BOLD. St.Helens, Lancashire. 20th January, 1905.

The Bold Colliery was a few miles outside St. Helens and owned by the Collins Green Coal Co. This was one of those dangerous occurrences that follow miner’s lives and resulted in the deaths of five persons and thirteen others, mostly young people, who received injuries and they were all very shocked.

The day had not started well at the colliery. The morning was bleak and cloudy with a bitter east wind blowing. There had been an accident that morning when the rope got off the pulley while winding dirt and in consequence, the men were late in being lowered to their work. There was a big crowd of workmen at the pit head waiting to be lowered.

The day shift commenced at 6 a.m. and the men assembled at the mine and they went down to their work about 5.50 a.m. On the ninth cageful of men was being lowered when the accident occurred. The winding engines were in the charge of James Fowler, who had only been employed at the colliery about a month, and came from the Wigan district.

The cage, in which there were eighteen persons in the two decks went down the usual way, but it soon became evident to the occupants that something was wrong by the speed at which they were travelling. In the ordinary course of events, it would have stopped at the mouth of the Yard Mine which is about 500 yards from the surface. There was a platform made of balks of timber, but instead of stopping, the cage crashed into the platform and sped down the shaft until it was stopped by a stronger platform 30 yards further down.

This platform had been used in sinking operations which had recently been completed and fortunately been left in position, otherwise, the occupants of the cage would have gone into the dib hole containing 30 feet of water and been drowned. The impact of the cage with the scaffold was terrific and the state of the occupants of the cage pitiful. Their lamps had gone out and the dark added to the terrifying position.

Mr. G. Thompson, the manager of the colliery was on his way to the colliery at the very moment of the accident. He saw the lights on the pit brow go out and he knew something was amiss and hurried to the scene. He at once directed the operations to recover the men. One youth was found under the cage terribly mangled and it would seem that he had tried to jump clear of the cage and it had crushed him to death if he had not already been killed by the fall. Some of the other men were passed all human aid and these were remover to the Cock Face Inn at Bold pending an inquest.

Meanwhile, the news of the disaster was going around St. Helens and local Doctors Jackson and his assistant, Dr. Tough, Dr. Bates and Dr. Casey arrived at the colliery as the fourteen injured men were brought to the surface. All was done to relieve their suffering as was possible and they were taken by colliery ambulance and Dr. Bate’s car to the St. Helens Hospital where their injuries were attended to.

It was seen at once that a youth, John Mcavenny, was in a serious condition. He had a compound fracture of the skull and a fracture of the leg and other injuries. Every effort was made but he died about an hour later.

The following were killed:

  • John Mcavenny aged 14 years, of 14, Mercer Street, Burtonwood,
  • John McHenry aged 14 years, of Choral Cottages, Collins Green,
  • John Swift aged 24 years, of 69, Romford Street, Parr,
  • Thomas Rothwell aged 14 years, of 19, Fairclough Street, Burtonwood,
  • Evan Davies aged 19 years, of Francis Street, Sutton.

Those injured were:

