14 October 1905
TERRIBLE AFFAIR AT WHALEY BRIDGE
THREE MEN KILLED
Last evening a painful sensation was caused in Whaley Bridge by the report of a sad catastrophe at a disused colliery at Longhalls, a couple of miles from the town.
As far as can be ascertained, Mr John Walker had obtained the right to re-open and work the mine, which was covered with a large quantity of refuse.
This had been removed, and he, with his son and a young man, were working at the mouth of the old pit when the earth above them gave way, and they were smothered to death. It was also feared last night that another young man who was working at the place had lost his life. All the men are highly respected in the town, and consternation reigned when the sad tidings became known.
The area surrounded by blue is where the pit was.
21 October 1905
AWFUL CATASTROPHE AT WHALEY BRIDGE
THREE MEN BURIED ALIVE
NARROW ESCAPE OF THREE OTHERS
SON DIES CLINGING TO HIS FATHER
INQUEST OPENED AND ADJOURNED
The quiet peaceful life of the inhabitants of the peak is sometimes shaken to its core by some dreadful catastrophe, and as very briefly stated in our last issue, one occurred near Whaley Bridge on Thursday evening. The circumstances are of a particularly sad and distressing nature, three lives being lost, while others on the spot had narrow escapes.
Situated at Horwich End and close to the Buxton-Road is an old colliery, which was abandoned many years ago. The entrance to the workings was filled up with ashes: in fact it was used as a public tip, and quite a hill of ashes had accumulated. Mr John Walker, who resides at Bings Knowl, Whaley Bridge, is an old collier, and has several sons, young men, also colliers, and in the hope of making a nice business for them, had made an arrangement for resuming the working of the pit, which formerly was carried on by Messrs L. & E. Hall, of New Mills, who had several collieries in the district, including the Beard and Jow Hole.
This colliery on Buxton-road was not abandoned because the coal was exhausted. It is well known there is plenty of coal and of a good quality. Mr Walker is a collier of considerable experience, and he and several others were engaged on Thursday in making excavations with a view to finding the entrance to the colliery workings. This work had been going on for some time previously, and it was intended to erect a retaining wall of stone to prevent any collapse, and a good deal of material was already on the spot for this purpose, including many railway sleepers. Unfortunately this work had not been commenced because sufficient excavating had not been done. The tunnel is about four hundred yards long, and goes not only in Buxton-road, but in the direction of Shallcross Hall. There is another tunnel in connection with the same mine, which is also covered by the same tip.
Naturally enough other colliers in the district were much interested in the
enterprise of Mr Walker and his sons, and on Thursday, as some of them were keeping holiday, they went to Horwich End to see how the work was progressing. Those included Mr Richard Walker, brother of Mr John Walker, aged 53 years, and Samuel Moseley Walker, aged 19 (son of Mr Richard Walker), and Harry Woolley, aged 18, a widow's son, all of them residing on Bings Knowl, near Mr Jon Walker, and colliers at the Gisborne Pit, Whaley Bridge. These three were standing on the spot, at the foot of the hill of ashes. The workmen were emptying their wheelbarrows a short distance away when the entire heap came down with a crash, and in an instant all three were buried alive.
On turning round and realising what had occurred by the sudden disappearance of the three men the workmen were horrified. Another young man named John Walker, son of Mr Jon Walker, was buried with the exception of his head. An alarm was immediately raised and a large number of men set to work to dig the men out. Colonel Hall J.P., of Horwich House, had been on the self-same spot only about ten minutes before and had a slip occurred at that time he would have assuredly met with the same fate. His bleach works, the Botany, are close by, and immediately he heard of the accident he stopped practically the whole works and sent his workmen to rescue. With an almost frantic energy the men worked to find the unfortunate victims in a heavy rain, but nearly two hours elapsed before the bodies were found. At last the brave rescuers came upon the body of Mr Richard Walker, in an upright position, but quite dead. That of his son was found underneath or behind. He had one arm round his father’s body clinging to him. They were reverently placed on the bank, and the search renewed for the youth, Harry Woolley. He was found dead lower down in the hole, also in an upright position.
