The Starkey Family and

Pelsall Hall Colliery 

To mark the anniversary of Pelsall Hall Colliery Disaster, in this article I will be focusing on the Starkey family, members of which owned and worked down the mine.

Victoria House (later known as The Oaklands), Station Road, Pelsall as seen above was owned by John Starkey and his wife Keziah.  The 1871 census shows that there were also seven children and a servant girl called Emily Tonks living at the property

Riddings House, Wolverhampton Road, Pelsall was also once owned by members of the Starkey Family

Pelsall Hall Colliery Disaster 1872 

Pelsall Hall Colliery was managed by Messrs. Isaiah Morgan and John Starkey.

The following details, taken from newspaper articles written at the time of the disaster record in detail exactly what happened from the point of the disaster to the funeral.  There were numerous mistakes in the newspaper articles particularly with regards to names and ages, ie Thomas Starkey is said to be 18 when in fact we was 22 having been born in 1850.

However, that said the details in the articles are so strikingly detailed that they will 'take you' to the disaster.

Since the focus of this article is of the Starkey family and this is a particularly large article, I have underlined all parts relating to members of the Starkey family.

Pelsall Hall Colliery disaster is regarded as not only the worst mining disaster in the history of Pelsall, but in the history of the South Staffordshire Coalfield.  However, what began as a major catastrophe which caught everyone off guard, soon evolved into a highly organised operation, from the safe organisation of the pit bank, the rescue party, the creation of somewhere to stay overnight on the pit bank for the associated family members and friends, to the organisation of the thousands of visitors who boarded the train to come in to Pelsall to find out what was going on. To keep everything in check, there was a constant police presence throughout.

 

Yesterday morning, about nine o’clock, a dreadful incident happened at the colliery of Messrs Isaiah Morgan and Co., at Pelsall, known as the Pelsall Hall Colliery, and it is almost certain that 22 lives have been lost.  The colliery is a new one of between 50 and 60 acres in extent.  About thirty colliers, men and boys, were at work, when a tremendous irruption of water took place, sweeping all before it, and before the men could ascend and descend twice the water rose and all communication with the pit was cut off.  Twenty-two men and boys are said to be entombed.

Pelsall Hall Colliery has two shafts, both of which are drawing, and in one of them two pumps, having the lifting power of 700 gallons per minute have been regularly at work

The coal worked here lies on two beds, the upper, called the shallow, the lower the deep coal.  The workings of the shallow coal incline upwards, to a level considerably higher than the bottom of the shafts.  The depth of the strata lying between the two beds varies, but it is said to be about eight yards.  The water burst into the shallow coal workings, where the men mostly were, but as there are communications between the two sets of workings it is clear that the workings in the deep coal must be flooded before the water would rise to the shallow.

The accident was so sudden that there are but a few incidents of escape, and those who have escaped can tell but little.  Two men were at work at the bottom of one of the shafts when the rush came, and they at once clambered on the top of the cage, shouted, and were drawn up.  The cage was immediately sent down again and seven or eight others, who had been lucky enough to reach the bottom of the shaft, were drawn out.  Then the water rose, the cage could descend no more, and the pit, with its terrible mystery, was closed to the upper world.  Thomas Davies, one of the men rescued, states that he was at work in a working off the main road when he heard a roaring noise, and ran out into the main road to see what was the matter.  He looked up the road, which was on an ascent, called in the pit “Jigger Hill”, and saw water about two feet steep rushing down the hill.  He was thrown off his feet by the force of the stream, and would have been carried away had he not laid hold of a fixture.  On recovering to his feet he saw near him three lads named John Lawton, John Starkey, and William Starkey (the two latter nephews of one of the proprietors)He seized Lawton, and made his way to the bottom of the shaft.  On arriving at the bottom, he found the cage ready, and he and the two Starkey’s and others were drawn up.  At this time the water had risen to the height of 5 feet, and he supported he lad Lawton by holding his head.  Two lads named George Jeffreys and Joseph Cash, were drawn up the other shaft.  They reached the bottom of the shaft by which the others were saved just as the cage was ascending, made a dash for the cage, missed it and then, with a rare presence of mind, threw themselves into a culvert leading to the other shaft.  The rush of water was so great that it carried them through the culvert, and on coming to the bottom of the second shaft they shouted and were drawn up. 

The water is supposed to have broken into the pit from some old workings

No such workings are known to exist, even by the oldest inhabitant; though an old man lately died at the age of 90 who said he had heard of such workings talked about when he was young.  There have therefore been no joining workings for about a century.  The theory however is supported by the appearance yesterday of a sinking in the ground, in a field just beyond present workings of the colliery.

At the usual hour, viz, almost half-past six, the men and boys, 33 in all, descended to their work, and the operations of the pit went on without the slightest appearance of danger until about nine.  Then those on the bank were alarmed by peremptory signals from below, accompanied by piercing cries of “We shall all be drowned!”  The Butty, Mr Charles Starkey, who had but just reached the surface, at once redescended in company of three other willing workers named Thomas Davies, Robert Brough and George Gorham, and at the pit bottom they found immense volumes of swirling water, and half a score of human beings, frantically struggling and fighting for their lives.

A roll call revealed the lamentable fact that 22 men and boys, living or dead remained below; and it was further discovered that the water was rapidly rising in the shaft and was already above the inset.  The first work was to set the engines going at accelerated speed, and the next to summon the owners, Messrs. Morgan and Starkey.

