HOOK COLLIERY HAD QUITE A GOOD SAFETY RECORD DESPITE THE UNBELIEVABLY DIFFICULT AND HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS THE MEN, AND INDEED WOMEN, HAD TO WORK UNDER. HOWEVER, IN THE SUMMER OF 1916 TRAGEDY STRUCK WHEN WATER BROKE INTO THE UNDERGROUND WORKINGS. TWO MEN LOST THEIR LIVES AND SEVERAL WERE BADLY INJURED. HERE IS A COPY OF THE DETAILED REPORT OF THE INQUEST INTO THE DEATHS OF THE TWO MINERS AS REPORTED IN THE WESTERN TELEGRAPH OF 1916.
MANAGER CENSURED AT INQUEST
A painful sensation was caused at Hook and the surrounding districts on Friday when it was reported that the colliery had been partially flooded and the at least two men had lost their lives.
News of the disaster travelled quickly, and scores of people, relatives and friends. came hurrying to the pit-head. Anxiety was deeply marked on their countenances, for there were 36 men in the mine at the time, and no one knew how many of these might be lost. Never before had there been such a catastrophe at Hook, although elderly folk recalled the days, about 55 years ago, when three Hook men were carried home dead from Nash Colliery, which was sunk on Mr Lort Phillips’s estate.
The first to arrive on the surface was Albert Harries, and shortly after him came John Brock, who was badly injured, and who had had a marvellous escape. It soon transpired that two colliers, Peter Thomas, Hook, and Willie Thomas, Freystrop, cut into the pocket of an old working. Instantly there was a tremendous inrush of water. It was as though a whole river of water had been dammed up and suddenly released. The two men on the spot quickly stepped on one side to higher ground. Lower down in a gallery were William James, Henry Jones, Joe Thomas, David Phillips and Wm. Brock. These were all knocked down by the force of the water and carried away. The few naked lights were all extinguished, and the men were in complete darkness. But above the din of the water rose the groans of the men as they were carried headlong, through steep, low galleries, and battered against projecting timber and large pieces of hewn coal. Peter Thomas managed to pull out Henry Jones, and David Phillips, Wm. James, Joe Thomas, and Wm. Brock were carried down a top-hole a distance of about 40 yards. This is a very narrow passage, and at one place becomes a zinc chute. When pulled out Henry Jones was found to be suffering from shock, and he had also sustained nasty injury to the leg. David Phillips was suffering from exhaustion and shock. Timely help was also rendered by Joseph Owens, while William Havard after carefully considering the situation, was able to give excellent advice which probably saved several lives. “If we go that way” said Havard to a body of miners around him “we are done for. We shall meet with disaster.” Happily his counsel was followed, otherwise the death roll might have been considerably swollen.
It was soon apparent that Wm. James and Jos. Thomas had lost their lives. The former was battered about frightfully, and could not have lived long after the first rush of water. Three hours after the accident, their bodies were recovered and brought to the surface. The scene at the pithead was terribly impressive, and will live long in the memories of those who witnessed it.
Both deceased men were held in high esteem in the district. James was a young man 36 years of age, and a deacon at Hook Chapel. Both leave a wife and two children, and Jos. Thomas, like James, was a young man of high character, and will be deeply missed. Deep sympathy is felt with the widows in their trying ordeal.
SIXTEEN HOURS’ IMPRISONMENT
Among the missing was a lad, James John Thomas, son of Peter Thomas, one of the colliers, who cut into the pocket of water. In vain did gallant rescue parties search every gallery, chute, and top hole. They shouted, whistled, but there was no response. Almost every one had given him up as dead, and his parents were overwhelmed with grief. One of the last not to abandon that hope which springs eternal in the human breast was Philip Phelps, the night fireman. Mr Phelps was continuing his peregrinations through the mine when, in the early hours of the following morning, he thought he heard a voice. He shouted. His first impressions were soon confirmed. Thomas, a lad barely 16 years of age, had sought refuge in what is known as an inner land-hole. A moment’s examination revealed the fact that the entrance had been blocked with debris, and if an attempt were made to remove it the whole might be set moving down the steep incline, and the lad buried under the mass. Holding his light up, Phelps found one small crevice just sufficient to admit a glimpse of light. The lad Thomas was calm and resourceful, and at once set to the task of digging himself out. Thus he accomplished in a remarkably short space of time. He appeared little worse for his 16 hours’ solitary confinement, and his first question, after inquiring after the fate of his comrades, was to ask for a cigarette. “Let me have a whiff,” he said, “before I go home.”