The young man, Jon Walker, who was buried with the exception of his head, was soon extricated. Dr’s Allan and Welch were on the spot to render any assistance which they could in the way of artificial respiration, etc., for it was hardly likely the men would be bruised or mangled,
the material on the tip being simply ashes. The men had been imprisoned so long however that any attempt at artificial respiration would only have been futile. The rescue work had to be carried on with caution and under great difficulty, because they were buried at a considerable depth, probably 30 feet, and there was the danger of further slips. There was a large crowd on the spot and in the intense excitement it was only with difficulty that they were kept back. Hundreds of people visited the scene during the weekend.
Another young man, named Fred Holford, who was visiting the scene of operations, was nearer the tunnel mouth but instead of being buried like the others he was forced into the tunnel mouth by the mass of falling debris. He was imprisoned in the tunnel mouth, but with a great presence of mind he kept scratching and scratching until he got a road through for ventilation and ultimately got out.
The list of killed is:
Richard Walker, aged 53.
Samuel Mossley Walker, his son, aged 19
Harry Woolley, aged 18.
The Walker family are greatly respected in Whaley Bridge and great consternation prevailed when news of the sad calamity spread. The utmost possible sympathy is felt for Mrs Walker, who in a moment lost her husband and son, and for Mrs Woolley, the widowed mother who has lost her son when but a youth. Mr John Walker and his sons were terribly upset to think that their enterprise, almost at the outset, should have been overshadowed and saddened by this terrible calamity, and the loss of their relatives and a friend, comrades in the same arduous and dangerous work of miners. The bodies were reverently moved to the White Horse Hotel, there to await the Coroner's inquiry.
OPENING OF THE INQUEST
The inquest was opened at the White Horse Hotel, Horwich End, on Friday evening by Mr Sydney Taylor, coroner for the High Peak, and a jury of which Mr James Nixon was chosen foreman.
The Coroner said that before he asked the jury to take the oath he wished to make sure that none of them were connected with the particular work the men were performing. He did not know whether any of them came from the Cheshire side of the village or not. If they did, they were not bound to serve. If any of them resided on the Cheshire side and they objected to serve, he asked them to say so now, and he would relieve them.
P.C. Rains: They all live on the Derbyshire side, sir.
Mr James Nixon was chosen foreman of the jury, who were then sworn.
The Coroner: I am afraid it is too late to see anything of the place where this occurred.
P.C. Rains: Yes sir, it is too dark.
The Coroner said he was just going to take evidence of identification to give the necessary orders for these men to be buried, and then adjourn the inquiry to some day next week mutually convenient. He wanted to give notice to the Inspector of Mines, as this was a place that came under his jurisdiction. Inasmuch as the men were not employed in the mine, it was not likely the inspector would attend the inquiry. Still, he would like to give him the opportunity of doing so.
The bodies having been viewed, the first witness called was Mrs Walker, widow of Mr Richard Walker. She entered the room, assisted by the police, weeping bitterly, exclaiming "Oh dear! Oh dear!" and seemed almost prostrated with grief. She appeared scarcely to realise the questions put to her by the Coroner, and only answered one or two in monosyllables. The Coroner, sympathising with her, was as brief as possible, and with the assistance of P.C. Rains quickly disposed of this most painful part of the inquiry. The effect of Mrs Walker's evidence was that two of the bodies which the jury had just viewed were those of her husband and son, Richard and Samuel Walker. They resided at Bings-Knowl, were both colliers, and aged 53 and 19 respectively.
Mrs Woolley also wept bitterly as she came into the room to give evidence of identification of her son. She stated that she resided in Bings-Knowl. The body that the jury had viewed was that of her son, Harry Woolley, who was 18 years of age last August, and was a collier.
The Coroner said he proposed to adjourn the inquiry until two o'clock next Friday afternoon, subject, of course, to what the jury had to say.
There was no objection to this, and the inquiry was accordingly adjourned to the time stated.
The Coroner: The only thing I can accept in lieu of your attendance is a medical certificate.
