Saturday, 17 December 2011

Aitken digs a well

These old newspapers are wonderful things. I think I might have discovered the reason why Aitken took so long to dig a well.

Though I'm well aware that newspapers report some things and not others. Anything connected with human tragedy or crime is reported. More mundane, successful events often aren't considered news.

On Thursday morning, painful catastrophe occurred on the premises of Messrs James Aitken & Co., brewers, Falkirk. The accident happened in connection with a well which was being sunk the yard for a full supply of pure water. The boring of the shaft which was 35 feet deep, was entrusted to William Borland, and its wall-work to Mr William Hume, mason. Only 28 feet of the shaft, however, had been built with the brick, so that there remained a drop of some seven feet for the building which would weigh at least some 13 ton. Thursday morning, Messrs Borland and Hume with other two men had gone down the well for the purpose of filling up this vacancy, and from its critical depth deemed it necessary to use second crib. What rendered the dropping of the brick work all the more perilous, too, was the fact of the soil upon which it was for the most part built, being simply a bed of quicksand. As it was, the unfortunate men had scarcely begun work when the building surged, and they thus found themselves all at once envelloped in mass of falling bricks and sand.

William Liddell, workman in tho employ of the Falkirk Brewery Company, bravely went down the critical shaft, and wrought assiduously for the relief of the buried men. James Lowrie, labourer, who, when , the rustling noise of sand was first heard, and the shout given Mr Borland - "All to the centre," - leapt up and caught the bucket chain, was the first rescued. His wounds, however, although undoubtedly severe, were by no means of an alarming character. He was removed to an adjoining shed, and attended by Dr Espie, who was already at the scene of the catastrophe. William Borland was the next brought up, whose head seemed to be frightfully bruised over the temples, and whose whole body, indeed, less or more severely injured. But in addition to these, Mr Hume and James Morrison, mason, were still underneath the building. The latter, whose legs were only embedded in the debris, was also ultimately rescued, and escaped with very trifling bruises. While he remained below, however, the greatest anxiety prevailed amongst the multitude that had now assembled at the scene of the accident. William Liddell, who had gone down to the assistance of the poor fellows, had, : from some squeamish feeling, been obliged to come up. The cry was now raised, who will go down ? Not one, however, was there who showed within him the heroic daring to face such peril for the sake of his brother's life, until Mr Henry Hume, son of the deceased man, nobly volunteered to descend. Taking off his coat, he bravely entered the bucket, and in second was by the side of Morrison and his poor father. His first act was to examine his father's face, and single glance at the rigid countenance sufficed to tell the sad sad tale of death. He then turned round and set to the extricating of Morrison, but was only a few minutes so engaged, when, unfortunately, a brick fell from the shattered building above and wounded him severely on the head. He was then immediately brought the shaft, and the cut he had sustained was found to be so deep that the doctor had the wound to sew. After this, Morrison was left to work his legs out of the debris as he best could, and, fortunately, in short time, by dint of his own exertions, and the efforts of those at the shaft-mouth, who had in their hands a rope which was fastened round his body, he was once more safe above ground. Dr Espies attention, from first to last, to the wounded men cannot be too highly lauded.

Poor Hume was now left alone, and, without doubt, dead in the bottom of the shaft. In the morning when the sun shone brightly, his head and shoulders were distinctly seen above the debris in which his body, for the most part, was buried. Judging from the attitude in which he stood embedded, the building must have fallen in around him without his having had a single moment's warning of the direful catastrophe at hand. His face was bent down upon the sand, and, indeed, the whole body seemed to be in a stooping position ; or rather buried two-fold. This, of course, once explains how he, although on the same level with Morrison, died so quickly. From the pressure of the sand and other material from the delapidated shaft upon his chest, he must, in fact, have been almost immediately suffocated. Morrison states that he only heard deceased give one or two imploring cries like person in distress, and after that all was motionless and still. But the spine was suffering as well as the heart. On being examined, after the exhumation, his back was found to be broken; yet further than a slight wound directly above one of his eyes no outward bruises were visible.

When it was once beyond question that Hume was "gone," it was prudently resolved that the shaft should be rendered thoroughly safe before any exertions were made to recover his body. Under the superintendence of Mr John Wilson, South Bantaskine, and Henry Aitken, Darroch, s number of practical men were set to work to remove every brick of the shaft from its mouth downwards. Step by step they thus proceeded in their work of demolition, making secure, however, as they went downwards, the quicksand walls of the pit. Yet, notwithstanding, the most active and unwearied exertions, it was about seven in the evening before Mr Hume's body was extricated. Immediately its recovery, the corpse was conveyed to the home of the sorrowing and bereaved family, who under this sore affliction, have the deepest sympathy of a large community of friends. Mr Hume, who was in the 56th year of his age, has left a widow and six children, the youngest of whom is nine years, to mourn the loss of the dearest of husbands and fathers. As a public man, Mr Hume was universally respected for his quiet, shrewd, and estimable common sense; while his happy and social disposition in private made him the object of a tender and altogether kindly regard.

On Tuesday afternoon, the remains of William Hume were interred in the South U.P. burial ground. The cortege, which was large, comprised the majority of the leading townsmen - a striking instance of the great and general respect in which the deceased was held. The men - Barland, H. Hume, and J. Laurie, who got themselves severely injured by the accident, are, we are happy to say, recovering rapidly."
Stirling Observer - Thursday 25 August 1864, page 6.

Note the date: 1864. Just a couple of years after Aitken's problems with the town water supply. Presumably that prompted them to try to secure a more reliable supply of brewing water.

A tragedy for those involved, but a stroke of luck for me. Would the newspaper have reported Aitken successfully digging a well? I suspect not. But for the terrible accident, I'd never have known about the well.

This is the phrase that offers a possible explanation of the delay in digging a well: "the soil upon which it was for the most part built, being simply a bed of quicksand". It sounds as if the ground under the brewery wasn't particularly suitable for digging a well.

The Falkirk Herald is full of nasty accidents. Many connected with people's work. There were other fatalities at the brewery. Health and safety didn't seem to be at the front of anyone's mind.

Not that it's relevant to this story, but I don't want to forget to relate it. I stumbled on a report from the 1890's of an increase in the hourly rate of master painters from 7.5d to 8d an hour. That's a massive 3.33p per hour they'd be earning after the increase. Lucky devils.

But then I got to thinking about prices. A pint of standard beer only cost 2d. So the painters were earning 4 pints an hour. I wonder how many a painter earns today? Say a pint of beer costs 3 quid. That's £12 per hour. Not wonderful, but it helps put 8d an hour into perspective.


Ed Carson said...

"the hourly rate of master painters from 7.5d to 8d an hour" And these were Master Painters, Men who had put years into the learning and practice of their craft. I wonder how many pints an hour journeymen and apprentices made?

Craig said...

Here in the city of Albany, NY, a brewer—Robert Boyd of Boyd & McCulloch—decided to drill a well, back in the 1820s. He dug so deep he hit a mineral spring—nearly 500 feet (152 meters) deep. I asked a geologist at my museum if he thought it unusual that Boyd hit a mineral spring. He said No, but was amazed that Boyd had the resources and money to dig a well that deep in the 1820s! He said it would have been both an amazing engineering accomplishment, as well as being astronomically expensive. You can read about it, including the mineral make-up of the water, on Google books here