Brothers Die in Mining Accident – A Family Tragedy

By Rosemary Bailey

This article was published in the December 2022 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

Back in April 2015 I wrote an article about James and Samuel Saul, two brothers who had died in the same mining accident in Oldbury on 6th April 1857. Oldbury is part of the Black Country and is now in the West Midlands. I was unable to find a death certificate for either man but was able to find a news paper piece that 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. of Oldbury. The Black Country is 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.
Just recently I came across the Coal Mining Accidents and Death Index on Ancestry and was able to find out a little bit more about the accident.
The description of the accident was as follows:

Old rib and pillar pit in the ‘thich coal’. The two brothers were holing, when a sudden settlement of the strata called a bump threw some tons of coal on them, although the place was not four yards wide. 2 killed.

James Saul was age 19, born about 1838, his brother Samuel was aged 21 born about 1836. both men’s occupation was described as ‘pikeman’. From the Durham Mining Museum website a pikeman is a miner working with a pick.
Looking at the account given, Wikipedia describes a rib and pillar as:
In mining, a rib pillar separates one stope (a hole left when ore has been removed) from the other and is aligned transverse of the stope, perpendicular to the strike (this means across the slope). It is used in mines to increase the strata stability of the stope and support the raises, winzes or shaft of the mine.
If there are any engineers who understand any of that, please get in touch!
The men were my first cousins four times removed.
I have written about this family before. The furthest back ancestor I am confident about is Peter Saul, a wheelwright, who 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, the father of the boys who died in the accident. Were born in Oldbury.
So tragic that two men’s lives were cut short at such a young age and I can’t imagine how the family felt to lose both men in one accident, it doesn’t bear thinking about.