Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Bayley and Dewhurst

From Graces Guide

Oct. 20.—0n Thursday morning, a few minutes before six o'clock, this town was thrown into the greatest alarm in consequence of the explosion of a steam-boiler at the cotton-mill of Messrs Bayley and Dewhurst, Charlestown, which destroyed the whole of the adjoining property, and caused the loss of three lives. So far as we have been able ascertain amidst the general confusion which this melancholy event has created, the following appear to be the facts—The mill where this sad catastrophe has occurred has for a considerable length of time, been unoccupied, but was taken some months ago by Messrs. Bayley and Dewhurst when considerable alterations were made, and the mill was put in thorough repair. In addition to this was erected a strong fire-proof building, three stories high, which had been filled by machinery, under which was the boiler which has caused such devastation. It seems that five minutes before six, just as the engineer was on his way to start the engine, the boiler collapsed in that part which is over the fire, and caused an explosion, which knocked down the entire building before referred to, and also partially destroyed several cottages both at the back and front of the factory. Such was the force, that the boiler, which is 26 feet long, and about 7 feet diameter, was completely capsized, being turned upon its end, and falling the, contrary way to its previous position. Across the street opposite to where the boiler originally was, were a number of cottages which had been made into warehouses, for the purpose of storing the cotton, &c, the windows in front of these buildings were forced in, and the embers from the fireplace being blown through, ignited the cottages and set fire to the buildings The two fire-engines belonging the town wore quickly on the spot, and by dint of great exertion the fire was extinguished. In the mean time, a number of men commenced to remove the fallen materials out of the street, when they found, opposite where the boiler-house stood, the dead bodies of man named Abraham Fitton, a spinner, 42 years of age, and his daughter Emiline Fitton, a piecer 13 years of age These unfortunate creatures were passing in front of the boiler at the time the explosion took place, and were going to their work, being employed at the mill of Messrs. Knotts, which is in another part of the town. The bodies were dreadfully crushed and scorched, the skin from the hands and arms hanging in tatters. They were taken to the Nelson tavern, a public-house close by. On further search being made, the body of a female, named Margaret Fitzgerald, eighteen years of age, who was married three months ago, was found in the same plight, being quite dead. This woman was employed at the mill where the accident took place, and was about enter the staircase when she was so suddenly deprived of life. The whole of the bodies presented a most shocking spectacle when taken out of the ruins. A report was prevalent that there were several other persons missing, but after a careful search during the whole of the day, no other bodies were found. The hair-breadth escapes are innumerable. We may, however mention one or two cases. The first that of a married woman, named Truin; she had just got into the second room, over the boiler, and when about to pull off her clothing to make ready for commencing work, the whole of the building was lifted by the boiler and fell in with tremendous crash, the report being heard at the extreme ends of the town. Notwithstanding that this female fell along with the ponderous mass, and was buried for near an hour in the ruins, she was got out, having merely received a few bruises on her left side. The engineer, who was on his way to the engine-house at the time of the occurrence, was partially screened from the falling materials by a portion of one of the floors having fell in a slanting direction under which he was. The cottages which surround this portion of the mill, to the number of four, were knocked down, and although in two of them the inmates were in bed, they escaped with but a few bruises, while the whole of their furniture, &c, was completely destroyed. In reference to the cause of this accident there are many opinions, but in the absence of any scientific investigation, we forbear giving any definite statement. Such was the feeling created when the report became known through the town that thousands of persons congregated, and it was found necessary to send for the military to guard the approaches to the place. The inquiry is fixed for Monday next, in order to give time for scientific investigation of the whole affair.'[1]

