What's the story behind this Cumbrian Mining Fob?

Commemorative Gold Fob/medal - engraved "TOWNHEAD MINE EGREMONT / MARCH 13TH TO 18TH 1913".

I would be interested if anyone can supply me with any information regarding the rather unusual 9 carat rose gold mining fob pictured above?  It weighs 4.6 grammes and measures 31 mm tall by 28 mm wide. Its reverse side bears a 1912 hallmark for Birmingham plus an partly legible three  lettered makers mark starting with "J" and followed possibly by an "A".

The lettering on the front of the spade reads " TOWNHEAD MINE EGREMONT" and on its reverse there are the dates "MARCH 13TH TO 18Th 1913". I assume the mine referred to was located in Egremont (Cumbria) in the United Kingdom.

Submitted By : Debbie Schofield.
Date: May 2005. 


Given that this fob bears a 1912 hallmark and an engraved legend mentioning the date of March 1913 I feel sure that it was originally made as a standard "off the shelf" fob or charm that was aimed at sale to someone with mining connects or interests. Given the period at which it was made such subject matter would have had an appeal to a significant proportion of Britain's working population.  However, as is obvious, what probably was made for sale to a general and wide market has been customised to commemorate a specific mine and dates in history. Namely Townhead Ironstone Mine, which was located near Egremont in West Cumberland, plus the precise period March 13th to 18th 1913.

The Townhead Mining Company Limited of Egremont was formed in 1900 and operated an  Ironstone Mine comprising a series of shafts north of Egremont town cemetery. By 1923 the last of these shafts had been abandoned.

Townhead Ironstone Mine, West Cumberland.

The following account (taken from the Mines Inspectors Annual Report for 1913) gives the story behind the events which are commemorated by this fob. They make particularly interesting reading.

"The most sensational accident of the year, although only one life was lost, occurred at Townhead iron ore mine (No. 7 Pit), Cumberland, and was due to an irruption of water from the old workings of a neighbouring mine abandoned over 20 years ago (i.e. Bain's No.10 Pit).

An accumulation of water was suspected in these old workings, and Mr. Leek, Inspector of Metalliferous Mines, had many conversations with the management on the subject, which resulted in the plans of these abandoned mines being obtained from the Home Office. Unfortunately few levels were inserted on the old plans, and considerable uncertainty existed as to the exact position.

About a month prior to the accident the water in the old workings was safely tapped by an inset from the shaft at a higher level specially set off for that purpose, and the head of water was thereby reduced by about 16 feet. The only place in the lower level near to the old workings was No. 5 Company's drift, the working of which was suspended and a timber dam erected therein. Five boreholes, from 5 feet to 9 feet in depth, had previously been put in the roof of this drift, but they were all perfectly dry. From the old plans and from other information in the possession of the management, the intervening thickness between No. 5 drift and the old workings above appeared to be about 30 feet. After the accident it was found that there was a thickness of 9 feet only. Under ordinary conditions this would have been an adequate barrier, but in this case the water had gradually made a channel through soft ore and shale. The dam, which had been built as an additional safeguard, proved insufficient to prevent the water flooding the mine, owing to the fact that it had not been built far enough into the solid side of the drift, thereby allowing the water to pass through.

The inrush occurred a few minutes after 6 a.m. on the 13th March, as the men comprising the morning shift were entering the mine. Nine men had descended and were travelling along the main roads from the shaft. One man, James Ward, had left the main party and was proceeding to his work in a different direction. The others were suddenly alarmed by the rush of wind and the roar of approaching water. They immediately turned and ran back towards the shaft. One of the men, however, John Cairns, remembering that Ward had passed inbye retraced his steps and went back to warn him. When the other seven men reached the shaft they found that four more men had come down. There was then no additional water at the shaft but the cage was immediately sent up with five. Before the next cage came back a wave flooded the flat sheets up to the men's ankles and five of the remaining six made a dash for the ladder compartment. Four of them travelled up safely, but the other man, James Bewley, had got on to a short ladder leading to a haulage wheel instead of the main shaft ladder, and he was drowned. The sixth man came up on the cage alone.

The ladders in the shaft are in excellent condition; they are inclined at an easy angle and the stages are good and at frequent intervals and it was unfortunate that the short ladder should have been in such a misleading position. Cairns and Ward found their return cut off by the rising water, so they gradually made their way to the highest working where there was a 5-inch borehole, which had recently been put through from the surface. Through this borehole communications were established with the entombed men and food and candles sent down. A sufficiency of good water was obtainable in the drift and the men remained underground for five-and-a-half days before the water was drained, when they were found to be little, if any, the worse for their imprisonment.

Townhead Mine is 50 fathoms deep and was sunk in 1910. At the time of the accident it was a single shaft mine so far as the main level was concerned. Had the accident occurred a few hours later, when over 50 men would have been in the mine, the loss of life would in all probability have been much more serious.

After a long and exhaustive enquiry before Mr. G. A. L. Skerry, Coroner, into the cause of the death of Bewley, a verdict of "Accidental Death" was returned, and the jury authorised the Coroner to recommend John Cairns for the Edward Medal for the bravery he displayed in returning to warn James Ward. I am pleased to say that Mr. Cairns duly received the Edward Medal of the Second Class in August last.

No breach of statutory regulations was disclosed and a ladder way in the shaft is not compulsory. Three important points however arise out of the occurrence, viz. (a) single shafts ; (b) outlet to a higher level; and (c) plans.

