Shaft Incident 1929

Extraordinary Mining Accident
Pontefract & Castleford Express 29th November 1929
Funeral of Mr A Parker

Remarkable public sympathy was manifested at the funeral on Sunday of Mr Alfred Parker of Farnach Villas, 32 Pinfold Lane when St Oswald’s church was crowded to the doors, a large number of people being unable to get in.   The Rev Hadfield conducted the funeral service, Mrs Russell played ‘O Rest in the Lord’ and the dead march in ‘Saul’.   The church choir sang ‘O God our help in Ages Past’, a part of the service that was much appreciated by the family.   There were numerous floral tributes besides those from relatives and friends, several from colliery colleagues by whom the deceased was held in the highest respect.

Research into this accident followed a request by Jane Berry, a correspondent to this site hoping for information about the accident  (Jane’s grandfather, Joe Parker was related to the deceased).
Immediate enquiries to younger and now distant members of the Parker family revealed nothing.   Extensive examination of mining fatalities in Castleford library also proved fruitless and the enquiry was left pending (Jan 2003).

Not until July 2004 at the Mickletown School Open Day having chanced on Roy Kaye did I find the information needed.   Conversation with Roy revealed that he was also of the Parker family and he knew of the shaft accident and was later able to provide me with a date.  A simple matter then to view the old newspaper in Castleford library and obtain details of the burial and the subsequent newspaper report of the inquest.

The inquest was held at the Commercial Inn, the Coroner was Mr JC Haworth sitting with a jury to consider the death of Alfred parker (61) a deputy at Savile pit on Thursday 21st November, 1929.

Witnesses called were :-
John Crossland                     – Assistant Manager of Willow Cottage, Whitwood
Walter Booth Scholey          – Horsekeeper and Acting Onsetter
Paul Inman                            – Onsetter of Wakefield Road, Oulton
William Brown                      – Onsetter  from Carlton
Mr Simpkins                          – Colliery Manager
Mr G Cook                              – HM Inspector of Mines
Mr E Hough                           – Yorkshire Miners Association

William Brown reported to the Coroner that at 6.45 am whilst working in the Beeston level close to the pit bottom he heard a crash and ran away for fear of injury.  Returning he found the cage smashed to pieces under two coal tubs and Parker lying clear at the side of the shaft quite dead.   Mr Cook added that he must have fallen more than 100 yards.

John Crossland in reply to the Coroner stated that a tub controller followed by a set of stop blocks were in position at the Haigh Moor landing to prevent tubs falling down the shaft.  He added that the safety devices had been examined by Inspector Cook and Paul Inman after the accident and found to be satisfactory.

Mr Hough suggested that the pin on the blocks should have been longer and added that the block pin would have been more secure with a cotter pin arrangement rather that a straight pin that could have jerked out of position.

Walter Scholey said that he saw Parker get into the cage to go from the Silkstone seam to the Haigh Moor seam.    Acting as onsetter he rapped 3 times and received no reply, Parker then opened the cage doors and said ‘Paul is not there, rap him one’ this was done and the cage went.    Scholey added  the cage had gone about 12 yards when he heard something coming down the shaft, then he heard a bump and he ran away and called three deputies from the office.

It was 3pm later that day before access could be made to the site, bearing in mind that investigators would have to gain access from the Methley Junction or possibly the Whitwood Colliery end.
At this stage I am indebted to Ron Lewis, a former Manager at Savile for providing me with the following background and analysis of the accident:-

In 1909 the upcast shaft was deepened to the Beeston seam, intersecting the Lidgett, Flockton, Little Coal, Silkstone and Eleven Yards seams.   Connections were made to Methley Junction Colliery and thence to Whitwood Colliery in the Beeston and Silkstone for ventilation and manriding purposes.
In 1932 the upcast winding engine, headgear and heapstead were constructed enabling the Beeston coal to be wound directly to the surface and then on to the coal preparation plant, obviating the need to wind coal to the Haigh Moor level and then transported to the downcast shaft as appertained at the time of the accident.

On the occasion prior to the accident, Mr Parker wished to go to the Haigh Moor inset in the upcast shaft from the Silkstone inset.   It would appear that the system in operation was that the onsetter at the Silkstone inset should rap three on the shaft signals  to the onsetter at the Haigh Moor inset and to the banksman on the surface when men were to be raised, and a return signal from the Haigh Moor should be received before any men should be allowed on the cage at the Silkstone level.

The Inspector of Mines pointed out to Walter Scholey following his statement, that the onsetter should have full control of the shaft (this included everybody including himself).  The Inspector was in fact criticising Scholey for allowing Alfred Parker to get on the cage as he had not received the signal three from the Haigh Moor onsetter.
Paul Inman, who elected to give evidence after earlier being cautioned said that he heard the rap signal but as he was busy and the signal rapper was twenty yards away he ignored it.   Even if the rapper had been nearer it is doubtful if Inman would have signalled three to the Silkstone as he was trying to control the tubs which were running towards the shaft.

The result was that two of the tubs ran over the stop block and controller and fell down the upcast shaft, the tubs hit the ascending cage containing Parker.  It would appear that the tubs struck the detaching hook causing it to detach from the rope and allowing the cage to free fall to the shaft bottom.
The purpose of a detaching hook coupling the winding rope to the cage was to prevent the cage from going into the headgear wheel at the surface in the event of overwind. In such an instance the hook would detach and automatically suspend the cage in the headgear enabling any men in the cage to be rescued by ladders.

The newspaper does not record if the Coroner and the Inspector of Mines had interviewed the banksman or the winding engineman as well as the onsetters.  It would be interesting to see the complete Inquest Report to confirm all the findings.

The Jury returned a verdict of ‘Death by Misadventure’
Mr Simpkins (Colliery Manager) expressed sympathy with the bereaved family, stating that Mr Parker and several of the family had worked for many years for the firm and always carried out their duties to the satisfaction of the owners.  Mr JH Parker (son) thanked the Manager for his words.  Mr  Bentley, Foreman of the Jury expressed sympathy on behalf of the jurymen, all od whom knew the deceased very well.

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