Whilst not as dangerous as working in the pits, quarrying at Armitage’s was far from a safe occupation, not least because explosives were used to break up the rock and large blocks of heavy stone had to be lifted up from the quarry floor which was 70 feet below the surface.
One young man who lost his life following an accident at Woodlesford was Thomas Smales who died after the brakes failed on 15 ton capacity steam powered crane that was lifting an 8 ton stone.
It was about seven o’clock on a Friday morning in September 1903 and Smales, who was 22 years old, was in charge of the crane which he had just pulled the stone to ground level. He had applied the brakes and thrown the crane out of gear and was going to swing the jib round before depositing the stone on the ground.
But for some reason the brakes failed and the stone began falling rapidly back into the quarry.
One of the owning family, “young” George Armitage who was nearby, jumped onto the crane to help but they couldn’t control it and both of them had to jump off.
According to Armitage, who gave evidence at the inquest in Leeds, the crane’s drum “revolved at a great rate” and the steel rope broke cutting Smales’ leg and fracturing his thigh.
He was taken to Leeds Infirmary by ambulance where he died the following day. A lawyer representing Armitage’s expressed their “deepest sympathy” with Smales’ relatives which included his pregnant widow, Minnie.
She was only 19 years old and they had been married for just six weeks. Their son, Thomas Raymond Smales, was baptised at Woodleford church the following April. At the time of the accident they were still living with her parents on Alma Street. Her father, Frederick William Hoyle, was a miner and she had worked as firelight maker just down the road at Oddie’s mill.
Four years later Minnie married boilermaker Alfred Joseph Lawrence and she moved with young Thomas to live with him in Hunslet where they had a son in 1908.
Thomas’s mother was a widow at the time of his death. She was living on Clement Street and had moved to Woodlesford from Seacroft with her husband, Benjamin, who was 40 when he died in 1893. He had also been a miner, as were Thomas’s older brothers, Ben and James.
Thomas Smales and his father are buried in Oulton churchyard.