Stanley History Online
Deep Drop Colliery Explosion
Deep Drop Colliery Explosion
The Disastrous Explosion at a Stanley Colliery
Below is the most detailed account of the explosion aftermath to have been composed. Stanley Victoria Colliery or as it was known locally, The Deep Drop occupied the site that is now Stanley Nature Reserve, getting its nickname from being the deepest pit in the area (475 Yards). It was sunk in the 1838 and had two shafts that were 11ft in diameter. The Colliery closed after the explosion on 4th March 1879 which killed 21 local people.
Wednesday 5th March 1879
Every day furnishes some fresh verification of the old proverb that “misfortune never comes singly” Scarcely have the facts of the fatal explosion at the Fitzwilliam – Hemsworth Colliery a few weeks ago become somewhat dulled in our remembrance here we are called upon to chronicle a similar fatality, of even greater dimensions, and involving still more frightful destruction to life and property. The new catastrophe occurs in the form of an explosion, which took place last evening in the Stanley Deep Drop Mine, belonging to R Hudson and Co, which is situated near Stanley Lane End. The pit in question is probably, with the exception of the new pit belonging Earl Fitzwilliam at Kirby, the deepest in this part of Yorkshire, and the seam which is now being worked is the Silk stone seam, which is found at a depth of 470 yards; But previously the Haigh Moor seam was worked from the same shaft at a distance less by some 200 yards that the silk stone, which was sunk for when the Haigh Moor became exhausted.
The workings of this pit are very extensive, and stretch out on several sides for a great distance; and the pit itself has been in operation from ten to fifteen years. It has generally borne a reputation for safety and good management, which decidedly seems deserved, when it is, mentioned that in all that length of time there have been no explosions or accidents from gas. To this happy result no doubt the strict vigilance preserved in every respect that could procure or enhance the safety of the workings has in no small degree contributed; and not only have the men been supplied with the Davy lamp, but with the best known and safest version of it, is; the Stephenson – the invention of the celebrated George Stephenson – by which the danger existent in the Davy lamp, owing to the possibility of the gauze being heated up to such as to ignite the gas surrounding it, is minimised out of possibility by a glass globe being made to encircle the flame within the gauze. It follows that, so constructed; the miner is himself unable to produce danger as has been done with the Davy lamp, by sucking the flame through the gauze to light his pipe. Not withstanding this and other precautions, however, the pit has at length been visited by one of those catastrophes which are so appalling to contemplate. both in their immediate effects and in the misery and grief that follow. About nine o’clock last night the night shift consisting of fifty-five men, descended the shaft, the workings had been as usual, examined and certified by as secure by the night deputies, James Hopton and William Hartley.
Everything at that time appeared to be in its usual condition, nor was there anything, so far as we have been able to gather in the atmosphere or condition of the pit to give the slightest clue to the danger which was so close at hand. What occurred in the pit itself at the time of the explosion it is manifestly impossible to say, but what happened above ground is vouched for by at least one credible witness. Police constable Cooper, of the West Riding Constabulary, says that soon after ten o’clock he was near the pit bank, when he heard an awfully loud, sudden, and abrupt crash, resembling the report of a cannon fired beneath the ground, and almost directly afterwards he perceived a dense mass of rubbish – coal ashes – it enveloped in smoke cast from the up cast shaft, or ventilator, and after ascending for a short distance fall again with great violence, all over the ground in the immediate vicinity. As soon as it was safe for him to proceed he did so, and made his way with the aid of his lamp to the pit bank, where he found that the force of the explosion had blown out all the lamps about, and that the place was in utter darkness. He here found about half a dozen persons, including two lamp boys, the night banks men,
Walter Hall the engine man, Squire Walker and the fireman, Ben Bramley, in the utmost consternation, apparently unable to tell what to do, or to what to attribute the shock, unless to the bursting of one of the boilers. Cooper at once made his way to the house of Mr Cookson, the resident partner and working manager of the pit who resides at no great distance, and was fortunate enough to find that the gentleman had not yet retired. To him the policeman narrated all he knew, upon which Mr Cookson at once set off to the pit bank. Soon after arriving here a signal was received from below, and the cage was drawn up and found to contain about half a dozen men and boys, some of the latter of whom were crying. On being question they stated the pit was “on fire” and that they had found on their way to the cage one boy and several horses lying dead. About this time Ezra Hampshire on of the deputy stewards arrived, and immediately descended the pit, in company of other qualified persons, and shortly afterwards the chief steward, Mr Thomas Arundel, also appeared on the spot, and descended with another cage full of men.
In the meantime messages had been sent to Mr J. O. Greaves, mining engineer of Wakefield, the certified manager of the pit, to Mr John Whitely (Horseforth and Whiteley) of Wakefield, surgeon to the colliery, and Dr. Hefferman, of Lake Lock, and about half past eleven the first named gentleman arrived, and at once entered the pit, in company with two other deputies, Joseph Wheatley and Henry Jepson. On getting to the bottom he found that much had already been done by the exploring party towards restoring the air currents to there proper course, replacing the doors that had been blown down and getting the ventilation into proper condition, while others were engaged in moving the masses of debris that had fallen, and searching for the bodies of the killed and injured. One poor man named David Noble was discovered, who showed some symptoms of life, and every effort was made to develop these favourable symptoms. Mr Greaves had fortunately a small flask of brandy in his pocket, and the administration of a small quantity of this provided highly beneficial. Dr Hefferman about this period descended the pit, and further attended to Nobles injuries, and before very long he was in a condition to be moved to the top.