 

The following is a list of the men and boys in the pit:

 

Thomas Starkey, married  21                                                                                                      Thomas Starkey, unmarried, grandson of the above                                                 

John Starkey, married one child

 

Michael Cash, married                                                                                       

Charles Cash, unmarried, son of above

 

George Baugh, married, one child                                                                      

Charles Cape, widower, with family of children

                                                                                    

John Hayward, married, seven children                                                           

William Richards, married

John Hubbard, unmarried

John Quarters, married                                                                                                             Richard Hyde, married, four children

 

Thomas Hollis, married, three children                                                                               Joseph Hollis, married, two children 

 

Edward Williams, married, with family                                                                       

Charles Astbury, married, two children

 

George Cassell, married, one child                                                                      

Frank Dukes, unmarried                                                                                                              Thomas ------- (name unknown), supposed to be married

Stephen Lawton, boy

John Roberts, boy

 

Thomas Coleman, boy                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

One of the Starkey’s in the above list is a man of 65 years of age, father of one of the proprietors of the colliery.

Joseph Cash, one of the two who were carried by the rush of water 46 yards through a culvert which connects the two shafts.  He was severely cut about the head, and was insensible, and apparently dead, when taken home.  His brother, Isaac Cash, was also saved, but his father and another brother are in the pit.  We enter, therefore, a house of mourning.  The boy tells us that he was sitting on “Jigger Hill”, eating his breakfast, when “Squash” (George Jeffreys, the other lad who was carried through the culvert) came running to him shouting, “Run for your life.”  The water was close after Jeffreys, and the two boys ran with all their speed down the hill to the bottom shaft, the water overtaking them to the depth of about a foot.  Two men were on the top of the cage, and the cage began to rise.  The lads clutched at it, but missed, and were swept into the culvert by the great rush of water.  Cash knew no more; he was afterwards told that he was washed or dragged on to the bonnet at the pumping shaft.  He was taken home, and was unconscious for some hours.  While running down “Jigger Hill”, he saw Thomas Starkey, a young man, one and twenty years of age turn back to fetch his clothes and his breakfast tin.  Starkey lost his chance of being drawn up in the cage, and his position when the great burst of water came causes the most grievous fears as to his fate.  Isaac Cash was found clinging to a conductor when the cage went down to rescue any men who might be floating in the shaft.

Going back to the pit bank, we find that a Good Samaritan – or rather two – have been engaged in good work.  The Rev. Mr Armishaw, who has been among the people, comforting them, at all events, by his sympathy, has in conjunction with Mr Stanley, of Bradford Street, Walsall, sent up to the hovel a plentiful supply of coffee and bread and butter.  The gift is very welcome, for the poor folks do not seem to have thought of leaving the place to get food, and the baskets they brought with them have long since been emptied.  The change, too, is beneficial.  The women set about pouring out coffee and cutting bread and butter with household activity, and for the moment, having something to do, they appear to forget their care.  But this gleam of cheerfulness soon passes.  The meal over, they sit down again with the same stony patience as before, as though they had been moved by galvanism and the current had been stopped.

By this time the daylight is gone.  The cressets again illuminate the gloom of the pit bank, the engine fire once more shines out, the cinders glow in the darkness, the pumps beat, the machinery clanks, the tank splashes out its contents, the people wait in the hovel – there is nothing in the least different from the night before, and yet twenty four hours have passed; Such has been the day to us, and at the pit above the ground.  How has it been below.

On Saturday the pit was visited by great numbers of people, who took advantage of the half day holiday to see what was to be seen in connection with a calamity that was the talk of the district.  There was no disorder or ... behaviour, and the only inconvenience was that wet ground was trodden into a deep mire.  Both Friday and Saturday nights were rainy, and the discomfort which the workers on the pit bank discharged their duty must have been extreme.  It is needless to say they did not flinch.

A train which arrived at Walsall heavily laden, and there took up some hundreds more visitors.  Round the pit bank, outside the barriers of wire rope, was a great crowd, quiet and orderly. 

At the entrance to the field in which the colliery is situated was stationed an agent with a box, to receive contributions for the sufferers.  On the pit bank were other agents, collecting.  Most of the visitors contributed, the exceptions uniformly being, we were assured, men who had dogs.  On Saturday, £15 was collected in this way.  A general subscription had been headed on Sunday by the representatives of the late Mr Hussey with £50.  Every train brought fresh arrivals, and from all parts of the neighbourhood persons walked into the scene.  The Bishop of Lichfield was one of the visitors, and after reading prayers at the church, he went on the pit bank and held a short service.  The Old Hundredth Psalm was first sung and was joined in by many of the crowd.  Then the Bishop mounted a trolly, and read the 88th Psalm.

Contribution boxes for the relief of the sufferers were handed about on the pit bank during the day, and £10. 8s 71/2d, was raised by this means, in addition to about the same amount collected by the Rev. M Turner, curate of Pelsall.  A more general list was started with the handsome sum of £50, from representatives of the late Mr Hussey, of Wyrley Grove

.

