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MASSIVE BOILER EXPLOSION AT

THE CANAL STREET WORKS

 

THE FULL STORY OF THE MILL AND THE LORD BROTHERS WHO BUILT IT

CAN BE READ BY CLICKING HERE

 

Thursday 21st January 1875 was a day the people of Todmorden could never forget. On the Sunday following the explosion, hundreds of sightseers came on trains from surrounding towns to see the damage. Such was the magnitude of the disaster. One hundred and two years later, in 1977, the following report appeared in the Evening Courier.

At precisely 1.28pm On Thursday, January 21st. 1875, an explosion ripped through a canal side mill in Todmorden owned by the Lord Brothers. It happened at a time when the community was already suffering from hardship and misfortune and was one more trial that had to be endured by the long suffering people of Todmorden.

 

Things had been hard for the townspeople over the previous few months and even the weather that week at the end of January had seemed against the local community.

 

A smallpox epidemic had ravaged its way through the town, testing the meagre medical resources and killing off many. The Sourhall smallpox hospital was to be purchased in March 1875, too late for the victims of the latest outbreak. Tuberculosis and measles continued to be major killers and many of the victims to these diseases were the young children. Each year, 50 people in every 1,000 died, but not always as victims of disease. In spite of the Factory Acts, the latest of which was demanding a reduction in the hours that 15 year olds should work on a Saturday, the mills and factories were death traps. There were several cases of workers being trapped or maimed or even killed by machinery in factories, which were reported every week at that time.

The law at that time was tough, an example being seen in the case of a man who left home to find work, leaving his wife and family to live on handouts of the Halifax Union, was caught, returned and sent to prison for two months hard labour. Beggars were not tolerated on the streets and were hauled before the magistrates and one man who took a day off his work as a canal boatman was fined £1 and £2-11s-10d costs

 

Compulsory schooling for children had begun in 1871 and the courts took a dim view of youngsters who did not agree with this new innovation. The courts sent one young lad, who showed that he had no intention of regularly attending school in that January of 1875, to the training ship 'Southampton', which was moored in the Humber estuary at that time.

 

Even qualified men in well-respected professions were not immune to depression; probably bought on by the helplessness of the situation they found themselves in. A physician, who had taken to drink, was arrested for trying to commit suicide, not an uncommon phenomenon, but in one seemingly so well educated, it was a drastic step to take.

 

These then, were the conditions at the time that the tragedy was to strike with a force that would affect many households that fateful day and for many weeks to come.

 

The week had begun with some abnormal weather for January. Workers sweated even more in the heat wave conditions. On the Wednesday thunderstorms raged followed by high winds, which did much damage in the valley. Thursday brought settled weather and things seemed to be getting back to a more normal plan.

The usual clatter of clogs on the cobbles, a sound very familiar in those days, and one that you set your clock by, was heard that morning. The usual mill workers arriving for the morning shift. Those who lived near to the mill would work the six hour shift up to lunch time and then be lucky enough to get home for the break, those who lived further away would have to stay in the mills precincts with their tins of snap and their tea wrapped in newspaper for a warm brew. Neither group had any forewarning that some of them would never again be able to follow the usual routine ever again.

 

Canal Street today, where the sound of clogs on cobbles heralded the workers returning to work

 

The morning was ordinary enough especially in the boiler room where, as usual, two of the three 6ft. 6in.diameter, 64lb. per square inch pressure boilers were working normally under the supervision of Edmund Woodhead, who went round checking that there were no signs of any wear in the metal which would mean repairs were needed. He found none.

 

Inside the five-storey mill, the machines rattled along. The cotton market was staying fairly stable and there was plenty of work to do. At 12-30 on the dot the hooter would go and everything would wind down and stop as the power was switched off for the lunch break. The workers who stayed would head for the small engine room next to the boiler house, which was a favourite place for the hour's respite from work. Just before the whole place burst into life again, the men in the boiler house would begin to get up steam. The Workers returning from their break at home were arriving, laughing and joking as they walked down Canal Street back to the mill. The clock on the Todmorden Technical School showed 1-28.

 

Suddenly, another sound drowned the first - the roar of an explosion filled the air, followed by the sound of buildings crumbling and the mighty swish of steam escaping. It seemed like the whole premises were going up in the air like a rocket as the boiler house disintegrated and the engine room next door, the lunchtime haven, disappeared.

 

The smiles and laughter turned to grimaces of pain as stones, glass and metal struck down workers. People screamed and began to run as the steam engulfed the yard and made it impossible to see what was happening. The blast was heard a mile away and families poured out of houses on the hillside to see what was happening. When the awful truth was realised, they dashed to the mill, trying to find their relatives and find out what had happened to them.

