MURTON. Murton, Durham. 26th. June, 1942.

The Murton Colliery was very extensive and had been mined for about one hundred years prior to the explosion. It was in the heart of the Durham coalfield seven miles north east of Durham City and six miles south of Sunderland. It had three winding shafts, the East, Middle and West shafts. It was owned by the South Hetton Coal Company Limited with Mr. G. Raw as the agent and Mr. W.O. Blenkinsopp as the manager, Mr. J. Grogan as undermanager in charge of the Main Coal Landing from which the Main Coal and Five Quarter seams and the Polka area of the Low Main seam were wound. There were two undermanagers in charge of the upper and lower landings. The mine employed nearly 2,000 persons underground and 452 were at work at the time of the explosion with 270 in the Main Coal Landing. The mine was worked throughout by safety lamps.

The explosion occurred in the back-over Flat district of the Five Quarter seam which was reached by stone drift driven through a large drop fault from the Main Coal, which lay 26 fathoms below and 204 fathoms deep at the shafts. The seam was 4 feet 9 inches thick in this Flat and was interposed by two thin bands of dirt with a laminated sandstone roof containing thin beds of shale. The coal was a fairly hard stem coal and had to be won by the use of explosives.

The Back-over Flat was a working area that was being driven back towards the shafts from the 1st. East Main Plane for the purpose of providing a main return airway for anew development in the seam to the south and a new return airway to cut out a long and tortuous return which was serving the Five Quarter seam and also to provide a travelling way for the men so that they did not have to travel on a main engine plane where high speed main and tail haulage was in operation. The final stage of this development had been reached at the time of the explosion. The companion stone drift rising 1 in 6 southwards was being made and the winnings, Fore, Middle and Back Drifts rising o the full gradient of the seam 1 in 23 had reached the point where the drivage to the shafts would be made.

The Flat had its own ventilation split and the most remote working was three and a half miles from the shaft and since it was near a small district, the ventilation was heavily regulated. The last measured quantity of air passing from the first working place was 5,670 cubic feet per minute. The seam in the Flat was cut by arc wall machines operated by compressed air with a jib length of six feet. The working places were normally 16 feet wide and the “cut” was made in the coal 21 inches from the floor level.

Shot holes were bored by compressed air machines to a depth of 5 feet, three being placed systematically in the top coal and three in the bottom coal. The usual charge was 7 ounces of explosive in the centre and 6 ounces in the side holes. The explosive used was Minex and an approved type H.T. single shot exploder was provided for coal shots and a multi-shot exploder for firing volleys of shots in the stone drift. Sand and clay mixture was provided for stemming and home-ground shale dust for use on the roadways and for shot firing.

Gray-Sussman electric hand lamps, with a proportion of schedule B oil lamps as gas detectors, were in use in this flat or district and the deputies were provided with Edison Model J cap lamps and Wolf re-lighter oil lamps.

In common with the practice in County Durham, four coal shifts were worked daily with a deputy in charge of each shift in each flat. In the Back-over Flat, the deputies fired all the shots in the flat, including the stone drift. They had ample time to do this work and attend to any necessary bratticing and generally carry out their statutory duties in a proper manner.

The explosion 8 p.m. on Friday 26th June 1942, during the fifth hour of the Third Shift and it was confined to the face area of the Back-over Flat. there were 15 persons inbye at the time and all were killed except a putter, G.K. Smith who was at the inbye end of the landing and the landing lad, S. Abbott. Smith had a very lucky escape as he arrived at the landing just as the explosion occurred. He heard Abbott calling from the outer end of the landing and Smith with great presence of mind, carried the badly burned and cut lad out to safety, although when was himself suffering from the effects of shock, he was able to inform the manager of what had occurred and enabled him to be quickly on the scene and to take prompt action in rescue and recovery operations and to make the necessary arrangements for medical and ambulance services to go to the mine. Smith was later awarded a certificate and £15 from the Trustees of the Carnegie Hero Fund. The third injured person was T.R. Daglish who was employed at the outer end of the district and was found to be suffering from the effects of shock.

The thirteen victims were at work just before the explosion. Two stonemen and a stone putter were in the stone drift and a putter at the bottom caunch of the Middle Drift, two fillers and the deputy in the Back Drift, two cuttermen in the No.1 Wall and two fillers in the No.2 Wall.

There were clear indications that the force of the explosion emanated from the Back Drift. One wave swept along the No.1 stenton and died out towards the face of the Middle and Fore Drifts. Another swept straight down the return airway where the explosion appeared to have gathered force from coal dust in the old dead-end walls and stentons outbye. The force was sufficient to blow out the nine-inch brick stoppings in the Nos. 5 and 6 Old Stentons before dying out. The flame had evidently travelled along these stentons to the Middle Drift and severely burned the landing boy Abbott. There was no evidence of force and little indication of burning on the Middle Drift but the door of the off-takes cabin on the main engine plane 1,100 yards outbye were blown open.

The explosion seemed to have started as a firedamp explosion in the Back drift and developed into one of coal dust which was eventually stopped by the stone dust on the inbye roads. Carbon monoxide poisoning was the main cause of death of all the victims apart from the filler G. Emery and three other men found under falls of the roof on No.1 stenton and at the turn of the No.2 Wall. Both the deputy’s hands were burned and several of the victims were found away from their places of work, indicating that they had some warning of the disaster before they were overcome by the afterdamp. It was also evident that the two fillers, Lashley and Garrett had returned beforehand from the Back Drift to the No.1 Stenton.