Most of the poor creatures had been persuaded to terminate their sorrowful vigils at the pit hovel, and betake themselves to their own homes.  Here most of them had no lack of visitors with abundant condolence and expressions of sympathy.  But, old Mrs Starkey, a woman almost as old as her husband, and he near three score and ten, was found sitting alone by her well-trimmed fire, as if waiting, as of old, the arrival at his clean carefully kept home of the loved one who many never come again.  When the old man was named by the good Samaritan who found her out, and who from the first had been engaged in carrying spiritual consolation to all, and material aid to those who needed it, the expression of resignation on her withered features deepened and – her hands folded, and her eyes upturned – with trembling voice she said, with affecting simplicity and child-like faith, “God’s will be done.  I should like him to come again if it were His will; but God’s will be done.  I shall soon meet him again.  My time is not long here.”  And the old woman was left patiently waiting the speedy meeting here or thereafter.

Yesterday morning crowds of persons were early moving from all parts of the Black Country to the scene of the catastrophe.  The country roads were thick with vehicles and pedestrians from dawn, and the trains were crowded as at fair or wake time, and long before midday it was computed that there were at least 30,000 people assembled on the pit bank crowded round a large space which had been roped off around the winding shaft, offices and traction engine, and even clustering upon the pit buildings in the distance.  Within this space was assembled a large number of mining experts, among whom were the following, who had been on duty all night – viz, Mr Ness, Mr G Williams, Mr J Williams, Mr Bickley (Coppyhall), Mr Brainsby, Mr J Lindop, Mr A Lindop and the proprietors, Messrs. Morgan and Starkey.

Police constables Ellis and Blackman, were pacing the bank, as they would seem to have done since Thursday morning.  Dr Somerville, Bloxwich, was also there in the hope of the work resulting in the placing of living men from below in his hands; and a plentiful supply of mattresses, flannels and restoratives was at hand. 

The Bishop of Lichfield, who had made a special visit to Pelsall conducted a short special service. The Rev. A Turner, curate of Pelsall, gave out an appropriate hymn which was sung with ferrour and heartiness; and his Lordship then mounted on an upturned pit wagon and read the 118th Psalm. A prayer was then said making special supplication for a blessing of the workmen and for the recovery of the entombed men alive.

Sunday

Leaving for a time the pit bank, and the workers in the falling mist, and the hovel with its sorrow stricken inmates, let us look in at the “office”.  Here are congregated mining engineers and others whose business or sympathies detain them at the scene, but who are not required to be at the shaft.  It is nearly three o’clock.  Another descent has lately been made, and the candles have been extinguished, but this time, it is said, by the water, so that the position of affairs does not increase anxiety.  The pumps and tanks are working to admiration, though the progress made is variable, and the inmates of the office are making up their minds to spend the night as best they can.  A fierce fire is burning, and the bare unplastered room is filled.  The rough forms, made of planks, are all occupied, and a few persons are standing for whom no sitting room can be found.  Flasks are handed round, and smoking is generally going on.  Mr Bramhall, the owner of the traction engine, the racy Yorkshireman, is talking, and the others laugh.  It is impossible for this man to talk without being amusing, and impossible for any appreciator of rough humour to hear him and not laugh.  The laughter seems even to those who make it, ill timed, for on the other side of the door sit women whose husbands are in the pit, but the men who laugh have been grimy at work for one, two, three, or four days, and few minutes of wholesome mirth may be good when sleep is all but unattainable.  Laughter and tears are now neighbours in a man’s own nature as well as in the locality of the pit bank.  Presently silence rarely broken, reigns in the hut.  The Government Inspector broils a chop on the gridiron, and eats it with the help of a pocket knife, with a slice of bread for a plate and then puts a railway rug over his head, and with the readiness of a veteran campaigner, falls asleep as he does.  Others sleep lying or sitting, and one or two nod as they stand.  The cold wind blows through the interatices between the bricks, menacing colds or rheumatism to those who have no wrappers to protect themselves.  Then two or three sitters leave, and the men who have been standing sit down, and in a few moments slumber has overcome all the inmates in the hut – an uneasy and fitful slumber, on rough, hard forms, in uncomfortable postures, and subject to frequent disturbance.  So the dreary night passes, and the cold grey dawn, stealing through the windows, announces the beginning of the fifth day of this mournful, melancholy work.

engineers have decided to put down air-troughs, to carry off the black damp, and at the forge connected with the colliery the blacksmiths had been at work all night beating out the large holdfast spikes, curved to clasp the iron pipes.  The conviction of the necessity of the air-troughs puts an end to hope. 

This is not an idle fear, for danger of exploration received two illustrations yesterday.  In the morning Mr Starkey, one of the proprietors, finding that the water had subsided considerably below the inset, was on the point of throwing himself from the tank, on which he had partly gone down, into the water, to enter the pit but was restrained by Mr Ness, who told him it was certain death to do so, and who never relaxed his grip of him until they had regained the top.  In the afternoon, by a curious chance, Mr Starkey saved Mr Ness’s life.

These two, with Forester, the carpenter, had gone down to examine the work which had been done, and while they were at the bottom Mr Ness’s cap and a tool fell into the water.  He instinctively stooped to pick them up, and in doing so inhaled some choke damp.  He was overcome by it, and saved from falling by Mr Starkey and on reaching the surface he showed symptoms of being seriously affected.

An enormous “swag” about an acre in extent, is said to have appeared about 120 yards from the accident, over old workings, long filled with water, called Goscote Pound.

Mr Stanley, of Walsall, deserves honourable mention for his generous forethought, in providing tea and solid refreshments in the office, for the use of those who were in constant attendance at the colliery.

