BICKERSHAW. Leigh, Lancashire. 10th. October, 1932.

Bickershaw Colliery was the property of Ackers Whitley and Company and was in Bickershaw village a few miles from Leigh. On Monday 10th October when the cage containing the first load of day shift workers was being lowered down the No.3 shaft, an overwind took place and nineteen of the twenty men in the cage were drowned in the sump.

The No.3 shaft was 18 feet in diameter ad 700 yards deep. There was an inset to the Wigan Six Feet Seam at 638 yards. The centres of the pulleys in the headgear were 50 feet 3 inches above the landing plates and the top of the detaching hook bell was 42 feet 2 inches above the keps which were four and a half inches below the landing plates. The cage conductors, four for each cage, were suspended from girders in the headgear and kept taut by weights 50 feet below the Wigan Six Feet inset. Thirty-six feet below this inset, there was a strong scaffold of planks, resting on beams, on which any debris from the shaft collected. Five feet three inches below the inset, which was the height of the bottom deck of the cage, there was a landing platform constructed of very strong beams running parallel with the cages, on which were laid two eight-inch by seven-inch wooden beams on which the cage rested.

Any water made in the No.3 or No.4 shaft, which also went down to the Wigan Six Feet Seam, was collected in the sump of the No.3 shaft and at infrequent intervals, was raised to the surface in tanks suspended under the cages. When the water tanks were not in use, they were suspended in the sump on light girders resting on the same bearers as carried by the landing beams. On the day of the disaster, the level of the water in the sump was 14 feet below the inset and the water tanks and the suspension weights were underwater.

The winding engines were a pair of horizontal cylinders, 36 inches in diameter with a stroke of 84 inches, which were directly coupled to a drum 18 feet 6 inches in diameter. The brake paths, one on each side of the drum, were 19 feet 3 inches in diameter. There were slide valves operated by link motion from the drum shaft. There were four post brakes, eight feet long and five feet wide which were operated either by hand or by steam. When they were operated by steam, the brakes were held in the off position by steam pressure on a 10-inch diameter piston. When the steam was cut off, a weight of 915 pounds at a leverage of 88 to 1, actuated the brake.

The steam for this and other large engines was drawn from a receiver placed at the level between the boilers and the engines and a pressure of 75 pounds per square inch was used. The ropes were 1.5 inches in diameter and weighed 96 hundredweight when they were new. The detaching hooks were of the Ormerod type.

The cage had two decks but men were raised and lowered only in the top deck. The maximum number of people allowed in the cage at one time was 20. The cage gates were telescopic and on being raised, were held up by hooks. Each cage was provided with eight chains, four in tension and four slack.

The automatic device to prevent overwinding was the “Visor” and was made by Messrs. John Wood and Sons of Wigan. Before the accident, it was set so that if the speed at three selected points in the wind was excessive, steam would be cut off and the brake applied, after which the drum would be brought to rest within two revolutions. These control points corresponded with the cage being at 200, 130 and 100 yards from the surface landing plates. There was further protecting trip, mainly as a guard against the engines being run in the wrong direction, which operated when the cage was raised three feet above the landing plates.

The Mechanical Engineer at the colliery had said in a report to A.D. Nicholson, H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines, that there had been other overwinds at the colliery and more sensitive controls had been installed.

On the day of the accident, the dayshift winding engineman arrived to take over the engine from the night engineman at 5.45 a.m. and found several persons in the engine house who had no right to be there. There was a general discussion about football and some discussion between the enginemen with regard to the engines. At 5.55 a.m., the buzzer sounded and the banksman signalled that he was ready to descend. The cage attached to the overlap rope was within sight of the banksman and was brought to the surface. After the necessary signals had been given, the cage loaded with 20 men was lowered.

Shortly after there was a crash and the capel of the underlap rope was seen by these in the engine room to be hanging through a hole it had made in the roof. It was then seen that the cage, which had been detached by the Ormerod hook, was hanging in the headgear and that the “Visor” control had functioned, cutting off the steam and applying the brake.

The day engineman said he shut off the steam at about half shaft, run on to within two revolutions of the end of the wind, just touching the brake with his foot lever, and then thrown over his reversing lever. On finding the engines did not retard, he used the steam brake, but without result and the overwind took place. They suggested that the condensing water in the winding engine cylinders and the steam brake cylinder prevented him from having proper control.

