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The following are some of the significant events of the past that have taken place in the Black Country. 

Cradley Heath Boiler Explosion, 4 July 1906.


On 4 July 1906, there was a huge boiler explosion at Penn Bros, Providence Ironworks in Corngreaves, Cradley Heath. The company dated back to 1839 and was a major employer for the town folk. 

These photographs show the extent of the damage caused by the explosion and in which two people lost their lives and at least ten were injured. The two who died were John Penn from Quarry Bank and John Beddard from Old Hill who were working at the factory at approximately 8.30am when the explosion took place.

The section of the boiler visible in this photograph was blown into the yard of Woodhouse Bros, Newtown Lane, 150 yards away. The entire area surrounding the explosion was rained upon by a shower of debris that pierced the smog above the roofs of the terraced houses.


The smartly dressed gentlemen were probably connected with the factories. Indeed, a direct descendant of Thomas Penn has been in touch with me, and we believe that the two gentlemen in the bowler hats may be Joseph and Thomas Penn who were the founders of the 'Penn Brothers' iron and steel business.


The section of the boiler in the photograph below, is that which weighed 3 tons and was blown into Hammersley's yard near St Luke's Church. It was 30ft long and 6ft in diameter.


Do you recognise any of your ancestors in these two photographs in particular? It is possible that some may be the Gould family - Enoch Gould was an eminent Cradley Heath business man and this would explain why the children and women who appear in the photograph are very well dressed. The family were directly affected by the boiler explosion because a portion of the boiler destroyed the brick wall that separated their back garden from Hammersley's yard, into which the boiler embedded itself.  

My own grandfather was 17 years old in 1906 and lived a short distance away from the the scene of the explosion. My mother has told me that when she was a child, he talked to her about the events of that day.


The people in this photograph all appear to be smartly dressed and may have just returned from church.

The shattered windows reflect the force of the blast - it is terrifying to think about it and would have been dreadfully traumatic for the folk of Cradley Heath on what should have been a normal summer's day.


With special thanks to Simon Matthews with whom the ownership of these last two photos remains.



© Black Country Genealogy & Family History 2009

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Collapse of High Street, Cradley Heath, 18th & 19th February 1914.


Extensive coal mining had been carried out under Cradley Heath for some considerable time and there was regular evidence of properties suffering damage as a result of subsidence. However, the events of the evening of the 18th February and the morning of 19th February 1914 were totally unexpected. What had been a relatively level stretch of road from Five Ways towards Four Ways, became a crumpled stretch of rubble, entwined with broken glass from shop windows that had fallen out, roof slates and bricks that had fallen onto the now non existent road. Approximately 200 yards of the High Street collapsed, falling up to three feet in places.

As can be seen from the photograph, shop windows had boards nailed across them to support the frames. Within about 48 hours after the subsidence had stabilised, work commenced on the relaying of drainage and gas pipes. It is indeed a miracle that an explosion never occurred! It is also amazing that within less than a week, the road surface had been repaired and the High Street was reopened to pedestrians, although a lot of work was needed to complete the repairs to properties.




After a lengthy enquiry, it was ascertained that the Stour Colliery, off Grainger's Lane, had been responsible for the subsidence.

© Black Country Genealogy & Family History 2009

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“To the Memory of Mary Ann Mason who was murdered by Joseph Meadows on 12th May 1855 aged 17 years.”



To read such an inscription on a young girl’s grave is heartbreaking. This is the true story of a young girl’s life and the events that followed after her death.

Mary Ann Mason was born in Woodside, near Dudley. In 1841 she was only three years old and appears on the 1841 census with her parents and siblings. (There are Baptism records for two Mary Ann Masons born in Woodside, Dudley in 1837. Their births were on the 2nd and 4th October 1837 and they were both Baptised on the 29th October 1837, which suggests that the families were probably related). 

When she was seventeen, Mary took a job as a kitchen maid at the Sailor’s Return Public House. A question remains whether or not this was against her father’s wishes, who was reputedly a Lay Preacher. It has been written in a newspaper report from 1855, that her parents placed her in service at the Sailor's Return to discourage Mary Ann's relationship with Joseph Meadows. 

The owner of the Sailors Return was William Hunt who in 1851 was an Engineer living with his wife and children in Shaver’s End. One can assume he became the owner of the Sailor's Return Inn some time after 1851 and before 1855 when Mary Ann was murdered on his premises. (He appears on the 1861 census as an Engine Smith and Innkeeper).

Joseph Meadows, with whom Mary Ann had a relationship for nearly a year before her murder, was a Whitesmith (Apprentice) who worked for Joseph Rann. Joseph Meadows lodged with his employer at Holly Hall, a short distance from the home of Mary Ann.

Mary Ann had been working at the Sailor’s Return where she was now living, for only seven weeks before her tragic death. 

Much has been written about Mary Ann Mason and sometimes it can be difficult to separate the fact from the fiction because stories are embellished. One story is that her wages were paid on the condition that she would not get ‘involved’ with any of the men she became familiar with at the Inn – it has been stated that Mary Ann was very attractive and profits increased for William Hunt as men gathered in the Inn to see and be served by her. It is true to say that in order to keep her job, Mary Ann had to pretend that Joseph was her brother and this did not bode well. It was inevitable that Joseph Meadows would become jealous and Mary Ann played upon this by flirting with her male customers. Joseph drank excessively and their relationship became very volatile. In Joseph’s mind, it was obvious that if Mary Ann did not want to be with him, he would not let anyone else get close to her. The scene was therefore set for a tragic ending to two very young lives. The following newspaper cuttings are taken from editions of the Chronicle and detail the events that ensued after that fateful day on 12 May 1855.      










Mary Ann's Death Certificate states that she was "Wilfully murdered by Joseph Meadow shooting her". She was buried on 15th May 1855 in St John's Churchyard, Kate's Hill, Dudley, but the death was not registered by the Coroner until 5th July 1855. Joseph Meadow's Death Certificate states that he was "Executed for the murder of Mary Ann Mason". The date was 4th August 1855.

Mary Ann Mason's grave was erected by Voluntary Subscriptions and is believed to be the only headstone in the United Kingdom to show the name of her murderer.

Research carried out by Black Country Genealogy & Family History. Documentation obtained by us from original sources. Census Information is Crown Copyright.

© Black Country Genealogy & Family History 2009 - 2014

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