By David Evans. March 2003

It began on a cold wet weekend sometime after my Grandmother had died. We had sorted out her belongings and I was just going through some papers and personal effects when I came across a small prayer book. I opened it up and saw the name Alice Shaw written inside. I found out from my mother that Alice was the wife of my Great Grandfather Charles Louis Evans. As I flicked through the pages a small very faded newspaper cutting fluttered slowly to the ground. I picked it up and read with interest the following: -

Clay Cross. The Late Colliery Accident

On Tuesday, an inquest was held at the Victoria Hotel, before Mr. Busby, on the body of Francis Shaw, a coal miner, who died on Sunday evening from injuries received through a fall of Bind on the 27th ult in the No. 3 pit of the Clay Cross Company. Mr. W.B. Jackson, general manager and Mr. J.D. Croudace, certified manager, represented the Clay Cross Company. There was also present Mr. Stokes, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines.

The first witness was the son who was with his father the deceased during their imprisonment in the No. 3 pit of the Clay Cross Company on the 27th ult. He said that Mr. Dunn the underviewer let the deceased the work they were engaged in and especially cautioned the deceased to make themselves safe. They commenced working about seven o’clock and rested about 9 o’clock for their lunch and soon afterwards were visited by Mr. W. Dunn the underviewer who told them to be sure and make themselves secure. They were engaged in narrowing a road that was ten feet wide between the bars from a double to a single road when the roof gave way displacing the timber and a quantity fell on them. That would be about 10 o’clock. They could hear persons passing within 30 or 40 yards and he (the witness) called out to them but they did not hear and it was not until about 12.45 that they were found. There was plenty of timber at hand but they did not think it was required.

The deceased was 47 years of age and had been employed in the same pit for 22 years. Mr. Dunn the underviewer said that on the same morning at 9 a.m. knowing the deceased was a very daring man, he said “Frank, be very careful and make yourself safe”. The deceased replied “We are alright”. He told the deceased to be careful not because of the nature of the roof but because the deceased was a very daring and hardworking man. Mr. Croudace, the certified manager wished to contradict a statement that the deceased was imprisoned for 5 or 6 hours.

A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned.

There was no date on the cutting and no reference to which newspaper it had been taken from.
I was fascinated. Who was this Francis? Where did he fit in to the family? What relation was he to Alice? What year did the incident take place? I had to find out.
I had only recently made a start on my family history and had decided to concentrate on the ‘Evans’ side only as I was aware how time consuming it can be. However in light of the interesting find I decided to make a small detour.

I started by sending for the marriage certificate of my Great Grandfather Charles Louis Evans. This showed him married to Alice Shaw at the Baptist Chapel, Chesterfield in 1888. Alice’s father was given as ‘Francis Shaw’ deceased and his occupation as Miner.
I then sent for Alice’s birth certificate, which again showed her father as ‘Francis’ I seemed to be on the right track. I then obtained copies of the 1871 and 1881 census records for Clay Cross showing Francis with his wife Emma and their family including Alice and the rest of their children including a son James who could have been the one mentioned in the accident report.

Francis was still alive aged 42 on the 1881 census but had obviously died by the time Alice married in 1888. This narrowed my search down to a period of seven years. The next step was to look through the St. Catherine’s House records for Francis’ death. I found a suitable match and sent off for the certificate. When it arrived it confirmed what the newspaper cutting had said.
Cause of death was given as ‘accidentally injured through a fall of bind in the coal mine’ and the certificate had been received from Charles George Busby – Coroner for Derbyshire after an inquest held on the ninth March 1886.
Francis had died on the Seventh March 1886 at the Clay Cross Company’s Hospital.
I wanted to know even more. What newspaper did the cutting come from? Was there any more information? I decided to make another trip to the Local Studies Library at Matlock to look through old newspapers of the time. I was informed that the most likely source would have been the ‘Derbyshire Times’
I started looking through issues for March 1886, which proved quite easy as it was only a weekly edition and soon found that the cutting in the prayer book had been taken from the copy dated Saturday 13th March 1886. I was thrilled. I had done what I set out to do. But I wanted more. The cutting only referred to the inquest, could there have been earlier reports specific to the accident?
I looked through the editions two weeks either side of the one I already had and found the following dated Saturday March 6th 1886.