FUNERAL OF THE VICTIMS
THE VILLAGE IN MOURNING
Whaley Bridge has experienced some sad days in the past, and the whole village has gone into mourning over some lamentable catastrophes in which respected residents have been suddenly launched out of time into eternity, but no sadder day was ever known in the history of the place than Monday, when the mortal remains of the three unfortunate men who met their deaths in such an awful manner on Thursday , were laid in their last resting place in the graveyard adjoining the Fernilee Wesleyan Chapel. Mr Richard Walker was a very quiet, unassuming man, but universally respected. For many years and up to the time of his death he was the groundsman for the Whaley Bridge Cricket Club, and in this capacity was known to all frequenters of the ground. He was also a member of the Spring Bank Chapel, and a most devout worshipper there; in fact, only on the Tuesday before his death he attended a service and took a very fervent and active part. The two other young men, or youths, had not attained the age at which they could take any particularly active part in the corporate life of the village or any of its institutions. Samuel Walker was connected with the football club, and both he and Harry Woolley were much respected and esteemed by all who knew them.
In view of this and the tragic circumstances under which they met their deaths, and which had created a profound sensation, it was only fitting that Monday should be observed as a day of universal mourning. All along the route by which the cortege went the shutters of tradesmen were closed and the blinds of the cottage windows were drawn. The leaves on the trees, nipped by the previous night's frost, fell in showers to the ground as if to join in the expression of sorrow and to add to the gloom of the occasion the sun was partially hidden by the mist. The atmosphere was very chilly, and combined with the emotions produced by the sight of the cortege approaching half-a-mile in length, many had white, sad looking faces and felt an eerie creeping sensation.
A large and sympathetic crowd assembled on Bings Knowl, where all three of the deceased men resided. Arrangements had been made for all the funerals to take place at the same time and for the interment to be in the same graveyard. Service was conducted at the house of Richard and Samuel Walker by Messrs Wm Wright and Chas Turnock, and at the house of Harry Woolley by Messrs W. Wright and Jos. Knowles. Many were moved to tears as the three coffins were borne from the respective houses and reverently placed in the funeral cars with glass sides. All along the Old Turns-Road little knots of people gathered. And a large crowd awaited the cortege on arriving at Buxton-road, and also at the junction of the roads at Horwich End. Business was practically at a standstill, and tradesmen assembled to pay their last tribute of respect. Instinctively as the mourners came in view heads were bared in the presence of sorrow stricken relatives, and if public expressions of sympathy could do anything to assuage their grief, then Whaley Bridge people did all that possibly could be done in that direction. All the distance of two miles to the Fernilee Wesleyan Chapel there were the same expressions of deep sympathy, and a crowd of between two and three hundred assembled near the chapel.
At the head of the procession marched sixty-five colliers from the Gisborne Pit where all the deceased were employed. These included Wesley Harvey (under-manager), J. Oscroft, G. Rhodes, F. Stones, James Wain, Jos. Turner, Geo. Morris, Herbert Jodrell, Benj. Hill, F. Ford, J. Ashmore, H. Ashmore, Jno. Ashmore, Charles Bagshaw, Herbert Dranfield, Stephen Jodrell, Michael Heerey, Fred Williamson, Geo. Turnock, Jos. Vere, A. Jodrell, Jno. Dranfield, Frost, Jno. Fox, Jno. Hill, Hall and Bagshaw. Then came the hearse containing the remains of Mr Richard Walker alongside of which walked Messrs J.M. Kinder, Charles Turnock, Thomas Wild, Jos. Knowles, Geo. Pierce and Enoch Shatwell, representing Spring Bank Baptist Church and who also acted as bearers.
Next was the hearse with the remains of Samuel Moseley Walker and alongside this were Messrs Leonard Kinder, Robert Ward, Jno. Walker, Richard Walker, Jos. Barnes and Reuben Clayton, representing Spring Bank Sunday School, and also acting as bearers.
Following were four coaches containing the private mourners: These were:-
First coach: Mrs Walker, Miss Mary
Ann Walker, Miss Jane Walker, Miss Harriet Walker, Mr Richard Walker, Mr Joe Walker, Mrs Moseley.
