In the heat of ironworks, the darkness of the mines, and the toxic and dusty clay industries, danger, disaster, and death were the constant companions of industrial workers in the Gorge.

Few or none escaped accident and a large proportion meet with accidents which disable them for a longer or short time.
A Shropshire Coalmaster, 1835.

The most dangerous industry was undoubtedly mining. From 1756 to 1830, 761 people died in pit accidents, and many more were injured or permanently disabled. Miners faced the continuous threat of roof falls, suffocation, and explosions. For those who weren’t killed or seriously injured in the pits, the work was so hard that it prematurely aged them.

Ironworking posed a smaller risk of death, but there were still serious dangers associated with handling molten iron and operating heavy machinery. Burns were frequent, trapped limbs were not uncommon, and those who spent a lifetime of looking into the furnaces often went blind.

In the clay and ceramic industries, lead poisoning was a common occurrence due to regular exposure to lead-based paints and glazes. Likewise, breathing difficulties and lung conditions were often caused by the clay dust that would hang in the air, and many workers suffered from tuberculosis which spread easily in the crowded and poorly ventilated workshops.

Article relating to the death of Elizabeth Wooding, Wellington Journal, 2nd November 1907.




The paints and glazes used to decorate ceramics often contained high levels of lead. People who worked with them, like Elizabeth, often suffered from lead poisoning, which was also known as ‘potter’s rot’. This could lead to stomach pain, constipation, paralysis of the hands and, in the worst cases, like Elizabeth’s, death.

View the gallery at the bottom of the page to read the article in full.


Mechanisation during the Industrial Revolution led to more serious accidents as workers could be caught in the modern, fast-moving, steam powered machinery resulting in horrific injuries. The 1844 Factory Act stated that machines should be 'fenced', but even a decade later few had effective guards.

This unknown pregnant woman was one of the many victims of the limited health and safety measures of 19th century industry.

View the gallery at the bottom of the page to read the article in full.

Embroidered memorial, 1854.



Two of the four people commemorated in this memorial were killed in a mining disaster. In November 1854, a father and son, both called James Taylor, were boring holes for blasting in pits belonging to the Lilleshall Company when about ten tons of limestone fell and killed them both.

It can be easy to view industrial deaths with a sense of anonymity and distance but each person who died had family and friends who mourned their loss. The skill and work put into this embroidered memorial is one example of a family’s immense grief and the efforts they went to, to remember those they had lost.

Accidents in this district are very numerous. Mr Webb, of Bankhouse, states that he has had as many as 500 cases from accidents in one year. Another surgeon estimates the accidents from explosions brought for relief to the Union surgeons as being about 100 in one year.
From Report of the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842.




Ironworkers didn’t face a daily risk of death like miners, but serious accidents could still happen. In 1893 Thomas Evans was working alongside his son, George (1867-1935), at Blists Hill blast furnaces when he saw George fall into molten iron. Thomas pulled him out and saved him, but George still suffered severe burns.

Thomas Evans (1837-1917), furnace manager at Blists Hill c.1890s-1912, c.1888.

When I drove the horse I got hurt. The first time was this on my head, of which the mark like a horse’s foot is still to be seen very conspicuously. I was laid up a month. The second time was on the leg; the skip was drawn over my leg. I was laid up 4 months. The third time was a great coal, which fell off the skip on my arm and some more fell upon it. I was laid up 5 months… I was burnt a little yesterday but it was not much.
Robert North (1819-1870s), a miner. (From Report of the Children’s Employment Commission, 1842.)

In Memoriam Card produced in remembrance of the Nine Men of Madeley, 1864.




At the end of their shift on 27th September 1864, nine miners were being lifted out of the pit shaft at Lane Pit, Madeley. The chain that was lifting them detached from the winding chain, causing them to fall 110 metres to their deaths. Six of the miners were just teenagers. These memorial cards were produced to remember the victims.



By 1910 the Madeley Wood Company had a mine rescue team trained to use breathing equipment to assist in rescues. The man seated on the left is Sam Cookson (1878-1955) who later became a deputy and was proud that he never “lost” a man in his charge.

Madeley Wood Company mine rescue team, July 1914.