Coroner’s Inquiry into the death of John Parkinson

December 22, 1911
An inquest regarding the death of Mr. John Parkinson was held last night when a verdict of “Accidental Death, “ was returned.

Coroner J. Parker conducted the inquiry. Mr J.W.P. Loftos, deputy town clerk, and Mr J,S. Brodie, Borough Surveyor represented the Corporation, and Mr H. Butcher, solicitor appeared for the widow.

Ada Bessie Parkinson, widow of the deceased, said her husband had been appointed Superintendent of the baths on April 6th last. On the afternoon of the 12th inst. She saw Isaac Howcroft the engineer of the baths, go to turn off the valve of the hot salt-water tank. A few minutes later she heard cries for help and she and her husband ran to the tank room. She helped deceased to get Howcroft out of the water, and when Howcroft had been got on to the flooring boards covering the tank he helped deceased to take his boots off. Whilst this was being done, the covering boards of the tank collapsed and deceased fell backwards into the water.

He sprang up again onto the boards onto the boards and caught hold of the remaining portion of the flooring, when this gave way, and he fell into the water a second time. The water in the tank was nearly at boiling point, and it was 3 feet deep. Deceased once more sprang out of the water, gaining a hold at the side of the boiler. Witness assisted Howcroft into a bedroom, and she had to cut the clothing off him. He was scalded about the legs, back arms and shoulders.

Deceased went into the bedrooms and undressed himself. Witness sent for Dr. Johnson, who came at once, and attended to both men who were conscious. Deceased appeared to improve slightly at first, and proceeded nicely until last Sunday evening when she noticed a change. His heart never got strong after the shock. He was a strong man. Death occurred last Wednesday afternoon.

Questioned by the coroner as to the construction of the flooring boards over the water tank, witness said there was a centre joist spanning the tank, and others to which the covering boards were nailed fast. There was no trap door or opening into the tank. One quarter of the covering gave way first, and Howcroft appeared wedged by the stomach between the cold water pipe and the steps leading to the roof. Whilst in that position a small portion had given way and he had fallen through the hole, about two feet by three.

In answer to Mr Loftos, witness said Howcroft had been at the baths twelve months as engineer-in-charge. The covering boards were not broken, but had become misplaced. They were sound and were in the same condition as when the corporation had took over the baths. It was necessary for Howcroft to get to the tank in the manner that he did.

Answering the foreman, witness said that the tank was newly boarded three years ago. Acting Sergeant Burrows deposed to examining the dead body of the deceased on Wednesday night. There were raw wounds on the legs and body up to the shoulders. Witness afterwards visited the salt water tank at the baths. It was about thirteen feet square and five feet deep in size. It was difficult to measure it, as there was no gas and he had to use a lighted candle.

Mrs. Parkinson, recalled, said there were no lights when she went to the tank room at the time of the mishap. There was a gas that Howcroft might have turned on if he had wished. She added that Howcroft was accustomed to gong to the tank room and knew his way about. It was a momentary job turning the valve.

Have you ever seen him up before without a light? – No.
He would know his way about without a light? – Yes.

Acting Sergeant Burrows resumed his evidence and said there were two ways  of getting to the tank. One was by going up a “cat” ladder attached to a wall and the other led from the second floor. It was not possible to get to the tank without going over the covering boards. There were seven joists and the majority of the covering boards were loose. The joists were all scattered about like sticks, and the ends rested on the edge of the tank, projecting only about an inch. Witness was of the opinion that the joists gave way, and he produced two or three pieces of wood that he had broken off the other end of the joist with his hands

The coroner, examining the pieces of wood, observed that they were very much decayed.
Witness added that the ends of three of the joists had fallen into the tank.

Frederick George Wolstenholme, assistant engineer in the employ of the Blackpool Corporation, was called and in answer to Mr Loftos said he was familiar with the baths. There was a gas jet, he said, which could have been turned on if necessary. There were two ways of getting to the valve without stepping on to the covering boards. One was by stepping across from one flight of steps directly to the other. It was quite an easy stretch and he had done it himself many times. The other way was by walking along a brick wall nine inches wide, which ran alongside the tank.

The coroner:  It does not seem to me that either of these two suggested methods is desirable. I mean it is a sort of way that an acrobat would do – first walking on a nine inch wall and then stepping across from one ladder to another – one of them being a cat ladder.

In answer to further questions, witness said the two ladders were certainly not more than a yard apart. He had examined the boards and found them sound. “The joists just seem to be rotten if this is a fair sample,” said the Coroner, producing the bits of wood broken from the boards.

Witness, further questioned said the joists projected over the edge of the tank two or three inches, which he considered sufficient. The method of reaching the valve was a safe and sound one in his opinion for a man like Howcroft. He could not say if the boards had ever been examined. It was the intention of the Corporation in the reconstruction of the baths to make certain alterations.

Witness said that neither Howcroft or the deceased had made any complaints as to the condition of the boards.
Mr Loftos said the Corporation were contemplating general alterations to the baths. The coroner said he did not propose to address the jury. Deceased had died from the injuries, and he had no doubt that the jury would find that the man came by his death accidentally.

After a brief consultation in private, the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death” adding that they were of the opinion that the joists should have been examined by a competent person when the baths were taken over by the Corporation.

Mr Loftos remarked that the joists and flooring boards were examined by a competent person

The Coroner said it was irregular for Mr Loftos to say this. He had given him every opportunity, but considered it was not fair for him to make such a statement after the inquiry.

Mr Loftos and the jury then expressed sympathy with the widow, and Mr. Butcher acknowledged the expression of condolences.
(Source: Lancashire Evening Post: December 23, 1911)


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