ALEXANDRA. Wigan, Lancashire. 4th. December, 1875.

Alexandra Colliery was owned by the Wigan Iron and Coal Company, Limited. The men were thrown from a descending cage when it collided with the ascending cage at the “meetings”. The pit was 250 yards deep and 19 feet in diameter. The winding engine had double 20-inch diameter cylinders and a 4-foot stroke which drove a drum of eight feet in diameter. The cages were six feet by four and a half feet long and three feet by seven and a half feet wide. Two trams were loaded and unloaded along the wide side of the cages which were well built and weighed about thirteen hundredweight each. There were two guide ropes per cage.

Ralph D. Grundy was the mechanical engineer at the colliery and had inspected the cages and headgear on the morning of the disaster and found all was in good order. The conducting rods, which were made of twisted steel, one inch in diameter and two rods per cage. Each rod had a weight of two tons fifteen hundredweight which were hung in the sump, three feet clear of the dib hole. There was a space of thirteen inches between the cages. James Prescott, the engineman, let the men down at the usual speed. Two of the men had never been down a pit before. All the men in the cage were employed by Mr. Holding, a contractor to build a brick arch at the mouthing of the Pemberton Four Foot seam. They started work at 6 a.m. and the accident happened at 10 30 a.m.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • Thomas Beach aged 34 years, chargeman, who left a wife and three children.
  • Charles Holden aged 26 years, metalman, married.
  • Joseph Smith aged 20 years, bricksetter’s apprentice.
  • Joshua Fairclough aged 19 years, bricksetter’s apprentice.
  • James Birchall aged 26 years, bricksetter, who left a wife and two children.
  • Patrick Nolan aged 25 years, labourer.
  • Patrick Murphy aged 22 years, labourer.

At the inquest, James Prescott said that he could not account for the accident. He thought the cages had been made to sway and so come into contact. Whether this was by accident or design, he could not say but he stated that the men were sober at the time.

William Sharrocks, machinery inspector said that the machinery was in good order and William Holden, the contractor, stated that he had no responsibilities for the machinery. Charles Gidlow Jackson, the manager of the colliery, told the court that he thought there were two men outside the cage. One had fallen out and struck the other ascending cage which caused it to sway and come into contact with the descending cage. The state of one of the bodies caused him to come to this conclusion.

The Coroner summed up and the jury brought in a verdict of “Accidental Death” and added that the Wigan Iron and Coal Company should take measures in preventing such an accident occurring again.


Mines Inspector Report, 1875. Mr. ???.
Colliery Guardian, 10th December, p.873, 17th December, p.922.

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

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