Killed in a Coalpit – revisited

Coal miner with miners candlestick


I was recently contacted by Andrew Plaster, a fellow member of Bristol & Avon FHS who, via the Facebook Group (Bitton, Hanham, Longwell Green & Oldland Memories, (administered by Julie Johns) discovered a reference to William Phelps, who preceded William Joyner Ellis as Coroner for South Glos. I used WJE extensively in Killed in a Coal Pit – The Lives of the Kingswood Colliers but had not come across Phelps before. After much patient sleuthing (the reference number and venue had changed) Andrew tracked down the document to Gloucester Archives under Ref No. D9125/1/1224.

The item proved to be William Phelps’ record of his expenses during 1772-1793. Nothing pertaining to coalmining appears before 1786 which gives me hope there may be more info lurking about somewhere. Andrew checked with my book and sent me a list of the unfortunate coalminers over whose inquests Phelps presided. Details were minimal and simply state ‘killed in coal pit’. I have added a few comments to Andrew’s list; the new entries are picked out in bold type. ‘NCD’ stands for ‘No cause of death stated’ in the particular parish register where burial took place which accounts for their omission from the book. The two final names Joseph & Stephen Britton do not appear to be ‘killed in coal pit’ but Andrew is particularly interested in the well-known Britton family, a surname which most of us Kingswood district people find multiple times in our family trees.

Date & place of Inquest Name Additional: Wm, Phelps coroner’s remarks & ref Named in ‘KIACP?
13.2.1786, Westerleigh Daniel Alsop D9125/1/1224: ‘killed in coalpit’ Yes, buried Westerleigh, 14,2,1786, ‘kiacp’
5.11.1786, Bitton Samuel Jay D9125/1/1224. 

‘killed in coalpit’ – no burial found for S.J.

Not named in ‘kiacp’, or in newspaper article, but 4 out of 5 men killed in the same accident are named in the book. see Morris Britton etc)
16.4.1787, Bitton Samuel Cook D9125/1/1224. ‘killed in coalpit’ 


No.  buried at Bitton NCD.
10.8.1787, Mangotsfield George Lovell D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ Yes. Buried at Mangotsfield ‘kiacp’
11 Jan 1788 at Wooten (sic) Samuel Johnson D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ No. Buried Bitton 13.1.1788, NCD.
13.8.1788, Oldland John Martin D9125/1/1224 ‘killed in coalpit’ No.

No additional info found

16.8.1788, St George George Fluck D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ Yes. Burial St George as ‘George Flook’.NCD.

(Fluck/Flook spelling of name is interchangeable.

26.2.1789, Westerleigh Joseph Green D9125/1/1224,’drowned in Engine Pit’. Yes, but different information in book. Buried Frampton Cotterell, 27.2.1789,NCD,
16.3.1789, Hanham William Jones D9125/1/1224,‘killed in coalpit’ No. buried Bitton same day. NCD
5.4.1789, St George John Crow D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ No. buried Bitton 7.4.1789, NCD
16.4.1789, Mangotsfield John Bennett D9125/1/1224 ‘killed in coalpit’ No.

No further  information found

5.10.1789, Westerleigh John Fletcher D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ No.

buried Frampton Cotterell same day: ‘John son of John & Mary Fletcher’ He was aged 15, baptised at FC 10.12.1774. John & Mary had another son named John in May 1790.

10.10.1789, Westerleigh John Tanner



D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ Yes.

Cause of death etc, in Westerleigh burial register 12.10.1789

23.10.1789, Mangotsfield John Price D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ No.

No other info. found

30.10.1789, Hanham Timothy Lacy D9125/1/1224,‘killed in coalpit’ Buried Bitton 31.10.1789, NCD.
20.8.1790, Mangotsfield William Iles D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ Yes, from newspaper report. No additional info.
29.10.1790, Oldland Joseph Peters & Francis Webley D9125/1/1224,‘killed in coalpit’ No. They were buried at Bitton 31.10.1790 as  Joseph Peter (sic) & Francis Webley, NCD.
16.12 1790, Oldland Joseph Chilcott D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ Yes, mentioned in KIACP entry for brother Samuel Chilcott bur. 1795
31.3.1791, Mangotsfield George Owen D9125/1/1224, ’killed by grist stone’ No burial found
10.4.1791, Bitton Stephen Rossiter D9125/1/1224, ‘killed in coalpit’ NCD. Buried Bitton 11.4.1791
19.1.1787, Hanham Joseph Britton D9125/1/1224,   ‘drowned’ No further information


Stephen Britton D9125/1/1224  .‘Visitation of God’ No further information

The two Brittons may not have worked in the pits, but many of the Britton men were Kingswood colliers.  The gravestone of Stephen Britton, who died in 1792, can be found in Bitton churchyard plus other early burial stones. Andrew is comprehensively re-researching and re-writing G. Britton Spilsbury’s book, ‘The Brittons of Kingswood Chase’, a mammoth undertaking which he tells me is ‘progressing’. The late Gladys ‘Judy’ Spilsbury was a good friend of mine.  Her seminal work was done ‘by hand’, and foot slogging round church vestries and archives before modern aids were available, just like much of my own stuff. We were once told off in the Bristol Archives by ‘a serious researcher’ for giggling, but as this was upwards of fifty years ago, we were too young to know better!

Andrew also shared the following:

A Peter Britton (b.1805 at Kingswood) migrated to USA, and founded a coal-mining place in Iowa called Petersburg after his own name which was renamed ‘What Cheer’ following his death. ’What Cheer!’ seems to me to be in the tradition of the excited, optimistic, names chosen for mines in Kingswood, Sound-well, Speed-well, Made for Ever &c, and I wonder if these type of names are indigenous to Kingswood or do they exist elsewhere? ‘What Cheer’ has been around since the 15th century and was obviously corrupted into the still common ‘Wotcher?’.

A different Peter Britton, 1814-67, went from our area to Yorkshire in 1867 along with another local man, forty two year old George Burchill, to work in the Silkstone mine in the West Riding. One week later they were ‘accidently crushed to death’ in the pit by a fall of stone from the roof. George Burchill’s nephew Charles Garland survived the accident and gave evidence at the inquest. As my paternal grandma was a Burchill and great grandmother Hetty Garland, both from Mangotsfield coalmining stock, I can’t wait to research both George & Charlie. Watch this space.


With many thanks to Andrew Plaster and to Ian McEwen who drew the picture of the coalminer.

(A version of this article will appear in the SGMRG newsletter.)

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