Table of contents
1. The Disaster.
2. The Aftermath & Recovery Of The Bodies
4. The Inquest
5. The Other Two Bodies
6. The Funeral
7. Pelsall Hall Colliery Fund
8. The Roll Call
9. In Memory
10. Post Script and Other Events in The Area
When the night shift came up on the morning of Thursday 14th November 1872, there was no indication of the events which were to upset the whole village of Pelsall and make it the centre of interest for whole of the Black Country area, and give the local journalists an opportunity to indulge in lurid descriptions of the events and emotions connected with the events.
Sometime before 9.00am some of the one hundred employees in Starkey and Morgan’s Pelsall Hall Colliery had come up for breakfast on the pit bank. At about 9.00am their breakfast break came to a dramatic end with cries of “pull up” from the shaft. Charles Starkey, the manager of the mine for nine months thought the cage might have fallen on someone below.
When the cage bonnet appeared, however three men were clinging to it (including Starkey and Stanley), THE MINE WAS FLOODED.
The skip was quickly lowered into the water to find men swimming indiscriminately around and climbing up any support available, keeping themselves above the water level. Some were pulled in by their hair in a spent condition. The skip was lowered again but this time into silence. Twenty-two men were still somewhere in the mine.
Pumping began immediately and went on continuously, day and night. Days and nights of raw drizzling weather, which with the large crowds attracted by the news of the disaster, made the fields and pit bank into a sea of clinging black clayey mud.
There were many mishaps, frustrations and narrow escapes during the rescue operations. In addition to the creaking of the pumping mechanism the rescuers faced the problem of Chokedamp, which lay near the floor of the mine. Messrs Ness, Starkey and Forrester were in the pit on one occasion when Ness dropped his cap into the water. He stooped to recover it inhaled the gas and had to be taken out of the mine. Ness himself had earlier pulled Starkey out of an area where Chokedamp would have killed him.
The inrush of water on that day of the disaster had brought down the roof, by washing away the supporting trees. It was necessary to insert air trows to get the Chokedamp away.
While pumping was underway the Bishop of Lichfield took morning and evening services in the church on Sunday and also addressed workers and spectators on the pit bank. The Wesleyan Minister Reverend William Winspear followed his example, while students from the theological college made collection boxes and collected from the crowd.
On Monday a fall in the water level encouraged a hope of entry into the flooded and blocked galleries. Sister Dora was invited and a schoolroom was fitted out for the reception of the bodies. In 1872 the main to Pelsall was by rail. The picture, which visitors had of Pelsall at that time, is vastly different from the one we have today.
AFTERMATH AND RECOVERY.
"The traveller can see the dense black smoke from the train. The fires at night on the pit bank highlight the disaster scene: The visitor needs to cross the common, a bare bleak spot full of swamps and pit falls. There is a road, easily found in daylight but after dark a man might find himself over head and ears in some “swag” or lying in some hole with a fractured limb or sprained joint. After the church a little lane brought one to a stile, after which two fields had to be crossed to get to the pit bank. The feet of thousands of visitors and the continuous heavy rain made it impossible to reach the pit bank without being splashed from head to feet. Even supposing one had managed to get there without falling full length”.
On Wednesday morning the final signs of hope and despair were confirmed when the pumps brought up a piece of material which turned out to be a watch pocket from a mans trousers. The watch was still in the material and it was confirmed as that of Thomas Starkey. The macabre conclusion was that his body was caught in the pumping mechanism at the bottom of the shaft. The pumping was stopped and the tank went down with messrs., Lindop, Buff and Rounds. Their fears were confirmed and the battered body of Thomas Starkey (18yrs) was brought up, to his waiting father and brothers in the pithead office.
Even by Tuesday the volunteer excavators had made a ten-yard passage along the blocked roadway and on Wednesday afternoon after the delay for the clearance of Chokedamp they reached the gate road where Michael Cash had been working at the time of the disaster. The body of Michael Cash (48yrs) was found lying behind an upturned tub, the bruise on his head showed that he had been thrown against a beam and his arm was wrapped around a prop and entangled in a horse’s reigns. It is assumed that Cash was running away from the torrent that came from his “face”. The horse had been working up one of the other gate roads and it was felt that the overturned tub and the horse hampered Cash’s escape.
At 4.20 Mr Ness took down a blanket in which the body was to be brought to the surface and carried along with that of Starkey, in a banksman’s box, to the long room at the Station Hotel. A trap provided by Mr Bamhill served as the transport.
Mr.H.Brookes, George Goring and Mr Lees went down the shaft later in the day to investigate a blockage in the passage between the two shafts. They made their way into the stables and there found the body of a 14-year-old Thomas Coleman hanging by his middle across one of the dividing poles between the stalls.
