Nabbs Pit Siverdale 1854

Researched By John Lumsdon

Attached is a short story I think should be recorded for the younger generation of today, when boys of 12 yrs and 15 yrs were killed in the mines trying to earn a living when today they would be at school.

Between five and six o’clock on Saturday morning, a lamentable accident occurred in Nabbs pit at Silverdale near Newcastle, North Staffordshire, with the instantaneous death of four individuals and seriously injuring a fifth. The names of the unfortunate sufferers are:-

• John Lawton age 55
• Jesse Lawton his son, age 28 both leaving widows
• Daniel Lockett age 15
• George Lockett age 12 from Audley.
• Samuel Stubbs another lad was seriously injured, but is expected to recover.

On the morning of the accident work was commenced at three o’clock or shortly afterwards and at the same time as the explosion, between 20 and 30 persons were in various parts of the mine. The precise cause of the explosion will, no doubt, remain a mystery, as all the unfortunate individuals working in that section of the mine lost their lives. But the catastrophe is supposed to have originated as follows:

Daniel Lockett, one of the lads killed, was not employed at this colliery but went in to assist his brother and lamps were given, as usual, to each of the Lawtons and also to George Lockett.

From the amount of work done, the lads had no doubt been working together some time and it is conjectured that afterwards Daniel Lockett, having possessed himself of a piece of candle, probably, went out of motives of curiosity, to explore the mine, taking the naked candle into part of the workings where the gas had accumulated in consequence of a door being placed incautiously open, and hence the explosion and loss of life which ensued.

The explosion was heard throughout the mine, and a general rush was made towards the mouth of the pit, where the lad Stubbs, who came in contact with the explosive current of air, was hurled with great violence against a wagon, and was seriously injured.

It was not until the afternoon that the state of the mine enabled the bodies (under the active direction of Mr. Bostock, the ground bailiff), to be recovered. The two lads who were first met with, were much burned, as was Jesse Lawton, but his father, who was a few yards distant, had evidently been suffocated. The bodies were removed to the respective homes of the deceased.

On Monday afternoon, a jury, of whom Mr. Alcock of Keele was the foreman was held at the Bush Inn, Silverdale, before W. Harding, the coroner. Also present were T Wynne, esq. One of the government Inspectors of Mines and F. Stanier, the proprietor of the colliery.

Mr. Bostock produced a plan of the workings of the mine, and the examination of John Johnson, one of the butties in the pit was proceeded with. The fact being apparent from his own evidence, that both he and his fellow butty, Thomas Downing, had neglected a most important duty as will be seen from the following questions put to him.

Mr Wynne asked, what are your instructions from Mr. Bostock, as to examining the mine before the men go to work? John Johnson replied, the instructions are for me or my butty to examine them every morning.

Mr Wynne asked, did you do so on the morning of the accident?

The witness replied, I did not, and I think Downing the other butty, was on the other side of the pit.

Mr. Wynne said, could you satisfy the jury why you broke so important a rule?

The witness said he had some lamps to clean and I asked Jesse Lawton (one of the deceased) who was a very careful man, to look at the part of the mine they were working, for me.

Mr. Wynne said, If it is necessary for you to examine the workings one morning, is it not requisite for you to do so another?

The witness replied, I suppose it is, but I thought I might trust Jesse Lawton as he was a steady man.

The coroner most emphatically told Johnson that he had broken a very valuable rule of the colliery and neglected a plain and important duty, delegating the performance of it to another person, which he had clearly no right to do.

Mr Bostock said that the rules and orders were very positive upon that point. The butty had no business to give lamps to the men until he had been first been in the workings himself. The coroner observed that it was most important such a valuable regulation should be attended to. At this stage of the proceedings, the inquiry was adjourned until the following day at five o’clock.

On the jury reassembling, Mr. Wynne, Government Inspector, who had made a minute examination of the mine, gave evidence and expressed an opinion that the bodies might have been recovered sooner if a certain course had been adopted; whilst Mr. Bostock stated that all due diligence had been used consistent with the safety of the men engaged.

In reference to the cause of the accident, Mr Wynne considered it highly probable that it originated by the lad Daniel Lockett (who had no business there) using a naked candle and that it might have been prevented had the workings been duly examined by the butties.

After about half an hour’s consultation, the jury returned verdicts of accidental death, at the same time expressing an opinion that the butties were highly blameable (but not criminally so) in not doing their duty.

At the request of the jury, the two butties, Johnson and Downing, were called into the room, when they were strongly reprimanded by the coroner, who told them that they had the narrowest escape of a verdict of manslaughter being recorded against them. He hoped that what had occurred would act as a caution to them for the remainder of their lives and prove a salutary warning to others entrusted with similar duties.

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