1846 Newspaper report [2]
'THE BOILER EXPLOSION AT ASHTON. In the Courier of Saturday, we gave very copious particulars of a shocking accident which occurred at Ashton on Thursday, by which three persons were killed, and many others were placed in imminent danger. Since then, workmen have been constantly employed in clearing away the fallen materials; and they have so far succeeded in removing the rubbish as to leave no doubt in the minds of the authorities, that, contrary to report, there is no other person under the ruins. On Saturday last, Mr. William Fairbairn, C. E. arrived from Manchester, to make an inspection of the boiler, &c. He made a full investigation as to the cause of the explosion ; after which he proceeded back to Manchester. At a subsequent period of the day, Mr. John Chaliner, by direction of Mr. Fairbairn, came from Manchester to take sketch of that part of the boiler usually termed the "fish mouth," this being the part which is over the furnaces, and from the supposed weakness of which the explosion took place. Mr. Chaliner took a very minute sketch of this part of the boiler, as also the position into which was thrown, and now lies. The exact dimensions of the boiler are, length of "fish mouth" 7 feet 11 inches; flue from end of the “fish mouth" to the extreme end of the boiler, 2 feet 6 inches diameter. The boiler, from end to end, 25 feet 3 inches, and in diameter 6 feet 6 inches. Since the accident, many scientific gentlemen, from various parts of the country, have been to view the boiler, &c. On Sunday, the approaches to the place were thronged by persons, many of whom had come a long distance to satisfy their curiosity. At the time of the publication of Saturday's Courier, a judicial investigation into the real cause of the accident was pending, and we did not go into speculations as to the cause of the explosion. Since then, however, investigation by proper parties has shown that it was the consequence of gross negligence and ignorance on the part of the engineer. The safety valve had been so weighted or propped up that there was no escape for the steam, and the engineer had to depend entirely upon his own judgment as to the proper time when to ease the safety valve, as the steam guage appears to have been very uncertain in its working. The adjourned inquest was held on Monday afternoon, at the Commercial Hotel, before Mr. Butter, and the jury sworn on Thursday._Mr. Earle, of Manchester, solicitor, appeared on behalf of Messrs Bayley Dewhurst, the tenants—Mr. Barlow, solicitor, of Oldham, on behalf of himself and partner, as second mortgagees.—Mr. Fairbairn was also present. The witnesses were examined follows: —

'Ann Whittaker being sworn, deposed : I live in Charlestown, the same street as the factory, and within six doors of it; the factory faces the railway and so does my house. I went at ten minutes to six o'clock on Thursday morning with my tub to the steam pipe which was attached to the boiler which had exploded to catch the steam water. I put my tub under the steam pipe, and left it to fill, and as I was coming away, Abraham Fitton and his daughter were coming in at the top of the: street. I did not meet them as my back was towards them ; when I left I saw a girl, I call her a girl, but they tell me she is a married woman, with a breakfast can in her hand, going toward the boiler; she was between the boiler, and Fitton and his daughter. I did not know her. I was going away, and a man named John Ingham was behind me with a burden of water, suddenly there was great noise as of a smashing of pots. I had not proceeded farther than twenty yards from the boiler, when I heard a sudden scream or a sort of groan, and then it blew up, and pieces of brick, and fire, and such things flew past; none of them caught me that I know of, but I was terribly frightened. I had seen Fitton before and I knew most of his children. I cannot say whether he and his daughter were hand in hand, I don’t think they were, but it was very dark that morning, they were very close. I saw them on Saturday at their own home. There was no one else in the street at the time that I saw.

'The Coroner to Mr. Earle: I propose to take your client, if he has no objection, to give any account he can.

'Mr. Earle: He has no objection whatever.

