Explosion At Cooper’s Rock
Date - May 30th 1972
Place - Cooper’s Rock, part of Thomas Savin’s Limestone quarries
Witnesses - Thomas Savin – Owner of the quarries
- The Foreman - Man in charge of work at the quarries
- William Evans - Pony man, pulling trucks
- Thomas Roberts - Brakeman in charge of the Inclined Plane
Five casks of gunpowder were carried in trucks up the tramway to be stored safely in the magazine hut. This broke company rules since gunpowder should always be carried by hand, not in trucks. However, the foreman was away that day, at Oswestry Magistrates Court with Thomas Savin, prosecuting some girls who had stolen coal from the quarry, so no-one was supervising the men in their work.
The casks were unloaded half way up the incline, near to the magazine hut, and left on the grass by the tramway whilst the men went back to collect five more casks. The empty truck went on to the top of the incline where Evans or Roberts should have wedged it with a wooden block to stop it running back down the slope. They each thought the other had done this, but neither had!
The truck began to run back down the slope. Roberts feared the truck would hit the men working at the bottom of the slope so he pulled a points lever to divert the truck on to a siding, half way down the hill, well away from the men at the bottom. As the speeding truck swung on to the siding it came off the tracks and crashed into the five casks of gunpowder. There were two huge explosions, firstly as the five casks exploded and secondly as all the rest of the gunpowder in the magazine hut exploded. Six men, including two aged 13 and 14, were killed, their bodies thrown up to 500 metres into the air.
The Coroner’s Report
The coroner was the official inquiring into the cause of the accident. He listened to evidence from each of the four men who were accused of causing the accident.
Write a short play script with the four witnesses and the coroner as the five characters. Think what each person would have said as he gave evidence in court, hoping that someone else would be blamed for the accident. What questions would the coroner have asked and how would each witness have answered? Finally, what verdict do you think he would have given at the end of the inquiry – who would he have said was most responsible for the tragedy? (Incidentally, the Coroner was a friend of Thomas Savin!)