Clayton Tunnel Tragedy



Stuart Downey         Clayton History Group Archive


An accident which resulted in the death of one man, and the serious if not fatal injuries to three others took place yesterday morning at Clayton, on the works of The Great Northern Railway from Bradford to Thornton.

There are two tunnels on the line, one at Clayton 1057 yds in length, the other at Queensbury about twice as long.

In order to expedite the work, four shafts were sunk on the line of the Clayton tunnel so  that headings could be driven  simultaneously from eight different points. The driving of these headings

is carried out night and day without stopping.

Over the mouth of the shaft is a large timber scaffolding, a head gear is fixed on top with a pulley 4 ft in diameter over which runs a rope, by which the excavated rock is raised from the bottom of the shaft.

About 10 yds from the shaft is the engine used for winding and pumping. The mouth of the shaft is closed by a shaft cover which can be run into place on tracks as and when required.

There are usually eleven men on each shift. At 6 o'clock yesterday morning Henry Hickman, the foreman for the day ordered a new shift to go down and relieve the night shift.. Accordingly four men got into the tub or corve.  Before this could be done the tub had to be raised  a little in order to move the shaft cover, on which the tub was standing. The order was given to raise the tub and after the shaft cover was withdrawn the order was given to lower. By mistake or carelessness the engine had not been reversed and instead of lowering, it continued to lift, drawing the tub up and over the pulley. One of the men fell out before the tub reached the pulley and he fell 110 ft to the bottom of the shaft. He was of course horribly smashed and died in about five minutes. The other three men were drawn over the pulley and fell 45 ft to the ground about five yards from the mouth of the shaft and were all seriously injured and were transferred to the infirmary. The man who fell to the bottom of the shaft was Thomas Coates brother in law of foreman Hickman.

William Elliott was seriously injured and faint hopes are entertained for his recovery.

It is expected the inquest on Coates will be held at the Royal Hotel, Clayton tomorrow.

The sad affair has created considerable sensation among the navvies of that section of the line and work has been suspended.

The inquest on Thomas Coates was adjourned following the death in the Infirmary of William Elliott yesterday morning.

           Later the jury returned a verdict of accidental death in both cases due to the negligence of the man in charge of the engine.


A memorial in St Johns parish church yard reads.


In affectionate memory of Thomas Coates aged 20 and of William Elliott aged 27 who departed this life on he 5th November 1874. Both killed at No1 shaft, Clayton tunnel, caused by the neglect of the man in charge of the engine Take warning of our sudden death, make ready to follow us into the earth, we tell you, watch and pray.