WELLINGTON PIT. Whitehaven, Cumberland. 11th. May, 1910.

The Wellington Pit was owned by the Whitehaven Colliery Company and was close to the seashore in the town. There were three shafts, a coal drawing shaft 298 yards deep and 12 feet in diameter, an upcast shaft 12 feet in diameter and 204 yards deep, and a water or pumping shaft 8 feet in diameter and 298 yards deep. The coal that was worked was the Main Band and was about 10 feet thick and worked by pillar and stall. The main haulage road extended from the shaft for about 4 miles due west under the sea and had a dip of about 1 inch to the yard. There were no horses in the colliery and the tubs were trailed by the workmen to the brakes or headings and from there by mechanical means to the shaft.

The ventilation was by Walkers Indestructible Fan, 24 feet in diameter which was placed near the top of the upcast shaft and usually ran at 126 revolutions per minute. The air was last measured on the 4th May, which was seven days before the explosion on the main intake at a point near the downcast shaft and totalled 49,680 cubic feet per minute, while at the friction gear still on the main intake it was 28,000 cubic feet per minute. This was the whole of the ventilation available for three large working districts with about 200 workmen on each shift of three shifts a day. The average output of the mine was 850 tons per day.

Paraffin lamps were used at the bottom of the shaft and the lamp station for examining the safety lamps which were used exclusively in the mine was at the bottom of the main haulage road between two and three miles from the shaft bottom. The lamps that were used were Ackroyd’s and Best’s Clanny Lamps with a single gauze. They were electrically locked and lighted. No shots were fired in the coal or in any of the working places but shots were fired in a stone drift in the third north district and occasionally in the main haulage road and intake. The holes were charged and fired by an overman and a permitted explosive was used and fired by an electric battery.

Under the Coal Mines Regulation Act, miners were appointed to make inspections under General Rule 38. Inspections were made on the 21st, 22nd, 23rd. and Wednesday 30th March 1910 and reported:

We, the undersigned, hereby certify that we examined all working places, shafts, levels, planes, return airways, bearmouth exit, and all machinery, and found all in safe working order.

John Mulholland.

John Thomas Mathers.

The workmen were transported in coal tubs by the haulage arrangement from the friction gear to the bottom of the shafts.

On the day of the explosion, the night shift had gone in to change with the back shift in their working places. At about 6.30 p.m. the first set of workmen from the back shift had been raised and gone home. The second set, about 60 men, had arrived at the bottom of the shaft when they felt the air reverse and saw large clouds of dust behind them. They went to the shaft and some of them went to inform the manager at the pit top that something serious had taken place in the workings. This was at 7.40 p.m.

The undermanager went down the pit and found that the hitchers and on-setters were not sending tubs of coal up the pit. He boisterously inquired why this was not being done. The men answered that there were uncertain what had happened when the air reversed and they had failed to get any replies from telephone calls. The phone lines extended to the friction gear from the pit bottom.

The undermanager got a workman, Daniel Benn and they went down the incline. The rest of the men left the bottom of the shaft and resumed their normal employment, sending full tubs up the shaft as if nothing had happened.

How the undermanager, Mr. Henry, and Benn spent the time from 7.45 p.m. when they left the bottom of the shaft until 10 p.m., two hours and fifteen minutes, when they were overtaken by Dr. Harris and others on the incline near the fan house is only known to them. They stated that they were engaged with two workmen who they discovered unconscious on the incline and had performed artificial respiration on them for more than an hour and that they had gone to examine the return at two points. It was known that the two men left the pit bottom at 7.45 p.m. and from conflicting statements it was thought that they discovered the two unconscious workmen at Benk’s Turn at about 8.30 p.m. At 10 p.m. they met two workmen from the No.5 District, Weir and Kenmore, between the Benk’s Turn and the fan house and they arrived at the fan house between 10 and 10.30 p.m.

