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William Aubone Potter

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William Aubone Potter (1832-1887) of Cramlington Colliery and others


1888 Obituary [1]

WILLIAM AUBONE POTTER, who died on June 20th, 1887, was born at Cramlington, Northumberland, in October, 1832. He was the eldest son of Mr. Edward Potter, M. Inst. C.E., an eminent north country mining engineer.

At the early age of four years he was sent to a ladies’ school, then to the Rev. Isaac Todd’s, next to Bramham College, and eventually to King’s College, London, which last he quitted in 1850, to serve an apprenticeship of five years to his father, who was viewer at Cramlington Collieries. Here the younger Potter remained assisting his father, until 1855, when he was appointed viewer to Messrs. Day and Twibell, of Monk Bretton, Barnsley, Yorkshire, where he had under his charge, in the first instance, the Mount Osborne and the Old Mill collieries. He afterwards sank the Agnes Pit for Mr. Day, and thus formed another drawing-shaft.

In March, 1857, the explosion (memorable in the Barnsley district) at Lundhill Colliery, happened. The pit, taking fire, had to be filled with water, and, after it was drawn, Mr. Potter, Mr. Ralph Maddison, Mr. Thomas Cowper, Mr. John Brown, and several other mining engineers were specially intrusted by the late Mr. Nicholas Wood, the late Mr. Thomas Forster, and Mr. (now Sir George) Elliott, the consulting engineers, with the responsibility of clearing the pit and exhuming the one hundred and ninety-seven victims of the disaster--a long, arduous, and dangerous work.

Mr. Potter also undertook the work of restoring ventilation to the mine, which occupied a period of three months, and was carried on in addition to the discharge of his ordinary business. On the 8th of December, 1862, an explosion occurred at the Edmund's Main Colliery, when Mr. Potter again distinguished himself by his exertions and practical advice. On the 17th of that month, Mr. Potter and another engineer were preparing to go down and explore, when a friend (Mr. Embleton), riding past at the time, warned them against doing so, having been taught by former experience that another explosion would in all probability shortly ensue ; the warning was scarcely given before it was verified.

In 1863 Mr. Potter sank the New Sovereign Pit and the pumping shaft for Mr. Clarke, of Noblethorpe, near Barnsley, of whose collieries at Silkstone and Dodsworth he became viewer and manager. The greatest mining disaster Mr. Potter was associated with was that at the Oaks Colliery, in 1866. After the explosion, he, together with many other explorers, was quickly on the scene ready to descend, when an urgent message for him to repair on the instant to the upcast shaft of the mine saved his life ; all the others (thirty-two), who had, like himself, volunteered to explore, being killed by a second explosion, which was so violent in its effects that Mr. Potter and others, standing at the pit-brow, were thrown to the ground.

Whilst living in Yorkshire Mr. Potter took an active part in the volunteer movement, then in its infancy, and, when in 1860 the 37th West Yorks Rifle Volunteer Corps was founded, he was appointed one of its first commissioned officers ; he was well up in his drill when he joined this corps, having before served in the Northumberland militia. Mr. Potter and Mr. Embleton together founded the Midland Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, the former acting as secretary. This Institute was the outcome of a smaller society called the Yorkshire Miners Association, of which Mr. Potter was the organizer.

In 1868 Mr. Potter reluctantly resigned his Yorkshire appointments, wherein he had had the charge of two thousand men, and returned to Northumberland. This step was taken at his father’s earnest request, whose failing health made him desirous that his son should take his place as viewer at the Cramlington Collieries, in which he and his family had a large interest. Before leaving Barnsley Mr. Potter’s friends in the district gave him a service of plate - a tangible token of their esteem and affection - and he left the spot, where he spent the happiest and busiest years of his life, regretted alike by his employers, his friends, and also the miners, who looked upon him as their friend as well as master.

On his return to the North, Mr. Potter continued to give the same unremitting attention to the duties of his profession which had characterized him in Yorkshire. He was a Justice of the Peace for the Borough of Tynemouth and the County of Northumberland, and also a River Tyne Commissioner. Ye held, too, the appointment of Government Check Viewer for the Greenwich Hospital Estate.

In 1875 he was elected Mayor of Tynemouth, and gave general satisfaction whilst holding that office, for which his genial manners and liberal hospitality alike fitted him. More than a year ago Mr. Potter’s health broke down, and he was for many months under medical care. Latterly he improved so much that hopes were entertained of his ultimate recovery ; but a relapse set in, producing nervous exhaustion, which proved fatal. He was buried in Cramlington Churchyard; his friends gathered round his grave, anxious to pay their last tribute to one who, by his straightforward and exemplary conduct in life, had endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact.

He was elected a Member of the Institution on the 7th of May, 1867.



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