Second coach: Mr and Mrs Walter Jodrell, Mr and Mrs Shatwell, Mr and Mrs Matthew Barber.
Third coach: Mrs and Mrs Jno. Walker, Mrs Hill, Mr and Mrs Dawson, Mr Tom Moseley.
Fourth coach: Mr and Mrs Jno. Goddard, Mr and Mrs A. Goddard, Mrs Thompson, Mrs Wm Southern and Mrs Wild. About fifty friends and representatives of institutions came next on foot. Many were people attached to the Spring Bank Chapel, including Mr Jno. Trickett (superintendent of the Sunday school), Mr J. Fox, Mr J. Barnes, Mr &and Mrs W. Jones, Mr James Potts, secretary of the Whaley Bridge Cricket Club represented that institution, and Mr J. Wesley Lomas, the Sons of Temperance, with which Samuel Walker was identified.
The hearse containing the remains of Harry Woolley followed. Alongside walked Messrs W Bennett, E. Bennett, J.R. Bennett and W. Mycock, cousins of the deceased, who were bearers.
The mourners who were conveyed in coaches were: Mrs Woolley, Mr Arthur Woolley, Mr Raymond Woolley, Mr Charles Woolley, Mr Samuel Woolley, Mr Fred Woolley, Miss Bertha Woolley, Mrs Raymond Woolley, Mr and Mrs Paul Woolley, Mr Samuel Woolley, Mr and Mrs Frank Bennett, Mr and Mrs Wilmot, Mr Charles Pountain, the Misses Pountain, and Mr and Mrs Albert Taylor.
So great was the crowd which had assembled at the chapel that the doors had to be kept locked until the mourners had taken their seats. These practically filled the little edifice and some two or three hundred people were unable to gain admittance. The remains of Mr Richard Walker were placed on the right side of the rostrum, those of Samuel Walker on the left, whilst the coffin containing all that was mortal of Harry Woolley was placed in front. The service was of a most simple character, and deeply impressive in its very simplicity. It was conducted by the Rev. J.H. Pawlyn, superintendent minister of the Whaley Bridge Wesleyan Circuit. The scene of three coffins, containing the remains of one man in the very prime of life, and of two youths who had not attained their twentieth year, and who had been so suddenly called off the stage of action, of relatives whose grief was too deep for words, was one never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
As the minister read the words of the beautiful burial service there was not a dry eye in the place. Strong men were shaken with sobs as the words "O grave, where is thy victory, O death, where is thy sting", were pronounced over relative, comrade or friend, and the almost hysterical weeping of the women was heartrending. A beautiful prayer for comfort for the bereaved was offered by the minister and sympathy with it was frequently expressed by interjections in all parts of the building.
At the conclusion of the service the Rev. J.H. Pawlyn said he could not let the occasion to pass without saying a few words to them, though it was somewhat difficult to control one's feelings under the circumstances in which they were met. They were met under the cloud of a great sorrow and to pay their last respects to friends who were so painfully and under such circumstances called away on Thursday night. One might almost call it a tragic death. The idea of death probably would not enter into their thoughts, but rather be furthest from them. They were not even working: they were spectators of the work, as he understood it, of the re-opening of a disused coal pit. Yet suddenly, without a moment's warning, should he say by the will of God, they were called away into the presence of their Master, so that literally speaking in the midst of life they were in death. They did not put their bodies in their last resting place, the grave, without hope. The elder of the three, whose mortal remains were before them, though not personally known to him (the speaker) was a godly man, who, he was told, only two days before his tragic death prayed at a meeting in connection with the little church with which he was identified, prayed only as a man until many of those present were moved to tears. Therefore, they knew, to use an old Methodist expression, to such as he "Sudden death is sudden glory."
