10.19 – Mark Brennan

Information taken from the “Annals of Todmorden”, an impressive and invaluable book put together by Dorothy Dugdale which is a compilation of all the local trivia included over the entire course of the publication of the Todmorden and Hebden Bridge Historical Almanack.

On this day [1st October] 1901. About 6pm, a shocking accident occurred at the grain warehouse adjoining Todmorden station. Mark Brennan, carter, in the employ of Messrs Sutcliffe corn miller’s, Stansfield Mill, was standing on his lorry engaged in hoisting sacks of flour, when the rope suddenly broke, and a full sack of flour alighted heavily upon his head and shoulders. He was struck down and paralysed from the chest downwards. He was taken in the Hebden Bridge ambulance to the Halifax Infirmary, where an operation was performed, but Brennan died on the 4th.

The verdict of the coroner’s jury was “That the cause of death was injuries to the spine, caused by the breaking of the rope, and that the foreman is much to blame for not having reported the matter to the goods agent”.

The story was picked up by a number of newspapers which all contributed different details – that he was unmarried, that he was 45 years old, and (in the case of the Todmorden newspapers’ coverage of the inquest) the names of those deemed responsible for the terrible accident.

Mark was an Irish immigrant to Todmorden who worked for William Sutcliffe’s corn mill, and the dangerous conditions carters endured while loading carts at the railway station were well known to all who worked there. Not only was the rope that bore the weight of the sacks of flour (250lbs a sack) two years old and getting worn, but the doorway at ground level which was supposed to break the momentum of a falling sack was often shut and locked, so any carters were basically stood unprotected beneath the sack they were waiting to take control of and guide into the cart. Not good news.

Ironically, a man was waiting with a new rope to replace the old one, so Mark’s death was truly bad luck in that respect. A controversial aspect of the inquest came when the frayed part rope itself turned out to be missing – cut out and disposed of after the accident. The jury wondered aloud whether this was deliberate.

Finally Rawson Pearson, the foreman at the grain warehouse who the frayed rope had been reported to repeatedly but who had not had it replaced in time, was summoned to give his testimony. It enraged the jury. He blamed another witness there for not having dealt with the rope themselves; he said they were expected to make tools last as long as possible so of course he left the rope a bit longer; of course he was ready to repair the rope, but that would mean stopping the carts coming and doing while they did it, and he wasn’t prepared to do that. The final straw was when the jury asked to see the new rope to compare it to the old one and Pearson said he had forgotten to bring it as they were “very busy” at the mill.

A Juryman: Nobody has taken any notice of the rope, but simply let it break when it would do no longer.

The Foreman: Well, gentlemen, it seems to me to be an accident, though there may be a little carelessness on the part of the foreman.

A Juryman: I think you ought not to say a little, but to say a good deal.

Another Juryman: They have simply let it break and taken no notice of it. To-day they have come with all their fine tales about having a new rope on hand, but they had no such thing when it comes to be proved.

Mr. Storey: [solicitor for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway] Don’t say that.

Mark was survived by his brother Pat, who had also given evidence at the inquest, and another brother James, who inherited Mark’s estate which amounted to £638 and 10s.

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