From there he was conveyed to the carpenters shop and handed over to the care of Mr Whitley and his assistant who gave the up most attention to his injuries , which we may say were chiefly the result of the inhalation of a great quantity of afterdamp- and a little later the unfortunate man was conveyed in an ambulance belonging to the colliery, the Clayton Hospital at Wakefield, where despite the attention he received at the hand of the medical staff he had not made much progress towards recovery as yet. Owing to the vast quantity of material that had been loosened and thrown down from the roof and packs, the explorers advanced but slowly along the west board to the scene of the explosion. This west board in which the explosion occurred is at least half a mile in length, proceeding in the direction of Hatfeild Hall, and it was probably to its extreme that the accident originated. As the exploring party proceeded they came across terrible proofs of the violence of the shock, ponies lying dead, corves smashed, broken up and their pieces scattered about, vast masses of debris blocking the way, and , saddest spectacle of all, here and there a body destitute of that life and animation which but a few hours before they had possessed.
A peculiar fact – which was remarked in the case of the Hemsworth explosion already alluded to – was that, despite the evident force and loudness of the explosion, the majority of men in other parts of the pit either did not hear it, or attached no significance to it; and it was only when the alarm was spread and the intelligence of the disaster commuted top them that they were brought to the surface. It was then found that the fifty-six men and boys who had entered the pit the previous night - for morning had now come upon the scene – only thirty six had come out, or with the man Noble thirty seven; thus leaving nineteen to be accounted for . Of these all it is to be feared worked about the scene of the fatality, and no hope is entertained for the recovery of any of them. Fifteen were men and the other four were boys; of the former four had up to noon been recovered and two of the latter.
The first few bodies found were but slightly burnt, and death appeared to be the result of suffocation from the fumes of the afterdamp; but all the bodies are not equally free from injury. One of the men Charles Firth is said to have been blown into several pieces, and it is necessary to take the coffin to the pit bottom in order to bring him up; and others have been more or less mutilated. In the case of on of the boys, a young lad named Musgrove, who was one of the first found, the force of the explosion had blown him several yards, and deposited him at last with his head fixed firmly in the wheels of one of the corves. He was quite dead, as indeed have been all those recovered up to the time of writing, with the exception of Noble, and it is only probable that the bodies nearer to the spot where the disaster happened will be still more severely injured and mutilated.
A somewhat remarkable circumstance is related regarding one of the men still undiscovered, a man named Israel Hartley. This man in company with another was last brought up at Wakefield Court House, charged with being drunk and disorderly, and refused to quit a licensed house, and a fine of 28s, or imprisonment in default, was inflicted. The men were both unable to pay and therefore committed to prison, when some friend of Harleys stepped forward, and by paying his fine procured his release. But for this unfortunate kindness Hartley would now probably be alive and well, albeit with the disadvantages of being locked in Wakefield’s house of correction. As the bodies were discovered they were decently covered over and brought to the top, and conveyed gently through the crowds which had there assembled to the carpenters shop, where they were deposited. There was no difficulty about the recognition of any of them, except the grief of those who came for the purpose of identifying them, and each was identified a ticket bearing his name was placed upon the covering which rough but tender delicacy had placed around him. The work of exploration is still proceeding.
On the Pit Bank
The scene at the pit bank as daylight came on was one of an indescribably affective nature. The news of the explosion had gradually spread through the scattered district in which the colliery is situated. Men, women and children hastened to the pit head to be gleaned as to the safety or otherwise of those of the workers in the pit upon whose exertions they were dependent for daily bread. As the morning advanced and the day grew lighter, these crowds increased, reinforced by woman and men who had toiled all the way from Wakefield, filled with pangs of dread and doubt, to learn the worst, and by those who ignorant of the mishap that had befallen their co workers were now came to descend the pit and commence the days duties. No words can describe the pitiful scene this motley crowd gathered round the pit top presented. There was not much converse among them.
Their anxiety was too great for words, except where the thoughts of one of those waiting grew, too fearful and distressed to be restrained, and found an insufficient utterance in a choking sob, or a sough like exclamation of mingled anxiety and grief. And it was tearful to watch the countenances around; the faces drawn and pale, the foreheads contracted and full of disquietude, and the whole aspect expressive of the most painful tension of the feelings. The poor women whose relations were in the pit were the marks of the greatest kindness and solicitude. Everything that neighbourly good will could suggest was done to lessen their fears; every word of comfort that could be thought of was spoken to cheer their hearts; and while the work of bringing bodies to the top was proceeding, kindly hands gently endeavoured to lead the poor women away to the shelter of the lamp shed in order really, that they might not see the bodies.
The ruse was successful sometimes but, generally as soon as the word passed that a fresh body had been brought to the bank, it was impossible to hold the poor hysterical creatures, who insisted on upon seeing even the burnt and blackened remains of those they loved. And not the least pitiful part of the spectacle was the number of children that the woman bore in their arms, wrapped in the slender folds of some shawl which was but a poor protection against the cutting March wind that whistled and whirled about the pit bank; for apart from the solicitude induced for the children themselves, they were significant of the extent of the suffering which such an event as the present entails. One poor woman sat on a stump by the side of the engine house and rocked herself in silent grief, refusing to move away to a warmer place, or to be comforted.
