27 September 1859

t’s way too long since I last posted here, and I should explain why I’ve been away so long – I managed to get waylaid by a picture that was posted on social media, and ended up going down the rabbit hole that happens when you just an to know a little bit more about what went on….1859 Birmingham memorial card

This is a particularly poignant memorial to those lost in an explosion in 1859. It seems to be out of copyright and now in the public domain, so it should be OK for me to share it here.

Birmingham’s gun quarter around Whittall Street housed several percussion cap manufactories in the middle of the 19th century. Many girls and young women were employed in the production process which required dextrous fingers.  The work was dangerous and explosions were common.
One of the worst occurred on 27 September 1859 at the Pursall & Phillips factory on Whittall Street.
The explosion was widely reported in newspapers at the time, and Trove has an article from the South Australian Register, which describes the day in graphic detail, and is well worth reading.

What fascinated me was the last of names, and how they might link together. T
he oldest people to die were Fanny Dollman (sometimes Doleman) and Martha Groocock (sometimes Grocock), both 31 years old and married. Both had three young children.
Fanny also had a younger sister, Maria, who also worked at the factory, and died with her in the explosion, 29 year old Maria Earp.

Humphrey Wood was the only man killed in the explosion – he was an experienced employee, having worked as a percussion cap maker for at least eight years. He had been married a little over four years.

Catherine Clarke, 24, and 18 year old Winifred Casey both lived at the same property on George Street. They were buried at St Joseph’s church in Nechells on 2 October. Thomas Clarke was named in the burial notes for both young women, suggesting that they also may have been related.

Catherine Mary Perrigo was also 24 – she had been born in Middlesex, and the family moved to Birmingham when she was around six years old. Her father, William was a gun wadding manufacturer, so it is perhaps not surprising that Catherine would take a job in the same industry. Sadly William died a couple of months before Catherine.

It looks very likely that Charlotte Cottrall was Charlotte Fowler, who married Thomas Cottrill (sic) on 21 July 1956 in Aston.

Mary Ann (22) and Rebecca (19) Walton were sisters – daughters of Edward and Mary Walton. Edward was a master cabinet maker, and the girls two older sisters were French polishers. Livery Street who lived on Hatchett Street.
Sadly some of the girls are difficult to trace.

As the memorial plaque shows, 15 of the dead were buried in the same vault – at St Mary’s church, Whittall Street, on 2 October.

Mary Cantrill was buried at St Paul & St Martin’s church, Birmingham on the same day. She had lived on Hospital Street.
Catherine Clarke and Winifred Casey were also buried on t2 October, though at a Roman Catholic church.

Dinah Peel (14) lived at Smithfield and wasn’t buried until 5 October.

The parish record for St Mary’s, Whittall Street makes grim reading. On October 2 1859 they held a total of 19 funerals – the fifteen who had died in the explosion, three infants and a 23 year old lady.

These are the things we should recall, perhaps when we complain about health and safety rules….



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s