Wrenthorpe Colliery 2: air-vent explosion kills two

Two very different reports of an early pit accident at the colliery, in 1844, starting with the Evening Mail’s account.

London Evening Mail
Monday 21 October 1844

ANOTHER FATAL COLLIERY EXPLOSION

On Wednesday night last an explosion took place in the colliery of Messrs Micklethwaite and Co, near Wakefield, at which time three men were at work in the pit. Two of the men were killed by the explosion; and when their bodies were brought to the bank they presented a horrible picture, the flesh on their arms and faces being literally burnt to a cinder. The names of the two men who were suddenly called out of time into eternity are James Brown, a married man, of Westgate Common, and George Powell, unmarried, of Potovens, near Wakefield. Not only were two lives lost, but the coals in the pit were ignited, and remained burning at the time this account was sent off. On Thursday an inquest was held on the bodies, at the Vine Tree Inn, Newton, before Mr T Lee, coroner, when a long and patient investigation was gone into. The facts of the case may be gleaned from the following evidence adduced:

Francis Jagger sworn and said – l am both a miner and sinker; I know the deceased James Brown and George Powell; I am now sinking a pit for Messrs Micklethwaite; I was near the place where the accident occurred about 9 o’clock last night; a lad in the pit came and rang at the rod to let us know; I thought I had heard the explosion about half an hour before; there were but three persons in the pit; as soon as we heard the ringing, we went to the pit and pulled the lad up; he told us what had happened; one of the partners (Mr Carter), and his son, and myself, all went down the pit. We found the deceased men about 150 yards from the pit’s eye; they were both dead and stretched out straight. They appeared to have been suffocated. They were burnt upon their arms and face. They were employed in repairing the air-gate. I have worked in the pit, and consider the ventilation good at present without repairing. They had three lamps in use, two of which we found, but the third, belonging to Powell, is missing; we think he had taken the top off the lamp, which caused the explosion. The coal at the present time is still on fire in the pit. It is necessary that great caution should be exercised in working the air-gate, it is more dangerous than other parts of the pit. Mr Carter manages the workings at the bottom of the pit, and every attention is paid to the ventilation.

Brown was 29 years old, and Powell 19; they both lay on their faces quite dead when found. George Bedford deposed, that when he came out of the pit, about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the ventilation was good. He had been working in the same air-gate. The jury returned a verdict of “Accidentally killed in a coal pit”.

How can the Northern Star and Advertiser’s commentary be so different? Not least, one of the two papers can’t even get the correct names of the two dead men.

Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser
Saturday 19 October 1844

COLLIERY EXPLOSION, NEAR WAKEFIELD – TWO LIVES LOST

On Wednesday night, about nine o’clock, the village of Newton was thrown into a great state of excitement, an alarm being given that the pit belonging to Messrs Micklethwaite and Co had fired, and that four men were at work at the time. Mr Carter, and his son William, the bottom steward, were speedily in attendance, and descended the shaft in the hope of rendering assistance to the poor sufferers. Providentially, however, the cupola man and a boy, who were at work near to the other two men, had made their way to the pit’s eye, and were with the greatest dispatch landed on the surface. The man had not sustained the least injury, but the boy was much burnt about the knees, having also received a severe cut in the forehead. After Carter and his son had remained some length of time, two other men also descended, and at five minutes to ten o’clock one of the men returned, but without any tidings of the unfortunate sufferers. He, however, again descended, taking with him the necessary articles required to enable them to continue the search, which lasted until a quarter past eleven o’clock, when the two Carters ascended the shaft in a complete state of exhaustion, bringing the melancholy tidings that the two men were found, and both dead. The other two men were also brought to the top equally exhausted, when after administering some restorative, they began to recruit their strength, and prepare for a second descent to bring out the sufferers. A little after one o’clock, the bodies were brought up, and a truly horrible picture was presented to view, the flesh on their arms and faces being literally burnt to a cinder, the skin hanging about them like so many rags; they were immediately laid upon stretchers, and conveyed to the adjoining Inn. No particulars have as yet transpired as to how the explosion originated, but it is to be feared that the inflammable air must have ignited at the lamp of one of the sufferers, the same not having yet been found. The other two lamps are in a perfect state. The names of the sufferers are John Whiteley, a lad, residing at Bragg Lane, and severely burnt; James Brown, Westgate Common, a married man, aged about thirty, dead and George Wild, of Potovens, aged seventeen, also dead. Brown has left a wife and one child to mourn his untimely end. At the inquest held on Thursday, a verdict of “Accidentally killed in a coal pit” was returned.

Inquests into two very different deaths

As strange as this now sounds, during the 19th and early 20th century inquests into sudden deaths were usually carried out in pubs. In Potovens in the 1800s, this was almost always at the Royal Oak. The following report relates to an inquest at the Malt Shovel – a suicide and a death demonstrating the dangers of working in the textile industry.

Leeds Mercury
Monday 6 June 1881

FATAL OCCURRENCES NEAR WAKEFIELD

On Saturday Captain Taylor, of Wakefield, held an inquiry at Mr Wild’s, the Malt Shovel Inn, Potovens, near Wakefield, on the bodies of two persons who had come to their death under sad and extraordinary circumstances.