Two of her children had entered the pit on the night shift and she knew that she would never look on either alive again. Many similar cases might be mentioned. Soon after nine o’clock this morning Mr Greaves, and Mr Gerard, the deputy inspector of mines for the district arrived, and along with the steward at Lofthouse Pit, descended the mine for the purpose of making an examination into the cause of the catastrophe, but up to the time of our leaving the pit had not returned to the bank. Soon after they left the sixth body was sent up, and like the rest deposited in the carpenters shed. This is only a small structure, and will not hold all the bodies, but another cabin has been cleared out to receive the others. The police sergeant Chalkley and police constables Harris, Cooper, Hewitt, and Mclaren have all their work to do in keeping back the crowds of people, some 200 in number, who cluster round the pit bank, and have stuck to their post all through the night and today.
List of the Dead
The following is the list of those killed;
Israel Hartley, Stanley Lane Ends – Single
Luke Waller, Stanley Lane Ends – Married one child
Charles Firth, Stanley Lane Ends – Married four children
Luke Walker, Lofthouse Gate – Married eight children
Richard Atkinson, Ouchthorpe Lane , Married three or four children
Eli Blackburn, Firths Yard Eastmoor – Married no children
William Grice, Newton Lane End – Married eight children
Joseph Salt, Victoria Row Newton Lane End – Single
Andrew Wild, Newton Lane End – Married one child
William Jones, Newton Lane End – Single
James Leak, Stanley Lane Ends (Foreman over bye workmen) – Married six children
William Hartley, Newton Lane End (Deputy) – Married one grown up son
Charles Wild, Newton Lane End – Married nine children
Geo Bolland, Stanley Ferry Lane , Married no children
John Perks – Newton Lane Ends
John Dolan – New Street Wakefield
James Dolan – New Street Wakefield
Thomas Farrar – Newton Lane End
William Musgrove - Bailey Buildings Eastmoor
It will thus been seen that twelve woman have been left widows and 45 – 46 children left fatherless. Still even in the lamentable circumstances there is room for congratulation that the accident did not happen during the day shift, when some 230 men would have been at work, and the consequences of which would have been almost too awful to contemplate. As may be imagined, the damage to the pit itself and the plant is something very considerable, for besides the falls of the roof, a number of corves have been destroyed, and probably a dozen ponies killed. It may be added that the inquest will be held tomorrow morning at ten o’clock at the Graziers Inn Stanley. On inquiry at the hospital a few minutes before four o’clock we were informed that Noble shows no signs of recovery, but remains utterly unconscious of his surroundings, and is quite delirious.
Thursday 6th March 1879
The recovery of the bodies & The work of identification
The efforts of the explorers met with such success that by six o’clock this morning all the bodies had been recovered. Since we gave a list of the 19 men and lads who had been killed, it has been ascertained that there has been another death, namely that of John Dolan, New Street Wakefield , whose brother James has also been killed. The total number of deaths is therefore now 20. As to the other man Noble, hopes are entertained of his recovery. Shortly after ten o’clock the jury attended the inn to be sworn by the coroner. They had proceeded to view the 20 bodies which had been recovered. In the first place a visit was paid to the banks men’s cabin, where 13 bodies were lying. Most of these bodies were, as also the remains of several others that had been conveyed to the joiners shop had previously been identified, either by the relatives or friends of the deceased.
The work of identification was necessarily very slow, in consequence of the difficulty experienced in inducing the relatives to leave the remains of their husbands, brothers or sons, as the case might be; and many painful scenes were witnessed, the intense grief of the bereaved being extremely sad to behold. Most of the bodies afforded striking proof of the disastrous effects of the explosion, many of them being either burnt or bruised about the face and hands, as to be almost beyond recognition, except by those who were very familiar with the features of the deceased. Charles Firth appeared to have been very badly burnt and bruised about the upper part of the body. The remains of Luke Waller and John Perks were also severely burnt; whilst strange to say, the necks of the brothers Dolan were both broken, their bodies also being very much bruised. All the bodies were laid out on deal boards prior to being coffined, and were covered over with rugs. It was stated that the last body brought out of the mine was that of Richard Atkinson. The jury were occupied above half an hour in viewing the bodies, and they returned to the Graziers Inn, where formal evidence as to identification was given.
Opening of the inquest
The inquest was opened this morning at ten o’clock in the Graziers Inn Stanley before the coroner T. Taylor, Esq. The room which is but a small one, was inconveniently crowded. There was present Mr Wardell, Government Inspector of Mines; Mr J.O. Greaves: Mr Gerard, Inspector of Mines. The examination of the witnesses was very painful, owing to the intensity of their emotion, the first was;
Sarah Jane Wild: I live at Joan Hilton’s houses, Newton Lane End Stanley. My husbands name was Andrew Wild. He would be 23 last birthday, and he was a coal getter. He left home at half past eight Tuesday night to go to his work. He was on the night shift. I have been to see my husband, but the wont let me see him. He is in two clubs but is not insured. (The witness was then taken to the cabin to see her husband, Sergeant Chalkley explaining that many woman who were not relatives had endeavoured to see the bodies) After the witness had left the room, Sergeant Chalkley appeared, and stated that some of the women said they could not walk to the pit to see the bodies, but the deputy Hampshire could recognise the bodies.