The bereaved families had their deepest sympathy, and he would ask for their prayers if that was necessary. He would ask for their prayers for the bereaved widow deprived at once of her husband and of a son; for the widowed mother who had been bereft of a son, and for all the members of the bereaved families that they might be comforted and sustained in this dark hour, and under this heavy blow. And let them make this occasion one of admonition to themselves. Let them see the necessity of being prepared for death, for "we know not the day or the hour in which the Son of Man cometh." There was a great deal of truth in what one had said, that, "Men think all other mortal but themselves." But there was no reason why death might not come as unexpectedly and as suddenly to themselves as to others, and for some it might be even
already at the door. He was quite sure a very deep impression had been made upon the minds of many in the neighbourhood of Whaley Bridge. He had heard of one case, where a person on the scene of the accident, and who, he believed, helped to release the bodies from what had been a living entombment, who, when he got home, sat down by the fireside, burst into tears, and said to his wife, "Lass, lass, it's best to be ready." Let that lesson be impressed upon the mind of each one of them. He hoped this conviction would be wrought in the minds of many who were present that afternoon. If this terrible visitation drew out their hearts to God, and righteousness, to resolve to live for Heaven, then their brothers would not have laid down their lives in vain.
Out in the chilly atmosphere, on the bleak hillside, the remains were reverently borne. The graves were alongside each other, and a large and sympathetic crowd had gathered around. The committal prayers were impressively given by the Rev. J.H. Pawlyn, amid a scene of great solemnity. As the minister concluded the last sad rites the friends from Spring Bank sang "In the sweet bye-and-bye" a favourite hymn of Mr Richard Walker's, which visibly moved the vast crowd. The sun was sinking beneath the mist on the western hills, like a fiery red ball, dusk was perceptibly falling, and this, combined with the bleakness of the situation, the chilliness of the air, the reverential attitude of bare-headed men and weeping women, made the scene one of extreme impressiveness.
Included in those assembled outside the chapel was Captain Edward Hall.
Two most appropriate verses, of which the meaning was truly felt, were printed upon the memorial card of Richard and Samuel Walker:
Day by day, the Voice saith "Come,
Enter thine eternal Home."
Asking not if we can spare
These dear souls it summons there.
Had He asked us, well we know
We should cry "O, spare this blow."
Yes, with streaming tears should pray,
"Lord, we love them - let them stay."
Appropriate too, were the lines on the card for Harry Woolley:
Farewell, kind mother, sisters, and brothers dear;
You little thought my time had been so near.
Grieve not for me, for grief is all in vain,
I hope in Heaven we all shall meet again.
In the midst of life we are in death.
Prepare to meet thy God.
There were many beautiful floral tributes, including the following, upon the grave of father and son:
Harp, in loving memory from the family.
Wreath, with deepest sympathy from the family.
Wreath, with deepest sympathy from the committee and members of the Whaley Bridge Cricket Club.
Wreath, with deepest sympathy from his cousins and family.
Wreath, with heartfelt sympathy from Miriam.
Wreath, with deepest sympathy from his sister Sarah.
Wreath, with deepest sympathy from Cousin Samuel and Allen's family.
Wreath, with deepest sympathy from Brother John and family.
Wreath, with deepest regret from his dear friends George and Arthur.
Wreath, with deepest sympathy from his old companion T. Taylor.
Anchor, with deepest sympathy from the Football Club.
There was also an artificial wreath from the Colliery, bearing the inscription, "A token of respect and sympathy for Richard Walker and his son Samuel Walker, from their fellow workmates at Whaley Bridge Colliery.
Upon the grave of Harry Woolley were the following:-
Harp, with deepest sympathy from A. Woolley.
Wreath, with deepest sympathy from Mr & Mrs Walker.
Harp, with deepest sympathy from dear friends at Whaley Bridge.
Wreath, with deepest sympathy from Raymond and Frances Woolley.
Cross, from C.F. Woolley, Wrenwood, Kersal, Manchester.
There were several other tributes to which no cards were attached.
At the home of the deceased was an artificial wreath as "A token of respect and sympathy for Harry Woolley, from his workmates at Whaley Bridge Colliery.
Messrs Williamson, of Whaley Bridge, satisfactorily carried out the funeral arrangements.
The sympathy with the bereaved has not been confined to mere words, but has taken the practical form of a subscription list on behalf of Mrs Woolley, in whose family Harry Woolley was a chief bread-winner. This seems to have originated with the footballers, amongst whom a subscription was started for a wreath. Money came in freely, and it was thought advisable to open the list to the public. It met with a ready response, and we are informed that on Tuesday morning the sum of £11 had been received.
