Incisive and tenacious historian Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler has been quietly continuing his investigations into the Old Hednesford Colliery Disaster, the 1911 accident that was brought to our attention when Reg ‘Aer Reg’ Fullelove donated a poem he’d come to have in his collection to the blog.
Peter recently continued is exploration with a long and detailed article regarding the huge and brave part played by Thomas Stokes – and further research seems to indicate some nastiness in the local press of the day, which is shocking but unsurprising.
Always question accounts of historical events however worthy the source; motives and confirmation bias creep in all the time – as we’ve shown before.
My thanks, as ever to Peter and all the other wonderful contributors for their work and patience.
Firstly thanks for publishing the article concerning Thomas Stokes and the Old Hednesford Pit disaster of 1911. The reason for the article was the disappointment at the lack of recognition for Thomas Stokes by the modern historians of the Cannock Chase Coalfields. However, in the Comments, Andy Dennis has added some press references that led me to look more closely at the local coverage and I have unearthed more interesting facts of the aftermath, not least the age-old nastiness of the Press.
Andy Dennis is right that the story of the two medals for Thomas Stokes and Henry Merritt, being the Edward medal and the Carniegie certificate, were big news. Their names appeared in many newspapers from Dundee to Portsmouth. The Edward Medal is now considered one of the rarest British Gallantry awards, and only 77 first class were awarded. The medal was discontinued in 1971 when the surviving holders were given the option to exchange for the George Cross.
The recommendations for the Edward Medal came from the Coroner, the Mines Inspector, Professor Cadman and the MP Mr A Stanley, and it was around the end of April of 1912 that confirmation was received. Mrs Stokes preferred a private ceremony and this was held at the residence of the MP Mr A Stanley and attended by the Earl and Countess of Dartmouth, who were ‘visibly affected and their sympathy for the widow was apparent.’ In July Henry Merrit, accompanied by Mr Beacon of the Colliery, would travel to Buckingham Palace to receive the award personally from the King.
The Colliery Company had presented Merritt and Stokes with testimonials, engraved and framed in gilt, along with two purses of 10 guineas.
Henry Merrit and Thomas Stokes were both brought to the attention of the Carniegie Fund by the Deputy Coroner and received the Carnegie Certificate in June of 1912. Merrit was presented with a cheque for £25 and Mrs Stokes received an allowance of 10s per week, subject to conditions. At the presentation Johnathon Hunter spoke on behalf of the Coalowners of Cannock Chase, saying that they ‘were always desirous to do everything they could for the safety of their workmen….’ but it seems the Carnegie Fund were more generous.
The Lichfield Mercury re-reported an article that had featured in the South Staffs Times after a visit to interview Merrit about his visit to Buckingham Palace.
After asking reasonable questions of the visit the interviewer asked Henry Merrit his opinion of the agitation which was existent amongst miners at the fact that Archie Harley, ‘who is said to have saved 9 men on the occasion of the disaster,’ had received no public recognition.
Henry expressed regret at any unpleasantness, but would say nothing further about the incident. ‘I was in another district, and know nothing of what occurred except where I was. I never said anything to anybody about getting a medal. I never said a word about the affair at all. It was simply Mr Johnson, the Coroner and Mr Saint that said I was justified the awarding of the medal. I could not have stayed in the workings many seconds longer, the smoke was so dense.’
Shame on the South Staffs Times, and shame on the Lichfield Mercury for reproducing without any opinion.