The examination of Hannah Farrar, mother of Thomas Farrar, deceased was then proceeded with. She said: My husbands name is William Farrar. We live at Newton Lane End Stanley. My husband was a coal miner when working. My sons name was Thomas Farrar, and he was 14 years of age last birthday. He was a horse driver in the pit. He left home Tuesday night at a quarter past eight for his work. I have seen him this morning. He was not badly burnt but is cut in the face. He is in the accident fund at the pit, but his life is not insured.
Mary Colley was next called and said: Wm Colley was my husband. We lived at the top of Bread Baker Lane . He was 55 last birthday. He was the horse keeper. He left home about quarter past five Tuesday afternoon. He generally returned at half past six in the morning. I have viewed his body in the cabin this morning. He is burnt on the chest. He is in a club and the pit accident fund.
Martha Wroe said: The deceased George Wroe was my husband. He went by the name of Bolland. He lived at Ferry Boat Lane . His body lies in the joiners shop. I don’t know his age but he would be about 42. He was a coal getter. He went to his work about quarter past eight on Tuesday night. He had been at the pit several years. I have identified his body. There are no marks of injury about him; he appears to have been suffocated. He was not insured.
William Salt was next examined. He said: I live at Clifton Street Normanton, and I am a coal getter at St. Johns, Newland. My brother Joseph Salt, a coal getter was killed in the accident. He was 34 years of age last March. He lived in Victoria Road . I have not seen him for twelve months until I saw his body this morning, when it was brought up about half past three. There was no insurance on him. He was in the cabin when I saw him, but they were pushing me out. His cheek and left breast were cut. I worked in this pit about 11 years, but left a year ago.
Alfred Hartley, coal getter of Stanley Lane Ends, said: I work in the silk stone pit. I went down Tuesday night but I work in the drift. Israel Hartley, one of those killed was my brother. He was 25 last birthday and a coal getter. We lived with our parents. I was on the day shift on Tuesday, but the pit was not working. Israel went to his work about eight o’clock Tuesday night. I heard of the explosion about a quarter to eleven, and at once went to the pit, and went down. I and another brother named Jonas were told by the deputies at the bottom that my brother was found, and we went to him, and with the assistance of two others brought him out. He appeared to have been running, he was found in a running attitude. Before we saw him we found the bodies of Noble and Bolland or Wroe. They were about half a mile up the west board. This would have been about one or two o’clock. Noble was the first we saw, he was alive but unconscious. Bolland was about two yards from the horse road, near his own gate. My brother was about 400 yards from him and in the bank gate. He was got to the pit bottom about quarter to five. I left and came back about half past seven, and found the body then in the joiners shop. I found no trace of injury anywhere. He is not insured.
By the foreman of the jury: I worked up this part of the pit two or three years ago, but I have never seen much gas there.
Squire Waller, of Stanley Lane Ends, coal getter, gave the following evidence: I identified the body of my father Luke Waller. He was 47 last birthday. I worked on the silk stone pit, but I am on the day shift. We were not working last Tuesday, the pit was “playing” saw my father at the chapel about half past eight that night. I did not hear of the explosion until about two o’clock in the morning, and then I went to the pit bank. I heard that my father was found, and dead, but did not see his body until this morning in the cabin. He is burnt badly. His life is not insured.
Alfred Firth of Stanley Lane Ends, coal getter, said: I lived with my brother Charles who is killed. He was 30 years old last July. He was a bye workman. He was married and was on the night shift, while I was on the day shift. He has generally been on the night shift. He left home Tuesday night about 20 minutes to nine. About quarter past ten the same night I heard a loud report, like that of a gun, but I was unable to account for it. I live about a quarter of a mile from the pit. Art five o’clock the next morning I was told by my brother Edward that there had been an explosion, and that Charles was killed. I went to the pit about half past nine and saw the body brought out. The clothes were hanging about it in ribbons, but he had his boots on. He was burnt and bruised on his head and body. He was in a club but was not insured.
Mary Dolan, wife of James Dolan, plasterer’s labourer, of New Street Wakefield said: My sons John Dolan and James Dolan are amongst those killed. John was 14 years old last birthday and James was 12; they were both horse drivers. They left home on Tuesday night together at seven o’clock. I was waiting there all day yesterday until half past five, but I could not see them until this morning. They were all I had, sir, to keep my home together (weeping bitterly), and went out to work when their father could not get it. Two fine boys as ever a mother reared. Johns face is a bit hurt.
A jury man; both their necks are broken
Witness: My two sons oh dear! Oh dear! Their lives are not insured. And I have not a farthing with which to put a clean shirt on them. John worked the pit about three years ago; and they have worked this last time about six weeks.
Hannah Ramsden, widow of Purston Jaglin, identified the body of her son, who went by the name of James Leak. He is married, has five children, and was 35 years old last birthday. He was a night Deputy. He lived at Stanley Lane Ends. His wife sent for me yesterday. I have not seen him as the police would not let me see him yesterday when I went to the cabin. I don’t think he is insured.