'Mr. John Bayley then stood forward, and the coroner on presenting the book to swear him, said, you voluntarily offer yourself as a witness. Mr. Bayley : I do sir. He was then sworn and deposed : my partner’s name is Richard Dewhurst. We are the occupiers of the mill where the explosion took place. We have worked it about 16 months. Our date is from the 1st of August in last year. The engineer we had at the time was called Abraham Marshall. He had only been in our service from the Monday morning. He had been in our service about six months ago, as engineer. He was in our service at that time from the commencement of our working the mill about seven or eight months. He was thirty-five or thirty-six years old, and I engaged him as a practical and competent man. We had not a fireman, Marshall did all the work. I was at the mill on Thursday morning, when the explosion took place. I arrived there at about a quarter to six, as near as I can tell. I went to the boiler-house, as is my custom, for a light, the engine tenter was there attending to his fire. I did not speak to him that I recollect, but I took the light and lighted up the warehouse, on the opposite side, about half a dozen yards from the boiler-house. I returned with the lamp I had used into the boiler-house and lighted a gas light just over the steam guage, and which looks at the guage. I looked at it and saw that the steam, according to the guage, then stood at 5in. I then looked at the water guage, and that was within an inch of the ordinary working height. I then returned into the warehouse, and looked at the clock, and it was five minutes to six. I did not change a word with the engine man, though he was still in the boiler house when I returned. He was the only person in the boiler-house at the time ; there might be some in the mill. As near as I can tell I had not been in the warehouse more than two minutes before the explosion took place. I left the engine man in the boiler-house. My object in going the second time to the boiler-house was to see what steam he had. The usual time of starting was six o'clock. I generally lighted that light beside the steam guage to see what steam there was, and that the engineer was not behind hand. But I did not always do that. I saw nothing wrong so far as my observations were made, to the best of my knowledge. We ordinarily worked from ten to twelve inches of pressure. There was nothing objectionable that I saw in the guage being at five inches; the only thing was, I was afraid the engineman would not be in proper time to start, but I said nothing to him. I don't know that I changed word with him. We had worked that boiler from the commencement, about sixteen months; only part of it was had been lengthened; Raines, a boiler-maker, of Dukinfield, lengthened it for the owners of the property.

‘By Mr. Earle : The landlords were to find the boiler, which they did; the engine was on the premises.

'By Mr. Barlow : I was on the premises when the boiler was put in. I had nothing to do with the boiler, or the fitting up, or giving directions as to it. The landlord paid all the bills, and of course they had the directing of the whole.

'By Mr. Earle: The engineer we had before Marshall was George Brandon, but he was unwell and could not attend to his work, and he sent strange firemen and I did not like it, and I discharged him and got Marshall. From my experience of Marshall I had confidence in him. At the time I examined the steam guage, I discovered nothing wrong.

'By Mr. Barlow : Did you test it ?—I did not touch it.

'By the Coroner: I merely looked at it.

'By Mr. Earle: From the appearance there was nothing wrong. I saw the engineer looking at the guage as I was going out of the engine-house the last time. I was speaking to my partner at the time of the accident, and I am confident five minutes did not elapse between my being the boiler-house and the warehouse, and it was by the merest accident I was not overwhelmed.

'By Mr. Fairbairn: I did not make a practice of examining the safety valve. I seldom interfered with it.

'By the Coroner: The engineer has the entire regulation of it. I was not near it that morning.

'By the Jury : I don't know the weight he worked it at.

'By Mr. Fairbairn: I was not aware until I have learnt now, that the safety valve had been weighted.

'By Mr. Barlow: When we took the mill it was called an 18-horse power engine. We had 9600 mule spindles and mules to run with it.

'By the Coroner: The boiler was called to us a 36- horse boiler. The landlords were to provide us with 36-horse boiler.

'By Mr. Fairbairn: We were spinning 40's.

'By the Jury: Our new cylinder is 25½ inches diameter.

'By the Coroner: We had put in a new cylinder and condenser, and new side pipes, about six months ago. Mr. Garforth, of Dukinfield, did the work for us. The engine had not started at the time the accident occurred, therefore no machinery was going.

'By the Jury : It occurred to me at five minutes to six that the engineer would not be in time. It did not occur to me when the guage was at five inches to agitate the guage. I was going back to the engine house but my partner recalled me to speak to me, or I should have gone and spoken to the engine man. I know if the steam stood at 5 inches at 5 minutes to 6 that we could not get it up to 11 inches by 6, but we could have gone on, though not at the full speed with 5 inches. When I saw the exact time I was going back to the boiler house, and would have spoken to the engineer. The witness gave his testimony in a very simple and open manner, and apparently without any attempts at concealment.

