North Staffordshire Rescue Brigades

Fred Fryer 1886-1956

On the 3rd October 1955 the following notice appeared in the Evening Sentinel. “The death was announced of Mr Fred Fryer age 69years of “Claremont” Bignall End. Mr Fryer was a member of the rescue team at both the Minnie Pit, and the Holditch disasters. His last job was that of safety and training officer at Apedale colliery. He was well known in the district for his work with the St John’s ambulance brigade”. Upon reading this announcement we felt it required further investigation. The following is the result of that research.

We were blessed from the start when we found that Fred’s daughter in law Mrs Mavis Fryer still lived in the Audley area. So a meeting was arranged. Mavis is a delightful lady, and we were soon sipping tea from her best English bone china cups, and eating her chocolate biscuits. We were pleased to find that she had a number of photographs and press cuttings relating to some of the events in Fred Fryer’s life.

The first photograph above shows Fred (above extreme right) with his family it dates from 29th August 1909. By this time he was already a member of the Jamage Colliery Rescue Brigade. A photograph of the Brigade can be seen below with Fred second from the left.

One of the first incidents Fred was to attend was on Saturday the 25th of November 1911. At 09.50 an explosion occured at the Jamage mine which formed part of the Bignall Hill colliery. Soon the call went out to send for the rescue team.
At the time there were 31 persons in the mine of these 6 had been killed, and a further 14 were injured, 4 of whom were burned. At the inquest held befor Mr Hugh. W. Adams in the Wesleyan school, Audley, on the 11th of December, the jury returned a verdict of accidental death. Those killed were Fred Leese, Harry Shaw, George Cork, Enoch Edwards, Thomas Chadwick, and Joe Swingwood.
On Fred's Rescue medal there is a Bar bearing the name of Jamage colliery 1911 so undoubtedly he would have been part of the rescue.

If ever one needed proof of the bravery of men like Fred, it can be found in the 1937 Disaster at Holditch colliery. On the 2nd of July of that year whilst coal cutting on the four feet seam, sparks eminating from the under cut ignited a pocket of gas. When the flames set fire to the wooden roof supports the men were forced to withdraw from the face. Rescue teams from all over North staffs were sent for.There then followed a series of unfortunate events culminating in a massive explosion and the death of 31 men. Of these 5 were members of the Hanley Deep Rescue Brigade. They were J.W.Forrester age 40, T.Harris age 46, W.Hough age 37, S.Latham age 28,and J.Lightfoot age 33. Freds obituary in the Evening Sentinel confirm his presence at this disaster.

The photograph above shows Fred as captain of the Bignall Hill Colliery Team in 1939. This was taken some two years after the Holditch tragedy.

In late August of 1932 in a new mine that formed part of the Jamage colliery, the skeleton of a minerworker was found. At the inquest that followed the Pathologist gave the opinion that the man was between 27 and 32 years of age and had probably drowned in the Diglake inrush. Between January and March of 1933 a further two skeletons were found. At the reconviened inquest the coroner was reluctant to give a name to any of the remains, as he thought it could result in a terrible mistake. In the above photograph a group of men can be seen with a coffin used to remove the remains of one of men who perished in the Diglake disaster. Fred can be seen on the extreme left.

Further details on these and other disasters can be found on the website under disasters

The above photograph is of a group of Safety and Training Officers from the North Staffs Coalfield. We believe the photograph was taken at one of the miners hostels possibly in North Wales or Blackpool circa 1953. Fred can be seen smoking a pipe in the second row from the bottom near the left hand side.

When Fred retired as Safety-Training Officer at Apedale colliey.The Evening Sentinel recorded the event on page 8 of the late edition on the 18th of August 1954. The presentation of a clock was made by the manager of Parkhouse colliery Mr J Bull. On the inscribed brass plate it said “ Presented to Mr Fred Fryer by the officals and workmen of Apedale colliery on the occaision of his retirment 1954 ”. Mr Bull the manager at Parkhouse is in the middle of the photograph, with Fred on the left while on the right is Mr R Riley from Glasshouse colliery .

Mavis allowed us to photograph her most treasured possession, Fred’s medals. Those on the left are a silver rescue brigade medal with the bars that show the times Fred was called to an incident. From the top they are Jamage Colliery 1911, Norton 1912, Minnie pit 1915 and 1918. Sadly the 1939 Holditch bar is missing. On the right Is the St Johns Ambulance medal with bars for 1910, 1911, 1912, 1914, and 1915. There appears to be quite a number of these bars missing, as Fred was associated with the brigade right up to his death.

Allthough we have only been able to record a very small part of Freds life in this story, Mavis (above) wishes to dedicate this page to all the brave men of the North Staffordshire Rescue Brigades who for over 100 years stood ready to lay down their lives for their fellow workers

Composed and written by Mr. J. Burston and Mrs. J. Wilson