On the first on January 1942, an explosion occurred in number 4 pit Sneyd Colliery. The terrible consequences of the events of that day are well documented in John Lumsdenís account on Disasters
What is perhaps less well known is the effect they had on of those who lost members of their families.
We would like to put on record our gratitude to Christina Freeman nee Briggs, together with Jean Hopwood nee Meadowcroft and Elsie Robinson nee Meadowcroft , without whose help we would not have been able to tell the story of those who were left behind.
We would like to think that our stories have, in some small measure, contributed to the construction of the permanent memorial in Burslem to the 57 men and boys who died on that day. The stone built memorial was unvieled on 25th August 2007.
J Wilson and J Burston 2007
Our story concerns two sisters Elsie and Emmie Swinscoe. Elsie was married to Lewis Meadowcroft while Emmie was married to Christopher Briggs, and starts in the early hours of the first of January 1942.
Two views of Thornley Road, Stanfields circa 2007
At 68 Thornley Road Stanfields, fitfully sleeping in his warm bed is 16 year old David Briggs. David is a lovely lad with a mop of curly brown hair. Full of life, he was always whistling and singing. David's dad had served in the First World War. Upon his return to the potteries he met and married his wife Emmie. Living with them was Davidís young sister Christina. David had only recently left Moorland Road School and had found himself a job as a haulage worker at Sneyd.
The above photograph taken at Kemble Training Centre in 1941. The young lad in the centre, eating his sandwich is 15 year old David Briggs. The photograph was found in the book "MORE MEMORIES OF STOKE ON TRENT edited by Sid Bailey
Christina, Davidís sister was eight years old. She fondly remembers her brother as being loving caring, and protective, always making sure she was safe in the bomb shelter whenever there was an air raid.
Usually David was awake early, on this day his mother had to call him. He replied that he wasn't feeling very well. As he hadn't celebrated the New Year in the usual way Mum felt he must be poorly and told him to go back to sleep. If he felt no better later she would take him to the doctors. So David went back to sleep.
A short time later Davidís friend Ernie Humphries knocked on the door. David must have heard him and because he didn't want to let his friend down got ready for work, They walked along the dark, cold and silent streets their footsteps echoing on the cobblestones. Suddenly Ernie decided that he was not going to work after all, and left David to go on alone. So David thought I know what I'll do.......
IT WAS JUST ANOTHER DAY
Two views of Crossley Road, Stanfields circa 2007
For those who lived locally,of the Goose Inn was the place to be. Lou Meadowcroft and his lovely wife Elsie had spent the evening in the pub with many of their friends from the Stanfield Estate. In those days there were no extensions to opening hours, so by 11 o clock, Elsie and Lou were making their way home calling out seasonal greetings to those they passed on the road. Arm in arm they were thinking of the New Year, making plans and hoping that the war would soon be over. Elsie whispered to Lou "There's no way you'll be fit for work tomorrow" Lou didn't argue.
The Goose Inn, Stanfields circa 2007
At home in Crossley Road, with their grandmother were the two children of Lou and Elsie Meadowcroft. Jean aged three and eighteen month old Elsie. Soon the whole family were sound asleep. Lou was dreaming of all the winners he was going to back in the New Year. A particular good horse was currently galloping through his imagination, he had all his wages on it and it was winning by ten lengths. Suddenly his dreams were rudely interrupted by a loud bang on the front door. A voice shouted from the street below "Come on uncle Lou, or we'll be franked". It was Lou's nephew David Briggs. With a groan Lou kissed Elsie, stumbled out of bed and some how managed to dress. He struggled down the stairs, picked up his snapping and joined David in the street. David had always looked up to his uncle Lou and had learned much from him. They walked on together towards Haywood Road where they usually met up with their friend Billy Eager, but today Billy was franked and didn't make it. As they neared the pit men were joining them from other roads and side streets. In small groups they headed towards their destiny.
IT WAS JUST ANOTHER DAY
Meanwhile back at home at Thornley Road still suffering from the after effects of he night before, Christopher and Emmie Briggs were breakfasting together with young Christina. At Crossley Road Elsie Meadowcroft, Grandma and the two children Elsie and Jean were up and about. Elsie and grandma were enjoying a refreshing cup of tea. The children were playing with their Christmas toys. At about 7-50am there was a tremendous bang. Many windows were smashed, and the street began to fill with frightened people. Rumours spread rapidly. Was it a bomb, or was it the pit. The air was filled with the sounds of sirens. Smoke and dust could be seen issuing from Sneyd Colliery .
IT WAS GOING TO BE A TERRIBLE DAY
At Sneyd there had been a huge underground explosion. The colliery emergency procedure was put into operation. Rescue teams from all over the coalfield were mobilised. Elsie Meadowcroft and Emmie Briggs ran towards the pit. Desperately hoping that their men folk would be alright. By the time they arrived at the pit they found many others there. Later they were joined by more worried wives, mothers and sisters. Throughout the day the crowd watched a steady flow of rescuers, ambulances and police arriving at the colliery. Around one o clock a groan of anguish rose from the waiting crowd as the first stretcher was carried from the shaft. None of the assembled would have known who it was. But one thing was certain the body was covered indicating death.
IT WAS A TERRIBLE DAY
As the day wore on more and more bodies were brought to the surface. They were carried by men who had come in hope, to rescue their mates only to find it was to late. On the faces of these men was etched the horrors they had seen in the bowels of Sneyd colliery. Some would never recover from this ordeal. At the temporary morgue relatives were ushered into a room and shown a line of covered bodies. Among the next of kin was Christopher Briggs. A policeman walked with him along the line and stopped by the covered body of his son David. Even the horrors he had witnessed during the First World War prepared him for this moment. Christopher knelt down and tenderly uncovered his sons face. It was just as he remembered. He felt the need to see more of his lovely son, and reached out as if to remove the cover. Filled with compassion for Christopher the policeman stayed his hand and led him away.