It is not really such a great coincidence that at that moment Mrs Coleman was reported to be opening the office door on the bank above. On being offered a cup of tea, she refused asking only for “my poor little boy that I may lay out his lifeless body. She had to wait but a short while for her prayer to be answered.
By Friday six days after the initial flooding the water had subsided and been pumped enough for the rescuers to search along the main engine road. The search was taking place ten yards from the shaft bottom when three of the searcher, George Goring, Thomas Lees, Enoch Jaundrill apparently frustrated with the official route moved off and found a different way into the “crop of the shallow”. This was the highest part of the workings; their decision must have caused some alarm because there was concern for their safety when they were known to have gone.
Their hazardous mission was successful however and the discovery they made was as equally unnerving, being likened by the reporter to that of the ancient Mariner. The area was dry, as the water had never reached this “refuge”. All the bodies found except one were dry and dressed to leave the pit. The other victim appeared to have made his way into the crop through the water. Ten of the men were huddled together with arms entwined either for warm or solace in what they would know to be a desperate situation. Four of the men were sitting in a tub and three other men were sitting in second one. Old man Starkey was lying with his legs inside the tub; it was assumed that he had used his experience to guide the others there. Death had come from the chokedamp, liberated with the pent up waters. Wise after the event one commentator pointed out they could have been saved had Abyssinian Tubes been inserted. There was yet one body to be accounted for, namely that of Stephen Lawton 13 years who was suspected to be buried under the debris The bodies were brought to the surface in sacks, kindly provided by Mr.S.Birch of Blakenall. Even this operation was not without hazard for the aperture through which the bodies had to be conveyed was only a few feet in width. One entrance to the crop of the shallow was half way down the shaft. The cage was stopped by a call from inside and whilst the cage was suspended over the void, the miners had to crawl out to reach the entrance hole over a two feet “space” then crawl into the tunnel in inky darkness with only the close presence of colleagues to give them security Chokedamp was still another danger; it came quickly without warning and could be affect by surface atmospheric pressure. “When the wind blows from Gornal Way, you may leave the pit and go to play”, was a common saying.
The bodies recovered were those of: -
Charles Astbury Joseph Hollis Tom Richards
George Baugh Thomas Hollis John Roberts
Charles Capewell John Hubbard John Starkey
Charles Cash Richard Hyde Thomas Starkey
George Cassel Thomas Orcutt Edward William
Frank Dilkes John Quarters.
The inquest began at the Station Inn with the bodies laid out in the large long room at the back of the Inn, long tables having been erected down both sides of the room for the reception of the bodies.
Charles Starkey reported how he had been on hand at the first signs of trouble. How he had helped to rescue the nine men including two of his sons, from the water in the shaft, which was already seven to eight feet deep. He said that earlier before coming up for breakfast there had been no more than the usual amount of water in the mine. He went on to say that most of the work of heading and stalling was in the “crop” the highest part of the mine and twelve to thirteen yards higher than the pit bottom. Thomas Davies, who had been in the mine at the time of the inrush said he heard a roaring noise from the “jigger hill” or “crop” and ran into the main road. He saw water running along and went to the bottom of the shaft. He managed to keep his head above water while the cage went up and was the last to be rescued. He confirmed Charles Starkey’s evidence that water normally flowed from Michael Cash’s work area and that it was no more than could be expected in any pit. It was drained off down an old road and it was his theory that the miners had hit an old gate road. Harry Astbury had been working thirty yards away from Michael Cash who was heading higher up the “crop”. He reported that Cash called to him “Here Harry come and look at the river Dee”. Water was coming through an opening “As thick as a mans leg” and there was another one six inches higher up the face not so thick. Astbury remarked that he had never seen such a strong flow before and remarked to Cash that he would not cut one inch of that for a sovereign. Neither sensed any immediate danger, Harry Astbury said his remark was an indication that the damp place was no good for him to be working in. Both men went back to work, fifteen minutes later a fizzing noise was heard. “It’s the water that’s broken in,” shouted Cash. Astbury ran to the main gateway, by which time the water was already so strong that it carried him to the shaft bottom.
Isaac Cash the 19-year-old son of Michael Cash, who had thus struck the fateful blow, had also been working in the “jigger hill”. The first sign of danger for him was when someone shouted, "Run”. The water in the gate road was already over his head. The day before his father’s heading had been dry;
The mine surveyor said that all his records and knowledge showed the land to be Virgin Land but he had heard an old man of ninety say that he “remembered begin told” of old shafts in the area. Starkey had taken over the pit after the lease had been granted to Isaiah Morgan in 1869 by John Smith Charles, the landowner and no mention had been made of old workings.
