CHANTERS. Atherton, Lancashire. 6th. March, 1957.

Chanters Colliery was at Atherton about 10 miles to the west of Manchester. The downcast shaft was No.1 and 14 feet in diameter. It was sunk in 1850 and deepened to the Arley seam at 600 yards in 1901. The upcast No.2 shaft was 16 feet in diameter and sunk to the Rams seam in 1876 and was finally deepened to the Arley in 1902. The mine had been extensively worked and most of the best seams had been extracted. At the time of the disaster the Five Quarters, Victoria, Haigh Yard, and Plodder seams were being worked. The Haigh Yard and the Plodder were wound at No.1 shaft from 489 yards which was approximately the level of the Haigh Yard seam whilst the Five Quarters and Victoria were raised in a skip plant at No.2 shaft from 435 yards which was an intermediate level between the Victoria and Plodder seams. The average daily saleable output of the mine was 1,879 tons of which 75 tons came from the Plodder seam and it was in this seam that the explosion occurred. The total number of people working in the mine was 1,318 of whom 1,043 worked underground.

The National Coal Board owned the colliery and Mr. G.F. Hiller was the manager with two undermanagers, Mr. J. Haslam for the No.1 pit workings and Mr. J. Charlton for the No.2 pit. Mr. J. Benjamin was the electrical manager of the mine. The colliery was in the No.2 Wigan Area of the North Western Division of the National Coal Board with Mr. H.E. Clegg as the Area General Manager, Mr. E. Small, M.B.E., the Area Production Manager, Mr. S. Hay the Deputy Area Production Manager (Operations), Mr. R. Talbot the Deputy Area Production manager (Planning) for the 1st. March 1957 and Mr. E. Charlton as the Group Manager.

The Chanters colliery had worked for well over 100 years and along with the neighbouring colliery was nearing the end of its useful life and over the reorganisations that had taken place in the industry it was taking over the workings of neighbouring collieries. Whenever a connection is made between two collieries and parts of the ventilation are common to both the mines can not be deemed separate mines without the permission of the Inspector for the Division and following the making of a confection between Chanters and St. George’s collieries in 1941, a new instrument was drawn up by Mr. E.H. Frazer, Inspector of Mines on the 1st. August 1941 under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, which consented to five mines, Nook, St. George’s, Gin, Chanters, and Gibfield being divided into five parts and being worked separately despite that each part did not have a separate ventilation system. All these mines with the exception of the Gin pit were in operation at the time of the accident and connected. Coal was not being drawn from St. George’s but it was used as one of the training pits in the No.1 (Manchester) Area.

There was no record of there having been an explosion in the mine previously and none of the seams that were being worked were particularly gassy, probably because the previous workings had drained off the gas. The Plodder seam gave off approximately 110 cubic feet of gas per ton of coal mined. Safety lamps and permitted explosives were used throughout the mine and for general lighting, Oldham-Wheat G.W. electric cap lamps were provided. Prestwich Patent Protector Type 6 re-lighter lamps were used by the deputies and senior officials and Protector MC 40 lamps issued as gas detectors to certain appointed workmen. Although automatic gas detectors were not required by regulation at the faces, about 20 Naylor Spiralarm Type M detectors were in use in the No.2 pit.

The ventilation was provided by a fan at the No.2 pit which was an electrically driven double inlet Sirocco, 98 inches in diameter which ran at 231 revolutions per minute and produced just less than 200,000 cubic feet of air per minute in the fan drift at a water gauge of 4.1 inches.

The Plodder seam lies in the lower part of the productive coal measures and in the area of the Chanters Colliery it was worked to a thickness of 5 feet 1 inch which included two bands of dirt, one three inches thick and one four inches. It was the practice to leave about 7 inches of top coal. The roof is of a medium strength shale and the floor a strong warrant or fireclay. The seam dipped at a gradient of 1 in 5 due south and the coal was not first class but found already market as locomotive fuel.