It was significant that a workman they met some distance down the incline had gone up the pit, sent a message to Dr. Harris at his home and that the Doctor arrived at the fan house at some time as Henry and Benn. Immediately below the fan house, they found large volumes of smoke coming up the incline and they were prevented from making any further progress. Weir and Kermore accompanied them and they stated that they were at work in the No.5 District at about 7.45 p.m. Weir was told by his son who was trailing, that when he was going down with a tub an unusual amount of dust was coming up the brake. Shortly afterwards, William Robertson came and told them to come out as something was wrong. All the workmen in the district, 33 in number, assembled on the level and Hugh McAllister, the deputy, went through the ventilation doors out to the incline. When he returned, he informed the men that he had found it impossible to get out that was as there was smoke coming down the incline.

He then started to lead them out through the return and after walking a considerable distance the atmosphere became so hot that they were compelled to turn back. They reached their starting point in the No. 5 level and McAllister again tried to go through the doors to the incline and failed. Two workmen wrote the following message in chalk on the ventilation door:

Can not go any further. William O’Pray, J. Lucas.

At about 9.35 p.m. Weir suggested that if someone would come with him, he would try to get through the smoke up the incline. Kenmore volunteered and they both started through the smoke to found that they were impeded by debris that had been blown about on the roadway. They reached the friction gear and found a smouldering fire on the right-hand side and flames on the left-hand side. They went further up the incline and came into fresh air. They rested for a few seconds before attempting to return. They found that this was not possible and they decided to continue up the incline where they met Benn and Henry at about 10 p.m.

It was clear that the workmen at the bottom of the No.5 and presumably the No.6 District were all right at 9.35 p.m. when Weir and Kenmore left. There were 87 of these men. These two men passed the fire near the fiction gear at about 10 p.m. and at that time, with a fresh rescue team, the fire could have been put out with little difficulty.

Henry and Benn had left the bottom of the shaft at 7.45 p.m. and it would not have taken them long to be at the scene of the fire at 8.30 p.m. but they stated that they arrived at a point three to four hundred yards from the fire at nearly 10.30 p.m.

From this time a large number of workmen and officials arrived on the scene. Mr. Steel, the manager, Mr. Blair the assistant general manager, Mr. Hanlon, the miner’s agent, Mr. Mathers, the workmen’s delegate. It had been impossible to penetrate the smoke and steps were taken to try to divert its course by breaking through from the intake to the return airway which ran alongside the main incline all the way from the shaft. A bulkhead of brattice cloth was put up on the outbye side of the opening made to the return and the brattice continued down the incline, making the one half of it an intake and the other the return in the hope that the smoke would pass through the opening into the return. These methods met with some success for some time and they were able to go 140 yards from where they first encountered the smoke.

One of the overmen, Thomas Graham, was very dissatisfied with the method adopted and he suggested to the undermanager, Mr. James Henry, a better plan to reach the fire. He would shut off the main intake entirely at a point above the smoke and the passage to the return and then turn the whole of the ventilation to the south back dip and then along that road to the friction gear to deal with the fire. If that failed then they could go through the old workings to the south of the friction gear and get to the Nos. 5 and 6 districts where the workmen who had not been injured by the explosions were known to have been when Weir and Kenmore left them at 9.45 p.m. It appeared that the undermanager did not find Graham’s theory practicable and neither he nor Graham consulted the manager and other superior officials that were on the spot. The work was continued to try to get down the main incline until the arrival of H.M. Inspector of Mines, Mr. J.B. Atkinson who arrived between three and four o’clock and the 12th of May. He found that the heat had become very intense and fearing another explosion, the Inspector withdrew everyone from the pit. Before leaving Graham’s plan was considered and rejected as impracticable. Further consultation took place in the Colliery Offices at the surface and it was decided that nothing further could be done until safety appliances and rescue apparatus arrived at the colliery.