  • Thomas Bradshaw aged 15 years of 5, Penny Lane, Collins Green, who had a fractured right thigh, damage to the right eye, and general bruising. He was also believed to be suffering from internal injuries and his condition was very serious,
  • William Rigby aged 17 years, of 18, Houghton Road Sutton. He had a severe scalp wound, a wound to the left leg, and general bruising,
  • Edward Rattigan aged 26 years, of 6, Moss Nook, Sutton. He had a serious cut over right eye and sprain of the right knee,
  • Aaron Grant aged 16 years, of Collins Green Villas. He had injuries to his back, severe bruising, and cuts about the head,
  • John Jarvis aged 17 years, of 117, Derbyshire Hill Road, Parr. He had bruises about the face and injuries to the back,
  • Edward Hughes aged 18 years, of Ashcroft Street, Parr. He had injuries to the back right eye and right knee,
  • Richard Murray aged 36 years, a married man of Four Court, Moss Street, Prescot. He suffered injuries to back general bruising and sprain of left leg,
  • Harry Eden aged 14 years, of 79, Derbyshire Hill Road, Parr. He had a scalp wound and general bruising,
  • Arthur Hardy aged 19 years, of 96, Houghton Road, Sutton. He suffered a cut over the right eye, damage to the left shoulder, and general bruising,
  • Frederick Pye aged 50 years, of 54, Brunswick Street, Derbyshire Hill, Parr. He had a dislocation of the left knee and general bruising,
  • John Eden aged 15 years, of 79, Derbyshire Hill Road. He had a fractured thigh, a severe cut over right eye and brushing,
  • James Rothwell aged 17 years, of 19, Fairclough Street, Burtonwood, had general bruising and sprain to the left leg,
  • David Rothwell. A married man, of 65, Judson Lane, Sutton had an injury to the back and right hip and general bruising.
  • Apart from the damage to the descending cage and the people in it, the engine house was also severely damaged. The ascending cage went up into the headgear and the Ormrod detaching hook held it. The winding rope then flew off and the top of the engine house was demolished, breaking beams. Everything tumbled into the engine house but the engine was not damaged. The damage to the shaft kept the four to five hundred men out of employment for some days until it was repaired.

Mr. Thompson and Mr. Fairclough, the managing director, Mr. Wall, consulting engineer and Mr. Hall, the Government Inspector all made a full inspection into the circumstances in which the accident happened. Mr. J. G. Thompson, the manager of the colliery for many years, was appalled to see what had happened and was very upset that such an appalling thing could have happened at the colliery. As to the cause of the accident he could only attribute it to forgetfulness on the part of the winder.

The news of the accident spread quickly and despite the cold, there was soon a gathering of people at the pit bank. Most of the men and boys lived in Parr and Sutton and there was great anxiety as to whether they were in the fatal cage.

James Rothwell, a youth aged 19 years was the brother of Thomas. There were many distressing scenes at the colliery. Only two of the injured were men, the others were boys and youths engaged in pony driving. Rothwell and Mcavenny attended the evening school conducted by Mr. Gawthorpe.

It was felt by the workforce that the accident could have had something to do with the hours that were worked by the engine winder. At the colliery, the winder worked thirteen hours on the night shift and eleven hours on the day shift. In Staffordshire, eight-hour shifts were worked which was considered enough for men engaged in such responsible work.

At the Bold colliery, the night shift winder would go on at 5 p.m. on Sunday night and work until 6 a.m. on Monday morning. This accident happened a few minutes before the end of the shift. The workmen were alarmed that a box had been “pulled” and driven up into the headgear that morning and it was thought that this might have affected the engine man’s nerves. It was thought that the winder was not accustomed to take sole charge of the winding but that he had always had another man with him. The colliers certainly have a strong opinion that there should be two men.

Some of the men feared an accident that morning. When the first accident occurred they waited on the landing to see how the next cage would come down. A comment is also made of the fact that there were eighteen men in the cage when sixteen was the recognized number but as some were boys this was usual when there was a rush of men to go down.

The men who were waiting on the pit bank waiting to go down were terribly affected by the accident. When the gage reached the bottom the men were heard screaming and shouting as everyone knew, as experienced colliers always do know, that the descent of the cage was out of hand. Some of the men fled from the shaft and there were pitiful scenes. One man had a relation in the cage and ran home and never looked back. The accident took place in the No.3 pit which is one of the deepest in Lancashire there are only two others that are deeper one being at the Rose Bridge Mine in Wigan.

The gearing was thrown out of order by the accident and the men were brought up out of the No.2 pit. All the men at the colliery stopped work and no others went down. Much credit was given to the medical men who gave prompt assistance at the scene. Dr. Jackson who lived the furthest away at Cowley Hill was the first on the scene within an hour.

The inquest was held at the Clock Face Inn under the County Coroner Mr. S. Brighouse. The roads were frozen and covered with snow and getting to the inquest was a matter of difficulty. Proceedings took place in a quaint low room hung with flitches of bacon and other victuals and no less than twelve old guns of various descriptions.

