‘A slate or some sharp substance had cut clean through his trousers’


Heavy snow fell on the afternoon of Thursday, December 12, 1901. It was so bad that trams were suspended, roads and railways were blocked, and telephone and telegraph wires were brought down. The weight of the snow also contributed to a tragic accident in which one man was killed and four others injured.
Around a dozen men were working in the smithy in the stables at the rear of the premises of undertaker Reuben Thompson, on Queen’s Road, Lowfield. Some were working the furnaces making horseshoes, others were employed in carriage building. Suddenly, the roof caved in and the area was inundated with falling bricks. The chimney stack above the furnace had been brought down.

The one man killed, Joseph Bowe, of No.131 Broadfield Park Road (later renamed Broadfield Road) was not even employed at the smithy. He was a carriage driver, in the wrong place at the wrong time, present only because his horse was being shod.

The four injured men were:
Albert Gillot, striker, of No.6 Preston Street, Chippinghouse Road
Richard Foster, shoesmith, of Queen’s Road
John Parkin, coachsmith, of Queen’s Road
John Berresford, of No.41 Jepson Lane

Fellow workers attempted to telephone for an ambulance from Mr Thompson’s office, but the line was down. Someone ran to the Earl of Arundel and Surrey public house across the road, where the telephone was working. However, conditions meant that the ambulance would be some time arriving, so the injured men were dispatched to the Royal Hospital in cabs. Bowe, who was completely buried, was extracted within a few minutes but he never regained consciousness. He died half an hour later, in an ambulance wagon as it passed along South Street on the way to the hospital on West Street.
Gillot and Foster were detained in hospital, suffering from head injuries and shock. Berresford was allowed home, even though he was still in pain. It was only when he got home that he discovered the extent of his injuries.

On December 14 the Sheffield Independent reported:

"It was not until he arrived home, and his wife was about to take his coat off, that he discovered that he has also sustained a deep cut near the bottom of his leg. A slate or some sharp substance had cut clean through his trousers and made a gash which necessitated eleven stitches being placed in it when he was taken back to the hospital. Whilst the doctor was attending to him for this, the second time, it was also found that the thumb of his left hand was crushed and he had cuts and bruises on his arm."

Naturally those with head injuries were treated first, and most diligently, but to allow a man home with such undiscovered, if not life threatening, injuries showed the quality of medical care for working-class men at the time.

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent of December 13 adds  great more detail to the incident 

The most serious effect of yesterday’s storm was the collapse of a chimney stack at the premises of Mr Reuben Thompson, cab proprietor, Queen’s Road, resulting in one man being killed and four injured, one of them seriously. Mr Thompson carries on at Queen’s Road a coach-making and undertaking business, and among others employed are a number of blacksmiths. It was a chimney belonging to a building overlooking the blacksmith’s shop that fell, wrecking the shop, and burying four or five men in the debris. In the taller building, coach-making and trimming are carried on, and above the roof of this, a two-storey building, the chimney stack rose about six feet. It was also about six feet wide. The blacksmith’s shop was a lower building, and from its roof to the top of the chimney stack would be about 20 feet. The chimney had been repaired about two years ago but a number of telephone wires were attached to it, and these, according to some who saw the accident, were the cause of the disaster. The snow, they say, accumulated upon the wires in great weight, and the strain caused the chimney to fall.

Whatever the direct cause, at a few minutes past four o’clock yesterday afternoon a great mass of brickwork – half of the chimney stack – fell from its height of 20ft and crashed through the roof of the blacksmith’s shop. Ten men were in the shop at the time, and of these five were at that end which the brickwork, in its slanting fall, struck. Others were, fortunately, more directly underneath the chimney stack, and the falling mass passed over them, whilst one or two were in a part of the shop which is under Havelock Bridge, and so escaped. There was not the slightest warning, and the men had no time to prepare. The blacksmith’s shop is not a large place – some 20ft square – and the chimney entirely demolished the roof, the falling brickwork and telephone wires mingling with the slates and rafters, and making a great mass of debris.

