Mining accident deaths: roof falls

Four mid to late-19th century reports on Wrenthorpe miners killed by roof falls at local pits.

Leeds Mercury
Saturday 5 April 1856

FATAL ACCIDENT IN A COAL PIT

On Thursday evening last, an inquest was held before T Taylor, Esq, coroner, at the Royal Oak Inn, Potovens, touching the death of John Bedford, who had died on the morning of the above day from the injuries he had received on the previous Monday, whilst working in the pit of Messrs R Hudson and Co, at Newton Lane End. From the evidence of Joseph Clegg, a miner, who was working near to deceased at the time of the accident, it appeared that he and deceased were in what is termed straight work, and on hearing something fall, he called out, but, receiving no reply, took his light and looked through a slit, and saw deceased under a stone weighing about half a ton. He assisted in getting deceased out of the pit, and saw him conveyed home to Potovens in a cart. He was 27 years of age, and was attended by Mr H Horsfall, surgeon, up to the time of his death. Verdict, “Accidentally crushed”.

Barnsley Chronicle
Saturday 21 December 1861

KILLED BY A FALL COAL

On Thursday, at the Royal Oak Inn, Potovens, T Taylor, Esq, held an inquest on the body of George Whiteley, a collier, who had been killed in the St John’s Colliery, which is the property of the executors of the late Mr Benjamin Burnley. According the evidence of James Whiteley, of Wrenthorpe, who was hurrier to the deceased, it appeared that the deceased worked at the St John’s Colliery. The seam is the Stanley Main bed, which consists of two veins, the lower being a yard thick, and intervening between it and the upper vein, which is about two feet thick, there is layer of loose stone and dirt. On Monday the deceased was at his work, and had “holed” under the lower bed about two feet. The bank where was working is about ten yards long, and he had bared about four yards in the middle. He had previously “felled’’ one end, and as he was cutting the other end the coal suddenly fell, and the corner hit him on the left side, and knocked him off his stool. He was just at the time getting the last curve load for that day, previous to ceasing work. After his injury he could not rise, and had to be taken home, where died on Wednesday from the injuries had sustained. In addition to the above facts, it was stated by a collier, named John Haigh, residing at Eastmoor, that if the deceased had been standing in place of sitting when the fall occurred, he would not have been injured. The verdict returned was to the effect that the death of the deceased had resulted from his being accidentally injured.

Sheffield Independent
Saturday 31 March 1888

FATAL COLLIERY ACCIDENT AT LOFTHOUSE

On Thursday, fall of roof took place at the Lofthouse Colliery, near Wakefield. A mass of about five tons of material fell upon a young man named Albert Tattersdale, between 19 and years of age, living at Potovens, burying him under the debris. When extricated, he was found to be quite dead, being crashed in a fearful manner.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph
Wednesday 3 May 1899

INQUEST

Yesterday, Major Taylor, JP, held an inquest at the Clayton Hospital, Wakefield, on the body of Harry Scott Clay, miner, 25 yean age of Wild’s Buildings, Potovens. The deceased was employed at the Silkstone seam the Lofthouse Colliery, when a large piece of stone suddenly fell from the roof, caught Clay on the head, and caused a compound fracture of the skull. A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned.

Another sad infant death

Leeds Intelligencer
Monday 21 December 1801

TRAGIC ACCIDENT AT POT-OVENS

Lately an unfortunate accident happened to a child at a place called Pot-Ovens, near Wakefield; its mother brewing a small quantity of malt liquor, had placed it on the house floor, in a small vessel, boiling hot, the child playing unobserved near the same, accidentally fell in, and was scalded in such a shocking manner as to occasion its death. It is hoped this dreadful catastrophe will caution those who have the care of children, from suffering them to play so near the brink of danger.

Steam engine road accident

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Tuesday 2 May 1893

FATAL ACCIDENTS TO CHILDREN AT WAKEFIELD

Two children, each seven years of age, have died at the Clayton Hospital at Wakefield, from accidental injuries. Elsie Dickinson, of Russell Street, Thames Lane, was fatally burned by her clothing catching fire. The other sufferer was boy named Rowland Moorby, son of a miner at Potovens. On Friday last Messrs Reynolds & Haslegrave’s traction engine, with two large flour waggons, was passing through the village, when he was knocked down by it and run over.