The colliery was represented by Mr. Peace and Mr. J.G. Thompson the general manager. Mr. Pennington Riley appeared for the relatives. The Coroner asked Sergeant Turner the Police Officer, where the winder was and he said that he did not know. He had been warned to attend but he could not be found. His name was James Fowler and the Coroner said that it very important that he be there. His address was given as 2, Brunswick Road, Earlestown but he had not been seen since the accident.

Evidence of identification of the victims was heard and John Swift of 69, Romford Street, Parr, identified son John, Caroline Williams her cousin Evan Davies, Isaac Rothwell of Fairclough Street, Burtonwood his son Thomas, Patrick McHenry of Coral Terrace, Collins Green, John McHenry and John Mcavenny of 83, Mercer Street, Burtonwood his son. Miss Olds of the St. Helens Hospital said the Mcavenny was admitted at 7.30 a.m. and died at 9 a.m.

At this point there was adjournment and the inquiry continued at St. Helens Town Hall on Friday 27th at 9.30 a.m. The proceedings resumed with a statement of sympathy from Mr. Peace of behalf of the Company.

The funeral of John McHenry of Collins Green took place at Burtonwood cemetery on the same day. The Reverend Davies conducted the ceremony at the graveside and blinds were drawn at every window where the funeral passed. The procession was seen from near the Council Schools where the pupils were assembled by Mr. Gawthorpe, on each side of the road with bare heads. Father Ainscough delivered a short address at the graveside. Davies and Swift were buried on Friday at St. Helens and Rothwell and John Mcavenny were buried at Burtonwood cemetery.

James Fowler, the engine winder of 2, Brunswick Street, Earlestown, gave his evidence to the inquiry. He had been engaged as a winder for sixteen months by the Collins Green Company since last February. He had previously been at the Moss Hall Colliery, Wigan for thirty years during which time he had been winding fourteen or fifteen years. There were double engines at all the pits and he had replaced a man named Cook but did not know why he had taken his place.

He “pulled” the first time on the day of the accident when six empty and six full boxes were being wound. He ran the cage to the bottom of the top deck below the landing-place, about half a yard, and then stopped and had to go back again. Thinking he gave it steam and the cage went up. The damage was repaired about 5.25 a.m. when the men were assembling to go down. There was a standard indicator on the engine and he had not previously been used to working without a dial.

When the accident happened, he shut the steam to quarter way and then shut the steam off and allowed it to run halfway. He then put the reversing lever on. Realising that she was running quickly, he put “steam against her but still she ran” and the impact occurred.

The Coroner asked that when he thought it was running too quickly he lost his head and gave it some steam instead of shutting it off and the witness replied that he did not. Mr. Brighouse said that the engine had been examined and nothing was found to be wrong with it. The very best men make mistakes that does not make them unreliable, “Do you think that you unwittingly put on steam?” he asked. “I can not account for the engine running away. I did my best to stop the engine,” replied Fowler.

In reply to Mr. Henry Hall, the Inspector, the witness stated that he came to work at about 9.10 p.m. and had been at work on Sunday until 1 p.m. He found the reversing of the engine difficult and the brake was of the type very much used in Lancashire and acted on both sides of the drum. He had seen this type of indicator many a time. It was rather an old-fashioned one and he did not make any complaints about the indicator. He was asked if he had had any mishaps while at Moss hall and the Coroner said that they had better clear this up now as there were all sorts of rumours going around as Fowler was involved in an incident at that colliery.

In reply to a question about the brake on the engine, Mr. Glover, the Miner’s Agent, said that the brake would not hold the cage and it would not stop the cage when it was going at full speed unless the steam was reversed. Fowler was asked if he had possibly made a mistake. He said that when he “pulled” earlier in the shift he had smashed the brake.