William Perks, of Newton Lane End, miner, was next examined. He deposed as follows: My son John Perks, 16 years of age last birthday, is one of the killed. He was a horse driver. I work at the same pit, but I am on the day shift. He left home about eight o’clock Tuesday night and I wished him “good night” Somebody knocked at my door about eleven, and I got up and went to the pit where I remained until nine o’clock yesterday morning. I saw his body this morning in the cabin. His face is burnt but I observed no other injuries. He is insured in the Providential Insurance Company.
Thomas Musgrove, of Baileys Buildings Eastmoor said; I am 15 years of age and a driver in the Deep Drop Pit. I am on the day shift. My brother who is dead was 17 years of age, and was on the night shift. He was a horse driver too. My father and mother are dead. My father was a brick maker. My brother lived with Aaron Bailey, and I live with George Kellet. I last saw him alive on Saturday. I saw him yesterday in the joiners shop, he was dead. He was badly bruised on the back of his head, he was not injured.
Rose Walker of Lofthouse Gate, said she had seen the body of her husband, Luke Walker. He was 43 years old and was a coal getter He left home about twenty minutes past eight o’clock on Tuesday, and I saw his body in the joiners shop this morning. He was injured on his forehead and was burnt also. His life was not insured but he was in a club.
Walter Wild, Lofthouse Gate, coal getter, said; I identified the body of Andrew Wild, my brother, I recognised it last night in the cabin. There were no signs of injury about him. He was 25 last May.
Ann Heywood, wife of Samuel Heywood, miner, Castleford said: I have come to identify the body of William Grice, my son in law. His wife is too ill to come. Deceased was 37 years old last birthday and was a coal getter. He was my son in law. There is no insurance on him. I have not seen the body; I could not look at him.
Matilda Blackburn of Eastmoor, widow of Eli Blackburn said deceased was my husband and was 30 last birthday. He was a coal getter and a little before eight o’clock on Tuesday night he started off for work. I have not seen his body, he was not insured.
Sarah Ann Goodlif, widow, of Hatfeild Row Stanley said; I identified the body of William Jones, he was a coal getter and was 24 years of age. He was no relation of mine but he has lodged with us a long time. He left home about half past eight Tuesday night and I have not seen him since. His friends have been sent for and his mother has arrived.
Mary Ann Hamilton, wife of Mark Hamilton, living at Ossett Spa said; William Hartley was my sister’s husband. He was 56 last birthday. I have seen him this morning. He is dreadfully burnt, and I could have not identified him if I had not been told. I don’t think he was insured.
William Jackson of Newton Lane End, Stanley, coal getter said; I have seen and recognised the body of Richard Atkinson. I believe his age to be about 30. His wife is too ill to come. Deceased was a coal getter. He is a bit burnt. I also saw William Hartley, Grice, and all the rest, and knew them.
Isabella Wild, wife of John Wild Lofthouse Lane Wrenthorpe, engine man at the silk stone pit said; Charles Wild was my husband’s brother. He is one of the dead. He was 38 years of age... He was a coal miner and lived with his wife at Bragg Lane End. They had seven children. His wife is ill and unable to come. I saw the deceased yesterday in the joiners shop after he was taken out of the pit. One cheek was much bruised and the skin had peeled off. As far as I know he is not insured.
This closes the formal evidence of identification, said the Coroner, then stated that the inquest would have to be adjourned in order that the partial examinations made by the Colliery Inspector yesterday afternoon might be completed, and the report received, and that the necessary plans of the pit and condition at the time of the explosion might be made ready, so as, if possible, to give some clue to the cause of the explosion. After some conversation it was resolved to adjourn the inquest to this day (Thursday week) at the Wakefield Court House.
We are informed that it will be take at least two months to repair the roof of the mine which has been blown down by the explosion, but this will not prevent the ordinary work connected with coal getting from being proceeded with. This afternoon a thorough inspection will be made of the mine, as far as practicable, and the results of the inquiries will be detailed at the adjourned inquest.
The following is the report that was put together after the inquest at Wakefield Court House
It is my painful duty to record that on the 4th March an explosion of gas took place at the Stanley Colliery near Wakefield, the property' of Messrs. R. Hudson and Company, which resulted in the death of 21 persons. In accordance with your instructions, I reported specialty to you at the time and I now lay before you a summary of my observations at the inquest which was held before Thomas Taylor Esq. at the Court House in Wakefield, together with the evidence of one or two of the principal witnesses including my assistant, Mr Gerard, and Mr Greaves, the Manager of the colliery, as reported in the newspapers; a plan of the district in which the explosion occurred; the summing up of the coroner and the verdict of the jury, believing this to be the most convenient, concise and clear way in which I can embody the account of the disaster in this report for your information.
The inquest was most searching and thorough, and the inquiry very patiently and fully pursued; it being your special desire in this, as in all other similar inquiries, as it was the wish of all concerned, I believe that every title of evidence should be exhibited which could in any way tend to throw light on the cause of the explosion. You were pleased to direct that W. St. James Wheelhouse Esq., M.P., Q.C. should attend the inquest and watch the case on behalf of the Government and to that gentleman I am deeply indebted for very valuable assistance.
