Last week I featured an article by local history Rapscallion Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler about a text, available for free via Google Books called ‘Black Diamonds or the Gospel in a Colliery District’ written around 1860 by mystery author HHB.
I’m pleased to say that other great researcher and history enthusiast Andy Dennis read Peter’s recommendation, and sent me the following piece about an awful mining accident, and how the whole topic impacts upon his own family history.
This is a great illustration of exactly why I curate this blog: a headstone that must have been passed by many of the readers time and time again tells a very, very sad story, and interrelates with a mystery author documenting the harshness of mining life.
I thank Andy for sharing such intimate family history here. It’s fascinating and awfully sad.
Please comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.
Andy Dennis wrote:
I am replying this way to submit a couple of pictures.
Firstly, I thank Pedro for bringing to our notice the ebook Black Diamonds. There are many interesting sections, but one struck a chord as it may explain the reason why there is a particular memorial in St James’ churchyard (images attached).
When I showed these to my father he was as clueless as I was regarding the relationship our family might have had to the two deceased. It is odd, I think, that my great great grandfather John Dennis had eleven brothers and sisters, nine of whom had children, yet we knew nothing of them. All we knew was that one ‘Cag’ Dennis ran the Railway Tavern, but not when or for how long, or even his first name. Presumably he was left-handed. It turns out that he was one of John’s older brothers and the young man commemorated in granite was his son. Twenty year old Thomas left £80, which I think was compensation, and perhaps this is why his father was able to commission a granite memorial in preference to the more usual sandstone.
Death aged 20 indicated some tragedy and the CMHRC has a brief entry: ‘On 2 May 1889 Thomas Dennis, a loader at one of William Harrison’s pits, was killed by “fall of rock roof in a gate road. Cause, want of timber’
The incident was also covered by the Lichfield Mercury of Friday 10 May 1889:
BROWNHILLS. FATAL ACCIDENT AT WYRLEY GROVE COLLIERY. — An inquest … at the Railway Tavern … Thomas Dennis, who met with his death at Wyrley Grove Colliery … The evidence adduced … showed that there was a lack of judgement in regard to the spragging where the fall occurred, but no want of care or forethought on the part of the manager or under-managers. The Jury brought in a verdict of “Accidental Death.”
The ebook Black Diamonds, on page 65 tells us:
I shall be quite prepared to hear of a larger sacrifice of life through the increase of the ‘stent’ in South Staffordshire; for it cannot be expected that men who have to work hard every minute throughout the day will be so careful in setting ‘sprags’ or ‘cogs’, when at their employment, as they would if they had more time on their hands to complete their daily task.
In other words the time pressure on the miners to cut coal enough to pay the rent and put bread on the table meant that they sometimes paid insufficient attention to spragging, their judgement impaired by urgency and fatigue, and this may have led to the sudden, violent death of poor Thomas. As was the norm in such cases no blame was attached to the management and, in any case, they were just following the orders of the owners, such as Harrison. It was they who demanded increasing quantities of coal for the same or less pay. Something had to give and, as pointed out in Black Diamonds, this was too often the roof!
Transcription of memorial, which stands on the north side of the church:
Loving Memory of
THE DEARLY BELOVED WIFE OF
WHO DIED JUNE 1ST 1908
AGED 62 YEARS
THY WILL BE DONE
ALSO OF THOMAS
THE BELOVED SON OF THE ABOVE
WHO DIED MAY 2ND 1889
AGED 20 YEARS
THE LORD GAVE AND THE LORD
HATH TAKEN AWAY.
The times i have walked past that grave stone and wondered why it was made of granit, now i know the sad story that goes with it, thank you Andy.
I really enjoy reading stuff like this, it’s great how a slightly unusual grave stone can hold a remarkable story of an everyday person. This grave marker has stood there for many years, almost invisible as time eroded the curiosity of the casual passer by; It just need the right enquiring mind to ask. Great work guys!
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