Llewellyn Spurling had stated that he had let men down. He felt the engine go quicker and he tried to pull it back and the engines did not pull up and it did not seem to have any effect at all. The Coroner said that if this statement was correct then it would stop us going further. If you did through forgetfulness then why don’t you say? “I am telling the truth. Sir”, said Fowler.

Spurling said that he had been an engine winder at Collins Green for eighteen years and in charge of engines for thirteen years and he had never found any defects in this winding engine and had never noticed that the brake was inefficient. He thought it was quite capable of holding the cage.

Fowler said that Spurling had said that the brake was “not fit for snuff”. He told him that he should work the reverser and the foot brake and nit to trust to the foot brake with engines of this kind. Spurling had once “pullied” but that was two years ago and he had instructed Fowler. The latter was on the night shift. The question of the brake was questionable since the cage had gone 140 yards beyond where it ought to have stopped.

The Winding Society had campaigned for compulsory steam brakes to be fitted to all engines. Thomas Cook, a farmer of Burtonwood, and former winder at the colliery said that he had had ten years experience with this kind of engine. His explanation was that as they were going down, Fowler had tried to reverse the engine, which was difficult, and failed to do so.

Mr. John West, the engineer at the colliery, and a joiner by trade said that he was in the engine house when the accident occurred. He could not say that Fowler reversed the engine. The first thing that he knew was a tapping on the engine house and he shouted at Fowler, “For God’s sake shut the steam off”. The brake, in its day, was thought to be the best kind but now there were better brakes on the market.

Obidiah Harrison underground manager of the No. 2 pit stated that at about 5.40 a.m. a man came to him and told him that the cage had gone down. He went to the bottom and found that three boys there, two of them dead and the other injured. He found the others and held them until assistance came; for fear that they should fall further. They were all seriously injured but the boy found under the cage was dead.

Mr. Edward Burleigh, a mechanical consulting engineer, of Manchester, was called by Mr. Wilson to report on the results of the tests he had made in the colliery and described the brake as “inadequate”. He said he would not care to be let down the shaft relying on that brake. He also said that the engine was difficult to get into reverse gear since it tended to stick in the middle.

Mr. Hall had inspected the machinery and he found no fault with the indicator but when using big engines in this way he thought that there should be a steam brake. He thought that the Colliery might do something in future.

The Coroner surmised that the calamity was due to either to the negligence of the winder or the inadequacy of the machinery or both. The record of the colliery was favourable since there had been no accidents for a long time with the winders but in his opinion, Fowler was trying to overtake the work that had built up from the previous accident. He had every sympathy with the man and every engine winder in Lancashire was always one moment of forgetfulness that could cause an accident.

The jury brought in a verdict of “accidental death” and added a rider that steam brakes should be used in future in such large engines. They did not attach any blame to the engine winder.

Following the disaster, there were claims for compensation under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. Dr. A.P. Thomas, the Deputy Judge at the St. Helens Court dealt with the claims under the Act.

Patrick McHenry of 12, Choral Terrace, Collins Green claimed £150 for the loss of his son. John Mcavenny made a similar claim for the loss of his son John and Isaac Rothwell of 19 Fairclough Street claimed for his son Thomas.

The first case was on behalf of Thomas Rothwell the only question was to what extent the parents were dependant on him. They were paid £20-8s by the Court. At the time of the accident, the family consisted of ten persons and the calculated income for the house was 32/7d per week and divided by then this gave 3/3d per head taking 3/3d from 7/7d the deceased owed his parents what was left 4/4d and to that extent the father and mother were dependent on him. This worked out over 156 weeks at the sum of £3-10s which was claimed.

All the claims with respect to the accident had been dealt with the exception of these and the Company said that they would pay the claim since a few pounds did not make much difference to the Company.

Mr. Smith heard that funeral expenses could not be allowed as these had not fallen upon the relatives. The first case he awarded £23-4s and the second £25 and costs were made £19-3s, which was similar to those of the first claim.


Colliery Guardian, 20th January 1905, p.123.
Prescot Reporter.
Wigan Examiner.

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

Return to previous page