Chistopher Briggs and his wife Emmie
The identification of Lou Meadowcroft was carried out by his brother Fred. Lou's injuries were such that had it not been for a small scar on one of his fingers it would have been impossible to recognise the remains. There was no D.N.A. in those days.
YET MORE TERRIBLE DAY'S
On the 2nd January the Sentinel gave notice that David Briggs of 68 Thornley Road, Stanfields and Lewis Meadowcroft of 60, Crossley Road, Stanfields were two of the dead from the Sneyd explosion. On page 3 Davidís family announced his death thus: "On the first of January 1942 suddenly David Briggs, dearly loved son of Christopher and Emmie. of 63 Thornley Road, Stanfields. The funeral to take place at St Werburgh's Church at 2pm Tuesday 6th January.
On the same day in the Town Hall Burslem, inquests opened on the first fifteen dead. The presiding Coroner Mr Huntbach recorded the cause of Davidís death as multiple injuries and carbon monoxide poisoning. The coroner then went on to read a passage by Solomon from the Bible. "In the sight of the unwise, they seem to die: and their departure is taken for misery and then going from us, to be utter destruction: But they are in peace".
On Wednesday the 7th January, page four of the Sentinel gave a report on the funeral of young David Briggs. The service was conducted by The Rev H Bayles of St Werburgh's Church, High Lane, followed by internment at Burslem cemetery. A large number attended the service and about 300 additional sympathiser formed by the grave side. Many were in tears. The family members were Mr and Mrs C Briggs, (father and mother), Misses Christina Briggs who remembers following the coffin and Ivy, Mr and Mrs Briggs senior, Mr and Mrs George Briggs, Mr and Mrs John Briggs, Mr H Briggs, Mr N Briggs, The misses Edna, and Emmie Briggs, Mr Colin Briggs and Mr Brabbs. A guard of honour was formed by 14 haulage lads from the colliery. They were R Mannering, S Mitchell, J Payne, F Leeses. J Baskeyfield, E Mason, H Mannering, H Layton, E Humphries (his friend who went back home on the day of the explosion). Pat Rafferty, R Layton, J Edwards, W Horton, V Price. Another friend W Pedley also attended. J.H. Machin represented Sneyd Colliery together with Mr Bath and many colliery employees.
St Werburgh's Church, High Lane circa 2007
On the fifth of January the Sentinel reported on the death of Lewis Meadowcroft, coal getter. The Coroner recorded that his death was due to shock, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning. The family death notice was also announced. It stated "On January 1st 1942, through accident, Lewis, 29 years old the dearly loved husband of Elsie May. The service is at St Werburgh's Church, at 2-15pm. Internment at Burslem Cemetery.
The Sentinel of Friday the 9th of January, gave a report of Lou's funeral. Many expressions of deep sympathy marked the funeral of Lewis Meadowcroft, prior to his internment in Burslem cemetery. The service was conducted by the Rev H. Bayles Vicar of St Werburgh's Church. The following colliery friends acted as bearers, Mssrs Snape, Harrett, J. Davies, T. Goodwin, J. Heath, J. Holms.
The chief mourners were, Mrs E. Meadowcroft, widow, Mr and Mrs Meadowcroft (senior), Mr.H, Mr.F, Mr.J, Mr. G, Mr. E, Meadowcroft (brothers), Mrs. Blundred, Mrs Meadowcroft, Sisters-in-law, Mr D. Meadowcroft, Mr and Mrs Briggs, Mr Mountford, Mr Barber, Miss L. Briggs, Miss E. Briggs, Mr F. M. Briggs, Mr Davies, and Mr M. Briggs.
The two children of Lewis Meadowcroft, Jean and Elsie remember the hardships that followed the death of their father. In the cold weather their mother would often have to pick coal off the tip. Then there was the humiliation of going to Hanley to stand before the tribunal and beg for extra money from the fund to buy shoes or a winter coat. Or standing in line for free school dinners. They found this particularly distasteful.
Elsie and Jean never knew what their father looked like. Then one day a neighbour from across the street said "I've a photograph of your mum and dad". And for the first they gazed upon their fathers face.
Lou Meadowcroft and his wife Elsie, together with young David
For Christopher and Emmie Briggs the loss of only son David brought a different sort of hardship. It was of great sadness. For they knew that because of their age there would be no more children. The money given to them from the fund was left untouched.
David Briggs's sister, Christina is now seventy-two. She often thinks about her brother, and wished that he had been with her while she grew up. A brother that she could have looked up to and who would have protected her when she was in trouble. A brother like David. Christina says that in her mind's eye she can still see David walking down the street and hear the sound of his of his whistling and his pit boots on the cobbles.
Jean Hopwood, nee Meadowcroft, Elsie Robinson, nee Meadowcroft and Christina Freeman, nee Briggs 2007
The families of David Briggs and Lewis Meadowcroft still reside in the area. Elsie Meadowcroft married Les Robinson, and have one child Mark, he is a university graduate at present working in London. Jean Meadowcroft married Graham Hopwood. They have two children, Natalie lives in Scotland, while their son Andrew lives in London. Christina Briggs married John Freeman. Together they had two children. sadly Christina is now a widow, and has one surving child Jacquline. This story of the events of 1942 is dedicated to the families of Lou and David.
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