Some of the workmen narrowly escaped with their lives, John Brock, especially, was very badly hurt, and had to be helped home by two colleagues. Brock was severely hurt about the shoulder and neck, and hip and arm. He will probably have to lie up for several months. David Banner escaped with a few cuts on his face ; a lad named William Brock saved himself by wrenching his foot out of this boot, which was left behind in the debris.
It should be stated that William James was known as a “handy man” who generally took the place of absentees, and on Friday took the place of John Bevans. A pathetic circumstance is that on Friday morning when James left his home for work his wife begged him to come home early, as she felt lonely without him.
Several of the men were interviewed by our representative. John Brock said that while engaged in cutting coal, the lad, James John Thomas rushed in and told him to run for his life. Hastily seizing his coat, he went along to the bottom of the top hole and there missed Thomas. He then first heard a terrific rush of water, and in a few seconds was overtaken and carried along like a marble. On vain he tried to regain his footing, but was carried out through a narrow chute, turning a complete summersault and coming into contract with a loaded tram at the end was dashed headlong. he found himself getting buried in the debris and partly lost consciousness. Eventually he struggled out, and was assisted home by James Bowen and Tom Jenkins.
William Brock, a lad, who is badly cut about the face, also had a lucky escape. he says he heard someone shout that the water was broken in. The deceased man, Joe Thomas, was only a couple of yards from him. He (Brock), was carried down the gallery, and at the bottom his leg caught in the timber. After a struggle he extricated himself, but had to leave his boot behind. He felt one man who was been carried away and he was dead. “I was nearly gone myself,” added Brock. Then he saw a light and managed to make good his escape. He denied that he was rescued by his manager, Mr. Worthing.
The lad James John Thomas said that for hours he was shouting and whistling, but received no response. For sometime he must have been overcome by stupor. He heard the rescue party at work, and concluded that they were removing the dead bodies. Eventually he was rescued by Philip Phelps, the night foreman.
The inquest was opened in the Council School, Hook, on Tuesday afternoon, when Mr. H. J. E. Price, Coroner for the County of Pembroke, conducted the inquiry. Mr. J. Dyer Lewis, H.M. Inspector of Mines, was present, and put the various witnesses to severe cross-examination, whilst Mr. R. T. P. Williams appeared to watch the case on behalf of the proprietors.
Mr. G. P. George, of Nash, was the foreman of the jury.
The first witness was William Thomas, collier, Freystrop, who said he was brother of Joseph Thomas, who was 36 years of age. He was a collier. He knew the other man, William James, who was also a collier, since he was a boy. He could not say his age for certain, but believed he was 37. He was working in the pit on Friday. He commenced work at 7 in the morning. Witness pointed out where he was working on a plan of the mine, and also where the two deceased men were working, and it appeared that he only worked a few yards away. He did not know the depth of the pit at that particular point. The ground was rising very fast. They worked on till 10 o’clock when he and his mate notified the manager, Mr. Worthing, that water was leaking. Nothing was done, but he told them to work out for their timbering, and he would bore it that night. It was not a big leak at that time. It was coming out of the coal. They went on working and after that they cut a fair stream of water. That was something before twelve. It was on the face of the coal. they had to make ready then to get out to the bottom of the pit before it bursted. They warned all the men working. Before they got more than a couple of yards it burst. Thomas and James and all the men were pretty near together. Witness heard a burst and jumped into a hole.
The Coroner : Suppose you had stood there, could it have swept you off your feet? — No man living could stand it.
The Coroner : Were those men behind you? — Not far behind, sir. It was one step deciding your fate. If you slipped down you were in front of the water.
