Robert Baker (c.1849-1894)

Robert Baker was a labourer who was killed by an explosion on 12 January 1894 during the construction of Butterley Reservoir.


He was born in Withypool, Somerset around 1849. By the early 1870s, he had moved to Bradford and was living on Great Horton Road.

He married Caroline Cadman, daughter of brickburner William Cadman, at Bradford Cathedral on 24 August 1873. They had seven known children together and the birth locations indicate that Robert frequently had to move his family in search of work:

  • Harriet Baker (c.1875-?) born in Baildon[1]
  • Sarah Baker (1876-1919) born in Jump, Wombwell, near Barnsley[2]
  • Beatrice Baker (c.1879-?) born in Yeadon[3]
  • Alice Baker (c.1881-?) born in Yeadon[4]
  • Anne Baker (1884-?) born in Golcar[5]
  • Mary Louisa Baker (1887-?) born in Saddleworth.[6]
  • Thomas Baker (c.1890-?) born in Golcar

By the time of the 1881 Census, they were living at 37 Blacker Road North, Fartown, sharing a property with labourers William Williams (aged 30) and John Long (aged 39).

At the time of the 1891 Census, the family was living at Chrimble in Golcar and the two oldest daughters (Sarah aged 14 and Harriet aged 16) were working as worsted spinners.

Caroline likely died in 1902, aged 50.

Robert's Death

By 1893, Baker and his family had moved to Crowtrees, Slaithwaite, and he was working as an excavator at Butterley Reservoir above Marsden.

On Monday 8 January, foreman Frank Crabtree[7] had laid a series of eight gelignite charges in the reservoir's puddle trench. The charges were detonated and Crabtree, along with excavator Thomas Makin, believed they had heard all of them explode. Unfortunately one had not and remained embedded in the rock and this wasn't detected when Crabtree and Makin examined the trench.

Work on clearing the debris was then delayed for several days due to poor weather.

Baker left his home in Slaithwaite at 6:45am on the morning of Friday 12 January and, by 10am, was working with colleagues to help clear the trench of the debris and rock loosened by then detonations. Alongside him were William Hughes, Thomas Makin, William Reeve[8], quarryman John Lockwood and others.

At around 10:30am, Baker and Reeve were breaking up some of the larger rocks with pick axes when one of them struck the rock with the undetonated charge and it exploded.[9] The flying debris hit several of the men, but it seems Baker took the brunt of the force and was killed instantly, probably by a rock which struck his head. It was also reported that his leg was fractured and his back badly burnt.

Reeve and William Hughes were treated and allowed to return home, whilst John Lockwood was transferred to the Huddersfield Infirmary.

The inquest into his death was held on Monday 15 January at the Old New Inn, Marsden, with deputy coroner Mr. J.E. Hill. After hearing the evidence, the jury returned a verdict of "accidental death" and recommended that the Waterworks Committee provide for the widow and her seven children.

Robert Baker was buried the following day at St. Bartholomew, Marsden.

At a Town Council meeting held on 17 January, Alderman Crosland intimated that the Waterworks Committee would provide some form of compensation to the family:[10]

Councillor Gee referred to the lamentable accident which had taken place at the Butterley Reservoir Works. It seemed to him that it was a very awkward business for somebody, and he did not ; suppose the workpeople themselves were to blame. He asked whether he should be in order in proposing a motion of sympathy with the relatives of the deceased ?
Alderman Crosland said he had no doubt the committee would not only be prepared to express their sympathy but to do something more substantial.

Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. Was living with her sister Anne at the time of the 1901 Census as a boarder with widow Sarah Robinson in Marsden.
  2. Married 1899 to Walter Fletcher. Died aged 42.
  3. Married 17 May 1902 to William Herbert Garside at St. Bartholomew, Marsden.
  4. Likely died aged 36 at Storthes Hall Asylum and was buried at St. Bartholomew, Marsden, on 15 December 1917.
  5. Was living with her sister Harriet at the time of the 1901 Census as a boarder with widow Sarah Robinson in Marsden. Married weaver Fred Baxtor on 22 October 1904 at St. Bartholomew, Marsden. She gave her father's profession as "plate layer". Was living in Linthwaite at the time of the 1911 Census, with two children.
  6. Possibly married 1906 to Thomas Bacon and died 1946.
  7. He was born c.1862 in Haworth and is named as a "manager water works" living in Marsden with his family in the 1891 Census.
  8. Named as "Reed" in the initial article about the accident, but was likely the William Reeve born c.1833 in Norwich who is listed as a "retired navvy" married to Dinah and living in Marsden at the time of the 1901 Census.
  9. At the inquest, it was uncertain which of the two men had struck the rock, but the implication appears to be it was Reeve.
  10. Huddersfield Chronicle (18/Jan/1894).