The gable ends of the chapel were erected, the coupling and the ribs were on, and the roof was nearly ready for slating. About eight o'clock fierce gusts of wind played about the chapel, and, increasing in violence, the newly built gable at the north and which stands 53 feet high and much above the house tops of the terrace, was blown on the south end, which in turn fell on to the roof of the first house in Swinburne Terrace, breaking in the roof, and levelling the house with the ground, presenting a scene of the most dire confusion. The house was tenemented, and at the time of the accident was occupied by a man of the name Brown and his wife and family, consisting of four children, and the downstairs flat by an old woman of the name Westgarth and her niece. All these were in the house at the time, and they were all buried in the ruins.
The result of the accident is as follows :- Killed, John Brown, Elizabeth Brown, their youngest child (two years old), Mrs. Westgarth's niece; the three remaining children, and Mrs. Westgarth. The first person present at the scene was John Wanless, who lived next door, and he together with P. C.'s Lidster and Nelson, Thomas Crofton, F. Cunningham, and R. Coffer, assisted to get the bodies out of the debris. Dr. Cresswell of St. Anthony's, was quickly on the spot, and attended to the rescue. When Mrs. Westgarth was got out it was thought she was dead, as she was crushed and completely doubled up. She was restored to consciousness, and it was found that her leg was broken and that she had been crushed about the kidneys. She was immediately removed to a neighbour's house. The cries of the poor children attracted attention, and they were marvellously rescued. They were found to be burned about the body. It is supposed that some of them were sitting about the fire, and that the contents had fallen on them. The bodies of Brown, his wife, and the neice of Mrs. Westgarth, who was about twelve years old, were immediately conveyed to an empty house close by. The poor children were taken to neighbour's houses, where they received every comfort and attention. The youngest child had a marvellous escape. She was in bed, an ordinary desk one, and was carried right down to the ground floor among the ruins almost unhurt. The person living next door to (Wanless), on the downstairs flat, had also a narrow escape. He had just left his pantry, when the cash came and levelled it, leaving the rest of the house untouched. The person who lives in the upstairs flat, at the time of the accident was sitting on a chair, and fortunately, left his seat for the purpose of lighting his pipe, when a large stone came through the roof, breaking the chair on which he had been so lately sitting. The foundation stone of the chapel was laid on the 21st of July, amid much rejoicing, by Ald. Brown, of Gateshead. It was erected in the modern Gothic style, and was to have accommodated 450 people. A schoolroom was intended to be have been built underneath the chapel. The builder was Mr. Luke Minto, of Hebburn Quay, and Mr. Fittes was the architect. A committee of the members of the chapel inspected the work as it proceeded.
An inquest was held on Monday, at the Ship Inn, Bill Quay, before Mr. J.M. Favell, on the bodies of john Brown, Elizabeth Brown, and Margaret Westgarth, who were killed by the fall of the walls of a Wesleyan Chapel at that place, on Saturday night. After the jury had viewed the site of the accident and the bodies of the deceased, the inquest was opened, and the first witness was called.
Hannah Gilchrist, married, who deposed to identification of the bodies; Margaret Westgarth, aged 13 years, daughter of W. Westgarth, a potter, living at St. Peter's; Joseph Brown, aged 36 years, late engineman; Elizabeth Brown, aged 32, wife of the former; Alice Brown, aged 2 years daughter. Three boys, sons of Joseph Brown, were injured, but are likely to recover. Hannah Westgarth, 50 years of age, wife of George Westgarth, a waterman, is much injured.