Proceeding, witness said he did not know what became of the other men. It was very dark and the noise was deafening.
The Coroner : Did it put your lamps out? — Candles we were using. It was all dark in an instant. I then thought about some matches I had in my pocket and had a light. I lit two of my mates up, David Phillips and Peter Thomas. He could not say if these two men were standing in the water. They were able to get out round the other district. The water was up to their knees in the bottom of the pit then. He did not see anything of the two men as he went out a different way.
Cross-examined by Mr. J. Dyer Lewis, witness said it was about 6 yards from the place he was working to the pit into which he got.
When did you first see water coming through the coal? — We first notified the manager of water coming from the coal and stopped working.
Water coming from the coal was rather unusual? — Yes.
What thickness was the coal? — About 3 feet on an average.
He should say that the water was perforated from the centre of the coal to the top. Witness said that on the Thursday the water was not seen in his working, but in another working close by. They stopped until the manager came in and he decided that they should leave their coal. At another point the face was stopped to be bored that night. The water began to perforate through his working at 10a.m. on the Friday morning.
Cross-examined by Mr. R. T. P. Williams, witness said he could not give the distance between the two places where he saw the water. He remembered Mr Worthing telling him on the Friday morning to make the place secure, and he would bore, and he also told them that according to all their plans they would come to stone before coming to the working.
Mr. Williams : Are you exact about your time, Thomas? — Perhaps not, sir; I will not hold myself to any time.
Peter Thomas, Newtown, Hook, collier, said he worked with William Thomas, the last witness. It should, he fancied, be about 9 yards from where he was working to the face. There was a man named David Phillips working with the other two and witness saved his life. On the Friday he called the fireman’s attention to the leakage in the coal at 10 o’clock. It was in their place of working. During the time the fireman was there Mr. Worthing came on the scene, and he said, “Oh, here’s the man come who can arrange things now,” and went back to his work. Witness told M. Worthing that there was water there. He got on his two knees and examined the place, and said, “I can’t see there will be any harm in you working out for the timber.” He also said “I don’t believe there is any stone here,” and witness replied, “I differ from you for we are in Hook coal.” Mr. Worthing said that he would have something done that night, and told them to go on turning the coal back. Mr. Worthing had been up with William James and Joseph Thomas during that period, and he said to witness, “I am having the place bored tonight.” By then it was “snack time”, and they had food. A boy came in to dig the coal, and witness drove him back as he was afraid. Witness said to his mate, “We are in water.” He called Harry Jones’s attention again, and Joseph Thomas and William James asked them to call them of they saw any more leak. This was about three quarters of an hour after dinner. James and Thomas came down and went in with candles, and looked at the water. Harry Jones said, “Look out, boys,” and he saw the water shoot Harry Jones out like a football and put the candles out. The water swept witness off his feet. He managed to struggle to the west side and came to an old crossing where he hung on. He then heard a mighty fall which he expected was the water washing the timber out. He was struggling when he thought he heard someone shouting, and a man kicked him in the knee and witness grabbed hold of him and pulled him out of the water. His mate who was on the other side found a dry match and got a light. Referring to Thursday morning, witness said the bottom of the tub-hole had given away to the knees, and the “pouncing” was showing through. John Bevans and Joe Thomas went up to their place of working. Joe Thomas called them up and the five men went up to view the place. There was a leakage of water from the coal about two foot. Witness said, “I think there is water lying about here. We had better call Mr. Worthing. Mr. Worthing cam about 10 o’clock, and stopped the men working there, and decided to get it bored that night. He shifted them back about 10 feet. Nothing was done that night. He did not inquire of Mr. Worthing why nothing was done on the next morning.
Cross examined : His place was dry on the morning. The boy whom he had referred to worked on the East side. From his place up there were six men working in the area where the water got away.
A Juror : Could you have bored without the sanction of the manager?
The witness replied that he told Mr. Worthing on the Friday morning that if the boring gear had been there he would have bored himself.
A Juror : Would there have been any penalty on you if you had refused to work there?
