History: No smoke

IT WAS Fred Dibnah who as a steeplejack in his series on television, with his enthusiasm for mill chimneys, made people look above eye level and start to admire these structures.

DESTROYED: Demolition of Buckley Old Mill chimney after fire in 1940s
DESTROYED: Demolition of Buckley Old Mill chimney after fire in 1940s

The chimney was a symbol to industry and a marker locally of the growing villages. They were also a monument to the achievement of those people whose skills built them with such precision – the engineer, the craftsman, whether a stonemason or bricklayer – and built mainly by hand they for the most part stood the test of time.

The valleys and villages of Saddleworth were no exception to these tall industrial structures of industry. There were at least fifty of them within the boundaries of the area and they were very much part of the character of the working villages.

Though in the past the occasional one had been demolished, usually after a mill fire, the last 25 years has seen most of these structures demolished and in many cases the associated mills too.

There was however one disaster associated with these structures, when on Tuesday, May 10 in 1864 a chimney that was being constructed at the Royal George Mill collapsed.

The newspaper account of the time which appeared in the Huddersfield Chronicle gives us all the details of the disaster:

“About midnight on Tuesday (May 10) a fearful accident happened at the Royal George Mills, belonging to Messrs Ralph and Radcliffe Whitehead, woolen manufactures, Greenfield.

“A tall and massive chimney, in process of construction, fell with a tremendous crash, laying in ruins three cottage houses and occasioning the loss of no fewer than 11 lives.

Memorial Card to Royal George Mill disaster 1864
Memorial Card to Royal George Mill disaster 1864

“The chimney was a massive stone structure of the grey Yorkshire stone, 47yds high, and 12yds to circumference at the base. The cause of the fall is supposed to have been a defect in the foundation.

“In one cottage lived the family of Jeffrey, husband, wife and nine children; this cottage was crushed to bits and only one child was rescued, the rest being killed. One man in another cottage was also killed outright.”

As a memorial to this sad event the Saddleworth Museum in Uppermill has in its collection a memorial card listing all those killed, the eldest at 45 and the youngest just eight months old.

They were all interred at Christ Church, Friezland; the card concludes with an appropriately poignant verse.

3 Replies to “History: No smoke”

  1. So very sad, a whole Family dying so tragically. My gr.gr.grandfather Charles Hammond Coachman to the Whitehead’s was asleep with his wife and two children,( one of whom was my gr. grandfather,) in the house nearest to the base of the chimney, where they lived. Charles and his wife Elizabeth were thrown out of bed by the force of the chimney falling but thankfully they all survived.

  2. In the 1960s I worked as a lab. technician at the mill and also lived in one of the cottages there. I recall Mr. Eric Wood, the then Company Secretary telling me what he had heard about the collapse of the mill chimney.
    According to him it seems the child who survived was looked after or adopted by the Whitehead family and subsequently married a peer.
    Don’t know whether this is true or just an embellishment of the story.
    Whatever the truth, after he retired his successor is reported to have said something about “The last of the old gentlemen have gone.”
    From then on it was all downhill until the new management ran the place into the ground.

  3. So sad. I’m currently adding the burials from Christ Church and added the Whitehead’s already. Take a look at the Find a Grave website

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