At 11 p.m. on the 12th May, Messrs. Thorne and Littlewood arrived at the colliery with their rescue appliances and were taken down the pit to the smoke but they were unable to penetrate it for only 80 yards. They were then withdrawn and a further consultation took place in the Offices. Mr. Atkinson, Abbott and Leek, H.M. Inspectors were present as were Mr. R.W. Moore, agent for Lord Lonsdale, Mr. R. Steel, manager, Mr. Turner, manager of the William Pit and other officials. It was decided that it was too dangerous to make further attempts to reach the entombed workmen and that air-tight stoppings should be put in the intake and return airways to shot off the ventilation from the fire. There was controversy as to whether Mr. John Hanlon, the Miners agent, was present at this meeting but Dr, Harris said that he went to the door of the office with Hanlon while the meeting was being held and they left together without taking any part in the meeting.

In accordance with the decision of the meeting, airtight brick stoppings were built on the 13th. May in the intake airway and a similar stopping was built in the return airway a few days later. The workings remained sealed until the end of September 1910. There were 51 workmen in the No.3 District, 26 in the No.5 District and 59 in the No.6 District entombed in the mine.

Before the date fixed for the re-opening of the mine, the Miners Federation of Great Britain arranged to meet all the workmen and their representatives at Whitehaven. Messrs. Andrew Sharp, Thomas Cape, John Hanlon, the Miners Agents, and the local committee together with the men who had been at work on the shift preceding the explosion, and Weir and Kenmore attended the meeting and gave their views of the colliery prior to the explosion.

The Miners Agents and the workmen expressed a strong desire to attend the re-opening of the colliery and accompany the exploring party to find out what had caused the explosion and fire and to find the reasons why the workmen in the Nos.5 and 6 Districts were not rescued. The mine was opened on the 29th. September at 9.30 a.m. and the Federation’s representatives and Messrs, J.B. Atkinson and Mr. A.H. Abbott, H.M. Inspectors of Mines, Mr. R. Steel and Mr. R.S. Blair, manager and assistant general manager, James Henry, undermanager, Mathers and Mulholland, workmen and others went down the incline in coal tubs to Benk’s Turn and from there continued on foot. Everything on the incline appeared to be in a normal condition down to the new fan site. The brattice that had been put up below the fan site to try to get to the fire on the days following the explosion had been taken down, the opening made to the return closed and the ventilation conducted down the incline in the usual manner.

A little distance from the fan site, the roof had fallen and after going over the top for some distance the party found that the way was completely blocked by a fall and the way to the friction gears was impassable. They went through an opening into the south back dip, about 200 yards up the incline from the friction gear. At the entrance to this opening, there was evidence of a very fierce fire and the coal on the side of the opening had been coked to a depth of about 18 inches. Following the south bank dip, they arrived at an opening from the incline to the friction gear and found that the roof had fallen at this point to a great height. In the opening between the incline and the south back dip, they discovered the first body, a workman who had been employed at the friction gear. There was evidence of a great explosion and a fierce fire.

Continuing down the south back dip, they crossed into the main incline below the friction gear and found that the fall that they had met before, extended a considerable distance below the friction gear. The effect of the violence of the explosion was also seen at this point. They then went inbye along the main incline and found with the exception of a small fall, no evidence that the explosion had reached anywhere near the entrance to the No.5 District. From this point onwards, they discovered the bodies of all the workmen who had been employed in the No.6 District. They all had evidently been making their way out and had been overcome by smoke or afterdamp or both.

Entering the No.5 District they discovered written on the ventilation door in chalk:

All well at 6.30. Hugh McAllister.

Passing through the first door about 50 yards further in on the level they came to a second door bearing the following inscription:

All well at 7.30. William Robertson.

Passing through the door they went along the No.5 level for some distance. They discovered a bunch of paper suspended from the signal wire by a piece of twine which had evidently been put there to attract the attention of anyone passing. While this was being examined one of the party fond the following chalked on a wooden sleeper:

All’s well in this airway at 4 o’clock, 35 men and boys. J. Moore.