On Sunday evening reference was made to the sad event at the Whaley Bridge Wesleyan Chapel by the Rev. J.H. Pawlyn, and at the close of the service a collection realising £2 6s was made on behalf of Mrs Woolley. A similar course was followed at Christ Church, where there was a crowded congregation at a harvest thanksgiving service. Mrs Woolley resides in the Chapel-en-le-Frith parish, and the vicar, the Rev. J.C. Stredder, M.A., having made touching reference to the awful calamity, announced that the collection would be on behalf of Mrs Woolley. A sum of £4 was realised.
So great was the sensation produced by the catastrophe that it was the subject of reference at all the places of worship in the village. At Taxal Church on Sunday morning, and at the Mechanics' Institute in the evening, the Rev. S. Evans, M.A., referred to it in appropriate terms. At Holy Trinity Church, Fernilee, on Sunday evening, the Rev. W.J. Betson made touching reference to the sad calamity. He based his discourse on the 3rd chapter of Exodus and the latter part of the 7th verse "For I know their sorrows."
Special hymns were sung. The service was most impressive throughout, and listened to by a large congregation. At the Whaley Bridge Congregational Chapel Mr J.J. Singleton, of Longsight, occupied the pulpit; and the trend of his remarks was the subject which filled the minds of all members of the congregation. In the evening Miss Agnes Shirt gave a heartfelt rendering of the solo, "Beautiful Prayer", accompanied by Mr Percy Reekie
28 October 1905
THE WHALEY BRIDGE CATASTROPHE.
WERE PROPER PRECAUTIONS TAKEN?
STRONG COMENTS BY THE CORONER
AND INSPECTOR OF MINES
RIDER FROM THE JURY
The inquiry into the circumstances attending the deaths of Richard Walker, Samuel M. Walker, his son, and Harry Woolley, the victims of the recent pit mouth catastrophe at Whaley Bridge, was resumed at the White Horse Hotel on Friday afternoon by Mr Sydney Taylor, coroner for the High Peak, and a most respectable jury, of which Mr James Nixon was foreman. Mr Stokes, of Derby, Inspector of Mines and Mr A. Savoury, superintendent of police were also present.
The first witness called was John Walker, who was re-opening the mine, and brother of Richard Walker. He stated that he resided on Higher Bings, Whaley Bridge and was a collier by trade. He commenced re-opening the mine, which used to be called the Old Wheel, on September 20th last. He did not exactly know how long it was since it was closed, but it would be over 25 years since. To get to the mine there was a tunnel opening over the wall which divides Buxton-road from an embankment. This was blocked by a tip which had been made there since the mine was last worked. Since September 20th he had taken out a large quantity of stuff, and laid bare the old tunnel mouth. This left a gullet or hole, the depth of which he estimated at 15 ft.
A Juror: It would be nearer 20 ft.
The Coroner: What did you do to prevent the ashes falling?
I built a wall on the face about 5 ft high, and another wall on the left side about a yard high.
What did you intend to do further?
Build two more walls, place sleepers across them, and then fill them in with ashes.
Has the tip shown signs of slipping?
Just little bits, but we took it from the face, you know; when we found the level it did not take more than a day to clear it out. The last lot of stuff was cleared out on the Tuesday before the accident. Between then and Thursday there were no signs of slipping, and on the Wednesday I walled it.
Did you regard it as safe?
I did, Sir.
Would rain help to bring this stuff down?
Had you any idea of fixing it up temporarily with boards?
It never occurred to me.
Witness, continuing, said his brother Richard came up on the Thursday to have a look at the place. His brother had nothing to do with it, and witness had not asked him to come up. Richard simply came up to have a look at it. The question of the wall was talked over between them, and his brother practically agreed with what he proposed doing. There was no idea in his or his brother's mind of danger. When the accident happened witness was eleven or twelve feet off on what he called the face of the tip. Witness’s son, John Walker, was near, but he was not aware of anybody else being present. His brother jumped down on to a "lencheon" (ledge.)
