The Accident and its Aftermath

Brick Kiln Leasow was a very old mine, probably sunk in the 1790s, and closed in the 1890s. It was 720ft (over 200m) deep and was known locally as the Lane Pit after an even older pit to which it connected. It was largely an ironstone mine and another local name for it was the ‘Crawstone’ – a type of sandstone in which ironstone is disseminated throughout the seam providing the richest source of ore. Much of the ironstone mined there was transported in small horse-drawn trucks running on light rails and used to feed the furnaces at Blists Hill.

At 5.40pm on Tuesday 27th September 1864 nine Madeley miners, six of them only boys, began their ascent to the surface of the pit at the end of their shift. They were being raised by a crude apparatus known as ‘the doubles’. It comprised a central chain about 3m long to which were attached four chain circles one above the other so that each provided two ‘seats’ one on either side of the central chain. At the top of the main chain was a hook with a safety catch and, between it and the topmost pair of ‘seats’ was an iron canopy, ‘the bonnet’, designed to protect the seated men from falling debris. The upper end of the central chain passed through the bonnet and its hook engaged with a ring attached to the end of the winding chain from the engine. Responsibility for ensuring a proper connection between hook and ring lay with the ‘banksman’ on the surface for the descent and with the ‘hooker-on’ at the bottom of the shaft for the ascent. On this occasion the ‘hooker-on’ was Benjamin Davies – one of the victims. The ‘banksman’ for this shift was one William Wallett – almost certainly the son of Edward one of the nine miners who lost their lives.

When the men were about half-way up, the engine-man (who was on the surface pulling them up) felt the winding-chain slacken and realised immediately that they must have plunged to their deaths. He stopped the engine and hurried to the pithead although he knew there was no hope that anyone could survive. The painful task of recovering the bodies then had to be undertaken. The base of the shaft was covered by six-inch (ca. 15cm) thick oak planks. Below these was the pit sump in which water collected. The planks had broken because of the force of the fall and the mutilated bodies had to be recovered by means of a drag from the 4m of water which had accumulated in the sump.

The inquest began at the George and Dragon public house in Madeley Wood, the day after the disaster, but was postponed to allow the funeral to take place and eventually opened on Monday 3rd October at Waterloo Street Police Station in Ironbridge. It was soon clear that all of the equipment had been in good working order and it was concluded that the hook and ring had not been engaged properly. A verdict of Accidental Death was returned. It seems likely that human error on the part of the ‘hooker-on’, Benjamin Davies, played a part, but he was dead. Was the fact that nine men, rather than the permitted maximum of eight, were being hauled up another factor? Edward Wallett and John Tranter who were responsible for management of the underground workings were also among the victims. Perhaps they had felt that the fact that six of the miners were young lads would compensate for the numerical overloading of the apparatus.

The funeral took place at St. Michael’s Church, Madeley on Saturday 1st October. Over 400 miners, together with about 100 relatives and friends, made up the funeral procession. It was estimated that a further 2,000 attended the Church Service which was read by the Vicar of Madeley, Reverend G E Yate. As the coffins were being placed along the aisle the organist played the ‘Dead March’ from Saul.

The dead were placed in individual coffins in a communal grave. Each coffin was provided with a cast-iron cover bearing the initials of the person buried beneath it. A stone memorial tablet recorded the names and ages of the victims and included two quotations from scripture.

The Madeley Wood Company, which owned the pit, covered all the funeral expenses and provided financial assistance to the dead miners’ families.

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