A second outlet would not have saved Bewley's life as he was actually at the shaft. A second shaft sunk to the same level would have afforded additional facilities for the quicker drainage of the water and if sunk to the rise would possibly have enabled Cairns and Ward to escape without delay. An outlet to the shaft at a higher level might have afforded an equally effective means of escape.

With regard to plans, the importance of recording full and accurate information upon plans of abandoned mines is once more emphasized." 

A contemporary photograph showing miners and management officials at the head of the bore whole used to communicate and send provisions down to the two trapped miners in the Townhead Mine disaster of 1913.

In July 1913 John Cairns was duly awarded the Edward Medal (or miner's V.C.) for his actions in the Townhead Mine incident.

It is tempting to think that the gold fob illustrated may have been presented to John Cairns or James Ward by the mine's workforce or management. Or alternatively presented to one of the other key personalities in the associated rescue of the two trapped miners. More research is required to confirm this. I do not believe that this fob is one from a mass produced commemorative issue like those known from certain other more serious UK mining disasters. Although at the time it occurred the Townhead Mine incident captured the attention of the local population I do not think that it would have prompted anyone to have commissioned a general commemorative or fundraising fob issue.

Submitted By : Mark Smith.
Date: October 2005.
In the Florence Mine Heritage Centre in Cumbria we have on display John Cairns' Edward Medal which was presented to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace in July 1913.
John Cairns' Edward Medal (right) plus his Townhead Mining Company Medal (left) which was also issued in recognition of his part in the incident.

The same month saw the Townhead Mining Company distributing its own medals to all who helped liberate the two trapped miners. The medals were of gold, and inscribed with the words "Townhead Mining Company Limited" and the dates March 13th - March 18th. A  total of eighty of these medals were issued. It is most likely that they took the appearance of that picture above (also see detail below) which was presented to John Cairns and which is still housed in the same presentation case as his Edward Medal.
Obverse & Reverse details of John Cairns' Townhead Mining Company Medal.
This is the only medal out of the total of eighty issued that has come to my attention despite the fact that I have thoroughly researched the Townhead Mine incident. This begs the question that if the medal pictured along side Cairns' Edward Medal is one of these eighty issues then what was the shovel/pick medal/fob (which forms the basis of the original enquiry above) made for? 
It should also be noted that on the 26th August 1913, the Carnegie Hero Fund Trust awarded its certificate for "heroic endeavour to save human life" to Cairns along with a grant of money. Its is also known that the friends and neighbours of Jimmy Ward (the second trapped miner in the incident) set up a fund later in the year that was used to purchase "a suitably inscribed medallion" and purse of gold. These were presented to him at a function in the Town Hall, Egremont on October 3rd, in recognition of his ordeal.
For additional details and a full account of the Townhead Mine incident see my article posted on the Florence Mine Heritage Centre's Web Site at
Submitted By :Dave Banks (West Cumbria Mines Research Group).
Date: October 2005.
Purely on a comparison of the wording of the legends plus the engraving style both Cairns' gold medal plus the pick/shovel type "fob" appear to have common origins. The hallmarks on Cairns' medal shows it to be 9 carat gold with a Birmingham assay mark for 1912. The makers mark is full and clear as "JAR". The other Townhead medal/fob also bears marks for 9 carat gold with a Birmingham assay mark for 1912. Only the first two of the three letters of its makers mark are visible. They read "JA". Surely the third must be an "R" if only it were legible.
From Hawkins' "Dictionary of Makers" it is possible to attribute the "JAR" makers mark to James Andrew Restall & Co. who traded as jewellers, silversmiths and medallists. In 1912 this company  operated out of premises at 82, Cambridge Street, Birmingham.

As both medals are based on suitably general mining themes and have hallmarks of 1912, the year before the Townhead incident, it must be concluded that both types were "off the shelf" items which were only engraved to suit their final specific purposes.
The question now remains if 80 medals were reported to have been made  for issue by the Townhead Mining Company Ltd. to the rescue workers who took part in the relief of Cairns and Ward which type of medals were theses men issued with?  Was it possibly the pick/shovel "fob" type or the type which we know from Cairns' Edward Medal presentation box? So far we only know of the existence of one medal of each type. Could it be that the medal given to Cairns' was different to the other company issued medals so as to mark his heroism apart from all the rest? It is interesting to note that Cairns' medal has the same ribbon as that on the standard issue Edward Medal. Does this have any significance in the argument above perhaps?
Submitted By :Mark Smith.
Date: October 2005.
My family have exactly the same fob as the one pictured. It was given to us by my grandfather Edward Rooney, a resident of Cleator who worked at the mine, he maintained that he was presented with it for taking part in a mine rescue and, as his age and location place him there at the time of the disaster, I see no reason to doubt this. He never gave us a detailed account of the rescue, but he did say that the miners worked day and night with very little rest to bring their colleagues to safety. The fob was an object of great value to him which he was never tempted to sell (despite hard times), his father and brother were also iron ore miners in a closely knit community where a false claim of bravery would have been very hard to sustain.

I do not believe that this is the sort of item that would have been produced as a keepsake for general sale, these were people on very low incomes and gold medals would have been out of their reach.

We are now planning to present the fob to the Florence Mine museum in my grandfather's memory.
Submitted By :Helen Williams.
Date: June 2006.

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