'George Brandon, (an intelligent looking young man) deposed—l live in Brook-street, Ashton, and am an engine tenter. I was formerly in the service of Messrs. Bayley and Dewhurst, about twelve weeks. I went off my work sick week since last Friday. I sent Thomas Crooks in my place; and the next morning I was sent for after breakfast, by Mr. Bayley, the engine had stopped. That was about half-past 9. I found the stud of the eccentric belonging to the engine loose, and I screwed it up, and we got to work again. It went about an hour and a half, and then I heard something rattle, and laid me down and saw the fly wheel catching the wall, and I got up to tell Mr. Bayley what it was, and the mean time an arm of the wheel caught the wall plate, which had got loose, and broke it. Mr. Joseph Thackers, wheelwright, fastened it again. It did not start any more that day, and I was there on Sunday and all was right then. They had been cleaning the boiler out, and on Monday morning I started the engine and went home. Crooks was not there on Monday morning. He was there on Sunday night, but he did not tell me he was not going again, and on Monday morning he sent John Thomas. There was nothing wrong then. Thomas was there when I started the engine, and I went home. Mr. Bayley sent Thomas home and sent for Marshall. The valve was weighted down.—The witness was here stopped by Mr. Fairbairn, who said that before he went any further it would be necessary to explain, that the valve had a spindle running through the stuffing box, and that the lever of the valve was propped up at a short distance from the valve, and so prevented it from working. Mr. Fairburn went into the particulars in technical manner, but this was the gist of his explanation.

'The witness then continued : The valve was weighted down when I went there. I slackened it when the engine was not going, but it was propped when the engine was working. The steam guage was about to be blocked up with dirt from the water, which prevented the steam from getting to the silver, and it therefore did not always act, and you could not tell exactly what height the steam was. I told Mr. Bayley about a week before I came off work about this guage, once when it stuck, but it worked itself right that time, in about ten minutes, or I should have taken it off and cleaned it. I never told Mr. Bayley about the weight on the safety valve, nor do I think he knew about it. Supposing the steam was marked to be five inches with the steam guage when it should have been at twelve, I should have thought the guage made up and I should have started the engine and loosened the guage. I have worked the engine at 14 inches, and I thought it capable of working up to 19. I usually disturbed the prop when the steam was at 14 inches.

'By Mr. Fairbairn: Supposing the mercurial guage was stopped and the engine not going, I had no other criterion but my own judgment to go by. When the guage was stopped up it was not to be depended upon.

'By the Coroner: I saw Marshall at the mill on Wednesday night, but I had no conversation with him about the valve. I did not see the safety valve on the Wednesday. The guage stood at 12 inches on Wednesday night. Richard Carr was engineer there before me.

'By Mr. Earle : It is exclusively the duty of the engineer to look after the valves, and not the master's business at all. I continued the system I have stated all the time I was there.

'By the Jury: When Crooks came I told him about the valve being propped and that he must keep the steam up to 12 inches or it would plague him if it got lower. Mr. Bayley has asked me if I was not afraid of it blowing up, and I told him I was not afraid of it doing so unless the engine and valve were stopped. Mr. Bayley has seen me working at 14 inches, and it was then he has spoken to me, and I told him I was not afraid when the engine was going, and if it did blow up it would be when the engine was stopped and the valve made up. Mr. Bayley never gave me any directions not to work more than or 14 inches of steam, but I saw myself that the pressure we wanted was 13 or 14 inches. The engineer has to regulate the steam, and keep the pressure up. I never saw any danger. I had seen the steam on the night before, and I saw nothing then. The Sunday before the explosion the boiler had been cleaned out, and I looked in, and said to James Stafford and Thomas Howorth, who were cleaning it, “There will be some accident happening to this boiler, mind if there does not. I thought it had a stay from end to end, but it has not." Stafford cried out, " Thou must tell Mr. Bayley," and I said “ I will." I was sick and off work, and did not communicate the fact to Mr. Bayley. I had cleaned the boiler myself at the time the new chimney was being built, but I did not notice the defect in the make of the boiler. I only cleaned it once before. I believe Mr. Bayley was not aware of the defect. Before I was with Messrs. Bayley and Dewhurst, I looked after three engines. We use very dirty water at Bayley and Dewhurst's. We cleaned the boiler out every six weeks. I had 22s. per week. The sole cause of my leaving was on account of sickness. Crook was regular engineer at Mr. Wright's.

