A Mining Disaster

By Rosemary Bailey

This article was published in the April 2015 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

In the 1980s I made contact with a Gordon Saul who was the 3x great grandson of my 4x great grandfather Peter Saul, born around 1747 in Banbury. Gordon had given me a tree showing many more people than I had on mine. I’d noticed on his tree two brothers James and Samuel Saul who had been buried on the same day, with the note beside their names that they were miners and perhaps had been killed in a mining accident.

Report of James and Samuel’s death, Birmingham Mail, Saturday 11th April 1857
Report of James and Samuel’s death, Birmingham Mail, Saturday 11th April 1857

Peter Saul, a wheelwright, had married twice and been widowed twice before marrying Hannah Hanton in Banbury in 1787. Their son William was baptised there in 1788 but their next three children, including my 2x great grandfather Thomas were baptised in Claydon, a small village about four miles north of Banbury. By 1797 the family were in Oldbury, Worcestershire, the heart of the Black Country. Two more children were born there including James, my contact Gordon’s ancestor and the father of the boys who died in the accident.
To find out how the boys had died I searched the freeBMD indexes for their deaths but was unable to find them so was a bit stumped. I then thought of looking at newspaper reports as I felt sure if there had been an accident involving at least two deaths it would have been reported on. Now, I haven’t been doing any active research for a few years, and even when I was I hadn’t ever used newspapers as a source. I knew that Colindale had been the place to go to for newspapers but thought that I had read that it had shut, but a search on the internet took me to www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk. I entered Samuel Saul in the search box and was able to narrow down the search to April 1857 for the Birmingham Mail. Top of the list was a report of the accident in the Saturday 11th April 1857 edition.
The report, shown below, stated that the two brothers, who were the only ones killed, were buried when about 10 tons of coal fell on them. When they were taken out of the mine their bodies were as black as coal which was attributed to suffocation. The mine was owned by ‘Messrs Hunt and Co.’.
A search of the internet brought up the site www.blackcountrymuse.com where I discovered that Brades Hill, a small pit in Oldbury, was operated by T and S Hunt. The Black Country was on the South Staffordshire Coal Fields and in the nineteenth century coal mining was huge there since without coal there was no power for the many industries in the area. I was surprised to find out most were small pits set up by a few men, usually the miners themselves, who would rent the land and mineral rights. There were up to 600 of these pits in the Black Country. Initially a shaft would be dug using a sinking winder engine; in the 1901 census the occupation of William Saul, my 2x great uncle was given as stationary engine driver so perhaps this is what he did. They then added a head frame – the structural hoist above ground – and a winch. A large bucket or ‘bowk’ was used to lower the miners and raise the spoil. As the mine became established the shaft would have been brick lined and the bowk replaced by a cage. The spoil from the mine was emptied into wagons and pushed along tracks before being tipped out.
Incidentally when doing the search of the newspaper I searched on the term mining accident and was amazed at how many there were – it was obviously a very dangerous employment. It’s tragic to think that because the brothers were working in the mine together they were killed together and one family had to suffer so much.