When the mine was cleared it was established beyond doubt that Michael Cash had broken into an old gate road running at right angles to his heading. When a Walsall reporter re-visited the pit the following summer he was take down to Cash’s heading and into the “old men’s” workings. Some of the intrepid miners had made their way along these workings as far as their bravery or foolhardiness would allow them and estimated that they had travelled underneath the Church. At one particular spot they found a small man-made recess in the roadside wall in which rested a clay pipe. Presumably this belonged to the old miner of the previous century, whose job it was to keep an eye on the nearby brick built culvert and it’s flow of water, and who made this recess to hold his personal belongings. The clay pipe was later appropriated by one of the many visitors to Mr.Starkey’s house.
Another shot hole in Cash’s heading but higher up from the floor had been drilled to within six inches of the “old men’s” workings. Had Michael Cash continued with this drilling instead of moving to another area of the fall, the results of the work may have been totally different.
Further confirmation of the age of the workings came from the timbering and the timber used. It constituted a very different method of supporting the roof.
THE OTHER TWO BODIES.
No mention is made to where the other two bodies were recovered from, these being the bodies of; - Stephen Lawton 13yrs and John
On Monday 25th November the funeral started from the long room of the Station Inn. Whither many curious sightseers had made their way to view the corpses now in a state of decomposition. The coffins were taken through the side door into a narrow lane and across the common to the church. Despite the incessant rain, hundreds of people lined the narrow passage and having recently made way for the official pallbearers, joined in the procession across the “scraggy heath”.
“For every kind of discomfort which can be found in a colliery district, Pelsall on a wet winter month cannot be easily matched yet the inhabitants must not be judged by their unfortunate surroundings”
As they crossed the “scraggy heath” the notes of the band of Bloxwich Rifle Volunteers precede the marchers coming up from Rushall. The two groups met in the middle of the common and proceeded to the Church.
Around the church and the newly built brick vault the omnibuses and carts had been so arranged that the spectators could have an orderly and reverend view of the proceedings.
Such was the interest and sympathy aroused by the disaster that after a busy week for the railway, two special trains had been put on for the funeral day. Sightseers came from all over the Black Country to the “dull dreary and desolate village with its bare bleak common of swags and pitfalls”.
As might be expected the Church was full and the coffins, a few of which had been brought from homes after lying first in the Railway Inn Mortuary, were laid down the aisle. There were twenty-one coffins to be interred. John Hubbert coming from Stubbers Green was buried along side his sister in Aldridge Church yard at his family’s request. The body of Thomas Starkey was the only one to be brought by hearse, all the others being carried there by friends.
After the service the bodies were laid in the vault, which had been so expeditiously built in such a short time by Mr.Hinton of Pelsall. Access was by way of a set of steps and a deeply sunken doorway. As the coffins were taken into the vault so there was the expected outbreak of emotion as the final material links were severed between families. The wife of John Quarter had to be restrained from flinging herself across the coffin, while Mrs. John Starkey fainted.
The reporter of the scene speaks highly of the reverence and compassion of the onlookers which perhaps surprised him considering his description of them as “not smooth in speech or fair in face or fine in dress or elegant in manners a poor simple folk, much given to drinking and pigeon flying and shirking Church and hanging about on Sundays with grimy faces and unwashed shirts”.
In the days before the welfare state the loss of the breadwinner was perhaps more than the loss of a well-loved family figure. Fifteen widows and forty-five orphans were in need of sustenance if not care. A fund was set up with Mr.B.Bloomer as Chairman and Mr.E.Shoemack as secretary. The committee consisted of Reverend J.Turner and Reverend Winspear, Messrs. W.Ness, B.Bloomer, J.Cresswell and E.Barnett, plus Messrs. North, Checkley, Parkes, Bailey, Lindop and Strongitharm.
Early contributions were recorded from: -
Mr. Jesson 100 guineas
Mr.Bloomer 100 guineas
Mr.Cresswell 25 guineas
Mr.Checkley 10 guineas
Mr.J.R.McLean 500 guineas
Mr.John.Smith-Charles had contributed £20 but it was thought that this was a printing error and the true amount was £200.
On Wednesday December 25th Bibles were presented to all men who had risked their lives in the rescue.
Some of those named in this ceremony were: -
|John Adams||George Goring|
|Joseph Baker||John Hales|
|George Ball||Enoch Jaundrill|
|George Boot||Thomas Lees|
|Thomas Bramhill||H.W Lindop|
|Herbert Bluck||William Lloyd|
|William “Bloomer” Brookes||John Rounds|
|Thomas Blower.||T Starkey|
|Henry Davies||Ben Walker|
|Thomas Davies||John Williams|
PELSALL HALL COLLIERY FUND
Each child under 14 received 2/6d per week.
