The truth will out

William Harrison Limited was a huge concern, and a major local employer. Picture from ‘Brownhills and Walsall Wood on old picture postcards’ by Jan Farrow.

I see that Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler continues his diligent and painstaking examination of the Harrison Company, family and concerns. The Harrisons, readers will recall, were wealthy mine owners hereabouts, and Peter has spent a great deal of time in recent months researching exactly what kind of company this was.

Peter feels, like I do, that we tend to look back at the histories of these characters in a somewhat rosier light than they often deserve. It was with this is mind, that he asked me to post this result of his searches on the blog for all to see, which I’m happy to do.

I must say, I’m a little disquieted that Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society didn’t reply to Peter’s communication, as they have such a generally excellent reputation.

 I think we all agree that in these matters, accuracy is vital.

Peter wrote:

Hi Bob

May I be so bold as to ask you to put the piece below on your Blog?

I emailed the Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society, but it seems that they have not had the decency to acknowledged my mail.

I would like the real story to be told on the Brownhills Blog.

Yours in anticipation


Peter included this submission:

While searching the archives for information concerning the Harrison Family, owners of many collieries in the Brownhills area, I came across the article below telling of the tragedy at Wyrley Common Pit in 1861.

I had also acquired the book, William Harrison Limited (2006) by Mick Drury, that records much about the pits. However when I read the following on Page 6 something rung a bell and I went back to check…

‘However it was not all plain sailing, in 1861 James Cooper and his brother, along with five other miners, we’re killed when the roof collapsed at one of Mr Harrison’s Brownhills Collieries. The youngest victim was Levi Craddock aged 11 years. It would be some time before boys of this age ceased to work in the mines. It is not known to which Colliery this refers.’

The Bradford Observer 17 January 1861 records the accident quite differently and I hope Bob will let me record the events as they were…

‘An Inquest was held on Saturday on the bodies of six men who were suffocated the previous Tuesday at the Blue Pit, Wyrley Common.

On the night of that day four men, James and John Cooper, Thomas Craddick and Charles Coldstake went down the pit accompanied by two boys, Emmanuel Millington (14) and Levi Craddick (11), and in the following morning they were all found dead in the pit, death having apparently been caused by suffocation, as the pit was full of smoke.

The pit was one of several owned by Mr Harrison and it is distinguished from the others by the name of the Red Pit, while one near it is called the White Pit, and it appears that between the two there is a subterranean connection, and that a quantity of smoke found its way from the White into the Red, from which there was no immediate outlet, and the result was the death of the six named, as well as the death of six horses.

The evidence went to show that an accidental fire had in a curious way broken out in the White Pit, near to the air passage leading to the Red Pit, and there was no ready way of extinguishing it. It was about half past four in the morning in question before the butties got any information that all was not right. James Meeson was one of the butties, gave evidence to the fact that between 4 and 5 on Wednesday morning his attention was drawn to the Red Pit, from which he saw a little smoke issuing. He went down with butty John Cooper and others, and there found 5 bodies of the deceased along with 6 horses. They were all quite dead.

Richard Mason (12) deposed to the effect that on the night of Tuesday and the morning of Wednesday last, he was sent to feed the horses, and had a candle in his hand to light him. The candle he stuck against the wall or side of the pit. He stuck it between the wall and the floor, and there left it while he fed the horses. When he returned he saw a fire. Witness then went on to state that this fire was the result of the candle flame coming in contact with the coal and causing it to ignite; and upon this subject he was closely examined. The witness’s face was very badly scalded. He said he got scalded by throwing water on the fire with a view to putting it out.

One of the men working at the time in the White Pit signalled to the top of the shaft. The engineman stated that he was on duty as usually the morning of the accident, and heard the signal, to which he replied as soon as possible. On being questioned very closely, he said he would not swear that he had not slept in the engine house, but was quite sure that the bell had not run more than a few minutes before he answered in the normal way.

The Inquest was adjourned for a fortnight for the Government Inspector to examine and report.’

I’m indebted to Peter for his continuing work, not just on this, but to so many aspects of the Brownhills Blog. I fully support him in his quest to nail the truth where he can. It’s important we understand that we are all fallible, but getting to the truth is the best honour we can pay to past events.

Please, and comments or contributions, add a comment here or mail me at BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

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17 Responses to The truth will out

  1. Andy Dennis says:

    Great work again!

    I’ve managed to find out a little more. The Coal Mining History Resource Centre (CMHRC) has a report of the incident – – scroll down or search for “Brownhills”.

    Key bits:
    Those who died and their age: Levi Craddick 11, Thomas Craddock 37 (Levi’s father), Charles Coldrake [or Coldrick] 41, John Cooper 30, James Cooper 26, Emmanuel Millington 14.
    All victims suffocated by smoke.
    Verdict was “Accidental Death”.
    There was a collection of 16s. 6d. for the bereaved.

    I believe the weekly wage for a miner was about 1s. (one shilling, or 5p), but am happy to be corrected. Presumably, this varied according to how much coal they cut?

    I couldn’t easily find anything in the censuses about the last three, but Coldrick left 6 children aged 13 to 6 months and Craddock’s widow Ellen was left with 4 children aged 14 to 4, the eldest also a miner named Charles, who would now be the sole wage earner for the family. Both families lived at Catshill in 1861 (Census) – Coldrick at Walsall Wood and Craddock at Orton’s Buildings, which I think stood on Chester Road, next door to my great great grandfather.

  2. Clive says:

    What a great piece of detetive work lads, well done to all involved.
    A look at how it realy was for those poor folk, you can`t beat the truth.
    you can stick the good old days where the sun don`t shine!

  3. Pedro says:

    Thanks to Andy alerting to the CMHRC site above, there is an interesting link to the PDF for the report…CHILDREN’S EMPLOYMENT COMMISSION 1842.

    The link to the South Staffs report is here…

    It is well worth a read to show the conditions in the area just before the Harrison Family took out their lease in 1849.

    Bob says…”like I do, that we tend to look back at the histories of these characters in a somewhat rosier light than they often deserve.”

    Even in the Report of 1842 it can be seen the rosy picture developing…

    “It is a fine sight to see the miners congregated at dinner, in a large dining hall cut out of the coal. There they sit, naked from the middle upwards, as black as blackamoor savages, showing their fine, vigorous, muscular persons, eating, drinking, and laughing. They sit an hour, for, one or two and then resume their labours.”

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  17. Derek Bullock says:

    Dear Bob:
    Just found your Blog by happenstance and find the local news fascinating. Especially stuff about local coal mining. I left England in 1963 to mine gold in Africa, but before that was a coalminer.
    Born in Cheslyn Hay then raised in Landywood and Bridgtown. Started work at Harrison’s No. 3 in January, 1956. I also went down The Grove once with Mr. Kitchen, who was manager of the Sinking. This was part of a regular inspection since the Grove was kept open to pump water which might otherwise flood the Sinking.
    I gained my Manager’s Certificate and did rescue training with Mick Drury.
    I was offered the job as Manager of a small “Jacky Pit” which was being opened behind The Rising Sun pub. I was only 21, but the owners kindly informed me I wouldn’t need to make any decisions as they would do that for me! I declined their kind offer.
    I last worked at Lea Hall, which had been sunk by Colin Rigby, who was married to my wife’s cousin. Jack Evans was the Manager.
    I have been in Canada since 1966 and my two sons are also mining engineers.
    Keep up the good work!

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