 

Inside the mill itself, those who had returned to their looms early, felt the blast and saw their windows shattering. Many, in a fit of panic, leapt from the higher storeys and were seriously injured as they crashed onto the rubble below. Slowly some organisation began to take over from chaos. Men were found lying among the debris, still alive, but with little hope of recovery.

 

This is what the Halifax Guardian newspaper reported two days after the disaster:

(extracted and transcribed by John Alan Longbottom)

Dreadful Boiler Explosion at Todmorden.

Six Persons Killed and Many Seriously Injured - Great Destruction of Property.

On Thursday, one of the most fearful and disastrous calamities that has occurred in this neighbourhood for many years took place at Todmorden, throwing the whole town into a state of consternation that was not equalled even during the recent epidemic of small-pox in that town, and which resulted in the immediate sacrifice of six lives, and terrible injuries to many other people, some of whom, from the first were not expected to recover, and who have since succumbed to the hurts.

The site of this frightful affair was the works of Messrs. Lord Brothers, cotton spinners and manufacturers, machine makers, iron founders, etc., situate in Canal Street, from which they take their name. The works are mainly situated between the Halifax Road and the Rochdale Canal, and consist of a mill four or five storeys high, facing Canal Street, with a warehouse at the end abutting the canal. Behind the mill is a large weaving shed, and behind the warehouse was the winding room, engine house, and boiler-houses, in the rear of the latter, being a four storey building, constructed principally of iron and glass, and roofed by a large cistern to hold the water to the premises. This part of the works is bounded by a road leading from the turnpike road to the hillside beyond, over the canal, and on the left of this road is Messrs. Lord's iron foundry. On the opposite side of the canal is a size place, and other buildings, belonging to the same firm; whilst the hillside is dotted with the dwellings of the workpeople.

 

The Canal Street Works in its hey day

In the boiler-house above referred to were four boilers, three of them being of equal size, about 23 feet long, and fired by Juckes's furnaces. The fourth was a tube boiler, invented and constructed by a member of the firm. The boilers were set with their ends to the large machine shop, above referred to, the firing places being towards Todmorden, and the boilers themselves parallel to the canal. The winding room was the next towards Halifax Road, and then the engine house, and the entrance to the shed, there being a great number of looms in the latter. Altogether, about 500 people were employed by Messrs. Lord, and of these a very large proportion will have to remain idle for some time.

On Thursday noon the engines stopped, as usual at half past twelve, for the workpeople to go to dinner, the time for that purpose extending until half past one. Many people, living at a considerable distance, having brought their dinner, stayed on the premises during the dinner time to eat them, whilst many others had arrived back, and were in the mill or mill-yard when the catastrophe occurred, men women and children were streaming towards the mill a few minutes before the time when the engine should have started again, laughing and chatting, as was their wont; when, all at once there was a tremendous explosion, and it seemed as if the whole premises were going up in the air like a rocket, enveloped with clouds of steam, smoke, bricks, stones, iron, and debris of all kinds.

Immediately the latter came down in a shower, slightly injuring many of those who were about at the time. A gentleman who was a considerable distance from the mill at the time of the explosion heard it, and saw the effect, describing it as like the explosion of a mortar, loaded with loose materials. A panic seized those who were going to work, and they ran wildly in various directions. People residing in the immediate neighbourhood ran from their houses in the greatest alarm, and everybody for a few moments seemed paralysed with fear.

 

The aftermath of the explosion, taken from the canal bank

The sad and fearful nature of the catastrophe was, however, soon ascertained. One of the three tubular boilers - that furthest from the canal, had exploded, being rent in pieces, and blown in all directions, not only destroying several human lives, but causing great destruction of valuable property. The whole of the boiler-house was blown away, the two boilers which remained were lifted bodily out of their seats, and were driven on to the towing path of the canal, one of then protruding a considerable distance over the water.

 

The trunk pipe, conveying steam across the canal to the size works beyond, was broken down, and fell into the canal, as did also a large wall, and much other material, completely stopping the navigation. The twisting-in place was entirely demolished. The machine shop had most of its windows smashed, as had also the engine house, and the surrounding buildings. Such a scene of devastation has rarely been witnessed, in fact, everything was smashed and torn with the mighty force of the explosion, and all buildings in the neighbourhood of the boiler were razed to the ground, with the exception of the machine shop above referred to.

For more than a mile the report of the explosion was heard, and its situation was sufficiently indicated by the cloud of steam, smoke, and debris that was thrown up, to guide people to the place. The news spread like wildfire, and in a very few minutes hundreds of the relatives and friends of those who worked for Messrs. Lord rushed to the spot. The scene at this moment was of the most agonising character. Fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, were making frantic efforts to ascertain if any harm had come to those they held most dear; and as it was at the time almost impossible to furnish any information, their suspense was dreadful. As soon as the steam had to some extent cleared away, it was found that a new danger was threatening. From the furnaces of the boilers red-hot cinders were being thrown in all directions, and it was feared that a disastrous fire would follow the explosion.