Collections were again made on the pit bank, and money, chiefly copper, was freely given.  We are asked to state that the representatives of the late Mr Hussey have increased their subscription to the relief fund to the sum of £100.  Out of the £84, collected from the pit from visitors on Sunday £50 was in copper money.

Tuesday

At about seven o’clock those on duty observed among the water bought up by the pumps and cast out into the channel from the pit bank, the upper part of a pair of trousers.  After a cursory examination, this was about to be thrown aside, when some person looked at it again, and discovered that it contained a watch which was much battered and bruised.  The watch – the small band of which was gone, thus rendering it impossible to tell what hour it stopped – turned out to be the one worn by the young man Thomas Starkey at the time of the inundation, and afforded on the means of the identification of the fragment of garment, as being part of the trousers for which Starkey had turned back, while some of his companions were escaping out of the reach of the in-rushing water.  Stimulated by the sight of the watch, Mr Bramhall searched the water channel, and there found parts of three fingers of a man’s hand.  These discoveries furnished evidence in support of the theory that the ill-fated man was driven by the flood into the bottom of the pumping shaft.  The pumps were immediately stopped at the instance of Mr Bramhall; and the necessary preparations being made as speedily as possible, Mr A Lindop went down with two of the workmen, named John Buff and John Round, and, as they expected, found the body in the sump in about seven feet of water.  It was about nine o’clock when the corpse was brought to the bank, and a most heart rending scene took place.  The two brothers of the deceased, lads of 13 to 15, and his two uncles, were there, and their grief was distressing in the extreme to witness.  The poor fellow’s father, the doggy of the pit, was also in the immediate vicinity, but some considerate friends took him away to the machine house, and spared him the pain of seeing brought up all that remained of his son.  The body was removed to the watchman’s box on the bank, and an examination showed that the fingers of the right hand had been smashed and carried away, the right thigh broken, the left side in the region of the heart wounded, and the face bruised; all there injuries being apparently caused by the movement of the tank up and down in the sump.

When that difficulty was surmounted, work was actively resumed, and at about half past three, Mr J Starkey, one of the proprietors, discovered the body of the elder Cash, the man who is said to have tapped the water lying face downwards, near to one of the horses referred to above, about 55 yards from the pit bottom.  He was partially dressed, perhaps for breakfast.  His flannel was slung over his right arm, his tools were beside him, his feet entangled in the horses tackle, and his arm around one of the trees, as if while struggling to get past, he had been over taken by the rush of water and earth, and buried.  The information was conveyed to the bank, where a large crowd of people had gathered

Then a blanket was taken down by Mr Ness.  The signal was given to draw up, and slowly the rope wound away over the pulley until, amid the deep silence of the assembled multitude, the cage emerged from the mouth of the shaft, bearing upon it Messrs. Thomas Parkes, William Brookes, George Goring, and Thomas Young, who supported between them a stretcher on which lay the inanimate form of poor Cash, covered with the blanket which went down a few minutes before removal of the bodies to the Station Inn,*

At about eight o’clock the explorers reached the stable in another part of the pit, and there found the carcasses of two horses, and the body of the youth Thomas Coleman, hanging by his middle across one of the bars dividing the stalls.  The body was got to the surface at about nine o’clock, and like the others, removed to the Station Inn.  It is expected that before this meets the public eye several other bodies will have been recovered.

RECOVERY OF EIGHTEEN BODIES

Thursday

The operations in workings leading from the winding shaft were suspended on Thursday night, owing to the presence of immense quantities of choke damp; but along the workings leading from the pumping shaft an exploring party pushed along through great difficulties towards the crop of the shallow, where it was expected that most of the unfortunate deceased would be found.  The workmen engaged in the task were – Henry Castle, William Merrick, James Adams, Enoch Jaundrill, John Baugh, George Ball, William Brookes, George Goring, and Thomas Lees, the names of several of whom are already well known to the readers of the records of the terrible disaster.  They were led by Messrs J Lindop, J A Fellows, J Getting and Thomas Fisher, Mr Bate, and Mr Thomas Bramhall- who seems to have permanently located himself at the colliery – remaining on the bank, and assisting the party, in addition to endeavouring to reopen the ventilation of the winding shaft.  The work progressed satisfactorily.  In the morning, the same noble band of workers continued their perilous work, being joined by a few others; and Messrs A H Lindop, J W Baker, and J Williams took the charge, under general superintendence of Mr J Starkey.  By about three o’clock in the afternoon the roadway had been cleared about fifteen yards further, and then it was found that the way was impassable, the roof being in, and the floor thrown up.  Attention was then again turned to the roadways leading from the winding shaft, which was once more sufficiently clear to be descended, and good progress was made.  About five o’clock it was found that three of the workmen – viz., Thomas Goring, Thomas Lees, and Enoch Jaundrill-were in the mine, and fears for their safety being excited, Messrs J W Baker, J Gettings, and G Williams started in quest of them, with Thomas Davies (one of the men who was working in the pit at the time of the inundation), B Lyons and Thos. Bloomer.  In a brief space, the party returned to the machine house.  The door was closed, and with ‘bated breath’ – it being desirable not to spread the news too rapidly, and attract fresh crowds to the pit bank – it was announced that the three men, emulous of being the first to discover the dead, had started off on an exploration on their own account, and having, after many difficulties, succeeded in penetrating to the crop of shallow, about 80 yards beyond Cash’s heading, or some 160 yards from the bottom, and there found all they were seeking – 18 out of the 19 dead being there.  Ten of the poor fellows were lying together – “all of a ruck”, as one of the men said – three were crowded in a tub, and four in another, as if they had crowded together for warmth; and old Mr Starkey’s body was farthest away, with one of the legs resting upon the edge of one the tubs.  All were dressed; their clothes were dry; and at first sight they presented the appearance, not of sad men, but of men placidly sleeping and taking their rest.  Sleeping indeed they were, but it was their last long sleep; and, the water not having risen to the spot, it seemed evident that choke damp was the cause of that sleep.  Candles were by, and these, like everything else in the vicinity, were dry, and lighted readily.  A closer examination afterwards showed that the faces of some of them were swollen, and had apparently been bleeding, but from what cause could not, of course be ascertained.