Six-year-old Moorby was buried at Alverthorpe churchyard on the day this newspaper was published.

Scars on the industrial landscape

Some vestiges of Wrenthorpe’s industrial past were left abandoned for many years. These included old mine workings and the woollen mill at the bottom of Silcoates Lane. Each were the sites of suicides. The first, in the mill dam, a couple of year after the factory closed.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph
Saturday 1 October 1904

COUNTY NEWS

Emma Parkin, aged 71, wife of Joseph Parkin, gardener, Potovens, near Wakefield, was found drowned in Silcoates Dam on Thursday. It is supposed to be a case of suicide.

Thirty years later, a disused mine shaft on the site of Coleridge Crescent, was the site of a gruesome discovery. Swaine was a former landlord at The Wheel.

Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette
Monday 29 July 1935

DEAD IN SHAFT

A verdict of suicide while temporarily of unsound mind was returned an inquest held at Outwood on Tom Swaine (59), Robin Hood Farm, Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield. He was found dead in a disused pit shaft [Bragg Lane Pit] at Wrenthorpe after having been missing for 12 days. He had been suffering from debility and depression.

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.

The death of ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton

The antics of self-styled ‘Judge’ Daniel Milton  a notorious late 19th century celebrity  kept journalists busy for over 40 years. The native of Brooklyn, New York spent much of this time in Wrenthorpe, confronting the Wroes over the ownership of Melbourne House, clashing with police and magistrates, and preaching to anyone who’d listen.

When Milton died, following a fall down the stairs at his Bragg Lane End home, papers across the British Isles covered the story in detail. Here’s the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer’s lengthy account.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Tuesday 16 September 1903

“PROPHET” WROE’S SUCCESSOR
DEATH OF THE WRENTHORPE CLAIMANT

No history of strange religions would be complete without a chapter on Daniel Milton “Sixth Observer of the Church of the Christian Israelites” whose death has occurred at the village of Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield.

A pathetic figure, with spare locks and white beard, Daniel Milton looked like a patriarch, and professed to believe himself divinely commissioned to be the spiritual advisor of the sect of Christian Israelites, and the guardian of their worldly property. The sect was originally founded by one Richard Brothers who sacrificed the honourable post of a lieutenant in the Navy to his religious scruples. He was succeeded by Joanna Southcott, whom Macaulay described as “an old woman with the cunning of a fortune-teller and the education of a scullion.” On her death the organisation of her followers was undertaken by three alleged “prophets” – George Turner, William Shaw and John Wroe, the last named whom had a handsome Doric building, known as Melbourne House erected for him at Wrenthorpe. It was understood that the building was to be the worldly habitation of the “Shiloh” or Second Christ, whose coming had been predicted by Joanna.

In 1857 Daniel Milton, at one time a New England shipwright and later made a “Judge” by the Christian Israelites of New York, made the startling announcement that he was the long-expected Shiloh. His wife and three daughters left him, but this in no way lessoned his enthusiasm. In February 1860, without a farthing in his purse, Daniel Milton arrived at the door of “Israel’s Temple” otherwise Melbourne House, Wrenthorpe, and informed John Wroe that he was Shiloh and had come to enter upon his inheritance.

“Take him away, take him away!” exclaimed the octogenarian John Wroe, “my bowels yearn within me.” After a prolonged duel with John Wroe, with the policeman in the background, Milton returned to America, temporarily baffled. He came again, however, the following year and made repeated attempts to take procession of the mansion, endeavouring meantime to awaken public sympathy with his cause by addressing a series of open-air meetings. But his attempts proved futile and again he returned to America.

In 1863 Wroe died and the next year Milton once again appeared at Wrenthorpe and this time got possession of Melbourne House holding “Israel’s Temple” against a siege for nearly a month. Indeed he was only ejected ultimately by the treachery of his garrison. Repeated prosecutions served but to increase Milton’s efforts. Probably no civilian in the country wrote more letters to the Home Office than “Judge” Milton and his numerous practical attempts to obtain possession of the mansion resulted in his imprisonment on no fewer than a dozen occasions.