 

Messrs. Lord's fire engine was at once brought into requisition, and by means of this, and the ready aid of the bystanders, all danger from this source was soon averted. And it was a most fortunate circumstance that such was the case, for in the warehouse there were stowed many thousands of pounds worth of finished pieces, and had these caught fire it would scarcely have been possible to save any portion of the manufacturing premises.

The first thing set about was the recovery of the bodies of those killed, and the removal of the injured. It was soon ascertained that several persons were missing, and it is known that during meal times the little engine house at the back of the boilers was a general rendezvous, the most grave consequences were feared in that direction, as one portion of the exploded boiler had been forced in that direction, half-way along the basement storey of the machine shop, demolishing in its course the little engine house above referred to, and also destroying much valuable machinery. To this point the attention of the searchers was therefore directed, and the worst fears of those who suggested this were soon realised; for in about an hour, four dead bodies were dug out of the mass of debris.

In the meantime many people, who were severely injured, were got out of the ruins. Several of these had fractured limbs, were tortured with burns and scalds, or otherwise maimed. One poor fellow, named James Sutcliffe of Oldroyd, had sustained terrible injuries. His head was fearfully crushed, and the brain protruded; and the unfortunate man was so delirious that it required two or three men to hold him down. He was removed to a house in Canal Street, and surgical assistance was at once rendered by Mr. Cockcroft, who, with Mr. Foster, Mr. Thorp, Mr. Handley, Mr. Thompson, and Mr. Allen, surgeons, was on the spot in a few minutes after the explosion. In the same house was another sufferer, a youth names Willie Barker, son of Mr. William Barker, of Lane-top near Cross Stone, who was severely scalded about the legs, and much bruised about the head.

 

One man named Richard Clegg, a boiler maker, of Stonewood, who was known to have been in the boiler-house a few minutes before the explosion, was missed, and although and active search for his body was commenced, and continued all Thursday night and yesterday, no trace of his body had been found, and it was supposed that he had been blown into the canal, and his body there buried at the bottom by the mass of debris that fell into the water.

As soon as the dead and injured had been removed, there was time to look at and contemplate upon the wreck and devastation that had been wrought by the sudden letting loose of a power which had hitherto assisted to work the whole of the machinery in the mill, shed, and other buildings. Of the three tubular boilers, one of which had not been in use at the time of the explosion, one had entirely disappeared from the place in which it had been. One half of it had, as before stated, been forced half-way into the basement storey of the machine shop, and it is a great wonder that it did not bring down the whole building. Had the shop been of stone or brick, its wreck would doubtless have been the result. As it was every bit of glass at the end nearest the boilers was blown out, as was also much of that at the sides of the building. The other boilers were lifted from their seats, and lay side by side with their ends over the towing path of the canal.

The tube boiler was smashed to pieces, as were also the Juckes's furnaces with which they had been fed. The twisting in room was a mass of ruins; the end of the warehouse looked as if it had been subjected to the action of a severe earthquake. The windows of the engine house were blown out, as were also those of all the adjoining premises, and of the size place on the opposite side of the canal. In fact, the scene of devastation presented baffles description.

 

On the top of the engine-house there was a large cistern full of water. Against the end of this a heavy stone was hurled, smashing the ironwork, and letting out all the water. The roof of the machine shop, which is over 50 yards long by 30 wide, also consisted of a water cistern. A heavy perforated pipe, part of a pump connected with the boilers, was sent into the air like a rocket, and, falling down into this cistern, pierced the bottom, and let out all the water on to the very valuable machinery and tools below, running from floor to floor to the basement. A heavy weight, belonging to one of the safety valves, was projected, as if out of a mortar, and at about 150 yards distance, fell through the roof of the shed, doing considerable damage to the looms underneath.

Pieces of boiler-plate, bricks, stones, slates, glass, and other articles were sent as high as 50 yards, and then showered down in all directions, some being found in the fields on the opposite side of the turnpike road, whilst far up the hill on the other hand the ground was littered with them. In fact some stones, bricks, and pieces of iron were sent to very great distances, and many persons had narrow escapes, whilst some were struck by the projectiles. A woman at Fair View, over 200 yards from the scene of the explosion, was struck in the thigh with a brick. The towing path of the canal was piled up with stones and broken machinery, and at the mills of Messrs. Firth and Haworth, many squares of glass were broken. On the opposite side of the canal the roof of the size place and other buildings were much damaged and nearly all the windows broken. The chimney, 35 yards high, which is situated beside the machine shop, was not damaged, but from the bottom to the extreme top, it is battered with stones and iron and bricks, as if it had been made a target for a long time.

