The Grove Disaster – the human cost

John Pattision with mines rescue team

Grove Colliery Rescue Team as displayed at the Black Country Living Museum – image supplied by Richard Pursehouse.

I mentioned earlier today that I had a second article relating to the Grove Pit Disaster to come; well, here it is – Great War expert and longtime blog reader Richard Pursehouse has asked me to run the above photo, featuring his maternal Great Grandfather John Pattison, manager of the Grove Colliery, Lime Lane.

It is of course, a mines rescue team which is particularly sharp here as the Grove Colliery saw 14 men perish on 1st October 1930 in an explosion. The lost men are commemorated in Brownhills Cemetery, with ten of their number interred there.

I’ve featured lots on the accident here in the past; the search for John Bernard Whitaker’s grave in Walsall Wood Cemetery, the accident itself; film footage of the pithead, the results of historical research and more.

It would be great if we could help Richard here as he’s made some wonderful contributions to the blog, particularly on the question of Freda’s Grave and the Messiness Model, which Richard’s dog helped find!

Richard wrote:

Hello Bob

At the Black Country Living Museum there is a photo of a Rescue Team in which MAY be Josh Payton – but more specifically has in it my maternal Great Grandfather John Pattison who was the manager of Grove Pit. Bizarrely I recognised him because he ‘sort of’ looked similar to my Grandfather (Matt Pattison) – how weird was that!

You can see from the additional photo of my great grandad how the disaster affected him – a shadow of his former self. I have a similar one from 1940 in the snow – white hair and a shrivelled man. The disaster detroyed him.

Anyway, I’d like to forward to you the photo and ask if anyone else can help by dating it and any of the names

Regards

Richard Pursehouse

I know Richard is preparing some work on the wider subject of the disaster, which I look forward to reading, and maybe featuring here if he’s agreeable – so if you have anything to contribute, please do.

Either comment here, or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks, and my gratitude to Richard for a fascinating enquiry.

Untitled 9 copy

John Pattison – a changed man. Images kindly supplied by Richard Pursehouse.

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4 Responses to The Grove Disaster – the human cost

  1. Pedro says:

    A few findings concerning the rescue teams

    …Immediately after the news of the explosion was received Mr J Payton, Superintendent, and his staff, with all available rescue appliances, dashed in cars to the scene of the explosion…

    …Investigations showed that the workings were full of carbon monoxide gas and teams of men from the Mining Rescue Station at Hednesford were hurried to the spot with their appliances. Owing however to the heavy falls which had occurred as a result of the explosion, the rescue operations are rendered exceedingly difficult. Many of the rescuers were badly affected by fumes and had to receive treatment. Hardly had they recovered than again they went forward to their grim task.

    …Reginal Ashford, fireman at the pit, says he was called about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning following the explosion. A rescue team was made up… We put on our apparatus and went up No 1 Road. We had a bird with us, but it went down with carbon monoxide gas before we got to the fall.”

    …. During yesterday 13 bodies were taken out of the pit after heroic work by relays of specially trained men, who worked by the light of electric lamps and with anti-gas apparatus which weighs 25 lb.

  2. Pedro says:

    Richard, it is interesting that you say that the disaster destroyed him. Do you have any inkling as to the reason?

    I hazard a guess that as John Pattison was the manager of the pit he was a buffer for the directors of Messrs William Harrison Ltd company.

    It was not unusual that inquests were adjourned many times, but on the second adjournment in this case the Jury were told that a special inquiry would be conducted by the Department of Mines. The Coroner thought it would be beneficial to wait until the Inquiry was concluded.

    The Company barrister maintained that the cause of the explosion must be taken to have been a naked light, a strike of a match. The verdict of the public enquiry was “not sufficient evidence to prove how the explosion ocurred.” Sir Henry Walker concluded that the explosion may have been caused by a naked light, used in connection with smoking, which ignited the considerable accumulation of fire damp.

    But he also added that he did not find, as urged by the Miner’s Federation, any evidence to justify charging the management with breach of the Coal Mines act of 1911… “At the same time, this is not to say that the ventilation arrangements were be beyond criticism, on the contrary, I look upon a single unchecked doors in the main haulage roads as bad mining practice in any circumstances…

    …it is clear that searching (for contraband) was done in a very perfunctory manner.”

    The only mention of John Pattison that I can find is that he was called as a witness and stated that he had every confidence that his instructions to the fireman as to searching were being carried out.

  3. trenchfinder says:

    Hi Pedro,

    I can see the reasoning behind what you say – however, the indication from my mother’s memory is that John Pattison always believed it was fire damp, and the expensive lawyers employed by the mine owners had obfuscated the facts. He also maintained there was insufficient air circulation, although as I am no expert on such things I can’t comment (one figure at an accident I have tracked down is an air circulation DOUBLE that at The Grove). My great grandfather apparently went down to find “my men” without breathing apparatus. Maybe the atmospher had an affect on his health as well as never getting pver what happened?

    • Pedro says:

      As the Inquest was adjourned, pending the outcome of an Inquiry by the Mines Inspectorate, I can well understand why your mother would be concerned about the lawyers employed by the owners being able to influence the outcome. I don’t think anyone would argue that fire damp contributed to the disaster, but at the Inquiry the solicitor William Stewart was quick to blame the ignition of the fire damp to a naked light produced by one of the miners. His opinion was that explosion originated because a certain man or men contravened the Act, and, actually being in the possession of a match, harmless in itself perhaps, unless it was stuck, struck that match for some purpose or other, and so produced a naked light at that point.

      The Miners Federation representative, AJ Cook, suggested that sparks could have been caused by a pick or machine. This was ridiculed by Stewart. It is a little sad that the disaster is remembered as being caused by the workmen when the outcome of the Inquiry was “not sufficient evidence to prove how explosion occurred.”

      You are right that John Pattison went down the pit without breathing apparatus; he was at the sharp end of the disaster, while the main owner WE Harrison sent his condolences from London. I have struggled to find any further mentions of the main owner.

      John Pattison was convinced that regular searches of the miners took place, and yet contraband was found in the clothing of all but two of the fourteen dead men. This seems to be an extraordinarily large percentage! But the search had taken place by Police Sergeant Cresswell without any of the relatives present, and maybe not anyone else present?

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