On the left-hand side, going inwards, at this point was the airway that took the ventilation from the No.6 District to the No.5 District, about 25 yards in this airway from the level they party found 35 bodies who were uninjured by the explosion but, in the words of the report to the Miners Federation of Great Britain:

”had been the victims of appalling indifference and cruel neglect of any precautionary preparations at the colliery for dealing with the after effects of an explosion or fire. We have but to express the hope that this sad and bitter experience will infuse new energy into the movement by the Federation that at every colliery some workmen and officials shall be trained in rescue work, and the use of rescue appliances.”

Having found all the bodies of the men employed in the Nos. 5 and 6 Districts, the seat of the explosion was sought. It was either in the friction gear or in the no. 3 North District. It was impossible to get to the friction gate because of the large fall and it was several days before the No. 3 District was entered and all were agreed that this was where the explosion occurred. There were large falls, hundreds of yards in length which made the task of exploring the district very difficult and dangerous. The bodies of the men engaged on the haulage road were found at or near the place where they would have been employed and all of them were badly burned. Four workmen who had been working in the stone drift to the west of the No.3 level had apparently run from their working places and were discovered on the level, burned. Several attempts were made to reach the face of the workings but the party was driven back by gas and the last bodies were recovered with the help of electric lamps.

Those who died were:

Coal hewers:

  • Henry McCluskey, sen., married.
  • Henry McClusky jun., married.
  • George Smith, married.
  • John William Heslop, married.
  • William Bell, married.
  • Joseph Heslop, married.
  • Christopher Heslop, married
  • John Wren, married.
  • R. McCourt, married
  • James McCourt, married.
  • Tom McCourt, married.
  • James McMullen, married.
  • M. McCumiskey, married.
  • George Brannon, married.
  • Thm Brannon, married.
  • John Brannon, married.
  • Edward Butler, married.
  • William J. Kelly, married.
  • Joseph Reid, married.
  • Joseph Hutchinson, married.
  • Joseph Farrow, single.
  • James Roney, married.
  • Edward O’Fee, married.
  • Jacob Glaister, married.
  • A, Brocklebank, married.
  • Edward Nicholson, married.
  • James McGee, married.
  • William Henderson, married.
  • William Todhunter, married.
  • D. Branch, single.
  • James McGorry, married.
  • Thoms McGorry, married.
  • John McGorry, single.
  • William Benson, married.
  • Arthur Trainor, single.
  • James McBrain, married.
  • Alexander Gregg, married.
  • James Riley, single.
  • A. Corkhill, married.
  • Joseph Butler, Married.
  • Tom Reid, married.
  • John Joyce, married.
  • Tom Joyce, married.
  • Joseph Fidler, married.
  • John Connor, married.
  • Patrick Connor, married.
  • G. McCumisky, married.
  • Robert Weir, single.
  • William O’Pray, married.
  • John Lucas, married.
  • James Moore, married.
  • Henry Moore, married.
  • A. Finn, married.
  • W. Walker, married.
  • John Harrison, married.
  • Henry Harrison, married.
  • Jonathan Usher, married.
  • W.J. O’Hara, married.
  • John Armstrong, married.
  • George Armstrong, married.
  • Ralph Walker, married.
  • Henry Glaver, single.
  • W.J. Dunn, single.
  • Joseph Stevenson, married.
  • Fred Stevenson, Married.
  • Jos. Vaughan, married.
  • John Vaughan, married.
  • James Taggart, married.
  • Edward Taggart, single.
  • Robert Johnson, married.
  • Joseph McQuilliam, married.
  • Mark Fisher, married.
  • John Reid sen., married
  • Joseph Reid, married.
  • John Reid jun., married.
  • Peter Greenan, married.
  • William Benson, married.
  • Alexander Garroway, married.
  • John Garroway, married.
  • William Elliott, married.
  • John McAllister, married.
  • Tom Kenmore, married.
  • William Irving.

