This is an account of an incident which took place at Sandwell Park Colliery, in the West Midlands on November 6th 1878. It is taken from the book The History of Sandwell Park Collieries, by Nigel A. Chapman.
At this time the colliery employed about 300 men.
At the start of the shift the pit cage lowered them into the mine, and at the end of the shift the cage brought them safely back to the surface.
Many visitors also rode the cage to get a glimpse of the famous Staffordshire Thick Coal.
On Wednesday November 6th 1878, a party of the North Staffordshire Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers visited Sandwell Park Colliery.
There tour was sadly marred by the death of two of the visitors. Mr. William Arnold fell out of the cage whilst riding the shaft, dragging Mr. George Barker with him.
The party had arrived at the mine just after 9 am and it was there intention to spend the morning at Sandwell Park and the afternoon at the Claycroft opencast site and Lye Cross Colliery.
They were met by John Field and James Bissell on behalf of the company and a deputation from the South Staffordshire Mining Engineers that included Harry Johnson Senior.
After Harry Johnson conducted them around the surface plant, they were taken down the shaft to see the thick Coal.
In the underground workings Harry Johnson Junior was on hand to escort people around the four and a half miles of roadway.
At 12 noon the group started back to the surface. There were seventy people in the mine and they were taken up eight at a time.
The first group were brought up with out problem, but as the engineer commenced the cage for the second group, Mr. Arnold, a heavy man, lost his balance and grabbed hold of Mr. Barker to steady himself.
Unfortuneately Mr. Arnold continued to fall and pulled Mr. Barker into the shaft. They fell about 20 yards into the sump at the bottom of the shaft.
Henry Johnson junior did his best to get the injured out and put himself at risk when he climbed down into the sump to find the men. Both had received fatal injuries, but he did his best to get them to the surface quickly.
The inquest was held at Sandwell Colliery on the Friday of that week.
Both Mr. Johnsons attended. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, but then suggested that cage should be guarded all around and chains should be provided for people visiting the mine.
Mr. Henry Johnson, Senior, Stated that the recommendations would be carried out.
The Thick coal seam of South Staffordshire
This was one of the reasons for the visit to Sandwell colliery.
The thick coal is composed of a number of beds of coal, varying from eight to fourteen feet, resting directly upon one another or separately by thin beds of shale.
Each of the beds has a distinct geological character and could be easily recognised by the Owd Men.
These beds have been distinctive names, peculiar to the parts of the coalfield in which they have been worked.
The lowest bed was called the Humphreys, Benches or Holers.
The Roofs was sometimes called the top floor, the Spires was also known as the Top Slipper.
While the White coal was divided into Jays and lambs and sometimes where this occurred the lowest was sometimes called the lambs and the upper White coal.
Sometimes the Veins were the Slips or the John coal, the Fine coal was also the Foot coal and the Heath coal was often called the Tow coal.
At Sandwell Park Colliery,
The Thick Coal consisted of the following section:-
The Thick coal was to be found at its best in the Dudley and Oldbury areas; here it reached the great thickness of thirty feet or ten yards, being the widest coal seam found in the country.
Local Name ft. in. Roofs Coal 1 6 Top Slipper 1 8 White Coal 1 10 Lambs 1 6 Tow Coal 2 2 Brazils 1 6 Top Foot Coal 1 0 Bottom Foot Coal 0 10 Slips 2 0 Hard Stone Parting 0 4 Stone Coal 2 4 Patchells 0 8 Sawyer 2 0 Slipper 2 6 Batt 0 3 Benches 2 0 Total 24 1
It was often called the ten yard seam and provided the basis for industries of the Black Country.
To the north it was cut off east to west by the Bentley fault.
When the coal eventually rises again it became the Cannock Field, but it was now split up into many separate seams.
To the east and west of Dudley the seam gradually thinned and broke up into a number of seams making the coal uneconomic to work.
Hamstead and Sandwell Park were the only collieries to have succeeded in working the deep coal along the boundary.
To the west the deep sinking of Baggeridge Colliery at the turn of the century was the only colliery to work along the boundary.
To the south collieries worked the Thick Coal as two sections with a shale parting in the Halesowen area.
Further south not only did the coal go deep but the seam again separated into several thin seams.
This is the account taken from the Staffordshire Sentinel
Dated Saturday 9th November 1878. Page 6.
Shocking Fatality at Sandwell Park Collieries.
We exceedingly regret having to record a sad and fatal termination to the excursion of the North Staffordshire Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers made on Wednesday to Sandwell Park Collieries.
Between 60 and 70 gentlemen went to Smethwick in a saloon carriage for the purpose of inspecting the Sandwell Park Colliery.
The colliery was reached and examined in safety, but there occurred a lamentable accident which completely spoilt the day, both as to its pleasure and interest, for as a section of the company were ascending in a cage.
Mr. George Barker, of the Union Foundry, Kidsgrove, and Mr. William Arnold, of the firm, Arnold and Garside, of the North Staffordshire Carriage Works Stoke, slipped out of the cage, and received such injuries that death ensued, to the great grief of the party.