Another article describes the macabre scene rather differently noting that ‘one man kneels with bowed head as though engaged in prayer...as though he called a silent blessing down upon the sleeping men about him.  His dead hands are laid upon the shoulders of another who lies below him in the truck.’ The guide points out one of the boys.  A beautiful lad, he says.  Looks like an angel, and has a smile on his face. ‘There is no horror in the scene.’

Mr Bramhill had his horse and trap in readiness for the removal of the dead to the Station Inn. 

Another piece of kindly thoughtfulness was performed by Mr A Lindop, who procured some linen bandages for the purpose of binding up the features of the dead, prior to bringing them to the surface

Earlier in the day, coffins of oak, well made and well furnished, supplied by Messrs Cresswell and Co., of Great Charles Street, Birmingham, ordered by Mr Morgan, had been sent to Pelsall, in readiness for the reception of the dead.

Arrangements are made for the funeral of Thomas Starkey, Michael Cash, and Thomas Coleman on Sunday, and it is proposed that the other deceased shall be interred at the same time, and one vault be made to contain them all.

Friday

THE EIGHTEEN BODIES BROUGHT TO THE BANK

The record of operations at the Pelsall Hall Colliery still continues to be a record of dangers, difficulties and disappointments and delays.  When the history of Friday’s failures and hard-won successes closed, it was confidently expected that before the morning the eighteen dead would be bought to the bank, even if the nineteenth were not found and also brought up; but when the morning came, not half the work had been accomplished.  The men whose names were given in Saturday’s Post, toiled on below, under the superintendence of Mr G Williams, Mr J W Baker, Mr A Lindop, Mr Evans, and Mr J Williams and succeeded in conveying seven corpses past all the obstructions blocking the 160 yards of roadway lying between the cold, gloomy scene of death, in the crop and the pit bottom.  At about one o’clock, these seven had all been sent to the surface, and delivered into the care of Mr J Lindop, Mr S Checkley, and Mr T Bramhall, who were on duty above ground and who saw the removal to the Station Inn, of the lifeless forms of these victims of the mine.  An eighth had been conveyed part of the weary way to the bottom of the shaft, when the lights of the party suddenly went out and hurriedly depositing in the road the poor relic of humanity they were carrying, they fled for their lives before the terrible enemy, choke damp, which was evidently again present in the mine in great force.  And well they did so, or other names would have been added to the list of the dead.  Even as it was, Mr A Lindop and Mr J W Baker were very seriously affected.  The former’s sufferings were extremely acute, and after he had rested a while in the machine house, and had been provided with such remedies as were at hand, he was taken home.  The latter, by setting himself to active exertion in the open air, and yielding a little to the genial influences brought to bear upon him by some of his co-workers, was, after a time enabled to shake off the painfully depressing effects of the poison and remain at his post.  A disheartening task it was, however, both to him and to others, to remain there helpless against the insidious and deadly invader of the mines.  The night was wild and tempestuous, and with bad weather always comes choke-damp.  The day opened wild and tempestuous, and choke damp still filled the mine, setting at defiance the several efforts made to draw it from the workings into the engine stack, and leaving nothing for the explorers but to sit down, and with much patience as could be commanded, await a change of weather above ground, and accompanying improved atmospheric conditions below.  Twelve hours past, and still the pit was full; but at two o’clock on Saturday afternoon it was deemed safe to reopen the winding shaft – which had been covered up all the morning for the purpose of diverting the current of choke damp into the stack – and descend again.  From that time, with the exception of a brief space at about five, the men were able to continue their work in the roads until between seven and eight, then came another outburst of choke damp, and the lights, as on the previous night, being extinguished in a moment, another perilous rush in the dark took place to the pit bottom, and up the shafts.  Soon afterwards, the Government Inspector came, in company with the Coroner, Mr W H Phillips, and a consultation with mining experts took place, which resulted in the decision that stronger blowing apparatus was required. At once the Inspector set off and fetched one set of the required appliances from Mr Groucutt’s, Wolverhampton; Mr Bramhall with equal promptitude, fetching another from Messrs. Bagnall’s, Deepmore.  These had the desired effect, and the workmen, at four o’clock yesterday morning, were enabled to push on and complete a cross heading, which opened a way for a current of air through the pit.  The weather changed at about the same time, and by about nine o’clock it was possible to resume the melancholy task of bringing out the dead – a task of which Mr J W Baker took active superintendence, and which was completed by about half past ten o’clock, there being scarcely time to get the last body out before choke damp again broke into the mine in overpowering volumes.  Subsequently another entrance was affected and a careful examination made of all the workings, the conclusion come to being that the body of the missing man, William Richards, will be found buried among the rubbish at the foot of jigger hill.  The work of searching was at once begun.  The superintendents of the work on duty on Saturday night were most of the gentlemen named above with Mr Gettings, Mr T B Mills, Mr Griffiths, and Mr S Checkley, Mr J P Baker, Government Inspector, as is stated above, was present; and it is only right to state that from the first, even when away, he has been kept appraised of the progress of the work by frequent telegrams. 