 

But what had become of the other portion of the exploded boiler? Well, a large portion of it, nearly a ton in weight, was flattened against a retaining wall in Baltimore Road. It had been sent across the canal, over the roof of the size house, a distance of 150 yards, and gone against the wall with such force, as actually to split one of the plates, and roll it up like a sheet of pasteboard.

In a field further still up the hillside was a portion of one of the flues, two or three pieces of thick piping, and other pieces of iron; whilst all about were long iron bars and other material that had evidently formed part of the roof of the boiler house.

 

The force of the explosion seemed to have been diverted in several directions, and the projectiles were forced about in the most erratic manner. Thus another large portion of the boiler was found embedded in the ground, three or four hundred yards from the former one, and this latter seemed to furnish a clue to the cause of the explosion.

 

Whilst the portion that was in the machine shop, and that against the wall in Baltimore Road, although twisted and distorted in all imaginable ways, showed no signs of weakness in any of their parts, this latter one did. At one side it was worn down to the thickness of an old penny, evidently by internal corrosion; and there is little doubt that this was the point of the first fracture. This, however, is a point that may be difficult to prove, as the boiler is torn up into so very many pieces.

Never, perhaps, was seen a more appalling site than that at Canal Works on Thursday afternoon, and it will be many years ere those who witnessed the explosion and its results will have the recollection of it effaced from their memories. Of hairbreadth escapes there were numbers. Several people were on the Baltimore Road when the piece of boiler, piping, bars of iron etc., were forced there, and many of these things actually passed over the heads of men, women and children who were returning from dinner at the time. It is almost appalling to think what would have been the disastrous results of the explosion had it occurred ten minutes later, as then the whole of the workforce would have been in the mill, and the loss of life perhaps 30 fold what it already is.

A man named William Dewhirst, who resides in the Fields at Heptonstall received severe injuries, and had a very narrow escape from being killed. He was walking on the canal bank near Messrs Lord's premises when the explosion took place. He had fortunately got past the works, but he was knocked down by a shower of stones and glass, and severely cut about the head and face, and rendered insensible for some time. A person who had observed what took place ran for assistance, and the poor fellow was removed to an adjoining cottage. Where he received proper treatment and afterwards was sent home in a cab.

 

Many of the people in the works, in their first fright, ran about in terror to escape from the premises. Many jumped out of the windows and doorways sustaining considerable injury thereby; while others jumped down whole flights of stairs at a single bound. Outside the premises women were rushing about in a most frantic manner, anguishing as to their relatives and friends.

The search for the missing man Clegg was continued until a very late hour, the proceedings of the searchers being watched with the keenest anxiety by as many people as could command a view of the spot. Major Ormesby, superintendent of police, was on the spot soon after the explosion, and with a considerable force of men, rendered good service in keeping people from impeding the efforts of the workpeople or running themselves into danger. Mr Ormesby also telegraphed to the Yorkshire Boiler Insurance Company, at Bradford, for one of their inspectors; and Mr. John Waugh, the engineer of the company arrived at Todmorden during the evening, and then on the following day made a careful inspection of the pieces of the exploded boiler.

 

Yesterday morning the canal was cleared sufficiently to allow of the resumption of the navigation; and the two boilers that blocked the towing path were also moved back towards their original place.

The boiler that exploded was 28ft long by 6ft 6" in diameter. It was made of 7-16th plates double riveted. The firing was external, but there were two return flues. It was constructed in 1864 by Messrs Backley of Todmorden, and was known as a Lancashire boiler. Messrs Lord's themselves are practical men in the iron trade, and we understand that every care has been taken to secure the safety of their boilers. The engine-tenter and stoker were, fortunately for themselves, away from the boiler-house at the time of the explosion having been to dinner; but the engine-tenter had been to the boilers a few minutes before, and ascertained that the steam was alright for starting the engine, which he was just about to do when the boiler blew up. The boiler was working at about a pressure of 64 lbs to the square inch, the maximum pressure being 68 lbs.

The following is a list of the killed and wounded, so far as we could ascertain last night.

 

Killed

William Livesey

foreman millwright of Omega Street aged about 50 years, married with a family of four children.

Thomas Crowther

fluter, Wood Bottom, Walsden, about 17 years of age.

George Hiley

labourer, Shade, aged 45 years, married with five children

Thomas Greenwood

twister in of Millwood, aged 24 years, married but no children

Smith Hodgins

of Canal Yard, warehouseman, died yesterday morning from injuries sustained.

Richard Clegg

boiler maker of Stoneswood, Dulesgate - missing

 

Injured.

