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Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News, 8th July 1899

On Saturday morning a miner named William Knight (57) was killed by black damp at the Station Pit, Oakengates, which belongs to Sir Thomas Meyrick, Bart., and is being worked by Messrs. Hopley Brothers. It appears that the deceased, with another man, a sinker, named Thomas Evans, entered the bucket at the pit for the purpose of descending to the bottom. When three feet from the bottom Knight exclaimed, “ Oh Lord, Tom,” and fell to the ground. Evans, who also suffered from the black damp, tried to lift Knight into the bucket, but could not, and he was drawn up to the surface. However, he made a praiseworthy attempt to rescue his comrade by descending the shaft a second time, but again he was unsuccessful, and about a quarter-of-an-hour elapsed before the unfortunate man was drawn to the surface, when life was found to be extinct.

On Monday Mr. J. V. T. Lander (coroner) held an inquest on the body at the Falcon Inn, Oakengates, when a remarkable story was related. Mr. W. N. Atkinson (Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines) was present. Mr. S. B. Dean, solicitor, Wellington, represented the deceased’s relatives, and Mr. J. Ferriday appeared on behalf of Messrs. Hopley.

Thomas Knight, collier, living at Church Street, Oakengates, said he was working at the Round House Pit on Saturday morning. He was told that he was wanted as there was bad news for him. Witness said, “My father is killed.” He went to the Station Pit, and was told that the air was pure to within three feet of the bottom of the shaft. The deceased was in good health up to the time of his death, had been a collier nearly all his life, and was an experienced workman.

John Jones, who was engaged at the Station Pit as a banksman, said he heard Evans tell the deceased not to get out of the bucket; but he did step out when about three feet from the bottom and step on to another bucket. When Evans came up he said, “Knight is lost at the bottom,” and witness understood that he was killed by the black damp.- By Mr. Atkinson : The pit in question is an old one, which was being cleaned out. Witness was leaning over the top of the shaft to listen if the men shouted. They both took lights down with them. He heard Evans stout, “Pull up! “ and witness passed the word to the engineman. That was about five minutes after the bucket had stopped. Evans seemed scared when he came to the top. The men did not send a light down the pit before they went down themselves that morning. They had been working there three days. Evans and a man named Hassall, the under-manager, went down the pit and brought the deceased up.- By ,Mr. Dean : There had been no inspection of the pit that morning. They tied a chain round Knight’s body and pulled him up.- A juryman (to witness): What proof have you that Knight got out of the bucket before he got to the bottom of the shaft. -I could see him.

Thomas Evans said he went down the pit with the deceased, and they examined as they went down. When witness saw the pipe disconnected at the bottom he told Knight to remain in the bucket. He did not do that, however, got of out when three feet from the bottom, and stepped on to a full bucket. He immediately exclaimed “Oh Lord, Tom,” and fell down. Witness tried to lift him up, but could not. He came up for fresh air, and afterwards went down again by himself, but that time he could not get out of the bucket because of the black damp. After some minutes had elapsed Hassall and witness went down again. Knight was then dead. They put a chain round him, and he was pulled to the top. The black damp affected witness very much. They both had candles.- By Mr. Atkinson: He was a sinker, and appointed to the pit as chargeman to make an examination. The last pipe near the bottom had become disconnected, and the result was that the air would not circulate further than the bottom of the pit. Both the lights were burning, and they always carried the lights.-Mr. Atkinson : Why don’t you send a light down first? -We don’t do that.- Mr. Atkinson Then it is possible for you to get into the black damp before you know that damp exists. That has happened to many unfortunate men who had as much experience as you.- Witness: I have never sent a light down first.- Mr. Atkinson: Is it not the safest course to adopt?- Witness: The safest and best thing to do is to prove it yourself- Mr. Atkinson You may think so; but you are quite mistaken. If you had lowered a light you would have known there was damp at the bottom.- Witness:

You cannot prove it until you have proof that there is damp.- Mr. Atkinson : Of course you can soon prove it by killing yourself. Don’t you know that when dealing with an old shaft it is safer to send a light down first?- Well, yes, I think it would be.- Mr, Atkinson : I hope you will take that precaution in future.- In reply to further questions, the witness said he did not say anything to Knight when be got out of the bucket. Deceased was at the bottom for about a quarter-of-an-hoar.- Mr. Atkinson : If you had sent for help first it would have been better.- In reply to Mr. Dean, witness said the lights were burning up to the time deceased fell, but admitted that when they were really at the bottom the lights were out.- A juryman: Is there any way of proving the existence of damp at the bottom of a pit?- Mr. Atkinson : The simplest way is to send a light down, although there is nothing in the rules stating that a light must be sent down. Both the men might have been killed.

Dr. Wilkinson said he was called to the Station Pit a few minutes before seven o’clock, when he saw the deceased in an outhouse. Artificial respiration was resorted to, but the man was dead and must have been dead from the time he was brought to the surface. He had made a post-mortem examination of the body and attributed death to suffocation.

Mr. Dean called two witnesses:
Samuel Morgan, Vicker’s Street, Oakengates, said he saw the men preparing to go down the shaft. Evans asked Knight if he had a match, and when they were half-way down deceased lit the candles. When the man got near the bottom both candles went out. He saw Knight struggling at the bottom, and Evans was leaning against the piping. Evans groaned and witness told the banksman there was something the matter with the men. Evans then shouted, “ Pull up,” and when became to the top his face was a purple colour and he was like a drunken man. Just before the candles went out one of the men said, “It’s all up.” Evans went down the shaft again by himself, but he was not in a fit state to go down.- By Mr. Atkinson He did not hear Evans tell Knight not to get out of the bucket.

Corroborative evidence was given by John Plant, a forgeman of Oakengates.

At the conclusion of the evidence the Coroner remarked that it would have been better if a light had been sent down the shaft first, and it was a wonder the two men were not killed.

A juryman stated that he was at the top of the shaft soon after the accident happened. He found the deceased had been pulled up with a chain and put to lie on the cold, damp cabin floor.

Mr. Atkinson pointed out that it was necessary for the men who went down to get the body up as quickly as possible as their lives were in danger.

The Coroner said whatever the feelings of the jury were in the matter, it should be remembered that there were no marks of violence on the body.

A juryman expressed the opinion that there was ample time to put the body in the bucket and bring it up in that way.

Mr. Atkinson said his opinion was that Evans had been careless in the matter, and from what he had stated in his evidence he should think he was hardly a proper man to be in charge of a sinking pit. The banksman also seemed to be a very inferior class of workman, although he did not exhibit any signs of incompetency in the present case. He (Mr. Atkinson) was inclined to believe the story told by the last two witnesses-that both men were overcome by the damp and fell out of the bucket.

The jury returned a verdict of “Death from suffocation by black damp” and added a rider to the effect that it was advisable in all such cases that lights should be sent down the shaft before the men.

Submitted by Steve Dewhirst

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