From the particulars we have been able to obtain it appears that it was at a special request of the North Staffordshire Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers that the arrangements were made for a visit to the colliery.
The party having arrived at Smethwick were met by the President of Dudley Institute (Mr. W. North, the Mayor of Dudley,) the Vice-President (Mr. Harry Johnson,) the Secretary (Mr. Alexander Smith), and the members of the Council.
After inspecting the whole of the surface plant, which was described by Mr. Harry Johnson, the engineer, the party partook of luncheon, and then descended the pits.
After examining the extensive pit bottom arrangements they proceeded into the workings, where they were shown a very large extent in operation.
The place was lighted up with coloured fires, and was witnessed with great interest by the members.
The signal was then given for returning to meet the train at Smethwick at 12-34 and some of the party having arrived at the pit bottom before the others, and being desirous to catch the train proceeded to be drawn to the surface.
The second cage load (in batches of eight) having started by proper signal, and having got about 20 yards up the shaft, Mr. Arnold and Mr. Barker tumbled backwards out of the cage and fell head foremost into the inset.
Mr. Arnold sustained a bad fracture of the skull and other frightful injuries which at once rendered him insensible and in about a quarter of an hour he expired in the pit.
His body was immediately taken to the bank and placed in the companys office.
Mr. Barker fell into the sump great consternation ensued amongst those members of the Institute, who had arrived at the pit bottom, and ladders, and ropes and chains were immediately sought in all directions and there was great danger for the moment of the rescuers losing their lives.
Mr. Henry Johnson, jnr.-without a moments hesitation jumped in climbed down the conducting rods, and held Mr. Barker whilst the rope was passed down and put it around his body, he was drawn up into the inset.
He was found to be dreadfully injured, and his skull being fractured, his right leg broken in three or four places, and his ribs were also badly fractured.
He died in two hours after he had been removed to the office.
Major Strick, the President of the North Staffordshire Institute, and Mr. Richard Haines, the secretary, were at the bottom of the shaft when the cage was signalled to start.
It is said that the accident was in no way attributable to the defective character of the winding apparatus at the pit.
The apparatus consists of a double-decked cage, made to hold two trucks on each platform, and works a slide, which keeps it comparatively steady while in motion.
The safety of the apparatus has been sufficiently tested in the past, about 300 men being lowered and raised every day, and upwards of a thousand persons, including ladies, have entered the mine for purpose of inspection without a single accident having taken place.
The theory of the accident is that one of the deceased gentlemen became giddy, and losing his balance slipped off the platform.
In doing so grasped the other, who was near him and both fell to the bottom of the shaft, a distance of about twenty yards.
Mr. Barker fell into the sump which contained about eighteen inches of water, and was almost immediately extricated, in a dying state. Mr. Arnold, whose skull was terribly fractured, fell on the iron plates, and died almost as soon as he was brought to the surface, but Mr. Barker lingered in great agony for more than two hours.
The sad event was telegraphed in the afternoon to friends of the deceased gentlemen in North Staffordshire.
Much excitement was occasioned by the occurrence, and the tidings quickly spread through the district, causing a large number of persons to assemble in the vicinity of the pit.
The prevailing opinion to the accident is that Mr. Arnold who was a heavy man slipped, and in his attempt to recover himself he dragged Mr. Barker out of the cage with him.
On no other ground can it be supposed that they fell out of the cage, 10 ft. long and 4ft 6ins wide, and well fenced in on both sides.
The other occupants were Mr. C.W. Bourne, Mr. Turner, Mr. Needham, Mr. Statham and Mr. Beswick the last three are from North Staffordshire.
Mr. Arnold leaves a widow, and four children, and Mr. Barker leaves a widow and seven children.
A meeting was held in the companys hovel immediately after the accident, when Major Strick, in the presence of the visitors, said he should take the opportunity to give Mr. Johnson a honest assurance that the sad accident had happened entirely through the want of caution on the part of the deceased gentlemen and not from any fault of the signalling, the machinery, or the officials.
The committee expressed their appreciation of Major Stricks remarks and further expressed their gratification of Major Stricks heroic conduct of Mr. Johnson jun. in risking his own life in an attempt to rescue Mr. Barker.
The news of the sad accident caused great consternation in Kidsgrove, as both gentlemen were well known, and Mr. Barker. Who had been for a number of years a large employer of labour, and was well respected.
The third excursion of the members of this institute for the present year took place on Wednesday, and unfortunately attended with a sad fatality which suddenly cut short the proceedings of the day.
This is the account Taken from the Staffordshire Advertiser
Dated Saturday November 9th 1878.
North Staffordshire Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers. Shocking Fatality.
A party of about seventy gentlemen including Mr. Strick the president, Mr. J.G. Bakewell, the treasurer, and Mr. J.R. Haines, the secretary of the Institute left Stoke-on-Trent in saloon carriages by an early train in the morning for the purpose of visiting some mines in South Staffordshire.
