Our Century

The 'unsinkable' sinks


On February 12, the ill-fated and allegedly "unsinkable" Titanic, which had strong links with the Black Country and Staffordshire, sank after hitting an iceberg and took 1,500 passengers and crew with her.

The tragedy spawned films and books, including one on the Dudley company, Noah Hingley & Sons, which made the 15-and-a-half tonne anchor for the pride of the White Star Line.

Titanic's Anchor

The Netherton-based company also equipped three-quarters of the British fleet with anchors during the first world war.

Rumours that the captain of the doomed vessel, Edward John Smith, from Hanley. Stoke-on-Trent, committed suicide were quickly discredited by the crew.

They said he remained on the bridge until just before the shipping giant sank, leaping from her only after those on the decks had been washed away. But the captain did go down with his ship.

A Wolverhampton man who was on the Cunard liner Coronia near the scene of the Titanic tragedy, said his ship did not encounter any ice.

But he thought the captain of the Coronia must have been aware of the presence of icebergs in the vicinity, because a crew member told him that the Coronia captain had warned Captain Smith about them.

The Wolverhampton man estimated that when tragedy struck, the Coronia would have been within 100 miles of the Titanic but no official information was given out until the Coronia reached Queenstown.

He said the Coronia slowed down for about six hours, presumably in case her services were needed - but evidently she did not receive any call for help from the doomed liner.

' Fresh air' made man drunk: In May, a man accused of being drunk and incapable told a Wolverhampton court that someone challenged him to drink two quarts of old ale in two minutes.

The defendant said that the effects of the beer hit him when he got out into the fresh air and made him drunk.

"I will not do it again," he told the bench. The court heard that the prisoner had been convicted ten times for drunkeness - the last time 10 years previously.

He was fined five shillings and costs.

Coal picking in Darlaston

As the great coal war hit Britain in March over a fight for a minimum wage, 4,000 miners at Old Hill and Highley district decided to down tools after talks with their local bosses broke down over a claim for 7s minimum pay.

A total of 3,000 of the colliery workers were in the Miners Federation and they were refusing to accept anything under the 7s claim.

As pit ponies were brought to the surface it was estimated that if the strike lasted more than a few days, l0,000 would be out of work in the area.

It was also felt that the colliery bosses were withholding coal in view of a further increase in prices. One firm in the area needed l,000 tons of coal to guard against a stoppage.

Gloom started to spread and one knock-on effect was the shut down of the Bilston Manor Ironworks at Lanesfield, owing to a shortage of fuel for six mills.

Between 300 and 400 hands were made idle. At the Sankey Albert Street and Bankfield Works, Bilston, bosses warned that that they may have to close pending a settlement of the coal war.

In Walsall, the saddlery borough, there was great concern that the strike would hit so many industries.

The large tube and ironworks there, employing thousands of people, was expected to become idle and the large works in Pleck Road, which consumed large quantities of coal daily, found stocks dwindling.

Local train services were expected to be hit and there was a possibility of a rise in bread prices.

In Wolverhampton many ironmaking firms put their workers on notice saying that they would have to close down immediately an official national strike was declared. At Wednesbury, Patent Shaft works told the men's leaders they were preparing to close down - while at Silverdale Collieries, North Staffordshire, violence broke out with the windows of the general offices, stores and waggon shops being smashed. A number of youths were seen marching round singing: "I don't care what becomes of me."

The coal war broke out despite efforts by Prime Minister Asquith and his colleagues to bring peace back to the industry. Sixty per cent of the mine owners had agreed to a minimum wage deal in principle, but 40 per cent were against it.

John Day
I have never been so terrified in my life. I still shake to think about it...