Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Felling Pit Disaster Revisited

The Rev John Hodgson was heavily involved in the aftermath of the Felling Pit Disaster of 1812 and, against the wishes of the Pit Owners, carried out a full investigation and published a detailed report.

The report is published online and deals with the immediate aftermath and the long period that elapsed before all the bodies, except one which was never found, were recovered and interred. 
Being a man of the cloth, rather than a hard nosed mining accident investigator, the Rev Hodgson’s whole report is primarily about the loss of life and the suffering of the widows and orphans left behind.

He presumably didn’t want the most likely cause of the accident to be stated, lest it put the huge weight of human suffering, upon any persons who might have been responsible.
 It’s more than 200 years ago so I’m willing to state the most likely cause, in my view.

See William Pit, with its chimney, marked on the map in the upper right corner

Whatever we might think of the owners, the Brandling brothers and their partners, Felling pit was better than most. The William Pit’s primary purpose, you could say its only purpose, using its constantly lit furnace, was to draw out the foul air and discharge it high in the sky through its 40 foot high chimney, marked on this map.
That pit, as you can see was, opposite Woodbine Terrace at, what is now called the Q pit area of The Felling, which is a collective mishearing of Cube Pit.  The Rev Hodgson refers in the report to the Tube, which is an alternate word for the Cube which means the furnace system for drawing out the bad air.

The furnace, or Cube, is an expensive safety device, who’s effectiveness relies on the furnace (cube) always being lit, even when the pit is shut, sometimes on Saturdays and always on Sundays for if the furnace goes out the foul & explosive air accumulates underground. This accident happened on a Monday morning and when accidents in cube pits occurred on a Monday the cause was  mostly determined to be that the furnace (cube) was allowed to go out over the weekend. In this case the destruction underground was so great, with no one left to tell the tale, that who can say, other than the men scheduled to be on shift that weekend, whether or not the furnace had been allowed to go out.

Rev Hodgson says this at the end of his report

“I pass over the many theories and absurd suppositions invented to explain the cause of this calamity. The power that destroyed, raised and marshalled its forces in secrecy - it left no evidence to shew from what corner of the mine it issued out to battle. In its effects it indeed proved that it either availed itself of the delusive security, the inactivity, or the want of strength in the means employed to keep it in subjection: but let us, with that charity which "thinketh no evil," refrain from enquiry into causes which commenced and wrought in darkness, and concerning which the clearest information that can be collected will amount to little more than conjecture and uncertainty.”

“Phew” must have been the utterings of the weekend furnace men

One does wonder about the obelisk in Heworth churchyard which carries the date of Sunday 24th of May rather than the day of the accident Monday 25th of May. 
Was it an uncharacteristic mistake by the very precise Rev Hodgson or was it a breadcrumb of truth left by him to a future generation?

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