Directly in the line of the fall was a man named Joseph Bowe, of 131, Broadfield Park Road. He was a cab driver, who had gone into the smithy not five minutes before, in order to have his horse ‘sharpened’. He happened to be blowing the bellows for the smith, who was attending to his horse. He was buried in the falling mass and received injuries to the head and back, which speedily proved fatal. The other injured men were:

Albert Gillatt, 6, Preston Street, Chippinghouse Road
John Henry Parkin, Queen’s Road
John Berresford, Jessop Lane
Richard Foster, Queen’s Road

They were all hit by the falling brickwork, and stunned, and some of them were almost buried. Other men in the shop – Arthur Hancock, Daniel Bernstein, James Holmes, Edward Holmes, and Philip Husband – at once began the task of extricating them, and a number of other workmen were quickly on the spot, and joined in the work. The ambulance was telephoned for, and a message sent to the City Mews for cabs, but before any of these vehicles could arrive the unfortunate men were got out and taken to the Royal Hospital, in the cabs kept at Queen’s Road. Bowe died immediately after his arrival at that institution. He was about 40 years of age, a married man with three children, the youngest of whom is only ten days old. His is a particularly sad case. Only recently, owing to his horse shying at a motor car, one of his legs was broken, and he was a patient in the hospital for some time, and off duty for 15 weeks altogether. It is only a week since he restarted work.

Of the other four, Gillatt is the worst injured, and on inquiry at the hospital at a late hour last night, it was reported that he was not doing well. A serious scalp wound is his most serious injury and his left eye and hands are badly cut. He is only a youth of 19. It was necessary also to detain Foster in the hospital. His right shoulder is badly bruised, and his head severely cut. He is about 58 years old, married, with a family. The other two injured men were able to go home. Parkin, who has severe scalp wounds, is 43 years old and has a wife and nine children. Berresford is cut about the head, his left eye being badly cut, and bruised about the right shoulder. He is 44 years old and married, with four children. The inquest on the body of Bowe will be held at the Hospital, at half-past ten this morning.

John Henry Parkin, one of the injured men, gave our reporter an account of the accident. He is a coach-smith, and was in the blacksmith’s shop, heating up some ironwork connected with his trade.‘I was working at the fire underneath the chimney,’ he said. ‘If I had been at my anvil I should have been killed on the spot, but I had just turned away to get heat for the coach iron. Foster works opposite me, and he and Berresford caught it. My striker, Gillatt, stood at the back of the anvil and he is in hospital, very bad. I think he has an eye out, for one thing. Bowe was talking to me a minute or two before, and he was blowing for Foster at the time the accident happened. A lot of wires were attached to the chimney, which was always in good repair before they put those telephone wires on. I think it was the weight of the snow on the wires that pulled the chimney down. I have always been dubious ever since they put the wires on.’

The smith who worked next to him, Parkin continued, was Husband. He escaped with the blow of a brick in the middle of the back. Three others were in a part of the shop underneath Havelock Bridge, and were safe. Several sympathising fellow workmen, including James Holmes, called to see Parkin. One of these said he had looked out two minutes before the accident, and saw that there was a tremendous lot of snow on the telephone wires. There was a sky-light in the roof of the blacksmith’s shop, and the falling chimney crashed through this. Berresford and Gillatt were practically buried in the ruins. Bernstein and Husband had a marvellous escape, as the fall passed just over them.

Our reporter also interviewed Mr Reuben Thompson, proprietor. That gentleman was quite of the opinion that the telephone wires were the cause of the accident. The chimney was built 18 years ago, when the workshops were erected, and it had been pointed from time to time. ‘Wires were fastened,’ said Mr Thompson, ‘to both sides of the chimney with irons. I think the weight of snow on the wires has caused them to break on the side over the railway. Immediately they broke on one side of the chimney, all the weight would be thrown on to the other side, and that is what has done it. Two of the men in the shop say they had just a warning – a second or two – and jumped out of the way. I think that would be when the wires broke. As soon as they went, those on the other side would swag, and jerk the chimney over. It could not possibly happen in any other way, because there was no wind at all, and unless the wires broke, they would act as a stay upon it.’

Asked if the chimney was in good condition, Mr Thompson replied that it was only a short time since it was pointed. A few weeks ago – eight or ten, his men informed him – an additional telephone wire was erected.

The inquest into the death of Joseph Bowe was opened by the Deputy Coroner, Mr B. Bagshawe, at the Royal Hospital on December 13. In attendance were the funeral director, Reuben Thompson, His Majesty’s Inspector of Factories, Commander Hamilton P. Smith, and a representative of the telephone company.

