On Saturday morning Mr R.G. Meggison, deputy coroner, held an inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of Ford, at the offices of the works, Mr J.J. Saxton being foreman of the jury.
Mr Marcus Westfield, Mr Edward Knaftmeir, managing director of the Chilworth Gunpowder Company Limited and Mr John Ault, manager of the Fernilee Mills, were present.
The Coroner having made reference to the sad accident from the information received from the police, the jury proceeded to view the body, after which the following evidence was adduced:
Job Ford said he was a labourer, and lived at Barmoor Clough, near Chapel-en-le-Frith, and the deceased was his son. He was a carter and was 24 years of age.
The body viewed by the jury was that of his son, and he had been informed that he died the day before.
Elizabeth Ann Wilson said she was the wife of Matthew Wilson, and lived at Bottom Lodge, Fernilee. She knew the deceased, and saw him pass her house on Friday morning at about half-past nine o’clock. He was in care of a horse attached to a cart at the time. She spoke to him. She knew the horse was used to “shying”, and required to be kept well in hand. The deceased was in the cart when she saw him, and she did not see him again alive.
Robert Harrison said he was employed at the Fernilee Powder Mills, and was called a “corning house man.” He knew the deceased, and had done so for about two months. He saw him alive at about half-past eight on Friday morning, as he was walking through the factory yard. Witness was again in the yard at a few minutes before ten o’clock and heard someone say “Tom Ford is killed.” He at once ran to a spot about 30 yards from the bridge, and saw the body of the deceased lying by the roadway, and he examined it. It was lying several feet from the wall.
At this point the witness fainted, and had to be removed from the room.
The Coroner said they would next take the statement of Edward Taylor, the foreman of the works.
The Foreman: I think it is desirable that the directors be absent, or I don’t think we shall get at the truth. The gentlemen named withdrew.
Edward Taylor was called in and sworn. He was examined at great length, both by the Coroner and jury, and in the course of his evidence said there were two explosions on August 31. They occurred almost simultaneously. He ran up to see what was the matter, and found the mills on fire, and threw water on the burning woodwork. In some cases the timber was blown 100 yards.
He heard two girls scream, and some one say “Tom Ford is Killed.”
By the Coroner: A young man had hold of the deceased, and said he was dead. The horse was a timid one. The explosion caused the horse to run away. He did not know what caused the explosion.
Cross examined: “Had been there five years and during that time there had been three ‘individual’ explosions at these same mills. Last March there was an explosion, but not at the incorporating mills. There was a Government inquiry. The cause of that explosion was said ‘to be between the mechanic and the girls.’ (The mechanic and one of the girls were killed.) At eight o’clock on Friday morning he put into the mills a “green” charge that was 60 lbs of raw material. Two runners went round at the rate of ten revolutions a minute.”
The Coroner: “Do you think that the rapidity of the motion would cause a spark?”
“You would think so to go and work amongst gunpowder”. Continuing, witness said the material was wetted, but not “deluged” with water when in the mill. He could not suggest anything as to what the explosion was attributable to. Some men had been discharged from the works through a bother with Mr Ault, the manager. A complaint was made to witness that a plough in the mill was defective. It was the joiner’s business to make the new ploughs. They were made of wood. He knew there had been a plough in the shop, made for this particular mill, some time. It was made in consequence of his (witness) having spoken to Mr Ault a fortnight ago. It was Mr Ault’s fault it was not put in.
This joiner was discharged the day before the explosion.
The Coroner: “Who forbade it being put on?”
Witness: “Mr Ault”.
The Coroner: “How do you know?”
Witness: “The joiner told me so, Sir. He said Mr Ault would not let him put it on because it was not to his fancy”.
The Coroner: “Did you suggest that this explosion was consequent upon the defective state of the plough?” Witness: “No. The plough was working in good order at a quarter to eight”.
The Foreman of the Jury: “I maintain that it fell off whilst the machine was going before the explosion and lodged where it now is and caused the friction”.
The Coroner: “And grating on the ironwork generated sparks, and caused the explosion.”
The Foreman of the Jury: “Yes”.
The Coroner: “You are fairly of opinion that that defective plough did not cause the explosion?” Witness: “I was not up there when the explosion occurred. I could have told you had I been up there”.
The Foreman asked if the discharged carpenter was a good workman.
The Coroner: “Do you suggest that a new plough was essential to the safety of the mill?”
The Foreman: “Yes Sir, I do”.
John Ault said he was manager of the works, and had been so for seven years.
The Coroner: “During the time you have been here how often have these explosions taken place; I mean at the mills?”
Witness at first said he could not say from memory, and then remarked, “I dare say seven or eight times.” He had no idea of the origin of the present explosion.
The Coroner: “It has been hinted that the imperfect condition of the plough would cause friction, which would create sparks”.
Witness: “In what way?”
The Coroner: “You must not ask me.”
Witness said those who suggested that should suggest the cause.
The Coroner: “You must answer the question which has been put”.
Witness admitted that his attention was called to the defective character of the plough a fortnight or three weeks before the explosion.
The Coroner asked: “Didn’t you receive a communication from Taylor that the plough was defective, and did you not prohibit a new plough being used?”
Witness: “I shall not answer it unless you give me a chance of putting it straight”.
The Coroner: “It is not for you to say whether you will answer me. You are here to speak the truth, and if you tell me you won’t answer a question I have a very severe remedy which I will be exceedingly sorry to put in force. Did Mr Taylor tell you the plough was defective?”
The Coroner: “Very well; why could you not have said so?” Witness added that he objected to the plough because it was not made right.
The Coroner, addressing the jury, said they had no person to suggest that the defect of the plough was the cause of the explosion, and even if it had been so the result was too remote to in any way implicate the company criminally.
The Foreman: “We have not sufficient evidence before us to show how the explosion occurred. I think there should be a further inquiry”.
A Juror: “There have been four accidents since last March”.
Another Juror: “It is necessary that it should be put a stop to save human life”.
Several Jurymen said they thought the verdict was not strong enough.
The Coroner: “The jury say that the explosion by which the said accident occurred is attributable to culpable neglect in the management of the Powder Mills at Fernilee”. (Voices: “That is something like.”)
The resolution was put to the Court, that the verdict be thus recorded. And it was carried unanimously.
Mr Westfield entered the room, and was told what the verdict was. He said it was a monstrous thing that they should be unrepresented and not allowed to say a single thing.
Mr Kroftmeir said it would at once be put into the hands of their solicitors.