Each widow until re-married or otherwise provided for received 9/6d per week.
No family was to receive more than £1 per week.
THE ROLL CALL
On the first anniversary of the Disaster the colliery, which had re-opened in March 1873, closed for the day. A procession made it’s way from the pit bank over the fields, which had been repaired by farmers and nature during the summer to a service in the church. Afterwards widows and children were given tea in the Wesley schoolrooms supervised by Mr.Barnett and Reverend Winspear.
On the second anniversary of the disaster one hundred workmen from the colliery again moved in procession from the pit to the church. It had been intended to unveil a monument over the vault but this was not quit ready. In the event when the monument was ready there was no ceremony and it’s unveiling went unmarked.
The monument consisted of two slabs of Hollingwood stone, surmounted by an obelisk of Aberdeen granite on which were cut the names of the men who died it was the work of a Wednesbury firm.
Charles Astbury 28yrs
Frank Dilkes 27yrs
Thomas Orcutt 30yrs
George Baugh 39yrs
John Heyward 38yrs
John Quarter 45yrs
Charles Capewell 89yrs
Joseph Hollis 27yrs
Tom Richards 30yrs
Charles Cash 21yrs
Thomas Hollis 28yrs
John Roberts 14yrs
Michael Cash 48yrs
John Hubbard 17yrs
John Starkey 26yrs
George Cassel 28yrs
Richard Hyde 28 yrs
Thomas Starkey 18yrs
Thomas Coleman 14yrs
Stephen Lawton 13yrs
Thomas Starkey 70yrs
Edward Williams 48yrs
Kind people listen to this tale,
Sad news you’ll hear, sad to bewail.
Through floods of water underground,
22 colliers there were drowned.
Friends and relatives still remember,
‘Twas the 14th day of November.
These men and boys whilst being worked,
They little though there danger lurked.
Thro’ flooding waters ebbing fast,
These men and boys were stopped at last.
Eight men and boys they did escape,
But 22 they met their fate.
Means were put in operation,
As could be got in any nation.
To get the water quickly down,
To get these men from underground.
These colliers sighed and bitterly cried,
But alas they perished and died.
While thousands were in great despair,
To see the waters rising there.
Those colliers’ wives did bitterly weep,
With aching hearts they could not sleep.
Weeping widows, wailing, sobbing,
Anguished souls in pain were throbbing.
Hark now those widows and orphans cried,
My husbands gone, my fathers died.
45 fatherless children alone,
This world we now for to roam.
Thousands do come from various parts,
But many stood with aching hearts.
Now kind friends have pity on them
And the Lord will return it again.
(Thomas Head – Tipton Printer and Bookbinder Great Bridge).
When the colliery was visited in the summer of the following year, the fields which had been a changing sea of mud, were growing wheat, hedges and blackberries. The colliery was re-opened in March 1873.
OTHER EVENTS CONCERNING COLLIERY’S IN
THE SAME AREA IN THE SAME YEAR 1872
On 30th November 1872 a rope broke on the cage in a pit belonging to Messrs. Barnett, Owen and Knowles. Fortunately the cage was empty after the first load had been sent down. The lucky second load was still waiting on the bank!
Again in the summer of 1872 at High Bridge Colliery, owned by Mr.E.Grapper, John Holand, William Stackhouse and Mr. Allen went to work with naked candles; they had been at work for barely ten minutes when there was a dreadful explosion of sulphur. Stackhouse was taken to hospital severely burned; the other two were wearing flannel jackets and were not so badly injured.
Eighteen months previous to this incident, two men and a fourteen-year-old boy had been buried alive in the same colliery.
This account was the sole work of one,
Reproduced by myself (Alan Dean with a few new facts added ) with new prints so as the account should not be gone and forgotten forever.
The Memorial Obelisk in Pelsall Churchyard, Church Street, Pelsall
1 The memorial obelisk and legend
2 The names
3 The names
4. The names
5 Charles Astbury
6 The Charle’s Family Tomb. (The Charle’s family leased the Colliery to Morgan and Starkey).
7 The Starkey Family Tomb.
1. 2. 3. 4.
This picture was donated by Amanda Ryder & Wendy Stanaway in loving memory of their Great Great Grandfather Charles Astbury.
Charles Astbury was born 16th May 1844, the 5th of 10 children born to John Shaw & Elizabeth Astbury nee Beech. Charles Astbury married Sarah Ann Glover on the 5th October 1868 at St Michael's church Pelsall They had two children Hannah born 1869 & William Charles born 1st September 1871.
6. Charles Family Tomb 7. Starkey Family Tomb
8. Map of Village Green
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# There is a discrepancy of two years between the report and the memorial stone in the churchyard. as too Thomas Coleman’s age (A Dean)