The Human Cost of Getting Stone

November 19, 20144:23 pmNovember 16, 2015 4:24 pm

Fatal Accident reported in the Worcestershire Advertiser 1905

 by Anne Spurgeon, project volunteer

Quarrying has always been an extremely dangerous occupation and over the centuries many workers have been killed or seriously injured. Until relatively recently we have had few details about the extent of this problem. Just over a hundred years ago, however, the Quarries Act of 1894 brought about an increase in regulation, a stronger focus on inspection and the emergence of detailed information about the industry. The Annual Reports of the Mines and Quarries Inspectorate provide interesting statistics on patterns of employment in quarrying after 1894 as well as the number and types of accidents that occurred. In some cases they report the names of the victims, giving a degree of visibility to those who tend to be anonymous and often forgotten in the history of quarrying.

For most years between 1894 and 1914 there were more than 80 quarries operating in Worcestershire that fulfilled the criteria for inspection i.e. they were more than 20 feet deep. By contrast Herefordshire had less than 40 such quarries and these were much smaller operations. Thus in 1901 Worcestershire quarries employed more than 600 people compared with less than 70 in Herefordshire.

In Herefordshire nearly all quarry workers were adult males (defined as those aged 16 and over) but in Worcestershire a large number of women and children were employed. Women and girls usually worked ‘outside’ the quarry, involved in sorting stone and its onward transport while men and boys (many under the age of 14) worked inside the quarry getting stone. This involved heavy manual labour using picks and shovels. Workers were often suspended from ropes or perched on narrow ledges or planks. They would also have used explosives in some quarries and operated haulage equipment to move the stone.

Accidents (fatal and non-fatal) occurred both inside and outside quarries. An example was the death of 32 year old George Philpot. On the afternoon of July 6th 1906 at North Malvern quarry he was working on a ledge with a crowbar when some stone fell from above, knocking him off the ledge and crushing him as he fell. He died the next day in Malvern hospital from head injuries and internal bleeding. He left a widow, Eliza, and seven young children, the youngest a baby just three weeks old.

For many families such a tragedy would be further compounded by extreme poverty or complete destitution. In the case of Eliza and her children, however, this fate, at least, was avoided. The quarry owner Mr A E Lewis, who was absolved of any responsibility for the accident, had ensured that his workers belonged to the ‘Oddfellows’ a Friendly Society that paid a supportive allowance to dependents of employees following death or serious injury. Mr Lewis, himself a prominent member of the ‘Oddfellows’, as well as a philanthropic contributor to Malvern Town affairs, organised a funeral in George’s home village of Cradley. George was clearly extremely well thought of. According to the Worcestershire Advertiser, the funeral was ‘attended by a large number of relatives and sympathising friends’ and ‘a quantity of wreaths completely enshrouded the coffin and grave’.

George was just one of the many victims of quarrying. There were five other fatal quarry accidents in the district that year alone, as well as numerous other incidents where quarry workers were seriously injured.

Written by Elliot Carter

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