The shift hands:

  • Isaac Wren, joiner, married.
  • High McAllister, joiner, married.
  • George Ritson, joiner, married.
  • W.H. Robertson, joiner, married.
  • J.T. Wren, joiner, single.
  • A. Tinnion, shiftsman, single.
  • James McCormick, shiftsman, married.
  • William Walker sen., shiftsman, single.
  • James Connor, braker, married.
  • James McAllister, shiftsman, single.
  • George Ritson jun., lamp carrier, single.
  • Robert Cooper, rope splicer, married.
  • Tom McCourt, junction hand, single.
  • Thomas O’Neil, junction hand, married.
  • Jonathan Wright, junction hand, single.
  • J.D. Lucas, junction hand, single.
  • J. McAllister, shiftsman, single.
  • Edward Lynn, shiftsman, single.
  • R. Smith, shiftsman, single.
  • William Walker jun., shiftsman, single.
  • James Irving, shiftsman, single.
  • William Mitchell, brake hand, single.
  • James Taylor, bogie hand, single.
  • William Wilson, bogie hand, single.
  • James Ferryman, lockshop, single.
  • Henry McAllister, brake hand, single.
  • James Mason, shiftsman, single.
  • John Mullins, bogie hand, single.
  • James Smith, bogie hand, single.
  • John Davy, brake hand, single.
  • James McCormick jun. lamp carrier, single.
  • Thomas O’Hara, bogie hand, single.
  • Robert Carraway, lamp carrier, single.
  • Joseph O’Pray, bogie hand, single.
  • James Southern, bogie hand, single.
  • H. Rogan, lamp carrier, single.
  • A.D. McLaughlin, lamp carrier, single.
  • Matt Welsh, lamp carrier, single.
  • H. O’Pray, bogie hand, single.
  • George Boyd, bogie hand, single.
  • Richard Cooper, shiftsman, single.
  • Isaac Welsh, tail rope attendant, single.
  • Benjamin Cowie, overman, married.
  • Johnathan Wilson, bogie hand.
  • Edward Denvir, single.
  • Joseph Henry Walker, married.
  • M. Mulholland, married.
  • Edward Tonar, single.

The drifters:

  • Tom McAllister sen., married,
  • Edward McAllister, married and
  • John Anderson, married.

Seventy-four of the hewers were married man and 31 single, of the shiftsman 16 were married and 36 single.

The village of Kells was badly affected by the disaster, the following were residents of Kells:

  • John Hutchinson, married with eight children,
  • William Henderson, married with six children,
  • Hugh McAllister, married with eight children, most of whom were married,
  • Joseph Fidler, married with six children,
  • Robert McCourt, married with one child,
  • Thomas McCourt, married with one child,
  • James McCourt, married with five children, All the McCourts were brothers,
  • John Joyce, married with four children,
  • Joseph Reed, married with a grown up family,
  • Thomas O’Hara, single,
  • James Ferryman, single,
  • Joseph Farner, single.
  • Dan Branch, single, who was to have been married the following Monday.

The men who were taken out alive were:

  • John Weir sen, hewer,
  • George Kenmore, hewer,
  • Stephen Gregory, shiftsman
  • Joseph Walker, shiftsman,
  • Tom Douglas, shiftsma,
  • J. Ferryman, shiftsman.

The bodies were conveyed to the pithead and the representatives of the Miners Federation commented:

Never have we witnessed workmen employed in a more severe and trying task than was performed by these workmen in conveying the bodies over the falls and other impediments from the working places back to the shaft.

The examination of the pit took 23 days and the Federation called upon the services of Professor Galloway, a mining engineer from Cardiff who made a detailed inspection of the No. 3 District. Mr. R.A.S. Redmayne, H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines visited the workings as did all representatives in the interested parties.