'By Mr. Barlow: The making up of the steam guage was not mentioned to Mr. Stafford, for I did not know that he was agent for the premises.

'Thomas Crooks deposed, I live in Cotton-street, I am an engine driver, and have been so nineteen years. I worked this engine on Friday, and up to Saturday afternoon, when the fly wheel caused us to stop. Brandon told me to keep the height of the steam about 13 inches. The safety valve was fast ; there was a lever and a valve and a prop to it. Brandon did not say anything to me about the safety valve. I would have pulled the prop away, but the master, the youngest of all, said it would fill the place with steam as there was no place to blow it off (Mr Bayley here informed the court that the person the witness alluded to was only a youth, was leaving the business, and had nothing to do with the engine.) The prop was under all Friday night. On Friday, when the steam was stopped, it was at 20 inches. The guage only marks 17 inches, and it was afterwards at 5 inches more than that. It got up fast after it got to 17. Mr. Bayley and Mr. Dewhurst were in the boiler house just at the time. I was rather frightened when the safety valve did not act, and I was more frightened when I cleaned the boiler out on Sunday. I thought was not stayed sufficiently for the pressure of steam. It should have had stays from end to end, and four across the fire. I don't think the boiler would carry 40 lbs. to the inch comfortably. There should be four stays from the top to the bottom over the fire place. There were four in, but they were cross-cornered from side to end. It is our duty to clean the boiler out. There was no other imperfection in the boiler, that I saw. I heard Brandon speak to Stafford about the want of the boiler ; but I was only “working sick," or I should have told them on Monday. I did not go on Monday morning, because I went after better job. Bayley and Dewhurst might have seen the guage at 22, but I don’t know that they did. John Thomas was there on Sunday when we were cleaning the boiler, but I don't know whether he heard about the stays or not. I should recommend Thomas if I were sick as competent engineer. [One of the jury here remarked that Thomas had been in his employ, and he did not consider him a very efficient man.] The evidence of this witness was of an extraordinary character. Thus, when pressed as to why, he apprehended danger from the propping of the safety valve, he did not remove it, he replied, he was only " working sick," that is, supplying a sick man's place, and he had no right to meddle with any thing in the place. His view appeared to be, that " working sick" relieved him from all responsibility, beyond that of merely throwing on the coals, and seeing that the engine run up to full speed.

'Mr. Fairbairn, civil engineer, of Manchester, was next called. In a few preliminary observations, he remarked, that he had very little doubt, nearly the whole of these explosions might be traced to the cause of this accident—an excessive pressure of steam. He then presented a report on the accident, which, for safety, and with the view of giving the fullest information, he had committed to writing. It was illustrated by drawings of the boiler in its present state of disruption. He then read the report, which was as follows :— "Pursuant to instructions from W. S. Rutter, Esq. coroner for South Lancashire, I visited the mills of Messrs. Dewhurst and Bayley, Ashton-under-Lyne. for the purpose of investigating the cause of the boiler explosion which took place at their factory, on Thursday morning last. After careful examination of the premises, I found that the boiler was situated under a fire-proof portion of the cotton-mill, composed of iron beams and brick arches. On the ground floor, at some short distance from the engine-house, the boiler was placed, with the furnace end next to Nelson-street, and the other end against the mill wall, which formed the boundary of a back street, separating the mill from a number of cottage-houses on the other side. Immediately over the boiler were three rooms, containing blowing, scutching, and roving machines, forming in the whole (including the engine-house) a building about twenty-five feet square, and three stories high. This structure abuts upon the gable end of the mill, and, excepting only the engine-house, which covers part of the area, it may be considered a continuation of the same building. Such were the condition and such the position of the boiler and premises, immediately preceding the accident, which took place on Thursday last. After a minute examination of the boiler I found it one of what is called the Butterley construction, which in this case consists of a cylinder 25 feet long, and six feet six inches diameter for a distance of about eight feet, or about one-third; the lower portion of the cylinder cut away, in order to admit the furnace, which is covered with an arched top. This terminates in a central flue 2 feet 6 inches in diameter, but forming an ellipse at the entrance in order to meet the curvature of the convex top, already described. In this construction of boiler, it will be observed that all the parts are nearly of the strongest section, excepting the ends, which are flat, and that part over the furnace, which is much weakened by the form given. The ends, however, were composed of full three-eighths of inch thick plates, and were well-secured with iron stays to the sides. This was not, however, the case with the covered top over the furnace, which had no stays, and was consequently much weaker than any other part of the boiler. “This portion," said Mr. Fairbairn, pointing on the plan to the elliptic fire place, “ had only its own curvature and the strength of the plates to resist the steam. In other respects it was perfectly sound, and appeared to be of good iron and well constructed." To this Mr. Fairbairn added : " There was no fault to be found with the boiler or the workmanship but at the same time it was no better than a waggon boiler over the fire, having no stays. I believe stays were necessary, particularly with the pressure the other parts would sustain. On the top of the boiler were two valves, one admitting the steam to the engine (20-horse power), and the other as an escape for the steam when exerting force greater than the pressure acting upon it. In addition to these valves a mercurial guage was attached, indicating a pressure as high as 15lbs. to the square inch, and an index float, shewing the height of the water in the boiler. The boiler was fed by force-pump from the engine, and the quantity of water supplied was regulated by a hand-cock attached to the pipe.