The Witness : Well, I don’t know. we had nothing to bear us up to save victimising.
Thomas Worthing, manager of the Hook Colliery, said he was duly certified, and had worked at Hook Colliery four years. On Thursday he had a complaint about a leakage of water in the straight place. Witness examined it and formed the opinion that it was a little water leaking from the roof which was a usual thing. The men were afraid, and he told them to work further back. One of the men told him of an old working in a potato field near by, and it was owing to this that witness told them to stop working at that place. Witness was thoroughly convinced by their plans that there were no working s anywhere near them. They had records for 87 years. On Friday witness went to the place, visited Peter Thomas’s place and he drew witness’s attention to the water leaking out of the coal. This was in a different place to the Thursday. Witness said, “There is no water here, Peter; you will reach stone before you reach water.” Peter told him there was a very poor tap and witness told him to put timber in, and he would bore it that night without fail. The last witness said that if the boring tools had been there, he would have bored himself. Witness was at the bottom of the pit at 12.15 putting the boring tools ready when three men came rushing up and said the water had broken. Witness went back to the level ways and found that the water had broken. It had run itself in and there was only a stream there then. About half an hour after the accident he found two deceased men lying dead, and a boy William Brock alive. The other boy, James John Thomas, they did not find until four o’clock the next morning. The cause of the accident was water coming in from the old pit unknown to anyone.
The Coroner suggested that it would have been better if he had listened to the gossip of the men, and witness replied that he had done so in as much as he moved them back and promised to bore.
Cross-examined, witness said it appeared to him that the water came from the top side. Mr. Summers, of Haverfordwest, kept their plans. Witness said it was a very usual thing for water to come from the coal, and there was nearly always water in the roof. Witness estimated that about 20,000 gallons came from the burst altogether. They had not been boring since they had got into that piece of coal. It was two years ago since they did any boring.
In reply to Mr. R. T. P. Williams, witness said that he pumped the water out in 21/4 hours. There was nothing on the plans, on the ground to give a hint of the old workings and witness was absolutely convinced that they were on virgin ground. Witness said that where the water burst on
The coal was a yard deep, but further to the right it was five feet. It was quite clear that the bursting of the water had nothing to do with the leak pointed out to him on the Thursday.
A man now rose at the back of the court, and explaining that he was the half brother of one of the deceased men, asked permission to put some questions to the witness. The Coroner consented, and he asked when the last survey took place and the witness replied that the mine was surveyed on August 11th. He said that there was no room to pass through where the man Joseph Thomas was found, but explained that this was occasioned by debris and a tram washed there by the water.
John George Summers, a certified mining engineer, Haverfordwest, said he had been connected with that colliery for three years. The last quarter survey was completed August 11th and he had since added plans of the work that had been up to the accident. Witness estimated that the depth from the surface to that point would be about 30 fathoms. There was nothing whatever on the plans to indicate old workings.
At this juncture, the brother of Joseph Thomas asked the witness some questions, and Mr. Summers spent some time pointing out various sections of the workings on the plan to that gentleman. At the conclusion, he turned impatiently away, and in an angry tone said, “I say there was plenty of evidence of old pits. My brother has been killed,” he concluded, in a voice that faltered with emotion.
Dr. Williams, Haverfordwest, said he saw the bodies immediately they were brought to the pit mouth on Friday evening. They were both obviously dead, and both had such injuries to the head as to lead him to believe that they were rendered unconscious before drowning, which was the cause of death.
The Coroner now addressed the jury, and said that there was no doubt that death was due to drowning, through water coming from an old pit. The question of whether there was any criminal negligence on the part of the manager he would leave for them to decide.
The jury were now left in privacy, and after a long discussion gave their verdict as follows : “That the said William James died of drowning. That the said William James was drowned through the bursting of water from an old colliery working which we consider was caused through the negligence of the manager, Thomas Worthing, but such neglect falls short of criminal liability.” It was stated that the same verdict also applied to the other deceased man, Joseph Thomas.
During the reading of the verdict, Worthing stood by the Coroner’s desk and remained silent.