The Coroner: Was that before the ashes fell?
Did he jump out of the way?
I don't know. I never shall know in this world, but I shall in the next.
Why did he jump?
I don't know.
He rather jumped into the danger than out of it?
From which side did the stuff fall?
Were you in any danger?
Was your son caught?
Yes, partly; up to his waist about.
Was your brother buried completely?
Had he any time to speak?
There was a shout, but I could not say whether it was my brother or those who were watching.
Did you help to get your brother out?
I went to the tunnel mouth and delved until Holford came out.
Where would the other two be?
Between Holford and my brother.
Can you tell me how your nephew and Harry Woolley came to be there?
Had they any right there?
The Inspector of Mines:
Did you see them?
How could you miss seeing them?
My son was in the way.
Did others want to go up?
Yes; but I would not allow it.
Why didn't you stop them?
I gave my son orders to do so.
It appears he did not carry them out?
He didn't stop his cousin.
Where did those ashes come from?
It was a public tip.
How long is it since it reached the tunnel mouth?
I don't know.
What width was it at the top and bottom?
I thought it might be about 4½ft at the bottom and 7 ft at the top.
There were no planks put up on either side, were there?
I was going to ask you as a sane man but perhaps the Coroner would not let me put the question that way; but, knowing these were loose ashes, do you think it was a proper thing to cut down 15 ft deep, 7 ft wide at the top and 4 ft wide at the bottom, without any shoring?
If I had had any idea it would have come down I would not have done it.
I put it to you, as a miner, was it not absolutely necessary that this "shoring" should have been done for the safety of everybody?
It should, Sir.
Then why did you not do it?
I did not think of it.
The Inspector: You are the responsible owner, and if you don't think you should get somebody to think for you. I should have thought that a boy in the street who had seen anything of ash heaps would have thought of something of the kind.
Witness: I never worked in ashes before.
The Inspector: But you have done shoring?
If this had been done this accident would not have occurred?
Wm Wheatley, a miner of Horwich End, said he was on the scene of the accident, and saw these men close to the tunnel mouth. Richard Walker had been talking to him just before he went down into the tunnel mouth. Witness had not been down there. The ashes fell from the left-hand side, and it covered the men. After the collapse he lent some assistance to get the son out, but finding there was not sufficient strength to get the others out, he went to the Botany Bleachworks for a gang of men.
The Coroner: You say you didn't go down? Was that because you were not interested or curious?
I didn't like the looks of it, and I thought there were enough down.
You thought there was a danger of happening what actually did happen?
Was there anything said about the danger of the place?
Yes, Richard Walker and I had been talking about it. Richard said that if the Government Inspector came and saw it, he would not allow it to go on in that state. It would have to be secured. Timber came for the purpose whilst I was there.
Was that said in John Walker's presence?
You did not think it was safe?
The Inspector: This timber was not for shoring?
Oh, no. It was for covering.
Would you, as a miner, have shored it?
Oh, yes, for safety.
Was there any practical reason why this should not have been done?
No, except it was being short of material.
What did John Walker say when his brother told him it would not be allowed if the Government Inspector saw it?
I never heard him say anything.
Both you and Richard Walker thought it was in a dangerous state?
Oh, it was dangerous. There was no doubt about that.
Loose ashes of this sort require particular precautions?
Yes, the tip has been on fire twice.
There were no precautions taken?
There was a total absence of common sense as well?
Put it as you like it, Sir.
Samuel Bagshaw, of Horwich End, an old collier, said he came on the scene after the accident and helped to get the men out. The first they got to was Harry Woolley, who was nearest the tunnel. He was standing up. Richard Walker was found next three feet away from Woolley, also standing. Samuel Walker was found in such a position as if he had been knocked partially down against his father. He helped to lay out the bodies. All were bruised more or less, but there was nothing broken. There were no signs of life when the deceased were found.
The Inspector: How much ashes were there on top of them?
About five feet.
Do you think it was a proper way to drive a gullit?
It was all like sand.