Josiah Sunderland

turner of Crescent badly injured

Walker Halstead

of Fairview, twister-in head cut and other slighter injuries

Robert Sutcliffe

of Woodhouse, severe injuries in various parts

James Sutcliffe

weaver of Oldroyd very badly injured about the head and face. (He died later in hospital)

Willie Barker

of Lane Top, scalded on the legs

Thomas Hammond

turner, of Swineshead, back injured

John Greenwood

of Canal Street injured in the ribs

James Walton

of Longfield, leg broken

Henry Robinson

of Butcher Hill, fractured arm

Richard Hodgins

weaver of East Street, head injured

Amos Marland

turner of Cross Street, contused head, right arm and leg broken

Alfred Wild

piece-looker, of Roomfield Lane, one leg broken

Thomas Judson

weaver of Hope Street, severely scalded

Miles Hollis

of Longfield, scalded badly on one side

Thomas Ormerod

of Longfield, injury to body

Robert Hammond

of Pleasant View, head injured

 

Hodgins died at an early hour yesterday morning; and it was also reported that Henry Robinson and James Sutcliffe, whose injuries were of a most serious nature had died during the night. This, however, did not prove true; and they were living when our reporter left Todmorden last night.

The damage to the property is variously estimated at from £8,000 to £10,000.

 

The Inquest

Was opened yesterday afternoon at the Rope and Anchor Inn, Halifax Road, before Mr. Bairstow, coroner. Mr. A. G. Eastwoods, solicitor watched the enquiry on behalf of the engineer and stoker; Mr. W. Bawden, assistant engineer for the Boiler Insurance and Steam Power Company Limited, Manchester and Mr. Thomas Lord, relative of the firm, and Major Ormesby were also present. The following were on the jury:-

Mr. F. Rodley of Wellington Road, foreman

Mr. Henry Farrar of Water Street

Mr. S. W. W. Lord of Water Street

Mr. E. Barker of North Street

Mr. J. Hollinrake of Water Street

Mr. J. Uttley of Strand

Mr. E. Langstreth of North Street

Mr. J.R. Blacker of Toadcarr

Mr. J. Gibson of County Bridge

Mr. James Suthers of Water Street

Mr. Wilson Riley of Water Street

Mr. Lewis Lumb of York Street

Mr. E. Fairbourn of Water Street

Mr. T. Taylor of Odd Fellows Hall

Mr. R. Gibson of Calder Street

Mr. W. Holden of Union Street.

 

The Coroner expressed his very deep regret at the circumstances that had caused the enquiry for which the jury had been summoned. The matter was one that would require their very serious and careful consideration and investigation. That could not be done that day for several reasons, the most important of which was that for at least a week no reliable scientific evidence would be forthcoming.

Having complimented Major Ormesby for his promptitude in getting a scientific gentleman from Bradford to examine the place, the Coroner said all they could do would be to view the bodies, then take evidence of identity and adjourn.

After the jury had viewed the bodies - Hannah Hiley was the 1st witness. She said she saw her husband that day the first time after the accident had happened. Her husband's name was George, and he was 38 years of age. They lived in Shade Street. He was a "stretcher" at Messrs. Lord's. She last saw him alive on Thursday morning at half past five, when he left home to go to his work. At that time he was quite well and hearty.

 

Sam Livesey said he had lived at Omega Street, and he was a mechanic at Messrs. Lord's. The deceased William Livesay was his father. He saw the body the previous night for the 4th time since the explosion occurred. Witness's father was 48 years of age last July, and was a foreman millwright at Messrs. Lord's. At ten minutes to one, or half an hour before the explosion his father was alive at home.

 

Mary Greenwood, wife of the deceased Thomas Greenwood, said she lived at Mill Wood, and she last saw her husband, who was 24 years of age that morning. He was a twister, and left home for his work at Messrs. Lord's at dinner time the previous day about five or ten minutes past one o'clock.

The witness Livesey also gave evidence of the identity of Crowther's body in the absence of the father. Crowther was a fluter and lived at Wood Bottom, Walsden. Witness saw him alive about ten o'clock the previous morning.

 

William Henry Hodgins, brother of Smith Hodgins, deceased, who resides in Canal Yard, said the body lying at home was that of his brother, who was 17 years of age, and warehouseman in the cotton department. Deceased died in the presence of the witness and others at about 12 o'clock the previous night. When he was taken home on Thursday afternoon he said that Thomas Judson and he were talking when the explosion took place; but could not recollect anything more.

 

The inquest was then adjourned until Monday week at half past ten in the morning.

 

The Late Explosion - 7th death

 

On Monday Mr. Barstow, coroner, held an inquest on the body of Richard Clegg, whose body had been recovered from the canal. His wife identified the remains. She last saw him alive on Thursday, when she took him his dinner. He was 32 years of age. The inquest was adjourned to Monday next.