The seven bodies recovered on Friday night were those of Thomas Hollis, Charles Cash, George Ball, John Hayward, John Ubbard, John Quarter and a man unknown, but for a time believed to be Thomas Orcott.  Hollis and the unknown man bear extreme bruises, caused, it is supposed, by their coming in contact with the timbering of the roadways, or projecting parts of the mine itself, in those moments of supreme agony when they became aware of the inburst of the cruel flood, and no doubt rushed frantically up and down the passages of the mine in the vain search for some friendly avenue of escape.  Several of those recovered yesterday morning are also badly bruised and otherwise injured.  That they were at last led by old Mr Starkey, he patriarch of the party, is regarded as tolerably certain; but there is no scrap of paper, no scratch upon a tobacco box lid, nor anything to show how long they sat waiting for deliverance, then they yielded to despair, in what spirit they faced the last grim enemy, or when he took them for his own.  Light they do not seem to have had.  The candle said to have been found by their side, was, it turns out, taken there by M Williams, when he went to verify the report of Goring, Lees and Jaundrill; and a careful search of the walls and floor fails to show even a fragment of clay in which a candle has been.  It may safely be assumed, therefore, that however long they sat, they sat in the dark – perhaps for long hours, listening in terror to the lapping of the water as it rose to their place of refuge and of death (and it did rise to within half a dozen inches on one of the party), and buoyed up by hope or crushed down by despair as the noise of the engine and dash of the descending tank reached their ears or ceased for a time.  Imagination may faintly picture the horrors of the dreadful waiting and listening in that gloomy prison-house; but who can form an adequate conception of the intense longing for home, and wife, and little ones, and loving friends, which filled the hearts of the poor belated fellows.  Their tea cans are all empty, and that fact is taken to indicate that they lived some little time, at least, after congregating together.  The position of the group also seems to show that they all lived long enough to suffer extremely from cold, to which the failing powers of nature would render them peculiarly susceptible.  With the exception of old Mr Starkey, who had evidently fallen backwards out of the tub in which he had been sitting with some others, all were crowded as close together as possible, with arms folded over their breasts, heads sunk low between the shoulders, and jacket collars turned close up, in which attitudes they fell asleep, apparently without a pain, except such as arose from previous injuries.  But whatever all these circumstances may be taken to indicate, there is no positive guide to the time of their death; and the mystery is likely to remain a mystery still.

Yesterday the visitors to Pelsall were again very numerous, and it was necessary to put on extra trains to meet the extraordinary influx of travellers.  The great centre of attraction next to the pit itself was the Station Inn, where the bodies lay – a saddening spectacle – in the club room, each in the coffin to which his name has been affixed, and bearing appearance very dissimilar.  The lads looked quite fresh, almost rosy; and the elder Starkey bore the aspect of a hale and hearty old man tranquilly sleeping.  The features of some of the others were black, others brown, and one green, as if coated with verdigris.  Police constable Ellis, who was one of those on duty, with thoughtful consideration, allowed the relatives and personal friends of the dead to enter the room, a few at a time and the lamentations of the sorrowing crowd – wives weeping over their husbands, parents over their children, children over their parents – were heartrending in the extreme.  Among the visitors was the Bishop of Lichfield, who went among the afflicted people, with words of consolation.

The funeral of the bodies recovered was originally fixed for yesterday (Sunday), but on Saturday the arrangement was set aside, and the internment fixed for today (Monday), when all the bodies will be deposited in one vault in the Churchyard at Pelsall.

Mr Thos. Thorneycroft, of Tettenhall, the chairman of the Hartley Colliery Fund Committee for the Wolverhampton district, writes to state that he has called a meeting of the committee, to be held on Wednesday next, at the Town Hall, Wolverhampton, at one o’clock to consider the desirability of applying some portion of that fund for the benefit of the poor widows and orphans who are suffering by the colliery disaster at Pelsall.

 