Do you think any man unless he was devoid of common sense would have driven this without taking precautions?
I shouldn't have liked to have done it myself.
Would you have worked in thirty feet of solid ground, let alone ashes, without shoring?
I worked there on Thursday, Sir.
Oh, yes, but that was to rescue.
We all do things when it comes to things like that.
Would you have done it as an ordinary workman?
John Walker, jun., said that when the slip occurred it buried three of them and him up to the waist. He did not know his uncle Richard was there until he jumped in front of him.
The Coroner: Did you think it was a dangerous place?
Did you hear any conversation between your father and your uncle Richard about it being dangerous?
Were you at the tunnel mouth?
No. I was on a ledge. Holford and Samuel Walker were in the tunnel mouth. Uncle Richard jumped from where I was into the hole.
The Inspector: Did you stop people from going down?
Had you orders to do so?
My father told me to stop them during the dinner-hour, and I did so.
You didn't stop them out of the dinner hour?
The Coroner said that, considering the circumstances, the evidence was wonderfully straightforward. In most of these cases there was conflicting evidence, arising through different people having noticed different things. The question was raised why precautions were not taken to prevent such a thing as this. All of them must agree that it was very improper indeed for this quantity of loose ashes to be cut through to this extent without proper means being taken to keep them in their places until the necessary work could be done to make a permanent job. What Walker had in mind apparently was to build walls, cover them with timber, and put ashes on the top. Probably that would be a right way of dealing with it, but until that could be done it was necessary that some temporary precautions should have been taken. It was really surprising that a man of Walker's experience could have worked himself in the bottom without seeing the necessity of taking these precautions. There was this to be said in his favour, that at all events he did not allow anybody to take a risk that he did not take himself. This state of affairs raised some awkward questions of legal responsibility. On whose shoulders did that rest? There were various kinds of responsibility, but it was legal responsibility he was talking of. There was, of course, the responsibility they talked of as moral responsibility. This was properly taken into account by juries sometimes, who made recommendations and brought improvements for the future. There was also the question of civil responsibility, dealing with matters of compensation and things of that sort. But the only thing the jury had to deal with was criminal responsibility. If they found him criminally responsible, they found him guilty of murder or manslaughter of the persons whose death had been caused. The question was whether in the circumstances of the case the jury were justified in returning a verdict of manslaughter in these cases. Manslaughter by neglect was a somewhat difficult subject to explain. It was much easier to take an example than to explain it in general terms. If they had a case in which it was one man's duty to take measures for the preservation of the lives of other people, and by direct neglect of that duty death was caused, that was manslaughter. What the jury had to consider was whether or not the circumstances of the case were those. Had the men who had been killed been working for John Walker, he (the coroner) had not the slightest doubt that the jury would have been obliged to return a verdict of manslaughter. If they had been working under his orders, his duty would have been to take proper measures for their protection. If the jury had come to the conclusion that it was neglect of that duty which caused the death of the workmen, they would have been obliged to have returned a verdict of manslaughter. The only circumstances under which they could relieve him of that was that these men towards whom he had no duty, and were not employed by him. Towards the young Walker and Woolley, John Walker had no duty. Whatever the exact circumstances of their death might be, there was no doubt they were technically, at all events, trespassers. They had no business there, and could not have been there for any other purpose, perhaps, than satisfying their curiosity. He did not think John Walker had any duty towards these two men in respect to this work. Richard Walker was there hardly as a trespasser in the sense that he was being consulted by Jno. Walker as to the work. He was not employed by John to that extent that they might say John was not obliged to look after Richard's safety. And there was further to be said on that point, that Richard himself was a qualified collier, a man who knew and could appreciate the danger equally as much as John. They had got to take that into account. If they considered that Richard was there under such circumstances, that John owed a duty to him by taking proper steps to see the he was secure, he (the Coroner) thought that in that case it would be their duty to return a verdict of manslaughter. In the other two cases there could not be any verdict except accidental death.
The Jury deliberated in private for some time, and returned a verdict of "Accidental Death" in all three cases, adding a rider that in their opinion, precautions ought to have been taken by proper shoring as the work proceeded