 

On Wednesday a seventh death occurred, that of James Sutcliffe of Oldroyd. Several of the deceased have already been buried, Hiley and Hodgins were members of the Todmorden Brass Band, and members of the band attended their funerals. Hiley was buried on Tuesday and Hodgins on Wednesday. Large numbers of people assembled on the way to the churches. Several others are not expected to survive. The inquest on Sutcliffe was opened by Mr. Bairstow on Thursday and adjourned until Monday next, along with the one on those killed at the time of the explosion.

Todmorden Boiler Explosion - Adjourned Inquest

 

On Monday, the adjourned inquiry into the consequences of the recent boiler explosion at the works of Messrs. Lord Brothers, by which seven persons were killed and many injured, was held at the Rope and Anchor Inn, Todmorden, before Mr. W. Bairstow, coroner.

 

The names of the deceased were: George Hiley, William Livesey, Thomas Greenwood, Thomas Crowther, Smith Hodgins, Richard Clegg, and James Sutcliffe.

 

Mr. T. W. Eastwood, solicitor appeared on behalf of Messrs. Lord Brothers, and the .. Mr. Waugh, of the Yorkshire Steam Users Association, and Major Ormesby, of the county constabulary were also present.

 

Mr. F. Nash, the 1st witness, said he was a surgeon practising at Todmorden. He attended Smith Hodgins, one of the deceased, whose death was caused by scalding. He was scalded on the forehead, neck, both arms, thighs, and back. The shock to the system was the cause of death.

James Crosby, of Union Street South, said he was a planer, in the employ of Messrs. Lord Brothers, machinists etc. of Todmorden. When the explosion took place he was at the lower end of the shed in the switch room. It was about 23 minutes past one o'clock on the 21st of January, when he heard a noise, after which a great quantity of steam and other stuff came into the shed. He ran out into Baltimore Road and on to the bridge, from which he saw one of the boilers hanging over the canal. He could see that there had been an explosion.

He then went to look for his lads, who worked in the weaving shed, and afterwards he went to help with the fire engine, lest a fire should break out. He assisted in searching for the missing men. The first they found was William Livesey, whose body was amongst the stones and iron near the bottom of the chimney. Livesey was quite dead. They next found Thomas Crowther, who was just behind Livesey, but he was not quite dead. The next was George Hiley, who was dead. He saw those three men at their work in the morning, but not after dinner. He had nothing to do with the boilers. He was in the habit of going into the boilerhouse occasionally.

William Heyworth, Roomfield Lane, a mechanic, employed at Messrs. Lord Brothers, said he was present when the deceased Livesey, Crowther, and Hiley were found. What the last witness had stated was correct. When the explosion occurred witness was at by the side of his vice in the same room as Crossley. He heard a rumbling noise and felt the building shake, and then they all ran out. The three men named all worked in the bottom room of the iron building.

 

John Hazeltine, labourer, said he was in the dining room near the pipe boiler at the time of the explosion, which occurred about a minute before setting on time. Several other men were standing by his side. They were chatting together, when he heard a noise resembling that made by a peal of thunder, and at the same time something came against the ceiling. They were all thrown upon their faces. He got up, crawled over the other men, and ran into the street. On looking back he saw that the boiler house wall was blown down. He went back into the works, and on entering the boiler house heard a groan. He assisted in getting Thomas Greenwood out of the debris; his body was under the big door in Canal Street. Greenwood was not quite dead.

There were three large boilers, and also a pipe boiler that exploded. At 25 minutes past one o'clock he went into the boiler house and saw Pemberton draw the damper, cover the fire, and put down the door of the boiler which exploded. Witness had been working in the boiler house all morning at the boiler nearest the canal. The boiler men were repairing it, and he was removing some brickwork so that the boiler men could get at it. The boiler men were Richard Clegg and Mansley Hirst . They had been putting new pieces into it. It had been standing many weeks, but was nearly finished, and was intended to be brought into use on the following Monday.

 

On the Saturday morning he began to look for Clegg . He was standing with his head against a box used for steaming weft. There was no weight upon him. Greenwood and Sutcliffe were found a few minutes after the explosion. He did not notice what pressure of steam there was on when Pemberton drew the dampers. He had been in the employ of Messrs. Lord Brothers for nine or ten years. All the boilers were not put in at once, but from time to time. The pipe boiler had been in for about two years, and before that time the three big boilers were all worked at once. Since the pipe boiler was put in, only two of the large boilers were worked at a time. The exploded boiler had never had any repairs done to it except once, when a crack was discovered in the front of it, and a piece was then put in. He should have known if any other repairs had been done to it.