Colliery Accident at Clay Cross
Miraculous escape of two persons

On Saturday an accident happened in the No. 3 pit (Tupton seam) of the Clay Cross Company by which two persons, father and son, were for several hours buried alive, many tons of roof falling upon them. It appears that on the day in question these persons, Frank and James Shaw, were engaged on the road some three-quarters of a mile from the pit bottom, converting a double to a single road. There was a good supply of ‘caps and stoops,’ or props and bars, set there at the time, but over them was some four or five feet of bind and a large vacant place.
The two were engaged in making this place more secure. The pit being off work, and they being the only persons in that part of the mine, will account for the time the men were imprisoned. They were seen all right at about nine o’clock, but nothing more was known of them until between one and two o’clock, when, after having been missed, they were found literally buried in bind, many tons of which had fallen. No time was lost in procuring a staff of men to go to the rescue. Fresh timber was placed to prevent further loose bind sliding down. The son was the first to be liberated, and, strange to state, was able with assistance to walk out of his living tomb. To liberate the father was a task of far more difficulty and anxiety, involved about three hours of incessant labour of the willing hands present before the man was rescued. He was, of course, very much crushed and bruised, and was at once taken to the company’s hospital. In his case, however, no bones were broken. Both are doing was well as can be expected. The affair caused considerable excitement in the town, and the only wonder is both were not killed. They would be buried between five and six hours.

It would appear that the accident must have happened on the previous Saturday, the 27th February and he survived in the hospital for eight days before dying of the injuries he sustained. One can only wonder at the pain and suffering he and his family must have gone through in those eight days. And what must James his son have been thinking, knowing that he had been saved but not his father.

Francis was buried in Clay Cross cemetery, which is not that far from where I live, so I decided to pay a visit and try and find his last resting place, just so I could place the final piece in the jigsaw so to speak. I found more than I was expecting. The headstone was very impressive, far better than something a poor mining family would have been able to afford. This had to have been paid for by Francis’s employers the ‘Clay Cross Coal Company’. His wife Emma had been buried with him along with their young son Francis who had died aged 3 years. Also buried with him, albeit 31 years later, was his son James who had been in the accident with him. It seemed strange that he should have chosen to be buried with his father after this amount of time especially as he had a wife and family of his own but then again it seemed somehow fitting that they should be together again underground for one last time.

The Headstone reads: -

Beloved husband of Emma Shaw who departed this life March 7th 1886 aged 48.
His end was peace.
Also the above named Emma Shaw who died July 2nd 1905 aged 61 years.
Also Francis the beloved son of the above who died June 1st 1879 aged 3 years.
Also James Shaw. Died December 24th 1917 aged 51.

Gone but not forgotten.

Picture of Gravestone

So what have I learned about the life of Francis Shaw? My detour has taken me right back to his birth on the 22nd August 1838 in Wensley, the son of George and Sarah Shaw (nee Taylor). I have found out about his brothers and sisters and his marriage to Emma Brimlow on the 28th March 1864. He started work as a Lead miner in the Wensley area before moving to the coal mines in Clay Cross, no doubt to give his new wife and himself a good start in life. He was obviously just like any other man of that period, working hard, in what were without doubt very harsh conditions, trying to provide his family with a half decent way of life. I have found out about all of his children, especially my Great Grandmother Alice, and although I cannot thank God for his untimely death I can thank him for his life, for without it I would not be here. It has been a slightly longer detour than intended but I have to say a most enjoyable one.

As the Headstone reads, ‘Gone but not forgotten’

All thanks to a small prayer book, a faded newspaper cutting and the love of his daughter who kept and cherished a small reminder of her beloved father’s untimely and tragic death.

Published with the kind permission of David and the Derbyshire Family History Society who published this article in their June 2003 magazine.



© Neil Wilson 2012 - www.claycross.org.uk
If you arrived at this page via a search engine, please click here for the home page