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The Worcester Grain Distillery Disaster of 1856

Discussion in 'Worcestershire' started by Bob Spiers, Aug 2, 2013.

  1. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    My Great x 3 (maternal) Grandfather Henry Witts was one of the 5 killed in this terrible disaster which was widely reported in local and national newpapers. More poignant to the family because Henry was employed on the site as a jobbing bricklayer working in the plant. He was one of 3 bystanders who went to the rescue of two Distillery workers overcome by fumes in one of the deep Grain Vats.

    It was the practice to flush out the 18000 gallon distilled grain liquor Vats at intervals by using copious amounts of water. Two men were assigned the task; one would descend from the top into the Vat and the other would stay at the top to take action and call for help should the descending workmen discover toxic fumes from the liquor residue.

    At around 4pm Henry working nearby heard a shout from the lookout, calling for help to rescue his fellow worker trapped in the Vat. He and another responded to the call and by the time they reached the top of the Vat the lookout too was in the Vat and overcome by the fumes. Both would-be rescuers, unaware of the toxicity of the fumes, also descended in the Vat and were similarly overcome. The same fate befell another rescuer and soon all 5 were unconscious.

    The alarm had spread through the works and other unsuccessful attempts were made but all had to be abandoned because the fumes were so toxic. A hole was cut into the bottom of the Vat and air was pumped with a large pair of bellows. Eventually each man was brought out and Doctors & a Surgeon summoned to the plant attempted to resuscitate each; but all to no effect. Soon all 5 men were pronounced dead.

    The tragedy made local and national newspapers (I have extracts from the Worcester Journal) and the Coroner brought in verdicts of accidental death due to suffocation by carbonic acid gas.

    All 5 coffins were carried through the streets witnessed by over 2500 onlookers. Shops and businesses were closed for the day. They were buried in a joint grave in St Clements Churchyard and a stained glass window* was made to commemorate the tragedy.

    *The stained glass window was eventually replaced after extensive refurbishment in the 1900’s.
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  2. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    As an active Member of the BMSGH for many years, I eventually got round to writing a fairly detailed account of the Distillery Disaster for its Magazine "The Midland Ancestor " which they kindly published in March 2017. I have had two others stories published since (on unrelated subjects) but decided one relating to descendants of my Great x 3 Grandfather Henry Witts (a victim of the tragedy) and their subsequent pairings would also be of interest and set about writing same.

    I have just submitted it to the Magazine, which if accepted, I hope to appear in the June 2018 issue entitled "The Witts-Reeves-Abrahams Connections" The story encompasses a famous Campanologist, a Celebrated (by Royal Appointment) Chimney Sweeper and how the Abrahams family of two parents & 10 children, split when one son upped and emigrated to Canada (with his wife and child) in 1903. 5 years later his parents and 4 of his brothers (now adult) did the same. Leaving 5 (adult) siblings in England.

    THEN all the Canadian immigrants changed their surname to Cartwright (the mother's maiden name) . One son married and moved to the USA and raised a Cartwright family of his own. Two (Cartwright) sons joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and fought in the Great War in Europe, one returned to Canada and the other stayed and married in England...as Cartwright of course. The mother then returned without her husband also as Cartwright, and remained in England.

    So picture the scene. There is a well established 'Abrahams' clan in England, with a mother and a brother named Cartwright (the latter raising a sizeable Cartwright family). Soon there is an even bigger 'Cartwright' clan in Canada & the USA, some children remain in Canada others move on to the States. To complicate research further the father and sons also change their given names; for instance the father Solomon becoming George!

    All started off as Abrahams except the mother of course whose maiden name they used to change identities. Many will have grasped the fact that the change of identity was to avoid Canadian anti-Semitism (sadly quite rife at the time); but a veritable nightmare to research all the same. Hopefully it should make interesting reading.
  3. Britjan

    Britjan LostCousins Star

    If you can give me a few more details on the two Cartwright soldiers I'd like to add them to my "one name leads to another community" at Lives of the First World War.
  4. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    Of course, I will sent them via a private post Britjan.
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