The respect of the villagers for the deluded “Judge”, “Prophet” and “Shiloh” was as great as their pity. It would well-nigh be impossible for any man to have made more sacrifices for his belief. His wife, his family, his comfortable home in the States, he exchanged for solitude and semi-destitution. He dwelt alone in a two-roomed cottage, which was strangely furnished and stocked. There were no blinds or curtains to the windows of the stone-floored living room – only a newspaper pinned across to keep out the draught and to obstruct the views of the many folks who, out of curiosity, assembled in the vicinity. On one side of the apartment stood an ancient Caxton-like hand printing press with cases of type close by. On the trestle table and strewn about the floor were piles of home-printed pamphlets containing reports of legal proceedings in which “Shiloh” was involved, and also thousands of handbills reproducing spiritual quotations, a selection of which “Judge” Milton was wont to issue monthly. Over the mantelpiece in large type were printed the mystic words:-

Jesus and Joanna
My two witnesses
Shiloh

The public demand for his works was very limited and he eked out an existence by making useful articles at his carpenter’s bench and by occasionally undertaking a little white-washing and painting. For over 60 years he was a teetotaller and a non-smoker, and it was his boast that he could live comfortably on 4s. a week.

One of his many declared beliefs was that he would never die. When the villagers argued the point with him he would ramble off into a maze of Biblical references laying special stress on the statement that there was “a certain house which was built upon a rock.” If it were suggested that his explanation was not quite clear, that “Judge’s” invariable retort was that earthly-minded beings could not appreciate such matters.

Time has replied to Daniel Milton. On Wednesday afternoon a neighbour, not having seen the “Judge” for a day or two looked through a crevice in the paper window covering and saw the old man – he was 82 years of age – lying at the bottom of the stairs. The neighbour forced open the door and found the “Judge” in a semi-unconscious condition with a wound on the head, evidently the result of a fall. His earthly mission was soon over and the villagers are touched with sadness that so sturdy and kindly a creature should have lived and died in so pitiable a cause.

A Wakefield correspondent writing last night gives some interesting facts in Daniel Milton’s history:-

Daniel Milton (he says) was a prosperous young ship’s carpenter in New York, when Prophet Wroe was on his travels and visited that city. He was much impressed with Wroe and becoming a great man in the sect firmly believed that he was to be Wroe’s successor. There was one incident at least which gave him some ground for this belief. On being shown a house which Daniel was building in New York, Wroe said (putting his hand on Daniel’s shoulder) “It’s a fine house, Daniel, but I’m building thee a finer house in England.” Daniel was quite convinced that he was to have the house known as Prophet Wroe’s Mansion or Melbourne House. But Wroe never intended this, and when the mansion was completed and invitations were issued to all the followers to visit it, Daniel was overlooked. The reason of this is difficult to understand, unless the Prophet thought he would be trouble with him in the future. Daniel was much agitated and distressed with the slight, and came over to England. He preached to 30,000 near the Mansion. The police interfered and he then took a field for the purpose, but he was compelled to stop again.

Since that time he has crossed the Atlantic no fewer than 22 times and been in danger of shipwreck once or twice. On one occasion it is said that the vessel was considered lost, but Daniel was a giant to work and through his exertion the ship was saved. Each time that Daniel went to America he returned strong in the faith that he would possess the Mansion and control of the affairs of the sect and he was delighted when on two occasions he got possession of the keys to the lodges. The last occasion was no farther back than Monday last.

The gates of the Mansion grounds have for years been kept locked, for Daniel would have been inside had he got half a chance. He has been seen to carry a step-ladder from his house to the Mansion walls in order to look over there at his “Mecca”.

It is only fair to say that he has been a source of great annoyance to the present owners of the property and the greatest fault the man had (in this writer’s opinion) was his devilish delight in any misfortune suffered by the Wroes. He kept a list of all deaths that had occurred on the property since his exclusion from the Church.

The deathbed scene was a singular one. A makeshift bed had been made for him on the floor of his living and workroom, which was devoid of furniture, except for a stool or two. An antiquated printing press stood nearly in the centre of the room whilst on two sides were boxes of type, on another side a case containing pamphlets setting forth his grievances and in the midst lay the patriarchal form of the old man, dying in spite of his own undoubted belief he would never die.

Milton’s relations in America are well to do, a nephew of his being a judge. He was fond of relating how, on the occasion of his nephew being raised to the bench, he (Daniel) said: “You are a judge of the temporal courts, but I am a judge of the eternal courts” for Daniel had been styled Judge amongst this peculiar sect.

More articles on Daniel Milton’s many scrapes in future blogs.

 

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.