DANGER! Trouble at mill

Image of a danger sign from the Quarry Bank collection

While the clockmakers and their mechanic successors were employed for their skill and mechanical experience, safety was not always guaranteed. The mill was full of dangers and the increase in power brought with it a rise in potential hazards…

The continued need for power at the expanding mill pushed Samuel Greg to have a great wheel made of wood and iron installed in 1818. The designer was Thomas Hewes, who quickly realised that he could not increase power to the mill beyond Ewart’s design without first extending the wheel pit and tunnel. Hewes’ company Hewes & Wren managed the installation, but a large part of the workforce consisted of mechanics and workers from Quarry Bank. 

Only one serious accident seems to have been recorded during the making of the tunnel and wheel chamber. The stones for the tunnel walls were lowered by means of pulley systems known as ‘lewises’. On one occasion, as a faulty stone was being lowered a piece broke off and fell onto a man working below, killing him instantly.

Technology at the mill improved rapidly and the mechanics were responsible for maintaining the engines and machinery. Rollers were used in many machines to make thread. To ensure that the threads could grip on tightly as they were wound, the rollers were covered in leather and were effective in aiding production. However, once the machine started the speed and weight of the rollers made them very dangerous. Two tragic accidents are known to have been caused by these rollers:

In 1865, 13-year-old John Foden was sweeping under a mule when his head was crushed between the roller and carriages. A record from the Mill Memorandum reports that his head was ‘completely smashed, death being instantaneous… a very melancholy incident.

It was no safer by 1889, when an unnamed boy almost suffered the same fate. He was sweeping underneath the mule but left it too late to get out. ‘He was caught between the carriage and the roller beam… the upper portion of one ear was cut off and a severe scalp wound inflicted.’  This boy was lucky and recovered quickly, returning to work after 6 weeks, probably with a heightened appreciation of the dangers of the mill.