Thomas Richard Arundel, the underground viewer at the Victoria Colliery, said: "I have charge of the Haigh Moor Pit only, but I go down Silk stone Pit too when I can find time, perhaps once a week, to examine it generally on behalf of Mr Greaves. I went down the pit between 6 and 7 o'clock on the Monday morning before the accident occurred, and finished my examinations about 12 o'clock. I make no report myself but I look at all the reports. I examined all the workings in the west board. We found no trace of gas in any part of them. The pit looked better than I had seen it for some years. They had finished the old holes and started some new ones, and everything looked very well. The usual amount of air was passing through the workings and the ventilation was satisfactory. I was sent for after the explosion and I should reach the pit about 11 o'clock on Tuesday night. As soon as I got there I went down and joined the party of Mr Greaves who had preceded me.
John Sugden, under viewer at Lofthouse Station Colliery, said he was down the Silk stone Pit for the first time the day after the explosion. He went down at 8 o'clock in the morning. Thomas Walls and another man accompanied him. On getting to the bottom they made their way to the west board. They did not see any bodies until they got to No.43 where they found Leak and Waller. The ventilation was in good order at that time, and doors and sheets had been put up. At No.49 they found some gas in the main way it was fire-damp. The roof had fallen in, and they turned back to No.48, He saw Hampshire, who was exhausted and asked witness to take charge. Witness came back to the large fall in the main intake between No.35 and No.43. He gave directions to have the place enlarged that the bodies which had been found might be got over.
This was done, and the bodies were afterwards removed. Witness then went to No.21 and passed from the intake into the return to search for the body of Colley. He found it in a slit opposite the stable for six horses, about half-way between No.21 and No.27. Witness took his lamp out of his hand. It was what is called a "paddy" lamp. He could see that a stopping had been blown out. There were bricks and horse gearing all the way on till he found the body. He returned to No., 21 and found the body of a boy in a slit. He returned further along and found the body of another boy and the body of a man lying on his face. He next saw the body of a man on his back, with his head towards the workings. Witness then found two safety lamps in the far return. They were set upright on a sleeper end. He then went up to the working face and found two men had lost them out of their hands when running from the workings. He turned down towards the throw and found the body of Joseph Salt. This was all in the return air-course. Salt was lying on his face with his head towards the south. From that working, witness went to No.9 ending and found the bodies of Perks, Atkinson and William Hartley, the deputy. There was a Stephenson lamp found there on a prop. It was in good order.
Matthew Hall, general & certified manager of the Lofthouse Station Collieries, said he went down the Silk stone Pit on the morning after the explosion. He examined minutely No.43. The blast had gone out over from No.43 and in over from No.43. The centre of the explosion was at No. 43.
THE CORONER: 'In fact there had been a blast in both directions?' Both directions. The blast at No.43 had been a severe one. It drove dust into the timber and charred the coal.
By MR GILL: The dust was a quarter of an inch thick on the timber and formed a cinder. Mr Hampshire drew my attention to the rent in the floor near No.27. It was about ten inches long and five or six inches wide. The hole was in a slanting direction.
'Is this theory correct, that the gas which caused that outburst there must have accumulated below the spavin, and then given off such a quantity that it burst the two feet of binding and tent the floor? - 'I am not prepared to say that.'
'How could that rent be otherwise made than by an accumulation of gas below that spavin?' - 'It might be by an upheaval.'
'But that upheaval would have to rend the two feet of binding?' 'Certainly.
'And therefore there must have been a very serious accumulation of gas below that spavin to cause an upheaval?' 'The upheaval might be caused by pressure on each side, by pressure of the thrown at the right and the goaf at the left.
'Is not the other the more likely mode - the accumulation of gas below the floor?'- 'It might be, but I am not prepared to swear.'
'Your experience has informed you that it is a very frequent occurrence for these rents to take place by the accumulation of gas beneath the spavin?' - 'Gas will do it, and so will pressure.'
'Keep to my suggestion, that accumulation of gas below the spavin. Might gas have caused that outburst?' - 'I have not seen it in my experience. It has undoubtedly occurred in some collieries'.
'And a colliery that has been free from gas, and as safe, to all appearances, as could be at one moment, has become filled by gas by an upheaval of this kind and calamities have occurred? That you know?' - 'I have heard it.'
'The statements of men upon whom reliance can be placed. Is not that so?' - 'Yes,’
'And might it not have been the case in this pit, that an accumulation of gas below the spavin caused that rent, and that there was an outburst of gas which filled the pit and lighted a lamp either at No.43 or No.49 and so account for the explosion. Is that consistent?' - 'It would affect No. 43. It would require gas at No.9 before it would cause an explosion.
'But very little gas there would account for the explosion on the theory I am putting forward now? - 'It is possible that there might have been an outburst of gas at that place.'
'And so the explosion might have occurred?' - 'It might have been so.'
THF CORONER: - 'You put your arm in the hole up to the elbow?' - 'I did.'
'Was there any appearance of charring or burning there?' - 'None.'
'It appeared to be free from fire?' - 'Yes, I tried it with my lamp.'
James Burkinshaw, collier, said he had worked in the Silk stone Pit for six or seven weeks.
By Mr Clegg - 'He was one of the parties that went exploring after the explosion. He was with the party that found the bodies of Waller and Leek. He found a lamp which was commonly called a flaming lamp. It was not burning. There was neither oil nor cotton in it. It was about three yards on this side of No.43 ending. lt was lying near Leek's feet.'
