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100 years ago: The distressing fatality of Horace Smith at Irlam Steel Works


The terrible death of a 27-year-old crane driver at Irlam Steel Works was making headlines in Salford 100 years ago this week.

The Eccles and Patricroft Reporter of October 1916 pulled no punches in describing the horrific nature of Horace Smith’s tragic workplace demise.

It all came out in an inquest at the former Irlam Council offices on Liverpool Road.

As we revealed on SalfordOnline.com last month, accidents and fatalities in and around the busy Steel Works were sadly not uncommon.

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Just a month before, an horrific accident had seen for 26-year-old Cadishead man Ernest Darley and his pal Ernest Rigby, 24.

100 years ago: Slagger killed and another close to death in horrific steel works accident

Building the Irlam Steel Works (then Partington Iron & Steel Co.) - Walter Occleston

Building the Irlam Steel Works (then Partington Iron & Steel Co.) © Walter Occleston

Building the Irlam Steel Works (then Partington Iron & Steel Co.) - Walter Occleston

Building the Irlam Steel Works (then Partington Iron & Steel Co.) © Walter Occleston

At the time of his death, Horace Smith was employed at the plant as an electrical stripper and crane driver.

Iron ore and other raw materials could be delivered in huge ships direct to the works, giving the factory a huge advantage over its competitors.

The inquest heard that Horace had just finished his normal night shift and was preparing to leave work at 5.50am.

The crane cabs could swivel unexpectedly - workers knew how to dodge quickly © Walter Occleston

The crane cabs could swivel unexpectedly – workers knew how to dodge quickly © Walter Occleston

These gruelling work sessions were conducted in blistering heat, among loud, clanking machinery producing 8,000 tons of steel every week.

Horace was stooping over to change his boots in an area of the plant known as the ‘Irlam bay’, as it overlooked the Manchester Ship Canal.

Irlam Steel Works - Salford Local History Library

Irlam Steel Works © Salford Local History Library

Men employed as slaggers would use huge ladles to pour molten slag into heavy ingot moulds for casting, and these each weighed up to three tonnes.

In an accident reminiscent of the board game Mousetrap, a passing crane shuddered and dropped the ingot mould it was carrying.

With a sickening crash it rolled into another ingot mould which spun and lurched towards Horace from behind.

In later years molten slag would be poured when workers pulled a chain and the heavy ladle tipped - Walter Occleston

In later years molten slag would be poured when workers pulled a chain and the heavy ladle tipped © Walter Occleston

The 27-year-old never saw a thing as the metal implement crushed through the back of his head and his left temple.

The works physician Dr Overend was summoned to the scene, but the poor man had died instantly from his horrific injuries.

At the inquest Horace’s parents, visiting from Scunthorpe, told more about his short life.

They described him as being a very promising young man who was shortly to be married, he was also a good athlete and a Sunday school worker.

His funeral took place shortly afterwards at the Parish Church, Irlam with the Rev. R. Martin officiating.

40-50 members of the Steel Smelters Union attended and his workmates contributed to what was described as being a ‘beautiful wreath’.

The jury delivered a verdict of accidental death.

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Tony Flynn

SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.