Alighting at Smethwick station they were met by a deputation from South Staffordshire and east Worcestershire Institute consisting of Mr. William North, the president, Mr. Harry Johnson, sen., vice-president: And Mr. Alexander Smith C.E. secretary, and were conducted to Sandwell Park colliery.
Mr. Harry Johnson, who was the promoter of the company and is the engineer under whom the workings had been laid out.
He showed them first the surface plant, and then the underground workings.
The surface plant consists of a pair of 36in. horizontal high pressure engines, 6ft. stroke, equilibrium valves, 18ft. drums (by Coupe, of Wigan) worked by eight cylindrical boilers 40ft. long by 5ft. 6in. diameter, with a chimney stack 203ft. high 8ft square on the inside.
The headgear is of pitch pine 60ft high, carrying two 16ft. round rope pulleys.
The water which was at one time 650 gallons per minute is now only about 30, and is pumped by a 45in. condensing beam engine from a depth of 230 yards by three lifts of 13in. pumps.
There is a 25ft. high pressure winding engine. There is an endless chain hauling incline to canal wharf, 600 yards long, extensive loading accommodation to canal wharf and railway siding.
New underground endless chain-hauling appliances, and a 35ft. diameter Waddle fan and driving engine are nearly completed.
The winding pit bottom is belld out to 20ft. brick arch and 16ft. 6in. high with six rings in the invert and seven rings of bricks in the side walls and crown.
The cages are double decked and raise four tubs a time, the net lowering being about 50 cwt.
Mr. Johnson, and Mr. John Field, gave explanations to the formation of the company, the extent of the workings, and the fears experienced and the hopes realised during the progress of sinking and proving the coal.
It appears that the colliery comprises of 1,700 acres lying along the eastern boundary fault of the South Staffordshire Coalfield and the Permian formation.
Until the trial sinking commenced it had been generally looked upon as extremely doubtful ground, and several boring had been put down in that neighbourhood, but without making any discovery of coal measures.
Mr. Harry Johnson, having made satisfactory arrangements with Lord Dartmouth for making a trial sinking in search of coal formed the present company, and after five years of difficult sinking discovered the thick or ten yard coal at a depth of 418 yards.
Upwards of four and a half miles is now driven out in that seam.
The east and west boundaries of the estate have been reached: a gate road is now been driven to the north 1,790 yards, the coal still continuing, and upwards of 500 acres may have been already been proved., the thickness averaging about eight and a half yards.
Upwards of 4,000 statute tons per week is now being raised from one shaft, and is readily disposed of by rail, land sale and canal with which the colliery is in direct communication.
The upcast or pumping pit is 10ft. in diameter and the winding or downcast shaft is 15ft. in diameter.
After three explanations had been given the party then descended the pit.
Mr. Johnson acted as guild, and after showing the stables and other places near the shaft he then led the visitors to the west boundary distance of about 800 yards, partly along a level and partly up a steep incline.
Here was a large working chamber, and here where the coal is got at the thickest part of the seam.
The sides of the roadways, the roofs and the floors all appear to be solid coal. Down the centre is a row of solid pillars of coal 10 yards square (to be reduced to 5 yards square hereafter) 10 yards apart for the protection of the roof, with roadways cut out 10 yards wide on either side. The seam being non-fiery, naked lights were used, and on the arrival of the party, the open lamps which they carried were orderd to be extinguished and the extensive chamber was dimly lit by a few candles. At a given signal the scene was quickly changed, the chamber was brilliantly illuminated by coloured lights, and the visitors were brought face to face with the thickest seam of coal which is being worked in England. A brief stay there sufficed and the visitors returned to the pit bottom. Mr. Johnson gave the strictest instructions to the doggy that until he returned no one was to be permitted leave the pit. The doggy disregarded this order, and unfortunately the result was fatal to two gentlemen of the party. Several gentlemen reached the pit bottom before Mr. Johnson, and eight of them entered the upper deck of the cage, only that number allowed to ascend or descend at one time. The signal was given and the cage was drawn up. Soon after it passed the inset probably 30 yards from the bottom, Mr. William Arnold of the firm Arnold and Garside, railway waggon builders, Cliff Vale, Stoke-on-Trent, who was one at the end of the cage, fell on to the metal surrounding the sump. His skull was fractured. He bled profusely from the head and nose and expired in a few minutes. Unfortunately, in falling he dragged with him Mr. George Barker engineer, Kidsgrove, who was precipitated into the sump some fifteen feet lower. Every effort was promptly made to rescue him, and there being little water in the sump he was saved from drowning. He was however found that in falling he come in contact with the frame work and was seriously injured. He was conveyed to the pit bank, and Mr. Brown, surgeon, Smethwick, attended him. It was discovered that his ribs were smashed on one side, and from the first, little hope was entertained of his recovery. He died about two and a half hours afterwards. Arrangements had been made for the visiting the open workings of Lord Dudley at Clay Croft, where the open seam is 14 yards thick, and the Lye Cross pits at Rowley, but the unfortunate event above recorded completely closed the proceedings of the visitors as a body. The sad news rapidly spread to North Staffordshire, where the deceases are well known and much respected.
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