The proceedings were reported in the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent:

Evidence of identification was given by Sarah Bowe, of 131, Broadfield Park Road, the widow. She last saw her husband alive at dinner time on Thursday when he returned to his work. He was a cab driver, employed by Mr Reuben Thompson. Daniel Bernstein, smith’s striker, of 52 Brownill Street, said he was in the workshop when the accident happened. Deceased was helping the blacksmith to shoe his horse, which five minutes before he had taken into the shop. At four o’clock witness heard two or three slates fall on the roof, and shouted, ‘Look out, the slates are falling in.’ He managed to get away.
The Coroner: ‘Did you run out of the shop?’
Witness: ‘No, sir, I ran out of the way, with the man I work with.
Directly afterwards the chimney came crashing through the roof.’
‘What did you do after the chimney fell?’
‘I at once telephoned for the ambulance, and all the other workmen came in and helped to rescue the men from underneath the brickwork.’
‘Was deceased unconscious when put in the ambulance?’
‘Oh yes, he was lost for five minutes under the debris.’
‘What was the height of the chimney?’
‘I cannot say the exact height, but I would say about twenty feet.’
‘Was the chimney in repair or out of repair?’
‘Yes, the chimney was in perfect condition.’
‘There were a number of telephone wires attached to the chimney, were there not?’
‘Yes, they were all connected on one side.’
‘What made the chimney come down, in your opinion?’
‘I think it was the weight of the snow on the telephone wires which pulled the chimney over.’
‘You feel sure of that?’
‘Yes, sir.’
Witness also stated that when the last wire was put up a month ago the chimney seemed to rock.
The Coroner: ‘Was there anything on the other side of the chimney to counteract the weight of the telephone wires?’
Witness: ‘No, sir. I noticed a quantity of snow on the wires before the chimney fell.’
Commander Smith: ‘When you heard of the chimney rocking did you or anybody else make any representation to anybody?’
Witness: ‘No, sir.’
Mr Thompson: ‘This is the first time I have heard of the chimney rocking.’
Commander Smith: ‘When did the man see it rock?’
Witness: ‘He told us last night he saw it rock about a month ago. He also said he saw it from Bramall Lane.’

The Deputy Coroner, addressing the jury, remarked that there could be no doubt present in their minds as to the cause of the fall of the chimney. It was quite evident that it was the heavy weight of snow on the telephone wires, pulling at one side of the chimney.

The jury returned a verdict that ‘Deceased was killed by the accidental falling of a chimney at the works of Mr Reuben Thompson, Queen’s Road’.

The other injured men are progressing as favourably as can be expected. The authorities at the hospital, where the men were removed after the accident, state that although they are not yet out of danger, they have every hope that each man will recover.

So after hearing from several witnesses, the jury decided that the collapse of the chimney was not due entirely to accumulated snow, or wind. The chimney was twenty feet high and well built. However, it was the weight of snow on four telephone wires attached to the chimney that pulled it down, as there was no support on the opposite side to counteract the tension of the wires, the chimney having fallen in the direction of the wires. Joseph Bowe’s time and place of death were officially recorded. He left a wife and two young children, one only a few weeks old.

And what happened to Joseph's widow Sarah and her children. The death of the main "breadwinner" often meant hardship and deprivation for his family. They may have been some provision made, but given the nature of Joseph's occupation it would not have amounted to much.

It took me a while to find it but it appears that Sarah re-married in 1904, a man called George Robinson and went to live, with her children Harold and Ernest, in Mansfield, Notts. The 1911 Census states the following

Name Ernest Bowe
Relationship to Head of Household Stepson
Gender Male
Age 14 Estimated Year of Birth 1897
Occupation Colliery Labour above Ground
Employed Y Working at Home N
Place of Birth Sheffield Yorkshire
Enumerator Information
Address Back Lane Skegby Near Mansfield Parish Skegby Town Skegby Near Mansfield
Type of Building Private House Number of Rooms 4 Inhabited Y
Reference RG14PN20331 RG78PN1218 RD428 SD4 ED20 SN261 Administrative County Nottinghamshire Registration District Mansfield
Registration Sub District Sutton In Ashfield Enumeration District 20  


Births Jun 1866BOWE Joseph Hartlepool 10a 172

Deaths Dec 1901BOWE Joseph 34 Ecclesall B. 9c 288

1901 Census

Name Joseph Bowe Relation to Head of Family Head Age Last Birthday 36 Sex Male Profession or Occupation Cab Driver Condition as to Marriage Married Where Born Durham West Hartlepool Address 131 Broadfield Park Rd Civil Parish Ecclesall Bierlow Rural District Town or Village or Hamlet Ecclesiastical Parish St Peters Abbeydale Parliamentary Borough or Division Ecclesall County Borough, Municipal Borough or Urban District Sheffield Administrative County Yorkshire Ward of Municipal Borough or Urban District Ecclesall


Sheffield Independent dated 14 December 1901

Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 13 and 14 December 1901

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