"—[A Juryman : There was a self-acting feed.—Mr. Fairbairn : I did not perceive one.—The Juryman: No ; it very likely it would be blown away.]—

" On the safety valve, which was 3½ inches diameter, were two weights, one inside the boiler, 69¼ lbs.; one inside 73lbs.; and the weight of the valve and rod 3lbs; making a total for the load on the valve of 145lbs., or 15lbs. to the square inch. This pressure was nearly as much as the furnace proof of the boiler would bear with safety, but much under the powers of the other parts of the boiler, which, in my opinion, were equal to pressure of 40lbs. on a square inch. It might be double the pressure, but it would not be safe to work it at more. The other parts of the boiler were, in my opinion, quite equal to 40lbs. or 50lbs. the square inch.

"Having thus described the powers and condition of the boiler, I would now direct attention to what appears to me to be the cause of the explosion, and the disastrous results which followed.

" After a careful investigation of all the circumstances, and assuming the safety valve to be working freely, with no greater weight upon it than 15lbs. on the square inch, I found great difficulty in accounting for the rupture and tearing asunder of the whole furnace part of the boiler, and the total destruction of the building under which it was placed. Further inquiries, however, pointed out the true cause of the eruption, that the safety valve was fast, and the engineer having been engaged in cleaning and charging the furnace for nearly half an hour previous to the explosion, (with no escape for the steam), the boiler, as in all such cases, became an instrument of destruction, involving the most ruinous results to all those within reach of its influence. "This fact, therefore, removes all doubt as to the cause of this lamentable occurrence, which, like most others of the same kind, has arisen from culpable negligence—(The expression "negligence" was at subsequent part of the proceedings altered to " ignorance," at the request of Mr. Fairbairn) —on the part of the engineer, and a callous disregard of consequences too serious to be contemplated. On no account whatever should the safety valves of steam boilers be allowed to be touched after they are once loaded and set, excepting for the purpose of ascertaining its free working condition. It is my opinion that there should be no means of tampering with it allowed, and by ignorant men especially.

'It will not be necessary for me to trouble the jury with a lengthened account of the explosion, suffice it to observe, that the safety valve being fast, and all escape for the steam being closed, it easy to conceive what would be the result, namely, that of explosive pressure, which acting on the weaker parts of the boiler would bear down the convex top over the furnace, and hence follows the total destruction of the buildings and the ruinous consequences which ensued. It will be observed, that the boiler in its descent made a complete summerset, and reversed its position, which can only be accounted for by the reaction of the forces upon the furnace end of the boiler, thus producing a rotative motion during the ascent. That is very easily accounted for. The steam rushed into the ash pit, and not finding sufficient vent to escape, it reacted on the upper part of the boiler, and gave to it a rotatory motion. No building whatever could have prevented such an explosion.

