On a Tuesday in September of 1864, in the Shropshire town of Madeley, nine miners – six of them just boys – did what they always did after spending all day in the pit. They jumped on a chain to “ride the double” 720 feet back up into daylight. They didn’t make it.
Halfway to the surface the coupling that held their towline snapped, they plunged straight down, smashing through six inches of solid oak at the bottom, and landing in thirteen feet of sump water. All nine died.
They came to be known as The Nine Men of Madeley, and were buried together at St. Michael’s Church.
The miners’ graves are laid out side by side, each covered by an iron slab with the interred’s initials, all surrounded by iron fencing. Their graves are in a quiet corner of the churchyard, with a memorial plaque telling their story.
How the accident happened was never fully explained, nor blame assigned. The contraption that the miners rode up and down the shaft was called “the doubles,” and it consisted of chain loops at the bottom for sitting, attached to a central chain and hook. At the post-mortem inquest it was determined that the equipment wasn’t at fault (that is, that the coupling didn’t break), so the assumption was that the “hooker-on,” the man responsible for ensuring the doubles’ main hook was secure, had not checked it.
Since the hooker-on was one of the victims himself, there is no way to confirm this. Whatever the cause, no one seemed to question that the doubles was carrying the Nine Men of Madeley, when it was only rigged to carry eight.
St. Michael’s Church has other noteworthy graves, including several cast iron tombs. One is that of John William Fletcher, a contemporary of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and himself a key interpreter of Wesleyan theology. There is also Thomas Parker, the engineer and inventor known as “the Edison of Europe,” responsible for electrifying the London Underground and enabling the development of large-scale public street lighting.
There is another grave, with a mosaic headstone commemorating the death of eight-year-old Charles Turner. The young boy was out playing when he fell into a pit of scalding hot water which was run-off from the boiler of a nearby mine engine. He had been trying to keep his little brother from falling in.
Charles’ family couldn’t afford a traditional head stone, but his mother had a job at a local tile-works. His family found a way to beautifully and uniquely remember their young son, adding a poignant twist to the stories kept by this peaceful graveyard.
Know Before You Go
Madeley is a village in the town of Telford, about 35 miles northwest of Birmingham, and not far from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ironbridge Gorge.
St. Michael’s Church, unusual in its own way in that it’s octagonal and sits on church lands that date to the middle ages, is just off the High Street in the center of town. There is a small path alongside the church that leads to the back, where you’ll find the graves of the Nine Men of Madeley.