Death at the Pits
The Colliery provided employment, but it was a very dangerous place to work, as is shown by Durham Mining Museum web site (www.dmm.org.uk).
It makes very sad reading. Between 1859 and 1917 there 49 recorded fatalities. This however is lower than the the true figure as the shaft was sunk in 1837.
Most deaths were caused by accidents, but some miners old and young, died from natural couses. such causes, though in a minority, are of interest. Robert Marshall a 35 year old shifter died suddenly of heart disease while seated outside the mine, previous to going down.
And William Vickers a 14 year 'old helper up',was found dead at the entrance to the tunnel. It was initially thought that he died from the effects of gas. However it was later concluded that he had died of exhaustion, caused by playing football, presumably 'previosly to going down'.
The majority of fatalities, however, were caused by accidents which usually involved machinery, set of tubs 'running amain' been typical.
Other causes of death were from falls of stone or coal, scalding, explosion and falling from a height.
The most vulnerable ages to be working at the George pit, and probably all others,were 14-19 years,when at least14 teenagers died. Coincidentlly, the youngest to die, John Crossfield aged 14 years and the oldest, William Young, aged 74 years, were both crushed in seperate accidents by sets of tubs.
Every fatality at the George pit represents a personal and family tragedy, as exemplified by the folowing cases.
On September,8,1880, Robert Dobinson,a pit deputy aged 39 years, was setting timber in a narrow board when a horse fell out from between the props and crushed him. He died one week later. Listed in (1881)census the following year is a widow, Hannah Dobbinson, living in Escomb with her 5 children, the youngest of whom is a boy named Robert aged 'under one year'.
A second tragic case is that of the Iceton brothers (or possibly cousins.) On July 1,1899, James aged 29 years and Joseph, aged 26years, both blacksmiths, were repairing syphons on the upcast shaft; and to do so had placed a plank across the open shaft on which to stand. This broke under their weight and they fell over 80 feet to their deaths.
Few of the miners who died in accident at the George pit have graves still identified by headstones. However one exeption is that of Robert Lee who died in an accident at the George pit on 20th November 1903. His grave is in Escomb Victorian cemetery and is identified by a monument, in style perhaps more appropriate to a civic dignitary rather than a humble miner
Two Verses are on the square memorial, the one to the front reads,
I left my home with sudden care
And to my work I went
Not thinking of the danger there
That caused my friend's lament
Take warning by my sudden call
That you for Death prepare
For it will come you know not when
The manner how or where
In the midst of life we are in death.
The other verse gives an indication of what kind of man Robert Lee must have been. It reads
A TRUE HEARTED HUSBAND AND FATHER AND FRIEND
REVERED AND BELOVED BY US ALL TO THE END, TO KEEP THOSE IN TROUBLE HE EVER WAS FAIN,
THE NEEDY NE'ER SOUGHT HIS ASSISTANCE IN
IN LIFE RESPECTED, IN DEATH LAMENTED.
Robert left a wife aged 34, two daughters aged 12 and 7 and a son aged 11. They lived at 17 Escomb Village.(taken from the 1901 cencus.)
The accident was reported in the Northern Echo, Saturday 21st November 1903.
One man was killed and one injured by runaway tub at Etherley George Pit, near Bp. Auckland
A sad fatality occurred yesterday. It appears that two miners, Robert Lee and Robert Watson, were riding on a 'jigger' when the tub came amain. Lee a married man with a large family living in Escomb was killed. Watson, who is also a married man, sustained severe injuries to one of his legs and was conveyed yesterday to the Eden Cottage Hospital.
The pit which belongs to Messrs Stobart, was laid idle for the rest of the day.
There are also those who are not mentioned who were injured and crippled for life. One of those was my wife's grandfather,J.W. Pattison, who wrote 'The Poem of Escomb, 1902. He was born at 5 George Pit, following his father to work in the pit and lost a leg in the accident there. He subsequently went on to become landlord of the Angel Inn.