"In almost every case where high steam is suddenly liberated, the boiler becomes a projectile of enormous force, which no erection, however solid, can resist.

"Before closing these remarks, I would respectfully direct attention to the heavy responsibility attached to the management of steam boilers, a little more attention would go far to prevent accidents of this kind, if not remove them altogether. On a former occasion I took the liberty of adverting to the present imperfect state as regards the education of an exceedingly useful body of men—l mean that class of engineers into whose hands the lives and property of the public are entrusted. At present engineers are far from possessing an adequate knowledge of the elements of their profession, nor yet has their moral condition attained that high standard of character so essential to faithful discharge of their respective duties. I do not know that in this place I should take any notice of it, bat I am quite satisfied the management of our steam boilers is in the hands of a very inadequate class of men, and to whose hands such an instrument should not be confided. I have, therefore, taken the liberty of pointing out that we should have a higher class of men for such a purpose. It will yet require some years before such men will be trained for the public service ; but I still hope, in this age of steam and steam engines, to see the whole of our steam navy, railways, and manufactures, guided and governed by a body of men at once inspiring confidence and respect. This desirable object cannot, however, be obtained but through the joint aid of the government and railway and steam navigation companies, including manufacturers, in the erection of normal schools for the education of engineers.

" In conclusion, I would recommend the same suggestions which I urged on the occasion of the boiler explosion at Bolton, that the following regulations be observed, and I feel quite satisfied they will tend much to the security not only of property, but the lives of the public:—

"1st. That the practice of placing boilers under buildings where the workpeople are employed be discontinued.

"2nd. That two safety valves be attached to each boiler, one of them to be weighted from the inside to the required pressure, and to have a long ascending discharging pipe out of the reach of interference, the other to be under the control of the engineer. These valves, to be perfectly safe, should have respectively have an area equal to one-half of the steam pipe, or about one square inch to every two horse of the computed power of the boiler. This appears exceedingly desirable, because in the present improvements progress with regard to the economy of fuel, and the great saving that is effected in working steam-engines, there should be means of safety provided which should be as near self-acting as possible; for there is no question of this, the time is now coming when high pressure will be preferred to the low pressure system, from the great economy introduced thereby, and that instead of working 4 or 5lbs. to the square inch, we shall be working up to 12 or 15, as in this case. Sometimes that is done to get as much as possible out of the engine, but it often times done for the more laudable purpose of saving one-half or one-third fuel.

" 3rd. That in cases where boilers are situated under mills a mercurial guage, indicating the pressure of the steam, and an ascending column of water corresponding with that pressure, will be found of great value in cases of negligence on the part of the fireman or engineer.

" Each boiler should have water guage and two fusible fire plugs composed of suitable materials.

"WM. FAIRBAIRN. “Manchester. November 2, 1846."

Mr. Fairbairn then announced that he would be happy to answer any question put to him. In answer to questions put, he stated that in his opinion the chief deficiency in the make of the boiler was the want of the stays in front, but he did not think that any stays could have saved the boiler. The weighting of the valve, no doubt, was the cause of the accident. If the safety valve had been in working order the accident would not have happened. If there had been a fracture in the boiler it would have leaked. I examined the boiler but saw no such fracture. A large fracture would have assisted the explosion. If there had been such a fracture it would have shewn itself by the leakage. The fracture would have weakened the plate. The steam going through the mill to warm would be mere fraction of the whole generated. In my opinion, an accident of this kind arises purely from the negligence of the engineer. In this case the masters appear to have known nothing about it, but the old engineer appears to have known of the weighting of the lever. I have seen Marshall, and he gave me every information I wanted distinctly. I understood from him distinctly that he was in the engine-house the time of the explosion, and from that fact it makes me think it was error of judgment on his part, or a want of proper knowledge, which has led to this. I believe the accident has been the result of gross ignorance. I consider the boiler quite sufficient to drive an eighteen horse engine. This concluded Mr. Fairbairn's evidence.