Saturday and Sunday

A Last look into the Open Coffins

Yesterday was another of those drizzing, drenching days, when the rain comes, as it were, in volumes, and wraps around one like a wet blanket, imparting a chilly, yet choking sensation.  But notwithstanding the unfavourable state of the weather, thousands were eagerly seen wending their way to Pelsall, which for the last ten days has been the centre of attraction for all the sight seers in the Black Country.  It seems as if those who had witnessed the first act in the melancholy tragedy were determined to see it completely played out.  Consequently, the railway company’s officials, who have had a hard time of it all week, were constrained to put on more ‘specials’ to Pelsall.  On reaching the dull, dreary, desolate village, with its bare bleak common, full of swags and pitfalls, we found that crowds had already assembled round the Station Inn.  By dint of elbowing and crushing we made our way to the mortuary behind the main building, and only the bodies of John Quarter (43) Charles Capewell (age not known), Joseph Hollis (21), Thomas Hollis (26), Edward Williams (age not known), George Ball (38), Stephen Lawton (14), and Thomas Hawkes (age not known) remained.  The others, it appeared, had, after being viewed by the Coroner and jury, been removed to their homes, and the lad, John Hubbard (17), whose parents reside at Stubbers Green, had been removed on Saturday night, and interred in Aldridge church yard on Sunday. The coffins which remained were still open, and crowds of visitors thronged to gaze upon a sight which made them shudder, and from beholding which they shrunk aghast. Undeterred by the effects of the sight upon others, fresh streams came trooping in to see, and then, like those who had passed on before, to loath the spectacle they had so yearned to behold.  The atmosphere of the room was now very offensive, for while the decomposition was rapidly changing the condition of the bodies, and evoking therefrom noxious and poisonous gases, and the unwrapping of the foul, damp clothes in which the corpses were dressed when discovered added to the loathsomeness of the effluvia, which was at times almost unbearable.  Indeed we observed not only delicate females, but stalwart men turn sick with the sight and odour of the place, which the heavy atmosphere renders difficult to ventilate.  On several of the coffins were observed inscriptions which had previously escaped notice owing to the letters and the ground work plate being of the same colour, and our first inspection being by candle light, and our attendant who held the candle – a stout miner – being rather in haste to leave a place which to him was no doubt productive of painful emotion and bitter reflections, for around him lay several of his companions.  One of these inscriptions was “Look for the Resurrection,” another was “We praise Thee, O God,” and a third coffin was inscribed, “He hath borne our sorrows and carried our griefs.”  While in the mortuary a singular incident occurred.  The companions of the dead men, in examining the clothes which were tied up in bundles, declared that one of the suits of wearing apparel belonged to the missing man Richards.  Police constable Ellis, who had charge of the mortuary, settled the affair by assuring the disputants that Richards’s widow had identified the jacket and hat which had recently been found in the pit.  Some of the parties, however, stuck to it that the clothes they had seen were those belonging to Richards.  By this time the undertaker’s men have commenced to screw down the lids of the coffins, and those who wish to take their last look are crowding round before the hour for procession.  Mr Starkey has arrived, and the room is cleared of visitorsThe bearers now enter, and each set, with its mournful burden, takes its place in the procession.

 

The Funeral Follows

 

From early morn the death bell knolled the departed dead; and about one the heart piercing wall and thud of the Dead March from Saul; struck upon the ear, as one contingent of the dead came marching in to its last muster, headed by the Bloxwich Rifle Corps Band.  The contingent united with the others upon the common, for during the night, all the dead, but eight, had been removed to their homes from the Station Inn, and the long procession of twenty corpses, and many, very many, weeping relatives and friends moved on towards the church, and made its way through the thousands of spectators – perhaps 30,000 – gathered against the churchyard railings, and clustered upon cabs, carriages, breaks and vehicles of all descriptions far around.  The body of young Thomas Starkey came first, with its white sashed bearers- the unmarried were distinguished by the presence of white upon the bearers and upon the coffin trimmings, the other bearers and trimmings being all black – and passed into the church, with four weeping women.  A quarter of an hour passed, the wailing music coming nearer and nearer and the death bell tolling on all the while, and then the head of the procession passed within.

The first body carried in was that of John Roberts, then that of Edward Williams, then that of Thomas Hawkes, then that of Thomas Quarter, then that of Charles Astbury – a hoary-headed man following in the knot of mourners behind this one.  Then came more bodies, each, like the preceding ones with its train of grief stricken followers, and then came the bodies of poor old Mr Starkey and his nephew; Mr Morgan and his partner being among those who followed the former, and proceeded the latter.  And so the solemn cavalcade passed on, body after body, each with its attendant group of mourners, until ... grew big with emotion and eyes little used to tears wept freely at the sight.  By the time all were in, the church was full to overflowing.  The fruits of death’s harvest lay in double rows along the passages, the engineers and colliery proprietors, pale with toil and the anxiety of the ten or twelve previous days and nights sat together on the right hand side of the upper end of the edifice; the pews were thronged with men, and women, and children claiming close kinship with the poor fellows lying cold and stark in the coffins close by.  The great assemblage sorrowed with a great sorrow; waves of sympathetic grief flowed through the mass of people from end to end of the building, and the efforts to subdue the manifestations of that grief were as painful to witness and to listen to as were the more passionate outbursts of some of the throng.  Said one who had been engaged from the first in the arduous task of reopening the mine, and had seen the scenes of anxious waiting and bitter sorrow on the bank, the terrible gathering of dead men in the depths below, “This is the worst and most disheartening scene of all”, and heartrending it was indeed.