One of the parties was a widow 57 years of age, named Mary Ann Garside. Sometime ago the deceased lived with Mr John Hawley, colliery agent, The Haugh [later called Sunny Hill House], Silcoates, who married her daughter about two and a half years ago. The mother and daughter did not appear to agree very well, and in January last the deceased left her son-in-law’s residence, and had lately been living in lodgings in Park Street, Wakefield. On Thursday night she went and sat under a pear tree near Mr Hawley’s house, and it is supposed that she then took a quantity of laudanum, and laid down air to die, having frequently told a commercial traveller who lived near her daughter that she would commit suicide, and afterwards wrote a letter to that effect. Next morning she was found under the pear tree in a stupefied and is dying state, and was carried by her son-in-law and another gentleman into Mr Hawley’s stable, where she died shortly afterwards, apparently from the effects of poison.

The other sufferer was a man named James Hudson, a labourer at Messrs Colbeck’s Mills, at Alverthorpe. On Friday night a fire took place in a dust hole at the mills and whilst it was being extinguished Hudson was found quite dead and much burnt. It is supposed that the man upset his lamp among some woollen waste and set it on fire, and that the dense smoke suffocated him, and then he was roasted by the flames. The poor fellow leaves a wife and seven little children.

Tragic death of John Wroe II

Yorkshire Evening Post
Tuesday 19 January 1932

POLICE SEEK CYCLIST WHO WAS WITNESS

The police are anxious to trace a cyclist aged about 25 who was riding a bicycle along Bradford Road, Carr Gate, East Ardsley, towards Bradford, at 5.30p.m. on Monday, and was the only witness of an accident which resulted in the death of John Wroe, farmer, of Carr Gate.

Wroe was knocked down by a motor-van owned by Newboulds, Ltd, of Bradford, and was terribly injured about the legs and body. He was taken to Clayton Hospital, Wakefield, and died soon after admission.

Yorkshire Evening Post
Wednesday 20 January 1932

KNOCKED DOWN BY VAN
Great-Grandson of “Prophet” Wroe

The death of a great-grandson of “Prophet” Wroe, founder of the Christian Israelite Movement, was inquired into at Wakefield to-day by the West Riding Coroner, Mr C J Haworth.

The dead man was John Wroe (52), of Melbourne House, Carr Gate, near Wakefield. On Monday evening he was knocked down by a motor-van, and sustained injuries from which he died shortly afterwards.

Muriel Cooke-Yarborough, dancing instructress, of Vernon Road, Leeds, said she was driving her car from Wakefield when the van passed her. The van pulled out to pass a cyclist and soon afterwards it slowed down. Witness saw a body in the road, and the van driver later said her: “I pulled out to avoid a cyclist, and never saw him”, meaning the dead man.

Boy killed by horse kick

Leeds Mercury
Wednesday 3 July 1907

KILLED BY A HORSE AT WRENTHORPE

Mr P P Maitland held an inquest at Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, yesterday, on the body of George Amos Minter, aged 10, son James Minter, miner, Bragg Lane End. On Monday noon the lad was flying his kite, and he ran backwards into a horse, which kicked him on the head and broke his neck. The mother alleged that the owner of the horse allowed the animal to roam about, and he had been warned that if he did not get rid of it, it would killing somebody. The owner, however, denied this, and said the horse was very quiet. The jury returned a verdict of Accidental Death.

Dangerous pastimes

London Dispatch
Sunday 11 June 1837

ACCIDENT

On Sunday last, some young men at Potovens, near Wakefield, were amusing themselves by what is called “running the rope”, namely, descending twelve or fourteen yards down the mouth of coal pit, by means of holding with the hands by the rope, and drawing themselves up in the same way. One of them, having tried the experiment several times, had the misfortune at last to lose his hold, and he fell to the bottom of the pit, by which his leg was fractured, he received other contusions.

Horse-drawn traffic accident

Yorkshire Evening Post
Monday 14 January 1895

THE SNOW
WAKEFIELD ’BUS OVERTURNED

On Saturday night one of the Wakefield Omnibus Company’s vehicles was overturned at Snow Hill, with the result that several persons were more or less severely injured. It appears that the ’bus, which was drawn by two horses, left the Corn Exchange, Wakefield, at 7.15p.m., and was driven steadily in the direction of East Ardsley. On going down Snow Hill the driver applied the brake, and the ’bus wheels slipped on the snow until they got about three yards from some railings in front of the Bay Horse Inn at the junction of Potovens Lane [now Wrenthorpe Road] and Bradford Road. Potovens Lane is about two feet lower than the other road, which causes it to be very steep, and when turning the corner the ’bus suddenly overturned on its side. There were 16 passengers in the ’bus the time, and they were thrown upon each other with considerable force. Most of the occupants sustained cuts, sprains, and bruises, and following appear to have fared the worst – James Henry Hobkinson and Elizabeth Hobkinson, of Calvert’s Buildings, Potovens; Alice Green, widow, and Joe Barnaby of Bragg Lane End, Potovens.