'The Coroner remarked, that after the clear opinion which Mr. Fairbairn had just given, probably the jury would not desire to go any further into the question. There was Marshall, the engineer, who might be called; but if any one was to be charged with any offence in respect to this matter, he was the man. But after Mr. Fairbairn's evidence, and particularly the last part of it, there was reason to believe the accident had arisen from some accidental causes. It appeared to him (the coroner) that if Marshall had foreseen danger he would not have placed himself in position so dangerous as that he occupied when the accident occurred; and, therefore, it was likely the man was labouring under some error of judgment or want of proper knowledge. The remarks which Mr. Fairbairn had given in addition to his statement were very valuable, and should be promulgated as widely as possible through the medium of the press. Some of the jury expressed a wish to have Marshall in and hear what account he could give, on which the coroner directed him to be called. He came forward walking lamely, and with the aid of stick. He was asked if he had any explanation to give, and replied that he had none to give beyond being fetched to the place and staying there. I was aware, he added, that the safety valve was propped. I took the prop out the second day I was there, and it remained out, and was out when the accident occurred, and the valve was only weighted down with the regular weight. I worked at the mill before Brandon went, but the valve was not weighted when I worked there before. I removed the weight the second day, in order to see if would not do without. The usual speed I had for running at was 10 inches. I suppose that was quite sufficient, for I had no complaint of want of speed the works. I had not examined the safety valve the morning of the explosion. The steam guage was at seven inches when I went out of the fire place to the engine-house. It was at five inches till five minutes before. The guage sticks a little sometimes, and I was aware of the fact. It was a quarter past five when I left home to go to the engine-house; I was rather late that morning having been up at work until late at the engine on Tuesday night. I could not have started with seven inches of steam. Mr. Bayley had told me to start; at the same time telling me I had better have sufficient steam before I started, so that I should not have to hurt myself by firing up. I did not fire more than usual that morning, from the time I went to the time of the explosion. I tapped the steam guage when I fired after Mr. Bayley went out of the engine house. I was not aware that the safety valve would not act. I took my lamp and went into the engine house to light and oil my crank and fly wheel and shaft. No one had touched the safety valve the night before that I knew of. Brandon was in the boiler house the night before fetching his slop, but he did not touch anything that I know of. I understood that he had left for good, that he had been off sick, and had sent strangers, whom the masters did not like, and therefore they discharged him. That was the reason, I understood. He never said to me he was tired of the place, nor expressed any fears. He never gave me any warning about the danger.

'This concluded the evidence, and the room was cleared for the consideration of the jury. In a very short time the court was opened again, and the jury delivered as their verdict that the deceased were passing along Nelson-street when the steam boiler on the premises of Messrs. Bayley and Lewis, "by reason of an over pressure of steam therein, then and there exploded." whereby they were scalded &c, "and that such pressure of steam" arose from the safety valve of the said steam boiler being over weighted and fixed, but by whom or by what means it was so fixed there is no evidence to show." This verdict therefore amounts to an open one, that they were accidentally killed, and leaving open the question of how the valve came weighted.

'INTERMENT OF THE PERSONS KILLED. The last sad rites of burial were performed over the unfortunate man Fitton, and his daughter, on Sunday, at the parish church, Ashton, and over the young woman, Margaret Fitzgerald, at the Roman Catholic chapel, Dukinfield. The corpse of Fitton was attended by a procession of the operative spinners employed at the cotton mill of Messrs. Knott,—this being the factory at which the deceased was employed previous to his untimely death. At this mill the workpeople collected the sum of £12 4s. 9d. for deceased's widow. We understand that collections were also made in some other mills. The funerals were attended by many hundred persons, and the melancholy proceedings seemed to cast gloom over the whole town. The burial service at the parish church was read in the most impressive manner by the Rev. John Handforth, curate, and the thousands assembled in the church-yard appeared to pay the greatest attention. Shortly after the inquest, some of the jury set on foot a subscription for the widow of the deceased Fitton.'

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. North Devon Journal - Thursday 5 November 1846
  2. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Wednesday 4 November 1846