- Born: 1877, Audley
- Marriage: Gertrude Annie Timmis Sep qtr 1900, Wolstanton district
- Died: 11 Jan 1908, Birchenwood Colliery, overwinding accident, at age 31
Events in his life were:
• Employment: miner dataller underground, 1901, Goldenhill.
• Employment: coal miner, 1891, Audley.
• death, 1908, Birchenwood Colliery. Fatal Injury to Burslem Man
Charles Spronton age 30yrs. Of 7 Navigation Rd. Burslem, North Staffordshire was killed at Birchenhead colliery, Kidsgrove at 4.30 am. Saturday 11th January 1908.
Mr. Hugh W. Adams, Coroner, held the inquest in Burslem town Hall Tuesday 11th January on the death. In his opening statement he said the deceased tried to get out of the cage, which was being lowered down the pit, while it was in motion and he was caught by the rail of the deck above and was severely cut and bruised about the lower part of the abdomen. He was brought to the surface and died immediately.
Gabrial Porton of 7 Navigation Rd. the deceased father in law formally gave evidence of identification and said the deceased had worked at No. 18 pit for 12 months.
John Moors, a collier, living at Mow Cop who is also employed at No. 18 pit, stated that on Saturday morning last, about 4.30 am. He entered the cage at the pit with the deceased. The cage had four decks, each of which held eight men. Witness and the deceased, with others were in the third deck counting from the top. Deceased was in front of witness.
They got to the bottom and a man named Edwin Warren, the “Hooker on” emptied the bottom deck, or in other words told the men to get out. Warren then gave the signal by means of a bell to the engineman to further lower. The cage was lowered down, it then steadied coming almost to a stop about a foot above the landing and the deceased made an attempt to get out. All of a sudden however, the cage went down, the deceased then having one leg out and one leg in the cage. The deceased was pinned between the landing and the bottom of the next deck above.
Then they shouted to Warren to give the signal to the engineman to stop, and that was done. After another signal the cage was drawn up a bit, and the deceased was released. Deceased only groaned and he was then taken out of the pit. Witness had worked at No.18 pit for twelve years, but he had never known a similar occurrence of the cage stopping and suddenly going on again. The Coroner, at this point said this was an inquiry, which would require considerable evidence, and that evidence would want very carefully going into. From the information he had received he had thought it would be a short inquiry, and from what the Government Inspector told him, it would probable take two hours. He proposed to adjourn and it was decided to hold the adjourned inquest on Thursday, January 23rd. at 2.30 p.m.
Jury Find Engine Brakes were Defective
The adjourned inquest was held at the Marquis of Granby, Burslem on Thursday 23rd January conducted by the county coroner Mr. H.W. Adams.
Continuing his evidence, John Moors, who descended in the same cage, said the men usually lifted the bar and let them selves out. They generally raised it in readiness for getting out before the cage came to a standstill. There was a boy named Roberts, who was usually in charge of the catches or “legs” which were actuated by a lever, and when shot out prevented the cage going below the landing stage. At the time of the accident the boy was not there.
In reply to the coroner, the witness said if the engine had kept on running the cage would have rested on the catches, had they been in position. This was the boy's duty and he had never noticed the absence of a person to work the catches before. The witness also stated that before the second deck stopped, the Hooker-on shouted,
”The other way out.”
Edward Warren, the Hooker-on, said it was his duty to look after the men getting out of the cage and to send the right men up. After unloading the bottom deck on this occasion the cage was lowered slower than usual until the second deck got to within a foot of the landing stage, when it went down suddenly past the landing stage. It did not stop before it made the sudden descent. There was only a slight hesitation, which could be hardly perceived. The “Puller-out” Roberts (the lad who worked the catches) must have overlaid, said the witness. He agreed that the catches would have held the cage.
Warren explained that there was a fencing bar on each side of the cage. These should be lifted by the “Hooker on” and “Puller out” respectively, but were frequently lifted by the men themselves. He had told the men that they must take the consequences, but he had never reported them.
In reply to Mr. Ashmall, representing the Engineman, Warren said the boy Roberts had since been sacked and he himself had been suspended. In addition to the fencing bar there was a protecting gate, which also must have been lifted by someone in the cage.
The Coroner here explained that there was no obligation on the company to use catches and wherever it was done it was in the nature of additional security.
The next witness was David Clarke, the engine winder. He said he received a signal to lower the bottom deck and was waiting for a corresponding signal from the banksman. This however he did not receive. The pistons were grinding and he partly turned round in-order to open the tap on the lubricator. He explained that he used his left hand on the regulator and his right hand on the steam reverser. He turned on the oil with his right hand, it only took a moment, but immediately he had done so he noticed that the drum was moving. He put in a little more steam and the engine being reversed, the drum immediately stopped. He then received a signal to raise the cage and another to stop.