The Hougton-le-Spring rescue team arrived at the colliery at 11 minutes after receiving the call and they were quickly followed by the teams from Elswick and Crook Central Stations. These teams did excellent work in attending the injured men and others affected by the rescue work. The ventilation was quickly restored and 10 of the bodies recovered by 11 p.m. The bodies of the three other men were under the falls and these were eventually recovered about 4 a.m. the following day. Abbott was sent to the hospital and recovered from extensive burns and shock and C.K. Smith was also a survivor.

The men who died were:

  • T. Davison,
  • W. Walton,
  • F. Andrews,
  • W. Cook,
  • E.B. Elliott,
  • W. White,
  • G. Jeffries,
  • J. Terry,
  • G. Emery, a filler,
  • J. Garrett, a filler,
  • A. Lashley, a filler,
  • F. Grimes,
  • W. Scott,
  • T. Daglish, brakeman,
  • I. Worth, a deputy.

The inquest was held by Mr. T.V. Deveny, H.M. Coroner for the area who sat with a jury of seven men and occupied two days. The jury came to the following conclusion:

That the men met their deaths by an explosion of firedamp and the firedamp exploded because of the simultaneous firing of shots by the deputy.

It was generally agreed that the explosion occurred in the Back drift and that is was brought about by the firing of shots at the coal face. When Smith left this place a few minutes before the disaster the face was cut and the gummings clear ready for shotfiring. The six shotholes had been bored during the previous shift. Smith had reached the landing and after a short conversation with Abbott was sitting down when he heard a thud and then felt a rush of air from inbye followed by smoke and dust. He though a compressed air pipe had burst until he heard Abbott crying for help.

When it was possible to examine the Back Drift at 12 midnight, the body of Worth, the deputy was found 12 yards from the face and on the left side opposite him was a multi-shot exploder with the firing cable leads still attached. The coal face had been shot down and pieces of detonator wire were lying about that confirmed the first impression that shots had been fired simultaneously by this deputy from the position in which he was found.

There was, at the time, a two per cent firedamp content in the air where the deputy lay which rapidly increased towards the face. The side brattice had been completely burnt away and the place was not being ventilated but 36 hours after it was possible to proceed only seven yards up the drift because of the gas. Deputy J. Dent had been in charge of the shift because of the absence of the First Shift deputy and had had trouble with gas in the Drift during this shift and he had allowed the fillers to work there for a time and the arc-wall cuttermen had afterwards cut and bored the face. Towards the end of the second shift, he found another fouled place and applied the “hogger” which was the flexible compressed air pipe from the arc-wall machine, to remove the gas but the place quickly fouled again and about 4 p.m. He fenced off the place and handed over to the Third Shift deputy J, Worth and told him to be very careful in the place. Worth’s gas detector safety lamp was found under a fall in the No.1 stenton and it could only be concluded that he had decided to fire all six shots together without first examining for gas.

The inquiry came to the following conclusions:

It seemed clear that the igniting source was an incentive spark created by the exploder while the shots were actually being fired by Deputy Worth in an atmosphere containing an inflammable mixture of firedamp in the air. The burning of the timber some distance from the face of the Back Drift suggests that a rich mixture was ignited in the neighbourhood of the exploder, rather than at the face itself and the faulty connection of one of the cable leads with one of the terminals of the exploder would be sufficient to bring about at the exploder a spark of sufficient incendivity, apart from the sparking inside the exploder.

Mr. Yates went on to recommended that work on the development of a multi-shot exploder should be pressed as a matter of urgency and the taking of an unapproved exploder in any part of a mine where safety lamps were required should be discontinued at once. There were also recommendations about coal dust n mines. Dr. F.V. Tideswell of the Safety in Mines Research Board made an examination of the affected area and reported as follows:

The initial gas explosion would push out a cloud of coal-rich dust from the Back Drift and ignite it. The blast would also raise clouds of coal-rich dust in the walls and stentons. These clouds would assist the propagation of the explosion along the Back Drift in two ways (1) by being sucked into the dust cloud a head of the main flame by the series of pressure pulses commonly present in dust explosions (2) by igniting within the wall or stenton and providing and additional impulse behind the main flame. There was no evidence that the flame of the explosion had extended partway into each wall and stenton.

The propagation of flame was checked about 250 yards from the face by increasing dilution of the cloud with incombustible dust from the roadway, assisted by the release of pressure behind the flame provided by some of the open workings and the bursting of the stenton stoppings. Only minor projections of flame or of hot products of combustion seem to have reached the middle road and no propagation of the explosion occurred on this road, presumably because of its high content of stone dust.

No signs were seen that the stone dust everywhere had failed to rise and play its part in checking the explosion.

It seemed evident that steps should be taken to deal with danger from coal dust in disused roadways and the Inspector recommended that all dry and dusty roadways should be sealed off or two or more multi-shelf dust barriers be constricted and the position reviewed at such intervals as may be necessary to maintain the dust in an effective condition.


The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred on the 26th June 1942 at Murton Colliery, Durham, by R. Yates, D.S.O., M.C., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 12th February 1943, p.186.

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

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