John 0ldroyd Greaves, residing at Wakefield, said he was a mining engineer and certified manager of Messrs. Hudson's collieries. The Silk stone Pit was first sunk in 1840 down to the Haigh Moor seam. He was not connected with it when it was sunk to the Silk stone seam. The depth of the shaft is 475 yards and the diameter is 11 feet. On the west board they are bringing the workings back. The ventilation in this portion of the mine was being curtailed as the workings were brought back. The ventilation formerly covered a larger district. He had been manager for l0 years - six years under the Mines Regulation Act and four years before. He had taken the daily supervision of the pit by means of reports of the deputies under him. He had personally examined the pit occasionally, but at no stated rime beyond attending at the colliery' every Thursday morning, and going into the works when necessary. He had never the slightest difficulty on the part of the owners or the men in getting his orders carried out. His last visit to the west board before the explosion was in January. He then made the half-yearly survey. The only reason for not working the pit on Tuesday, the 4th instant, was the want of demand for coal.
By MR CLEGG - 'Witness went all through the west board in January He had not been in the west board since then till the 4th instant. He had not examined any part of the workings between January and March. He did not remember how long it was before January when he made his last examination. He could not tell to a month or two.
COLLlERY MANAGER BEING QUESTIONED:
"Then may I take it in this way; that you did not go down the pit last year to make a systematic examination of the workings, but that when you did go down you went either to survey the quantity of coal got or to look at particular places? 'Well, I should have a general inspection if I went to look at any particular place. When I went down I usually stayed the day.'
THE CORONER - "Would it take more than a day to make an examination of the pit?' - 'Yes'
'And would that be recorded somewhere?' - 'No.'
'I know there is nothing in the Act of Parliament, but don't you think for your own safety it would have been better?' - 'No, sir'.
'Very well, I am not your keeper. You know best. Are you the certified manager of any other mine than this?' - 'Yes'.
'How many?' - 'One other.'
You mean for another company?' - 'No, a colliery owner, There are four other pits working.'
'And how many have Messrs. Hudson? - 'Three working.'
'Then you are the certified manager for seven different pits? - 'Well, there are two mines.'
'Having seven pits?' - 'Yes.'
'You say that you have this pit under your daily supervision by means of the daily reports of the deputies?' - 'That is so.'
'Do you see the reports of the deputies every day? - 'Every day; they are sent to my house in Wakefield'
'Of course you are acquainted with the Mines Regulation Act of 1872?' - 'Yes.'
'You know Section 26?' - 'Yes.' Mr Clegg then read this section as follows: -
'Every mine to which this Act applies shall be under the control and daily supervision of a manager, and the owner or agent of every such mine shall nominate himself or some other person (not being a contractor for getting the material in such mine or a person in the employ of such contractor) to be the manager of such mine, and shall send written notice to the inspector of the district of the name and address of such manager.'
Further extracts from the report
The downcast shaft is 11 feet in diameter, is some yards from the up cast, also 11 feet in diameter, at or near the bottom of which is situate the furnace. A drift connects the furnace with the up cast shaft, the drift being 50 yards in length and entering the shaft 20 yards from the bottom. The return air does not pass over the furnace but enters the shaft at the bottom, passing thence up the shaft, and no nearer to the furnace than the extremity of the drift above mentioned. The amount of air passing up the shaft according to the last measurements taken before the explosion that is on the day previous was 75,250 cubic feet per minute, an amount amply sufficient in my opinion. For ventilating the mine if properly directed, distributed and conducted through the various workings. Of this quantity, about 53,000 cubic feet went along the west board, but at No.1 North drift this is diminished by about half. The area affected by the explosion was confined entirely to the west side or the shaft; the workings on the other side not being touched in any way, indeed it appears men continued to work there alter the explosion had taker place without being aware even that anything had happened. The number of persons in the pit at the time of the explosion was between 50 and 60, but of these 21 only were at work on the west side - of these 21 poor fellows, not one now remains alive. During the day time, when the pit is at work, there are about 230 persons in the mine, but this explosion, as you know, occurred at night, hence the small number of persons. On Tuesday the 4th, which was the day of the disaster the colliery was not at work from the present sickness of trade; consequently these men who went in at 9 p.m. on Tuesday formed the first party of workmen for that day with he exception of the two colliers who went in at 2 p.m.
Having arrived at the colliery I descended into the mine. At that time I think about seen or eight of the bodies had been recovered, there being still 12 or 14 in the pit. I did not find it practicable or advisable to make my examination at that time - the energies and endeavours of all being applied to recovering the bodies as speedily as possible - but on the following morning the last of the bodies having been brought up, I think about 5 a.m., I was enabled to make a thorough and complete examination of the whole of the district which was affected by the explosion. The main intake board on this side extends some 1,700 yards, or about one mile from the shaft, and I do not think it has ever been my misfortune to see, after any explosion such dire evidence of the terrific nature of the blast. The board almost from the beginning to end is a complete wreck. The falls of roof are very numerous and most extensive; indeed so high are some of them that it was with considerable difficulty I and those with me could manage to crawl over them. I was accompanied in my examination by my assistant, Mr Gerard, by the manager Mr Greaves and by one or two of the deputies and workmen. On the previous day when down, besides the above there were Mr Hall, the manager of the Lofthouse Station Colliery, and his under-viewer, Sugden, and I willingly take this opportunity of testifying to their very great assistance, energy and courage in assisting to take steps to recover the bodies and restore the ventilation. I wish to mention a fact which struck me as being remarkable and unintelligible, in the stables near the shaft were standing at the time of the explosion several horses. Of these two were killed and the others, although close by in the same stable, were uninjured. Moreover, the two which were killed were not next to each other but were separated by some horses alive and apparently untouched.
