ASTLEY GREEN, Tyldesley, Lancashire, 7th. June, 1939.

Astley Green Colliery belonged to the Manchester Collieries Ltd., and five men lost their lives in the Crombuke Mine, No.2. It was one of the worst mining disasters to have taken place in the last fifty years.

There had been a gob fire in the mine at about 2 o’clock in the morning and Mr. J.H. Hewitt, the manager had been summoned to superintend the outbreak. There were rumours in the village that there was something wrong at the pit but the initial statement aid that the men had been withdrawn and there were no injuries. A man who worked in the affected working place said that the fire had been localised by stone dust and the men had been withdrawn as a precaution and he thought it would be safe for the morning shift. Later it was learned that the explosion occurred.

By 2.00 p.m. in the afternoon a chalked notice at the pit entrance, “No Afternoon Shift” was the first indication that something was seriously wrong. While fighting the fire it was reported that an explosion had taken place and had trapped the men about a mile and a half from the pit bottom. Messages were sent to the Lancashire and Cheshire Mines Rescue Station at Boothstown and two teams rushed to the pit.

Hundreds of tons of sand and bricks were sent down the shaft and a message sent to Tyldesley Ambulance Station of supplies of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Gallant efforts were by the teams to get the trapped man out and they fought their way to where three men lay apparently dead. Almost immediately three more explosions occurred in rapid succession which drove the rescuers back. Throughout the afternoon the parties worked in relays and the anxious crowd at the gate knew something serious had happened when Mr. D.C. Smith, agent for the colliery went down the pit and later the Inspector of Mines. Mr. Coatesworth and T.J. Brown, the miners’ agent went down the pit.

The managing director, Mr. J.T. Browne made the following statement:

The Manchester Collieries Ltd., deeply regret to report that a series of slight explosions in the Crombuke Mines of the Astley pits, five men have lost their lives and others are injured though only one seriously. All the men have been got out of the pit. After consultation with H.M. Inspector of Mines and the miners’ agent, it was decided, in order to avoid further loss of life to seal the district affected.

John Skuse told of the incidents which followed the first explosion:

I was working in the `Ram’s mine which is on a level higher than the Crombuke, when a firedamp came rushing to us shouting, “Come on lads, there has been an explosion and we have to get the fellows out”. I raced after him with other men and we had to go a long way before we got to the scene of the disaster. When I got there it was very hot and there was smoke hanging about. I found Mr. Middleton on the verge of collapse, struggling to pull Frank Morris along with him. We carried Middleton and Morris away on stretchers and Mr. Middleton told us that Bill Smith was further along, but we were advised not to go for him as there was too much gas, but three men went forward. They were George Morgan, William Hulme, and Richard Sutton. Hulme was in an exhausted condition when brought to the surface and sent home in the Ambulance. I think Mr. Middleton’s effort was the bravest thing a man could do, He was in no state to walk himself and he helped others.

Despite his injuries, Mr. Middleton had dragged Morris for nearly 200 yards and at one stage he stopped to release air from a pipe to revive him.

John Wilding one of the rescue men said he travelled 150 yards down the roadway to where William Smith was found with injuries to his head. They took Smith to the pit bottom. He went on to say:

I was working 300 yards from the place where the explosion is supposed to have taken place but I never heard a report.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • John H. Hewitt aged 36 years married, manager.
  • John Griffiths aged 45 years, married, underlooker.
  • Joseph Keegan aged 38 years, married, fireman.
  • Eli Smith aged 46 years, married, collier and
  • William Warhurst aged 36, married, collier.

Those who were injured:

  • William Middleton aged 35, undermanager.
  • Lewis Jones, collier.
  • John Laughlan, underlooker.
  • Frank Morris
  • William Smith.

By the following Thursday, the affected area was sealed and further inspections were planed when the colliery re-opened.

The Vicar of Astley arranged a simple memorial service at the pithead.


News Chronicle.
Leigh and Tyldesley Journal

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

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