The Coroner here called the witnesses attention to Special Rule 182 relating to the engine winder: “He shall not leave the handles of his engine for any purpose or on any pretence during the time anyone is being raised or lowered by it up or down the pit or suspended by it in the pit.”
The Coroner asked. “If you attention had not been directed to the lubricator you would have seen that the drum was moving? Witness replied, yes.
By other special rules you must not lubricate the engine when the cage is in motion? It was stopped then.
The witness admitted if the rule referred to the “handles” it must allude to the reverser and the lubricator, although he said there was no necessity to keep his hand on the reverser as it was locked by means of a niche. The Coroner asked what caused the engine to go on? If the brake had been more effective it would not have gone on. Had it “crept” on before that date? The reply was yes and the day before.
Witness said he had verbally complained to the manager who was in charge twelve months ago and also to the engineer, but he never mentioned it in the daily report book. It was about in the same condition now as a year ago.
Dr. Steele spoke as to the injuries deceased had received.
Expert Evidence as to the Brakes
Mr. Ashmall, representing the engineman concerned, then called a trade union agent, Harper Parker, he said he had 22 years experience of engine winding. On Sunday he inspected the engine and machinery at the colliery. He explained that the brake was applied in four sections, two on each side of the drum; he found that the brake was in good order, but the wheel to which it was applied was not true.
The result was that whilst the brake touched various parts of the drum there were other places where it did not touch at all. Where the brake touched the wheel was rubbed smooth, but at other places there were accumulations of grease and dirt.
The Coroner asked, if the cage had been stopped, would the brake as you have described it, allow the engine to run on again? The reply was, yes if stopped at the places where the brake goes away from the wheel.
Mr. Parker he had ran the cage up and down several times. The brake was sufficient to hold the empty cage, but when a number of empty wagons were placed inside it failed to hold. The bottom deck was first stopped level with the landing stage, as it would have in the case of men descending. The engine began to “creep” and could only be stopped by reversing and turning on steam.
Mr. Johnson, Inspector of Mines, said he should have considered it his duty to report the brake as being unsafe. Mr. Knight, on behave of the company said; He should not have attempted to lubricate the machinery whilst men were in the shaft.
The Coroner's Summing-Up
The Coroner in summing up, first referred to the catches or legs, and said it appeared to him that if these had been in use the accident would not have happened. At the same time there was no obligation on the part of the company to have catches, but it must be apparent to everyone that if they were provided it was absolutely necessary they should be regularly used. When they were in operation he did not suggest that it would make the winder careless but it would gave him greater security. The next point he wished to call attention to was the fact that the decease got out before he ought to have done so. He was perhaps guilty of some contributory negligence, but if the engineman was in any way responsible for the accident he should advise the jury, from a legal point of view, that the contributory negligence of the deceased did not take in any way the responsibility off the winder. If a man had a duty to perform and neglected to do so, and a fatal accident resulted, it might resolve itself into a case of manslaughter. They must be absolutely satisfied, however, that the winder was careless, negligent, and reckless. He undoubtedly broke one of the rules by taking his hand off the reversing lever, but he did not think this was sufficient to bring in a case of negligence sufficient to support a charge of manslaughter. They had also the evidence of Mr. Ashmall's own witness that the brake did not work properly. He did not know whether this operated for or against the engine driver, for if the winder knew the engine was in the habit of “creeping” it was all the more reason why he should have taken greater care.
It was only fair to the Company to say there was no complaint in the daybook as to this. The winder said he had verbally complained but he was unable to say on what date. They might find that the man was guilty in some way of negligence, and that he required censuring, but on the evidence he had not been guilty of such great negligence and rashness to sustain a charge of manslaughter.
After a private consultation, the foreman announced that the jury found the deceased met his death through a defective brake and they considered that if the Company had somebody to work the catches at the bottom of the shaft, the accident would not have happened. They would like to suggest to the proper quarter that this should be made compulsory.
The Coroner: You do not find there is any there is any responsibility attaching to the winder? Foreman: No, but, of course he ought to have reported the brake in his day book. The Coroner: Gentlemen, that is your verdict: but mine is that the engine driver is not free from blame.
Mr. Johnson, Inspector of Mines, said he would make a note of the jury's recommendation as regards the catches.
Charles married Gertrude Annie Timmis, daughter of Unknown and Unknown, Sep qtr 1900 in Wolstanton district. (Gertrude Annie Timmis was born in 1881 in Wolstanton.)