The Patent Shaft and Axeltree Company Est 1940


The Wolverhampton Chronicle 15th September 1869


Two Men Killed by the Explosion of a Tuyere

On Monday last, an inquest was held in the Grand Jury Room, Wolverhampton before T.M. Phillips, Esq. (Borough Coroner) touching the deaths of two men named Henry Boulter (34) of Queen-street, Wednesbury; and William Henry Parkes (21) of Short-street, Wednesbury. Both men had died in the South Staffordshire Hospital from the effects of severe burns all over the body, caused by the explosion of a tuyere at one of the furnaces of the Patent Shaft Works (Lloyd, Foster, and Co.) Wednesbury. Mr T.M. Whitehouse attended the inquiry, to watch the proceedings on behalf of the proprietors and managers of the furnaces.

The first witness called was George Parkes, father of the deceased William Henry Parkes. He stated that he was employed in the casting shed belonging to the furnace which adjoined the one at which his son and Boulter were employed. Boulter was the furnace keeper, and witness’s son was his (Boulter’s) assistant. Mr Thomas Whitehouse was the manager over both furnaces and that portion of the works generally. The explosion, by which the two men lost their lives, took place about ten minutes past twelve o’clock on Thursday noon. Witness saw Mr Whitehouse the manager, in the casting shed some time before the accident, between eleven and half past eleven o’clock, and heard him tell Boulter that it was high time his furnace was run out; Boulter made reply, and said ‘Its hardly ready yet; the iron can’t hurt.’ Boulter commenced to tap the furnace about ten minutes past twelve o’clock. No explosion had taken place then. Three beds of iron were run out before the furnace exploded. Witness was in his own casting shed, but he could see what was going on where Boulter was. There was no sign that an explosion was going to take place. His son was standing behind Boulter, with a skimmer in his hand to skim off the cinder. Just after the third bed had been run out the explosion took place, and the red hot metal and cinders were thrown all about the place, and his son and Boulter, being near to the furnace at the time, were most dreadfully burnt all over their bodies. Plenty of men immediately ran to their assistance, and witness helped to get out his son from the mass of fire by which he was surrounded, and carried him into the engine-house. The two men were shortly afterwards seen by Mr Garman, surgeon, and that gentleman ordered their immediate removal to the Hospital. Oil was poured upon their burns, after which they were wrapped up in plenty of warm blankets and rugs, to keep out the cold air, and they were then taken to the Hospital, at Wolverhampton, by a light trap. They were there attended by Mr Macdonald, the house surgeon, but Boulter, who was the worst burnt of the two, died the same evening. The other one, Parkes, lingered on until Saturday midnight, when he also died. In reply to the Coroner, witness said in his opinion the explosion was caused by the deceased man, Boulter, allowing the iron to remain too long in the furnace before tapping it. The consequence of this was the hot metal got up to the ‘nose’ of the tuyere, and burnt a small hole in it, thus letting out the water into the furnace, and causing the explosion. Witness said he examined the tuyere some time after the explosion, and the nose was nearly burnt off. He believed the tuyere was a good one. It was not an old one, and had been properly repaired before being put into the furnace. It was customary to take out the tuyeres after each casting, and examine and repair them, if necessary, before they were again used. Boulter, a furnace keeper, could reject any tuyere that he considered defective. There was a good nose in the tuyere that exploded, but the iron had been allowed to get too high and burn it. In witness’s opinion, Boulter ought to have tapped the furnace about 10 o’clock. It was his duty to put the tuyere in and see that it was in a good state. The tuyere was made of wrought iron.

The Coroner here remarked that the Chillington Company used tuyeres that were made of a peculiar kind of iron or other material that withstood the heat better than the ordinary wrought iron, and he believed they were much safer. Mr T. Whitehouse, the manager of the Patent Shaft Company’s furnaces, said they had various kinds of tuyeres at their works, both brass and iron, and he believed they had also some of those which the Coroner referred to, but he had not yet had an opportunity of trying them at these furnaces.

Examination resumed: Boulter could easily tell when his furnace was full, ready for tapping. The fillers had been down some time, and were waiting of him to tap it, but he was not quite ready. He had got his casting beds ready, but he had not cleared out his runner.

The Coroner asked whether it was not held to be imperative that a man in Boulter’s position should have his casting beds all complete some time before his furnace was ready for tapping? - Mr Whitehouse, (the manager): It is sir; but sometimes they are not quite ready.
- The Coroner: But it is in these ‘sometimes’ that the mischief often ensues. Is it not imperative for the keepers to be ready in time? - Mr Whitehouse: If they are not ready it is their duty to inform me, but they do not always do so. – By a juryman to Mr Whitehouse: It was not a common occurrence for Boulter to be behindhand. I have not had to complain of him before. The same juryman: I think there ought to be a rule making it imperative on the manager to see that the furnaces are tapped at the proper time. I think if I had been a manager and I had seen that a furnace was ready for tapping, I should not have gone away until I had seen it done. – Mr Whitehouse said that as a rule he generally was present when a furnace was being tapped, but on this occasion he had to go to the office to make up the men’s time books.

Thomas Holmes, the keeper of the furnace adjoining the one that exploded, was next examined. He said he was near the casting house connected with his own furnace when the accident happened, but he could see what was going on at Boulter’s furnace. The explosion took place about a quarter to twelve. He examined the tuyere after the explosion, and he found a little hole burnt under the nose of the tuyere. This was the cause of the explosion, and he agreed with the last witness, that the tuyere had been burnt in consequence of the iron getting up too high by being allowed to remain too long in the furnace. Boulter ought to have known from the time he had the blast on, when the furnace was ready for tapping. Witness saw Mr Whitehouse, the manager, in Boulter’s casting shed about 25 minutes before the explosion occurred, and heard him going on with Boulter, because he had not drawn the furnace.

Thomas Atkins, another witness, said that he was a ‘teazer’ employed at the same works, and he assisted Boulter to change the tuyere for the casting in question. The tuyere was a perfectly good one. He agreed with the other witnesses as to the cause of the explosion. He went to Boulter himself, an hour before the accident, and asked him when he was going to tap, and Boulter replied, ‘When I’m ready.’ The furnace was then ready for tapping, but Boulter had not got his beds finished. – By a Juryman: Boulter was always a bad ‘un to get out his iron at the proper time.

The Jury considered that the explosion was an accident, the result of Boulter’s procrastination in not tapping the furnace at the proper time, and they returned a verdict of accidental death in each case. Two or three Jurymen, however, expressed an opinion that the danger of a recurrence of such accidents would be greatly lessened, if a rule was adopted at the works making it imperative for the furnace keepers to have their casting beds properly completed in every case previous to the time at which the furnaces should be tapped.



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