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The memorial plaque to Frederick Mills, A. Rutter, Robert Durrant and F. D. Jones.


There are occasions as you study the reports on those who are remembered on the wall of Postman's Park, when you can't help but feel that the person these everyday heroes gave their lives for also deserves a mention. After all, in the majority of the cases they were as much victims of the tragedy as those who are remembered.

Take, for example, the plaque that remembers the East Ham Sewer Works disaster of July 1895.

It reads, "Frederick Mills, A. Rutter, Robert Durrant and F. D. Jones, Who Lost Their Lives In Bravely Striving To Save A Comrade At The Sewage Pumping Works, East Ham. July 1st 1895."

You can't help but feel that Walter Rigby, despite being the man the others died trying to save, also deserves remembrance alongside his companions.


The story of the tragedy appeared in The Derby Daily Telegraph, under the above headline, on 2nd July 1895:-

"A shocking affair occurred today at East Ham Sewage Works, whereby four employees, including the chief engineer, lost their lives, and a fifth lies in a precarious condition.

It appears that a man named Digby had descended a manhole to clear the grating, when he was overtaken by foul gas.

Four others then went down, and were successively overcome by the noxious vapour.

Their prolonged absence occasioned much alarm, and a search party was organised.

The five men were then discovered in an insensible condition, and on their removal to the surface only one was found to be alive.

The names of the deceased are Fred Mills, chief engineer; Arthur Rutter, Robert Durrant, and Walter Digby."


The Chelmsford Chronicle provided a little further detail on the Frederick Mills in its issue date 5th July 1895:-

"Mills was an extremely popular man.

He 1eaves a young widow and child, with whom he resided in a cottage on the works, about 150 yards distant.

The father of Mills witnessed the recovery if his son's body.

Rutter was engaged to he married in a few days, and the other men leave wives and families."


The fact that the families of the deceased men had been deprived of their breadwinner led the local council to intervene, and to set up a fund for their benefit.

On 4th July 1895, the following letter appeared in The Evening Standard from the council's Vice Chairman:-

"Sir - Will you kindly give space in your valuable paper for an appeal for help on behalf of the widows and orphans of the men who lost their lives at the East Ham Sewage Works, on Monday morning last?

Four out of the five men died in a brave attempt to rescue the first man, and four leave widows and children quite unprovided for.

As the East Ham Urban District Council has no means of officially compensating the widows and orphans for the irreparable loss they have so suddenly sustained, a subscription list has been opened.

Altogether nearly sixty pounds was subscribed at the Council meeting to-night.

Having been appointed treasurer of the fund, I am anxious to make the amount collected as large as possible, as it is urgently needed.

A complete list of subscribers will be published in due course.

All donations will be gratefully acknowledged by

Your obedient servant,

JOHN BROOKS. Vice Chairman. East Ham Urban District Council.

7, The Broadway, East Ham, Essex, July 2."


"An account of the funerals of two of the deceased appeared in the Chelmsford Chronicle on 5th July 1895:-

"The funeral of Mills took place at Barking yesterday (Thursday), amid every manifestation of sorrow.

The body of Rutter, whose friends live at Ipswich, was borne thither on Wednesday evening.

It is stated that the young lady to whom Rutter was to be married met with a similar disappointment to the present some two years ago, when the young man died as arrangements were being made for the wedding."


A more detailed account of the tragedy, and of the proceedings at the opening of the inquest into the men's deaths, appeared in Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper on the following Sunday, 7th July 1895:-


"A shocking calamity occurred on Monday morning at East Ham Sewage works.

A man named Digby went down a manhole to clear the grating, when he was overtaken by foul gas.

He was followed by four others.

As they did not return a search party was organised, and on reaching the grating the five men were found lying in an insensible condition.

They were at once removed to the top, and every possible resource was used without effect, Robert Durrant, Fred Mills, Chief-engineer, Arthur Rutter, and Walter Digby being pronounced dead.

The other man, Frederick Jones, sufficiently recovered to be removed to West Ham hospital, but he died on Tuesday.

Mr. Lewis, on Tuesday, opened the inquest on the bodies of Digby, Mills, Durrant, and Rutter.

Evidence of identification having been given, Charles King said he lived at 18, Park-road, East Ham, Upton-park.

He was at work at the East Ham Sewage works on Monday morning.

Shortly after seven o'clock the deceased man Digby came to him, and said he was going down to clear the screens. These screens were in what was known as the screening chamber in front of that part of the sewer leading to the pump-well. The sewer was egg-shaped, and was 4ft. 6in. by 3ft.

Witness removed the slides from over the manhole, and Rigby went down the iron ladder.

When about half-way down Digby said to witness, "I feel faint; I shall come up again."

Witness told him to do so.

The deceased started to come up again, and, when about two rungs from the top, he fell backward and disappeared.

Witness called for help.

Mr. Mills, the chief engineer in charge of the works, at once came up, and was followed by others.

Mr. Mills stepped on to the ladder and seemed to be immediately overcome and fell down.

Durrant, Rutter, and Jones immediately followed, and the four men without saying a word seemed to fall down the hole.

The last man, Jones, was lying on the grating, and appeared to be dead.

A number of men then arrived, and a man named Worman went down with a rope and tied it round Jones, who was hauled to the top and was immediately removed to the West Ham hospital.

The coroner at this stage proposed to adjourn the inquiry in order that a post-mortem examination could be made upon one of the bodies, and give him time to communicate with the Board of Trade.

The coroner adjourned the inquiry until July 11.

Mr. Lewis opened an inquest at the King's Head hotel, Stratford, on Thursday, on the body of Jones, but merely took formal evidence of identification, the inquiry being adjourned to be continued with the other inquests."


The resumed inquest into the deaths of then was concluded on Thursday 18th July 1895. The Morning Post published the following report on the proceedings and findings in its next day's edition:-

"Last evening Mr. C. C. Lewis, Coroner, resumed an inquiry at the Local Board Offices, East Ham, respecting the death of the four men who lost their lives in the calamitous accident which occurred at the East Ham Sewage Works on Monday, the 1st of July.

Mr. Wilson, clerk to the District Council, was present to watch the case on behalf of the men's employers.

Mr. W. H. Savage, surveyor to the East Ham District Board, stated that the manhole was 27 ft. deep.

There was no special ventilation, except what came from the top when the lid was off.

A portion of the lid was always off, so that the sewer was better ventilated than some others.

The men never complained of any inconvenience in descending the manhole, so it was not thought necessary to provide ropes at the side of the ladder.

There was for that particular manhole eight times the ordinary ventilation of a manhole.

Since the accident it had been decided not to close the manhole at all day or night.

By the Coroner - Besides the manhole there were two columns to ventilate the sewer.

Dr. E. H. Smith, of East Ham, stated that he was called to the Sewage Works on the morning of the accident and there saw the bodies of the deceased.

There was nothing particularly noticeable about them.

The autopsy showed that the lungs contained water and sewage. The cause of death was asphyxia from drowning, but in his opinion they had previously been overcome by the sewer gas.

The Coroner, in summing up, said that the case was a very sad one, though at the same time they could not help being proud of the conduct of the men who lost their lives in an endeavour to save their comrades.

Mr. Savage said that the Council had now provided the men with respirators, and before they would be allowed to descend the air of the manholes would be tested in various ways. A cradle would also be provided in which the men could be lowered and raised very quickly.

The Jury, after deliberating in private for an hour and a half, returned a verdict of accidental death, and added a rider recommending that the Council should post up printed regulations to the workmen which should be rigidly enforced, and they further suggested that the sewers should be more frequently flushed with clean water."