The disaster had taken the lives of 147 men and boys and the inquest and inquiry under Section 45 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1887 was opened at the Town Hall, Whitehaven on the 15th November 1910 before Edward Atter, the coroner for West Cumberland. The inquiry lasted for eleven days and 45 witnesses were examined.

John Bramon, the lampman gave out the lamps to the men but if the lamp was not available then a spare lamp was given out. On this occasion, eight spare lamps were given out with put any record being made as to whom they were given. This omission did not help the proper identification of the bodies and the Federation stated that they were in favour of a complete record being held in a book at the surface. Professor Galloway gave extensive evidence of the evidence of his inspection as to the cause of the disaster.

The verdict of the inquest took the form of questions that were put to the jury by the Coroner and their replies:

1). Were the 131 bodies of the men and boys who are specified upon the attached list marked A, those of the workmen who went down the Wellington Pit, Whitehaven, on the last shift on the 11th May last, and which bodies have since been recovered and identified, and are now the subject of the inquest? The answer was “Yes”.

2). Were the three bodies which were respectively discovered in the Wellington Pit at Whitehaven, on September 29th and 30th and October 13th last, and have not since been identified, those of the workmen who were in the pit on the 11th May last, and subsequently died there?. The answer was “Yes”.

3). What was the cause of the death of those 134 bodies? The answer was, “An explosion or explosions”.

4). When did such an explosion or explosions take place? Answer, “May 11th, 1910”.

5). At what part of the pit did such an explosion or explosions take place? Answer, “No.3 North”.

6). Did all the deaths occur in the Wellington Pit and after the 11th May last, and prior to the 13th May last? Answer, “Yes”.

7). Was the closing of the pit on the 13th May last an expedient and rightful act? Answer “Yes”.

8). Could any, and if any what other means have been adopted when the occurrence had happened to get into the workings past the friction gear to recover the workmen who were in the pit? Answer, “None”.

9). Was or were there any person or persons in any way negligent or responsible for all or any of the deaths, and if any person or persons was or were so negligent or responsible, who was or were such person or persons and in what way was such negligence or responsibility occasioned? Answer, “None”.

10). If the deaths were occasioned by an explosion, was such attributable to non-observance of any statutory obligation? Answer, “No proof”.

11). Was due and sufficient care and all responsible precaution taken for the due safety of the workmen in the 3rd, 5th and 6th North districts, especially as regards preventing workmen from working in places where gas was the known to be present by maintaining the airways of intakes and returns in proper conditions and by keeping all the working places supplied with a quantity of air adequate to render them safe and proper to work in and to render harmless all noxious gasses? Answer, “Yes”.

12). Are there any recommendations to be made with respect to the future working of the Wellington Pit or other like coal pits? Answer, “Yes”.

The following recommendations were made:

1). That there should be a register properly kept of all the names of the workmen who descend the pit at the different shifts.

 2). That there should be a book kept specially and entries made in it containing records of the particulars such as the dates and times and when the names of the workmen and working places where withdrawals and by whose orders and for how long the withdrawals continued and the cause of the withdrawal and that the entries of all gas found should be recorded in the book.

 3). That there should be a report book for the statutory inspections of the pit workings report below ground and to be accessible for the inspection of the workmen.

 4). That the findings of gas in the working places by the officials should be more generally noted and reported in writing by them.

 5). That the ventilation of the mine be made more adequate.

 6). That a system of watering the main roadways by means of a spray by brought into operations

 7). That a special rule be made that no lighted lamps be allowed to be placed on the ground of the working place whilst the getting of coal is being proceeded with.

 8). That the workmen on being given their workings lamps should be supplied with a tally having the number upon it corresponding with that of the lamp.

 9). That the doors on the return airways should have special keys provided for the opening of the doors by the return side of the airway.

 10). That at every pit there should be a company of men trained for rescue and ambulance work with the necessary appliances.

 11). That a strict observance of the special rules by all workmen and officials should be enforced.


Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.


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