This post deals with another fatal explosion at the Albright and Wilson factory in Langley, this time from 1951. This year was of course the much celebrated “centenary year” of the enterprise between the two chemical proprietors.
The Yorkshire Evening Post from 10th July 1951 was quick off the mark, detailing early reports of what had taken place at the Research and Development plant.
More detail came later in the Birmingham Daily Gazette the following day detailing how the toss of a coin proved eventful for one man and left another dead. Joseph Cutler aged 30 of Smethwick died from his injuries when the drying oven exploded.
A quote from a survivor is quite telling.
“The work in this department is dangerous because phosphorus burns the flesh. We have to wear long coats and rubber boots”
The article reveals that the dead man’s father also worked at the factory before quoting W.B Albright– who immediately attempts to pour cold water on any blame for the factory- a typical ploy that resurfaces many times in the future, just as it had about the God awful cat piss smell that they and particularly he had created.
The article also confirms that several other men were badly burnt and hospitalised, with one, Joseph Partridge of Langley “dangerously ill”
It would transpire that he also died from his injuries, as the article from 12th July in the Birmingham Daily Gazette confirms.
I believe that the building in question had been given planning permission just one year earlier reference OB/48/50 ” proposed erection of research laboratory” and had been approved on 28/6/50 by that rotten borough council.
If one had any doubt about how little this company cared for its workforce, shifting blame to almost anything to escape questions which should have been asked about its own shabby operations, then what transpired out of the official subsequent inquest some time later should leave no doubt. The article from The Birmingham Daily Gazette of 28th September 1951 reveals a company desperate to shift blame onto anything but itself.
How is it possible that the cause of this explosion was not known? Was coroner Playne on the AW payroll, given their connections with health boards in the area? The idea that a cigarette end could have been dropped is total speculation, and I believe highly unlikely given the manner in which the staff at this company would have been fully aware of the risks involved- unless of course they were utterly stupid.
The most interesting thing to come of this hushed up whitewash and cover up of an inquest is the relevant question asked from the fire brigade as to why they had not been called- as professionals to deal with the fire. The pillock Jackson, obviously so in charge of the situation that one of his own died and others were burnt , was obviously briefed on what to say, and then chirping in we have Messrs Topley and Inglis who appear able to conclude that their chemicals, the way in which they were stored and handled had nothing to do with the explosion. Topley is perhaps best known for providing the formula for the disastrous joke known as AW bombs– which are even today causing flammable problems wherever they are discovered.
In the centenary book the following is noted on page 322
“His services to the company were many and various. Not least of them was his tactful handling of an indignant (Barking) Lady Mayor and Corporation when an explosion, which they believed was due in part to phosphide getting into the works drains, blew up a row of sewer manholes in River Road.”
I have to say that Albright and Wilson escaped here with corporate manslaughter- that is what would be investigated today by legislation designed to root out employers such as them. The toss of a coin was obviously in the hands of a fate already sealed by poor industrial practices with chemicals dangerous to the employees and the wider community at large.