IT was one of the biggest tragedies to occur in the Bradford district, especially as it resulted in the death of so many children.

One hundred and thirty six years ago, on December 28, 1882, a 225ft chimney, weighing 4,000 tons, and which had been built 21 years previously, collapsed on Newlands Mill, in West Bowling.

Fifty four workers were killed in the crushed mill below. Twenty six were under the age of 16 with the youngest casualty being just eight years old.

A further 70 people were pulled from the rubble injured, one young woman was left bedridden through her injuries.

But it may all have been avoided, according to reports following the inquest.

A jury in Bradford returned a verdict that the victims were accidentally killed and that the owners had done "all that 'unpractical' (sic) men could reasonably be expected to do under the circumstances" and that no blame was attached to them.

The verdict was, in the main, in reference to work carried out to straighten the chimney which was done by "cutting" through the chimney in two places in the opposite side to where it was leaning and replacing the masonry.

However, critics at the time said the jury failed to understand in intricacies of engineering and that it was the poor construction of the structure, under what appears to be the insistence of the mill owner, Sir Henry Ripley.

The Telegraph & Argus carried an in-depth report following the inquest.

In an article titled Opinions of the Press, The Builder publication detailed a scathing attack on Sir Henry who had died a month before the tragedy aged 69 for insisting the building of the chimney be done "his way".

The extract also launches an attack on the jury for a verdict which "read in connection with the evidence amounts in reality to little more than a naive confession on the part of the coroner's jury of their inability to understand the facts of the evidence, and their consequent desire to avoid the responsibility of expressing any decided opinion upon the cause of the accident".

The report described Sir Henry as "one of those wealthy and genial, but positive Englishmen who will have their own way, even in managing matters which they do not understand".

The reference was to the design and construction of the chimney which the report states included adornments on the chimney - namely holes and panels - which would weaken it.

It was also built over an old coal working site with unequal bearing "all to please the owner" said the report.

Some 16 or 17 years beforehand a bulge in the outer case had been repaired, but it was later claimed that the structure was of an unstable construction from the outset and that defects pointed out to the owner were dismissed.

So concerned were people in the vicinity of the mill just days before the tragedy with bulges (a number had been treated 16 or 17 years earlier) and falling stones that some took their own safely measures.

A solicitor had begged one of the partners, his son in law, not to go near the mill or the chimney while another bulge was being removed.

Horses were removed from the vicinity and the owner of a nearby mill insured his own life.

One heartbreaking statement from the inquest heard that the mother of a boy who was killed had earlier reassured her son that his "employers would not allow them to work there if there were real danger".

A report from Manchester Examiner pointed out defects in the chimney including ties to connect the outer wall to the inner wall which were broken. There were also frequent falls of masonry.

The Echo felt the jury's conclusion would not commend itself to the "common sense of the country".

The final report was from government inspector Lieutenant Colonel Seddon.

He stated: "The failure of this chimney was undoubtedly due to the damage done to the structure in the operation of straightening. The only wonder is that it survived that operation for twenty years.

"The weight of the shaft above, at least 2,200 tons, giving a uniform pressure of seven tons per foot, rocking in every wind on this weak spot, slowly disintegrated the masonry.

"The chimney was in reality daily resting more and more on its outer skin, to remove which, as decided, was no doubt a fatal error.

"The rocking of the shaft in the wind on the Wednesday night and Thursday morning completed the destruction."

He goes on to say the design of the structure was bad in almost every particular.

"I feel certain that even without that operation (of straightening) it could only have had a limited life and unless taken down in time it would certainly have fallen some day or other.

"The fall of this chimney ought to be a warning in future to any one who, dispensing with proper professional advice, takes upon himself the responsibility of carrying out works upon the safety of which the lives of so many may depend."

Today, all that stands near the site of the huge mill owned by Sir Henry Ripley, is a memorial stone and plaque to the victims which cost £1,000 and was paid for by Bradford Trident.

It stands at the corner of St Stephen's Road and Gaythorne Road in West Bowling, 200 yards from the spot the giant structure fell and was unveiled in July 2002.

Its appearance was after a campaign launched by Alan O'Day Scott of the West Bowling Local History Newsletter.