Cotton Mill Fire
A tragedy that made the headlines in 1874
Wednesday, October 28, 1874
A crowd watched in horror yesterday as a mother and child fell to
their deaths in a massive blaze at a cotton mill in Over.
Harriet Whitehurst and her three-month-old baby were trapped on
the fourth floor as flames engulfed the six -storey building. It
is believed the woman tried to save her child by dropping him 70
feet into a water tank below, but he crashed to the pavement in
front of stunned onlookers. Mrs Whitehurst then attempted a similar
escape from the inferno but also perished.
Minutes later the crowd watched helpless as another woman burned
to death, caught by her clothing on a rail 60 feet above them.
The fire broke out at about five o'clock yesterday afternoon, but
by the time volunteer firemen arrived from neighbouring towns, the
mill was almost a total loss. They concentrated on saving nearby
property, but their work was hampered as walls of the giant mill
collapsed and flames leapt hundreds of feet into the night sky.
It is feared other mill workers may have died, but no details have
Over Cotton Mill was a spinning and doubling mill, built about five
years ago and owned by Messrs Abraham Haigh and Sons. More than
300 people, many having moved from Lancashire, were employed there.
Head of the family firm is Mr James Haigh of Over Hall who was away
on business when the fire broke out.
Thursday, October 29, 1874
Firemen have found five more bodies in the charred remains of Over
Cotton Mill which was ravaged by fire on Tuesday. It brings the
death toll to eight and an inquest will be held at a nearby pub
The grim discovery of the bodies was made by two Tarporley firemen
12 hours after the tragic fire first broke out. Earlier crowds had
watched as two women and a three-month-old baby died as they attempted
to escape from the flames.
Damage is estimated at about 2150,000 and the entire workforce,
of more than 300, are out of work and without wages.
It is understood the mill was about 180 feet long and 90 feet wide.
It had six storeys, divided into compartments, and the fire started
in the spinning room on the fourth floor.
An eye-witness, Mr William Bullock, of Over, was one of 18 men working
in the spinning room and claims a spark, caused by friction from
the machinery, started the fire. "Flames spread like a flash
of lightning," he said.
Mr Bullock and other spinners tried to smother the flames, but fumes
quickly overcame them and they made their escape. There was no prearranged
fire drill, he claims, and buckets of water were not always kept
along-side the machinery by the spinners.
The owner of the mill, Mr James Haigh returned from Southport late
on Tuesday as firemen were battling to contain the blaze. He was
not available for comment at his Over Hall home, last night.
Friday, October 30,1874
A coroner's jury viewed for themselves, yesterday, where eight people
died in the Over Cotton Mill fire. They later returned a verdict
of "accidental death" on all the victims.
One of the principal witnesses at the inquest, held at the Wheatsheaf
Inn, was 13-year-old Margaret Whitehurst who was called to identify
the remains of her mother and three-month-old brother, Thomas.
The girl said the three of them had first tried to escape by a staircase.
They had not seen the flames at first, but were being overcome by
fumes. Mrs Whitehurst had thrown the baby out of a fourth floor
window and then jumped herself.
They both crashed to their deaths, but Margaret had a miraculous
escape by falling into a giant watertank on the ground. She had
worked at the factory since she was eight.
Spinner, William Bullock said there had been no appliances to fight
the fire and they had waited about 90 minutes for volunteer brigades
to arrive from Witton, Middlewich and Tarporley. There should have
been eight dozen water buckets throughout the mill, but none were
found in the spinning room where the fire started.
The Coroner, Mr Churton, accepted evidence that friction from a
pulley had ignited loose cotton and sparked the tragedy.
Spinning master, John Kay said he went to the top of the building
for water when the fire began, but was overcome by smoke and fell
down three flights of stairs. Passage down was impossible, he added,
and he had jumped through a window into the same water tank that
had saved the life of Margaret Whitehurst.
Summing up, the Coroner stated no-one was to blame for the fire,
but he felt it would have been wise for the owner, Mr James Haigh,
to have kept a small portable engine on the premises.
Collections have begun in Over and neighbouring districts for the
families of the fire victims, and the bodies will be buried in a
common grave at St John's Church, Over.
The dead have been named as Harriet Whitehurst, 34, and her three-month-old
baby, Thomas, of Factory Street; Martha Anne Goulding, 15, of Factory
Street; Miriam Whitehurst, 23, of Factory Street; Catherine Mountfield,
17, of Over Lane Terrace; Ellen Fletcher, 18, of John Street; Eliza
The eighth victim has not been officially identified, but is believed
to be John Timperley, a married man of Factory Street, Over.
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