Brittan, William

Brittan, William          1882 March 25th             Fisherton

On Tuesday evening, an accident at the Fisherton Mill abruptly closed the life of William Brittan – a hard working miller who for the last eight years had been in the employ of Mr Gregory at that establishment. The main driving strap had, it is believed, by some means got off the mill wheel; and the deceased went to get under the shaft to replace it when the slightly projecting key of the pullies caught the collar of his coat, and, his clothes becoming entangled in the pulley – and more especially that surrounding the throat, the poor fellow’s neck was broken. At the time of the accident no one was in the mill but the deceased – indeed, he had but a few minutes sent the only person who was there with him – an old man named Gaisford – out on an errand. The same old man was the first to become aware of the accident; and at once he stopped the mill, and endeavoured to release the body. But it was found impossible – so firmly had the clothes become encircled in the pulley – until the coat had been cut off. The machinery in which the man was caught was new – indeed it has only been up about three months; and to the ordinary observer to get under the shaft as the deceased had done was not attended with much danger. The poor fellow, who bore the character of a steady respectable man, was married.

The inquest was held at the beer-house in Churchfields on Wednesday morning, before Mr R M Wilson (the district coroner) and a jury. It was, after the annexed evidence had been adduced, adjourned the following morning, the coroner being in doubt as to whether it was not his duty to communicate with the district factory inspector before a verdict was returned. Indeed, he seemed to have some doubt as to whether that gentleman should not be present or should inspect the premises, under the circumstance that they had not been previously inspected.

The first witness examined was Charles Gaisford, aged 79, who resides in Windsor-street, Fisherton. He deposed that he last saw the deceased alive on the second floor of the mill at about 20 minutes to nine on Tuesday evening, when he came out to call him to go to the post for Mr Gregory. He went, the deceased being the only person left in the mill. On his return from that errand, he at once went to Mr Gregory’s office. He remained there some four or five minutes; and on his returning to the mill – on the top floor of which he saw a light – he at once became aware that there must be something wrong from the great speed at which the wheel was going. He then found that the main driving strap was off the wheel; and on proceeding a little further in the apartment he saw that the deceased’s coat had been caught – (by the collar) – by the key of the pullies, and that the poor fellow had been seized beyond personal extrication. Close behind him was a sack of offal and a pair of trucks. At once, the mill having been stopped, he (the witness) went to him and endeavoured to lift him away from the shaft, but was unable to do so. His impression was that the deceased, having to stoop to get under the shaft the projecting key of the pulley caught the collar of his coat, and his clothes becoming twisted round the pulley, he was suffocated. The deceased had been in Mr Gregory’s employ for more than eight years; and at the time was doing the work to which he was accustomed.

Mr Henry George Gregory, the proprietor of the mill, said the deceased had been in his employ for several years, and he believed his age was about 57. After Gaisford had left him at a little after nine, he went into his private house, which immediately adjoins the mill. After a few minutes he heard the mill stop, and he at once ran out to ascertain the cause. Gaisford he found had stopped it; and going to the first floor he saw the deceased hanging up to the shaft by his jacket – evidently quite dead. The machinery had been up about three or four months. The head of the key might certainly be reduced so as to render it impossible that an accident would occur again. The pulley too, he should say, might be eased. The new machinery had not been inspected; but the job was not yet completed.

Henry Scruse, who is in the employ of Mr Gregory, stated that he heard of the accident on the previous evening at about a quarter past nine, and he immediately went to the mill. When he arrived there, he found the deceased hanging by the collar to the shaft, the mill by that time having been stopped. He at once went to him, and endeavoured to release him. Finding that impossible, they took out their knives and cut his coat off.

Mr James Kelland, surgeon, of Salisbury, stated that he was sent for on Tuesday evening to come to Fisherton mill to see the deceased. When he arrived there he found him quite dead, his neck being broken. There was no evidence of suffocation. He could have only been dead a few minutes.

At this stage the inquiry was adjourned.

On the resumption of the inquiry on Thursday morning the coroner remarked that he had found out that it was not his duty to notify the inspector of the accident, but the owner’s. Therefore the jury could, if they were satisfied with the evidence, close the inquiry. The jury almost immediately returned a verdict of “Accidental death,” but expressed a wish to see the place where the accident occurred.

Mr Gregory said before the jury visited the mill he should like to tell them that after the inquiry was adjourned on the previous day he found that Dr Gordon was the surgeon of the district and he at once went to him to ask whether it was necessary to have an inspector at the inquiry. Dr Gordon hunted up the rules but he could find no such condition laid down. He found, however, that in the case of an accident the owner or occupier of the mill was requested to give the medical officer notice within 24 hours and also write to the sanitary inspector, and that he (Mr Gregory) did as soon as he returned home. Dr Gordon visited the mill and looked at the machinery; expressed himself satisfied with what he saw and filled up the form required to be sent to the Home Office.

He thought it right to say in self-defence that no copy of any rules had been supplied to him with reference to this machinery. The Inspector certainly called at his mill on one occasion, but he (Mr Gregory) happened to be away at the time. A day or two after he received a letter from the Home Office, requesting him to hang up the rules which the Inspector had left in the mill. He at once wrote back to the effect that he had no rules, and, of course, could not hang them up. He was, however, quite ready to do anything that the jury thought necessary to protect his men; but he would ask them to remember that the works were no yet completed.

A juryman : Do you think the man was in danger in going under this shaft? I don’t want to influence your opinion in any way, as you had better see the mill.

Another juryman : It is certainly a great mistake in your not having any rules.

Mr Gregory said the import had got about the city that the inquest was adjourned on the previous day at the request of the jury, but they would know it was simply adjourned to allow the coroner to settle the technical point raised.

The jury afterwards visited the mill, and after inspecting the machinery – where one remarked, “It seems actually incredible that the deceased could have met his death” – confirmed their verdict and expressed the opinion that there was no blame attached to anyone though it was added that it was advisable that the head of the key which fastened the wheel to the shaft should be filed down a little.


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