. Deceased was asked by his son if he meant to go up with that tub who added “If I were you father, I would not”. Deceased said he would go up. He got on the tub or wagon, standing upright holding onto the crossbar of the cage. Deceased shouted “go on” and was then drawn up the shaft. The engine man had a standing order to draw up the workmen or the boys at half the speed of coal, rubbish or any other dead weight. The deceased was drawn up more rapidly because he had called “go on” instead of “coming up”. When the cage reached the top a bell in the engine house rang once only and at that moment the engine man caught sight of the deceased. He instantly reversed the engine but the speed was too great and the head of the deceased too high above the loading to prevent a collision with the timber near the wheel. The consequence was that he was knocked down by the violence of the stock. The principle blood vessels of the neck were immediately severed and disrupted and instant death was the consequence.

It is also right to state that there is a bye-law in the rules of the colliery which expressly forbids any of the workmen or boys coming up by a loaded tub or wagon. The penalty for so doing being the immediate discharge from employment.

Mr. Samuel Wragg, Superintendent of the engines at Whitwick Colliery, gave the engine man, Mr. Woolerton, a good character for steadiness and capability of managing the engine. He had been about seven years stoker or fireman and had worked the engine for a few months. All the witnesses (who were separately examined) agreed in one important particular that the deceased, before the cage was moved by which he had come up, called out “go on” and not “coming up”. There was one particular that the jury did not fully understand, namely why the bell in the engine house rings thrice when the cage ascends quite from the bottom and only once when brought up from the place where the deceased was working. This difficulty being submitted to the Coroner he advised the jurors to go again to the pit to satisfy themselves of the fact, himself accompanying them. On their arrival at the pit the cage was let down to the bottom and raised to the surface, the bell in the engine house ringing three times. The ground bailiff, and Mr. Samuel Wragg, head engineer, then descended to the place where the deceased was working and on being drawn up the bell only rang once. This fact the engine man as well as the colliers were well acquainted with. The jury then returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”

The report of the enquiry has been more circumstantially given in order to convey to the minds of those residing in location remote from these coal districts some sort of idea of the fearful dangers that have to be encountered daily by an important but neglected class of men in their hazardous occupation in order to procure the means of enjoying what we all so highly prize, the comforts of an Englishman’s fireside.

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