Two horrific Preston deaths in space of hours at cotton mills

Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at the often brutal life of Victorian mill workers...

Thursday, 20th December 2018, 8:50 am
Updated Thursday, 20th December 2018, 9:53 am
The Victorian cotton mills machinery was dangerous

In November 1873, barely a month after the death of Alderman John Goodair, following a tragic accident on a Manchester street, his Brookfield Mill and another Preston mill, owned by the Stott brothers on Marsh Lane, were to highlight the perils facing cotton operatives of the town.

On the third Tuesday of November, two incidents took place that necessitated the attention of the coroner, Miles Myres, the following day at the Preston police court.

The first inquest was held into the death of James Coulthard, who was employed at Brookfield Mill. Mary Murray, a minder at the mill, was called and she stated that on the Tuesday morning, after breakfast time, the feed that Coulthard had to keep flowing was stopped and he went underneath the lapping machine, that was still in motion, to try and fix it. Her attention was then distracted elsewhere.

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Alexander Patterson, carding master, was next called and he stated he had been called to the lapping machine, where he found the deceased below it. He observed that his head was beneath the machine, one part of which was stopped and the other part still revolving. His waistcoat was lapped hard round the second driving shaft. It had pulled his body up to the top of the shaft and he was quite dead. His neck was black and swollen, and his hands bruised. He had no business to go under the machine while it was running.

Also attending the inquest was the victim’s distraught wife, Mary Coulthard, who told the hearing she was due to give birth in a few weeks and that her 40-year-old husband was the father of seven children. The coroner expressed his sympathy for the plight of Mrs Coulthard and the jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

The second inquest concerned the death of Henry Blackburn, oiler and greaser, at the Stott Brothers factory on Marsh Lane. First to be called was Abraham Bamford, who told the hearing that Henry Blackburn’s duty was to keep the machinery oiled in the engine house and in the mill.

On the Tuesday afternoon, a little before five o’clock, he had heard screaming from the engine house and rushed to see what was the matter. The deceased appeared to be fast in the small wheels which turn the governors, so he immediately shut off the steam. His legs were drawn in underneath the cog wheels and were cut to pieces and he was quite dead. Mr Bamford said: “Along with John Clegg I got him out, but I do not how he got caught in the mechanism. He had no right to be where he was unless the engine was stopped. It appeared he had been cleaning the machinery above when his foot had slipped, and he had become entangled in the machinery.”

A couple more children had been left without a father, and his widow Alice Blackburn told the hearing he was just 37 years old. The coroner expressed his sympathy and the inquest jury recorded a verdict of accidental death once more.

At a time when more than 80 cotton mills were in production in Preston, within hours two families had been left without their bread winner as the perils of life in the cotton mills, where machinery of a dangerous nature was often left unguarded, struck home.