The Coroner:- Are you able to swear that was the only repair that was done to it?

 

Witness:- I don't know of any other repairs.

The Coroner:- Will you swear there was no other repair done to it?

 

Witness:- No: but I am not aware that anything has been done to it in the way of repairs for the last two years.

 

In reply to Mr. D.W. Eastwood, who appeared to watch the proceedings on behalf of Mr. Woodhead, the engineer employed at the works of Messrs. Lord Brothers, witness said that Woodhead was always very particular as to the way in which the boilers were repaired. When any one of the boilers needed repair, it was stopped, and by having the extra boiler the works could be kept going. What he saw Pemberton do when he went into the boiler house at 1.25 was only what he usually did at that time, and it was usual for the steam to blow off just before setting on. The valves were weighted for 64lbs.

 

Woodhead had often cautioned Mills and Pemberton about steam blowing off. He was very particular about such things. Witness had known Richard Clegg for many years; he was a practical boilermaker.

By the Coroner:- Woodhead constantly complained about the steam blowing off, remarking that it was a waste of steam. He made it a practice to start the engine at the lower factory himself. Mills started the other one.

 

Mr. C.W. Thorpe, surgeon, Todmorden, gave evidence as to the nature of the injuries sustained by Hiley, Livesey, Greenwood, Crowther, and Clegg; and Mr. Cockcroft, described those sustained by James Sutcliffe who died last Wednesday.

 

Thomas Pemberton said he was a steam-tenter, employed at the works of Messrs. Lord Brothers, and was going into the dining room at the time the explosion took place on the 21st ultimo. About a minute before the explosion happened he covered up the fires of both boilers, and put down the furnace doors. Mills had gone into the engine house. He noticed what the pressure of steam was when he covered up the fires, it was 64lbs. It was usual to keep the pressure between 60 lbs and 64lbs. They had never had any trouble with the boiler that exploded - at least he never had had any, and he never heard any complaints regarding it since he started work at the place. That was in May, and since that time the boiler had worked satisfactorily.

By Mr. Eastwood:- He had been inside the boiler that exploded about eight times for the purpose of cleaning it, and never noticed anything the matter with it, nor did he ever hear anything said to the effect that it was unsafe. Clegg, who was the boilermaker, never gave him to understand that any of the boilers were unsafe except the one adjoining the canal bank. This boiler was then repaired and made all right. When Clegg said it was unsafe, witness understood him to mean that it wanted repairs, and the repairs were done to it. Two plates and a half were taken out of it, and new ones put in, after which witness heard Clegg say that they had made a good job of it.

 

John Mills, engineer, said he was in the employ of Messrs. Lord Brothers, and had charge of the engines and the boilers. He and Pemberton did the firing up of the boilers. He was in the engine house when the explosion took place. Just before the explosion he looked at the water gauge and found it all right. The steam-gauge of each of the boilers at this time indicated a pressure of a little under 60 lbs Witness received his orders from Woodhead only. The boiler that exploded was repaired about 17 months ago, when some plates were put on it, and he believed these were the only patches on it. It was found to leak a little, and on the witness reporting this fact to Woodhead, he had the fire and water taken out of it, and examined it, after which he sent for a man at Bacup who came over and repaired it. It had worked well ever since. It was only his duty to go inside the boiler once a month; he had been into it at least fifteen times and had never noticed anything wrong with it.

Mansley Hirst, boilermaker in the employ of Messrs. Lord Brothers, said that he was in the habit of repairing the boilers. On the 21st January he was engaged in repairing the boiler that was nearest the canal. He did not notice that anything was wrong with the boiler that exploded.

 

Edmund Woodhead, millwright and engineer, said that he had charge and superintendence of the engines and boilers at Messrs. Lord Brothers. At the time the explosion took place he was at Stackhills Mill, another mill belonging to the firm - which he was in the habit of starting every day at 1.30. He had not been in the boiler house of the other mill, the one in which the explosion took place since eleven o'clock that morning. Everything seemed to be right at that time. The pressure of the steam was about 64lbs, and the safety valves (Hawkins's) were set at 64lbs. The exploded boiler was repaired I July 1873 by a man named Williams from Bacup. The boiler leaked and it was necessary to put a patch on it. It was again repaired in May 1874, by Richard Clegg and Mansley Hirst. These were the only repairs done to it. He never had any doubt as to the safety of this boiler. He had been in the employ of Messrs. Lord Brothers for 21 years, and was there when the boilers came. That was in August 1868.

They were made by Messrs Buckley of Gauxholme. About two and a half years ago, a man named Whittaker, foreman to Messrs. Clegg, boilermakers of Heywood examined the boilers on a Saturday evening, at witness's request. Whittaker subsequently sent to the firm a report of his observations, in which he advised that all the boilers should be pulled out and replaced with new ones. Soon after this time the witness made an examination of the boilers himself, the result being that he believed them to be quite safe.