Thomas Howson, shoemaker, Bill Quay deposed as follows: I saw the chapel fall on Saturday night, about five minutes to eight o'clock. I was crossing a grass field which is 400 or 500 yards to the north-west of the Wesleyan Chapel at Bill Quay. I heard a noise resembling thunder, and where the chapel stands I saw a quantity of dust rise, and then I saw that a portion of the chapel had fallen. It was dreadfully windy about that time; the wind was from the north-west. After going home, I went to the building and entered the front door, and assisted in taking away the debris. I assisted to get Mrs. Westgarth out. She was very much injured and we carried her to a neighbour's house. The south gable end of the chapel had fallen on the dwelling house of Joseph brown and Hannah Westgarth, and knocked in the roof and part of the walls of the house. I had no reason to think the chapel had been improperly built. My attention was only drawn to it on account of the violence of the gale. All fell together.
Francis Cunningham, landlord of the Ship Inn, Bill Quay, deposed as follows: Having heard that the chapel had fallen I, along with others, went up. I saw that the gables had fallen on Brown and Westgarth's house. I went into the house and proceeded to the assistance of Hannah Westgarth, who was under the ruins moaning. Her body was all twisted, one of her legs was over by her shoulder, and her ehad was on her chest. We got her out. Part of the joists were lying on her, and we had to cut wood to get her out. It took us nearly an hour and a half to do this. We then proceeded to get her niece Margaret, who was lying under her aunt, and was quite dead, apparently suffocated. Her aunt said she heard her niece speak once, telling her not to moan so much as she was dying. We found one of the boys, who was much bruised, and took him out. We then got Elizabeth brown and Joseph brown; they were quite dead. We found Alice Brown, who was in the cradle, there was blood on her head.
Edward Fittes, house joiner, Heworth Lane, deposed; I drew the plans for the new Wesleyan Chapel at Bill Quay. I am not a professional architect. Drew specifications. I am contractor for the joinering work. All that I have to do is carry the plans out. I did not inspect. Mr. Morris was the principal inspector, and Mr. Wraith and Mr. M. Reay were the other inspectors. I produce the plans. All the timbers were on. All the south gable was finished except the water table. The north gable was carried up to the neck of the chimneys. The wall was not fitted in to catch the bottom rib at the end. So far as I can see the walls were built according to my specification, but I cannot say as to whether the “throughs” were put in properly. It was the inspector's duty to look after the “throughs”; it was not my duty. In page three of the specifications there had to be one “through” for every superficial yard. I think the wind was the cause of the falling chapel. If the lime had been bad, and some of the “throughs” not in, it would have assisted the fall. The walls above the foundation were about nineteen inches from the gables. I never heard that any person had expressed it as his opinion that the chapel would not stand.
John Morris, shipbuilder, Pelaw Main, said: I have acted as an inspector in the building of this chapel. Mr. L. Minto was the builder. It was built according to specification as far as I know. I do believe all the “throughs” were put in. I am one of the propeitors of the chapel. It was the best Fulwell lime that was used, and it was mixed with fresh water sand, according to specification. Latterly the work has been slowly done. It was built quite to our satisfaction. I should say that it was the very boisterous wind that caused the falling of the chapel. We had no complaint against the builder, until latterly, when he was rather slow.
Luke Minto, mason, Hebburn Quay, said: I am the contractor for the mason work at the new chapel. I think the wind was the sole cause of the structure falling. The building was inspected nearly every day. I think the building would go down all at once. There was no connection between the house and the chapel- there was a space of three feet.
The Coroner summed up, remarking that it was quite plain that the deceased had come to their deaths by the fall of the chapel, and that no one was to blame, as the work appeared to have been executed to the satisfaction of the inspecting committee, and according to the specification.
After a long consultation the jury returned the following verdict:- “That Joseph Brown and others were killed by the fall of a Wesleyan chapel in the course of erection at Bill Quay, in a heavy gale of wind on the 24th inst.” The inquiry then terminated. The old woman Westgarth is not expected to recover.
Luke Minto, gentleman, of Glen Street, Hebburn, died 31 October, 1892. Luke Minto is also mentioned in the 1884 Hebburn Quay Association 150th anniversary meeting article.
Ancestry.com. England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
Original data: Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England © Crown copyright.
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