The Rev W L Cotter read the 90th Psalm, and the sacred words, “They are even as asleep, and fade away suddenly like grass.  In the morning it is green, and growth up, but in the evening it is out down, dried up and withered,” seemed peculiarly applicable to the suddenness of the fate of these poor victims of the mine.  The consolatory lesson was read by the Rev J R Selwyn, and then the Rev J Turner delivered a short address.  He referred to the painful circumstances under which the twenty two poor fellows had been suddenly called away to render an account to God, and said there were two practical lessons which they should learn from this solemn event.  The first was the uncertainty of life, and this consideration addressed itself with peculiar force to many of those before him who were engaged in occupations similar to those in which the twenty two were engaged when death came to them.  How little did that twenty two think, when they left their homes on that memorable Thursday morning that they were leaving home for the last time.  And as the last time came to them, so, in some shape or other, would it come to all those present.  Seeing then that life was uncertain and time short, he earnestly asked them if they were prepared to meet death.  Another lesson they must learn from the calamity was one of hope.  They did not sorrow as those without hope.  It was true that, of some of those they were about to commit to their last resting place they knew nothing; but if the dying thief found mercy when hanging from the cross, so might these poor men have sought and found mercy during the terrible time of their imprisonment in the mine.  After enlarging upon his theme, the rev. gentlemen adjured his weeping auditory so to live as through the blood of Jesus, to meet those who had gone before; and charged them, as they would all meet at the judgement seat of God, not to be neglectful of the lessons which they had to learn from the distressing event which had brought them together.  The passionate grief of his auditory was at times distressingly excessive.  Then came the removal to the grave.  Edward Williams was the first sent down into the gloomy vault, and his poor wife lingered at the top of the descent, unwilling to leave him there, and had at last to be removed by kindly forces.  Then came John Quarter, and another painful scene occurred, his friends giving vent to demonstrations of grief violent in the extreme.  Tender sympathisers got them away, and then coffin after coffin came containing the bodies of Frank Dilkes, Thomas Starkey, Thomas Ancott, John Hollis, John Roberts, Charles Astbury, George Cassell, Charles Cash, Marshall Cash, Stephen Lawton, Charles Capewell, Thomas Starkey – the old man – and as his coffin was brought along and passed out to view, another wave of sympathetic sorrow – a sort of articulated spasm of pain – ran through the crowd.  Next came Thomas Hollis, who was supposed, from the position of his body, to have been in prayer at the time the dread summons came.  Then followed John Starkey, Richard Hyde, John Haywood, Thomas Coleman, and George Ball, and as the last went down, Brooks, who stood by, exclaimed with a sigh, “A nice lad he was.”  The Rev. W P Davies read the sentences appointed to be read at the grave; and the Rev. J Turner and the Rev. F G Littlecot the prayers after the burial.

The scene at this moment was a memorable one as well as a melancholy one.  Around the opening into the vault stood the noble band of volunteers – mining engineers, colliery proprietors and workmen – whose heroic efforts during the recent days and nights have made their names famous whenever the English tongue is spoken; and below lay all that remained of the poor fellows on whose behalf their superhuman efforts were put forth.  Touched deeply they were by the melancholy incidents of the day, and the knowledge that all their labours were fruitless so far as regarded the saving of life, evidently gave a deeper shade to their sadness.  They stood with bowed heads and moist eyes, and the hearty grasp of the hand, and friendly “goodbye”, with which they parted from each other, and from those whose duties had bought them in contact with them since the inundation, told eloquently of the burden of the heart, which the tongue could not be trusted to tell.

Several of the dead, who were members of the Nottingham Order of Oddfellows, were followed to the grave by brother members, with regalia, and at the close of the ordinary service for the dead, one of the officers read the prescribed funeral oration, and almost at the same moment, the band struck up the well-known “Pope’s Ode.”  The Rev J Turner then delivered another address, and the mournful proceedings came to a close.

The missing body of Richards – if it be Richards, for the clothes taken from one of the corpses have been claimed as his – has not yet been found.

The undertaker’s assistants are busy in the low roofed building, and you hear the sound of falling hammers as the coffin plates are fixed.  All these plates you will notice bear the words, “who died November 15th 1872.”  This is a pure guess of course, but the date of the day of the accident has been chosen.  Whilst the dismal work is being finished inside, one or two tearful women come on the old errand, but have to go away without the melancholy satisfaction they came to seek.

The scene at this moment was a memorable one as well as a melancholy one.  Around the opening into the vault stood the noble band of volunteers – mining engineers, colliery proprietors and workmen – whose heroic efforts during the recent days and nights have made their names famous whenever the English tongue is spoken; and below lay all that remained of the poor fellows on whose behalf their superhuman efforts were put forth.

The journalist then goes on to conclude:

Many a man rushes into battle and does great deeds in a wild swirl and dash and hurry of excitement and enthusiasm, which might make a hero of an errant coward for the time; but NESS, weakened by long fatigue, and with his eyes open to danger, went coolly down the shaft, to face, for all the could tell to the contrary, a certain death, and this not once, or twice, or thrice alone.  There were others here who worked with equal courage and persistence; STARKEY, CHECKLEY, BROOKES, and GORING, and some others, have played heroic parts in this sad drama of real life.

These men deserve some public recognition.  It is not just that so great a work as that performed by them should be permitted to fall into ... oblivion.  We believe the medal of the Royal Humane Society is only given for the actual saving of human life, but these men, one and all deserve it richly.  And we feel persuaded that some public recognition of their merit will be made, although the form in which it could most ... for consideration.

Young Clara Starkey wife of John Starkey stands next to the reverend.  The wife of William Starkey, Mary Ann stands next to her.  

The Bible above was presented to Clara Starkey, the photograph to the right is of Clara in latter years.

Earlier this year the Bible above was bequeathed to Pelsall History Centre and very gratefully received.

When the top of Mouse Hill stood still with its history a distant memory

Full details of Pelsall Hall Colliery disaster can be found in my book, Pelsall's Black Gold Pelsall Hall Colliery Disaster, the History, the Unsolved Mysteries and the Lasting Legacy

Further details about the Starkey family will follow shortly