 

The Coroner:- You believed Whittaker to be an experienced man I suppose?

 

Witness:- I could not doubt it.

 

The Coroner:- And yet when he gave an opinion that the boilers should come out, you did not think his knowledge or experience was worth a fraction?

 

Witness:- I did not think his opinion was.

 

The Coroner:- You thought your own opinion was much better? - Yes.

 

By Mr. Eastwood:- The pressure was not reduced from 70lbs to 64lbs in consequence of anything Whittaker said, but simply because low pressure was required.

At the time the boilers were put in the Messrs. Buckley were considered to be the most respectable boilermakers in this part of the country. Mr. Buckley prepared a specification showing that they could be worked up to a pressure of 80 lbs. He never received any report from his subordinates to the effect that any one of the boilers was unsafe. He made a thorough examination of them on last Christmas Day, and he then saw nothing to shake his confidence in their safety.

 

In reply to a juror, the witness said that he could not account for the explosion in any way.

 

Mr. John Waugh, of the Yorkshire Boiler Insurance and Steam Users Company, said he was instructed by Major Ormesby of the county constabulary, to inspect and report upon the explosion of the boiler in question, with the view to ascertain the cause of the occurrence. He now handed in a printed report, in which he stated that the boiler was cylindrical, externally fired by Juckes' patent furnaces. The length of the shell was 28ft, the diameter 6ft 8ins, original thickness of the plates was 7-16th of an inch, end plates half an inch, shell plates at the front end flanged over to end plate 3 inches by half an inch.

The materials of which the boiler was composed were above the average in quality. The rupture commenced at the right hand of the shell from front over fire. At the waterside at this point corrosion and grooving at the joint had been most severe; but the corrosion and grooving were in no way confined to that plate. On the water side of the whole of the plates of the shell and tubes below the waterline, there were unmistakable signs of corrosion, blotched, pitted, and honey-combed, generally over the whole of the surface, reducing the thickness of the plates from 7-16th of an inch to a quarter of an inch, whilst by the grooving of the plates at some of the longitudinal and ring seams, the plates had been reduced to a quarter of an inch in thickness.

 

The plates and seams, more particularly the ring seams over the fire, had suffered the most from corrosion and grooving, the undoubted cause of the explosion. There could be no doubt that the presence of the canker water in the canal had led to its introduction into the boilers, and that such had been the incipient cause of the disaster. Mr. Waugh's report concluded as follows:-

I would beg to say that had this boiler been placed under competent periodical and independent inspection there is every reason to believe that the loss of life and property would never have occurred, as the serious wasting of the plates and rivet heads was so apparent, whilst the serious grooving of the plates at the joints referred to was, owing to the absence of any incrustation, as plain and palpably dangerous that the consequences of continued working would have been pointed out to the owners, and the serious loss to life and property prevented.

Mr. W. Whittaker gave evidence as to his inspection of the boilers, and his opinion was, as expressed to the officials at Messrs. Lord Brothers, that they were not safe, and that he would not like to fire up or attend to them.

 

Mr. Eastwood said he should not call any evidence, as he thought from the report of Mr. Waugh, and the evidence that had been adduced throughout the inquiry, that no blame could be attached to Messrs. Lord Brothers, or to any one in their employment

 

The Coroner then summed up, and the jury after conferring for 55 minutes returned a verdict -

The deceased had come to their deaths from injuries received by reason of the explosion of a boiler. We are of opinion that the explosion was caused by the extensive corrosion and grooving of the plates of the boiler, and that there was an error of judgement on the part of Mr. Edmund Woodhead, the engine-man in charge, which led him to believe and report to Messrs. Lord Brothers, that the boiler was safe and in working order, and we recommend that there should be government inspection of all steam boilers.

*

The rumours were over; many relatives had been disturbed during the intervening weeks to hear stories of deaths in hospital, which were later found to be false. The number of maimed, seriously injured and hurt totalled nearly 80. It was said at the time that if the blast had occurred 10 minutes later when the entire workforce was inside, hundreds could have died.

On the 16th February two people were brought before the magistrates at the West Riding Police Court in Halifax. They had been caught passing themselves off as being authorised to collect subscriptions in aid of the sufferers of the boiler explosion. As is usual even today, there are always people ready to cash in on other peoples misery and distress. Life changes little. The dead were buried and life went on.

 

The site of the explosion in 2005

 

A footnote:

 

Edmund Woodhead, the engineman in charge, continued his employment with Lord Bros. and in total served them for 41 years. He died in 1897 aged 75.

 

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