Proceeding along the intake or west board I found, as I have described, evidence of a severe explosion; the direction of such explosion being apparently towards the shaft from some point I had not yet reached. Tubs, stoppings, sheets, doors and debris were all blown outwards towards the shaft; the stoppings, doors and sheets between the intake and return, which run parallel to each other, being blown in the return and across it from the intake board. The dust also was on the sides of the props and bars furthest from the shaft. There are three points in particular with which we have to deal, and these are known as No.9, No.21 and No.43. At or near each of these men were killed - it being noticeable that those who were in or near the intake were burnt; those in the returns and other parts having apparently died from the effects of afterdamp. Although the indications, particularly approaching No.21, were such as at first to make it extremely difficult to determine which way the blast had gone - the tubs and materials being here blown and twisted about in the most extraordinary manner - still, on the whole, most of this can be attributed to the suck following the explosion and evidence greatly preponderated in favour of the blast having come from some point further in, and its force exerted in the direction of the shaft. At the stables situate near No.21, and in which the five or six horses there standing were all killed, there is the same deduction to be drawn - the stoppings between the intake and return being blown from the intake across the return and many yards along the ending beyond, the horse keeper also having been killed and carried in the same direction.
The falls here and up to No.43 were very extensive; indeed it was with some difficulty we could crawl over one just before reaching 43. The bodies of Waller and Leek were found beyond this fall, at 43, and both were severely burnt; between these bodies wore found a flaming or open lamp. Here was also strong evidence of the explosion in the form of coked dust which was lying thick upon the props and sides. Beyond this point, towards 49, the indications of disturbance die away. Evidence has been given as to a hole in the floor between the stables and 21 ending. There certainly was this hole, but I don't know that it is to be accounted for in any way but as the effects of the general disturbance of the floor and roof, owing to the falls, and when I saw it was not as large as has been described. There was no indication of burning about it, and no gas whatever was at that time issuing from it. Indeed, I do not think that the gas which caused the explosion came from this place. From the evidence, and from my personal observations, it seems to me that the gas fired at either Leek's or Waller's open light, at or near 43 in the main intake. There is no question here of shot firing or of matches or smoking, or tampering with safety-lamps, because naked lights were here in use. It will be noted that this was close to the ending where, on the day previous, Arundel had examined to see if any gas was coming off, and this ending communicated with that large goaf which extends the whole distance of the west board on its northern side. The returns which I also examined on the west side are comparatively uninjured, the effect of the blast having confined itself chiefly to the intake board, and the ending opening there from into the return.
It is curious to note with regard to the boy Musgrave who was suffocated by the afterdamp up No.1 South drift, that his horse standing close by him was perfectly uninjured. The practice of allowing naked lights in this pit at such a considerable distance from the shaft, although in the main intake and with the fact that certain boards arc erected to prevent such lights being taken into the return is, it seems to me, a most injudicious one. The seam is one which is known to give off gas, and an enormous goaf exists to the north of the west board, and sufficiently near to it to make it at any rate possible that any fall therein or disturbance might expel any gas there might happen to be on to this intake, where the naked lights exist. I would earnestly recommend that open lights of every description should be prohibited, at any rate beyond the point where the split of fresh air takes place at the first South drift. The custom too is objectionable in the highest degree, if not contrary to rule, of allowing at certain times the workmen to go into the mine with the deputies, although they may even not be allowed to proceed further than the fixed stations, before their working-places are examined. The system of keeping the books and entering the reports as required by the Act seems to me, from the evidence of the deputies and those whose duty it is to make such reports, to be deplorably defective; and although the means at hand for the good regulation of the pit are ample as well as the appliances for its proper ventilation, it appears to me that, as regards the points I have named, the management is singularly lax and capable of very considerable improvement.
The coroner then summed up to the jury. The evidence, he said, seems to leave no doubt that these 21 unfortunate persons had come to their deaths by an explosion at No.43. It seems Hampshire directed Leek the previous day to put in some twine plates at that spot, and on that day, according to Hawksworth, the air was dead at that part. After drawing the attention of the jury to the duties and liabilities of those connected with the mine, as shown in several rules which he read, he said it was for them to say whether negligence had been shown in the discharge of duty, and whether or not it was excusable or justifiable. If there was a sudden outburst of gas, nobody could reasonably be blamed for it; but if it was unreasonable to allow anyone to go there without having previously examined it, the responsibility was very grave. If they thought any person criminally responsible for the death of these persons, they would say so; but if they thought death the result of a sudden outburst which could not be foreseen, they would return their verdict according to that view.
The jury retired at five minutes past five, and returned into Court at five minutes past six precisely with the following verdict: - 'The jury are unanimously of opinion that the 21 persons whose bodies have been viewed have come to their deaths by an accidental explosion of fire-damp in Silk stone Pit and that such explosion originated at the naked light in 43 ending of the west board; and they are also of the opinion that there was some degree of laxity in carrying out the rules.'
Mr Gill said he was desired by the proprietors to say that the recommendations of the Inspector should be strictly carried out.
The inquiry then terminated.
Plan of the West Boards