The engineer said that when he arrived at the engine house, the reversing lever was in the running position for the underlap rope, and this accounted for the overwind. No steps had been taken up to the time of his arrival to reset the “Visor” controller but as he arrived the signal was given from the Wigan Six Feet inset for the cage to be raised. The controller was then reset, this operation took about one minute, and the cage raised. This would have been 10 to 15 minutes after the overwind had taken place.

Only one man in the descending cage escaped. He said that after the cage got to the “meetings”, it was suddenly checked and then, followed by half a dozen jerks, they seemed to be in the water in a flash. He was the last man to enter the cage so that he was near one gate, which he managed to lift and get out. He rose to the surface of the water and held on to one of the conductors until he was rescued.

The onsetter said that after the cage left the inset to ascend the shaft he heard unusual noises and saw the conductors jerking about. The descending cage passed the inset at a tremendous speed, throwing the skeleton gate violently back on its hinges with a gust of air. He heard cries from the shaft and on looking down, saw a face in the water. He thought the winding rope had broken and devoted all his attention to getting the man out of the sump.

The night shift men were approaching the pit bottom at the time of the disaster and with their aid and a length of rope, and then a ladder, the man was got onto the landing plates. In the meantime, telephone calls and signals from the surface had been ignored. When he got the man out the onsetter saw that the rope was not broken but was slack and had lined up with the conductors. He answered the telephone and called for the cage to be raised. This was done and the 19 bodies were removed. All had died from asphyxia after being immersed in water.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • James Baines aged 47 years, fireman, married with five children, of 9, Common Lane, Leigh.
  • Daniel Hogan aged 48 years married with one child of 87, Nel Pan Lane, Leigh.
  • Joseph Thomas Waters aged 31 years, married of 23, Canaan, Lowton, Leigh.
  • Griffith McDonald aged 46 years, married of 5, Howard Street, Plank Lane, Abram.
  • Thomas Shepherd aged 20 years, haulage hand of 357, St Helens Road, Leigh.
  • Charles Lowe aged 50 years, single of 20, Plank Lane, Leigh.
  • Walter Lowe aged 44 years, single of 20, Plank Lane, Leigh., brother of Charles.
  • Henry Felthouse aged 64 years, dataller, married of Langdale Street, Leigh.
  • Thomas Walle, aged 40 years, married with eight children of Cowper Street, Leigh.
  • Robert Jones aged 40 years, .married of 57 Plank Lane, Leigh.
  • Richard Briscoe aged 51 years, married of 19, Walthew Lane, Platt Bridge, Wigan.
  • William Dawber aged 34 years, married of 2, Leonard Street, Plank Lane, Leigh.
  • Thomas Jackson aged 41 years, married, 2, Nevison Street, Leigh.
  • Michael Carroll aged 41 years, married of 14 St. Helens Road, Leigh.
  • Samuel Derbyshire, fireman, married of 95, Smallbrook Lane, Leigh.
  • William Talbot aged 45 years, single of 40, Talbot Road, Plank Lane, Leigh.
  • Walter Nelson, aged 30 years, married of 212, Firs Lane, Leigh.

The only miner to survive this accident was James Sharpe, age 47 years, who suffered broken bones and head injuries. He lived with disabilities for the rest of his life.

The inquest was opened on the 11th of October for the purpose of the identification of the bodies by Deputy Coroner, Mr. R.H. Barlow. The proceedings to determine the cause of the disaster were held on the 20th, 21st, and 24th of October.

After the disaster, it was found that the cage had cut through two eight-inch by seven-inch beams and bent the light girders carrying the water tank and came to rest on the platform protecting the weights. The two and a half inch shackle pin on the underside of the detaching hook of the top cage was slightly bent and one of the bridle chains was broken. Two of the hangers from the cage bottom were slightly bent.

The coroner heard all the evidence and summed up to the jury who returned the verdict the cage got out of control and went into the sump so drowning the men. The jury did not find that the engine was faulty but the wrong lever had been applied and that the cage had passed the point at which the “Visor” was set. They recommend that water in the sump should be kept at a reasonable level. The source of the accident was an error of judgement by the engineman Hitchen.

As a result, the “Visor” controller at the colliery was immediately altered and 16 points were provided in the last 90 yards of the wind. The accident caused great anxiety to all users of winding engines in Lancashire.


Mines Inspectors Report.
Colliery Guardian, 14th October 1932, p.729, 28th October, p.831, 5th May 1933, p.823, 12th May, p.899.

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

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