The seam was to be the last exploited at the colliery and serious development began in 1956 and a short heading had been driven and abandoned in 1928-9. This heading was 50 yards long had been reached by a cross measure drift started from a road in the Haigh Yard seam at a point 350 yards from and approximately level with the bottom of the No.1 downcast shaft. When this project was abandoned, a brick stopping was built across the bottom of the stone drift.

Early in 1956, it was decided to reopen the Plodder seam and the stopping was removed. Firedamp was encountered behind the stopping but it was cleared by the installation of a fan placed outbye at the foot of the drift with the appropriate tubing. The stone drift was found to be in good condition but the heading in the seam was almost closed. It was cleaned up and a drivage to prepare a face 110 yards long to advance to the dip and another used as a return airway, which was known as the Gibfield Stret, were started.

During the development period, the narrow places were ventilated by a fan placed on the Haigh Yard level outbye of the foot of the stone drift. Firedamp was never detected. The coal was conveyed along a system of conveyors to the foot of the drift, where it was loaded into tubs. When the drift had originally been driven, a brick wall had been built up the middle for ventilation purposes. The conveyor was laid in the right-hand passage going up hill whilst a tub track for the taking in of supplies was laid up the left side. The haulage for the supplies was an electrically driven 10 h.p. Pikrose engine fixed in a recess at the side of the roadway on a short piece of level road at the top of the drift in the area where the Plodder seam had been exposed by the driving of the drift. The roads leading from the short level roadway had a dipping gradient of in both and inbye and an outbye direction. The drum of the engine faced inbye but the placing of a pulley in the floor a few feet away enabled the haulage to be used both on the coal heading dipping towards the face and on the stone drift outbye.

The development program was carried out without any serious difficulty and a ventilating circuit was established on 12th September 1956 when the Gibfield Stret made a connection with an existing roadway in an old district of the Plodder seam workings of the neighbouring Gibfield Colliery. After this connection had been made another drivage in the coal was started back towards the pit bottom from a point about halfway along the dip development face. This was to serve as a loader gate and as a second air intake. This heading joined up with the new stone drift, No.1, set off the Haigh Yard level about 120 yards inbye of the foot of the 1929 drift which was then called the No.2.

Towards the end of October, the Plodder development face to the dip was started as a double face unit with two face belts delivering to a centre loading belt in the No.1 drift intake and the coal loaded into tubs at the foot of the drift. There was no urgency for the face to move quickly and the average advance of about 4 feet 6 inches per cut was made each week. Preparations for opening up the flank face to work towards Gibfield proceeded. Later the enlarging of the Gibfield Stret with a view of returning to the Chanters No.2 shaft was started. A start to this work was made in February 1957 with the ripping of the bottom 10 yards of No.2 drift in preparation for building an air crossing over the Haigh Yard level. The 10 h.p. Pikrose hauler at the high point of the No.2 intake had been in action only after the No.1 drift had been completed and this was used to deal with the dirt made at this ripping.

The Haigh Yard seam was worked at Chanters about 3,500 yards from the Chanter’s shafts and since the main haulage road and the return airway of the Haigh Yard workings passed quite close to the shafts of St. George’s Colliery, the opportunity was taken to use these shafts, both upcast and downcast to ventilate the Haigh Yard workings. The air for the Plodder district came from St. George’s and Bedford downcast shafts and returned to the Gibfield upcast shaft. In the district itself, intake air travelled up both Nos. 1 and 2 drifts, along the face advancing to the dip and returned up Gibfield Stret and the newly developed flank face into Gibfield No.1 East old district. Air measurements on 22nd February 1957 showed that 3,182 cubic feet of air per minute was entering the face at e left-hand intake, 3,996 was entering the face at he left-hand intake and 2,422 was leaking from the No.1 intake through the connection between it and the return. This amount of leakage was due to the fact that a gate belt was installed in the connection. A sampling at both ends of the airway showed that the dip face contained 0.1 percent methane.

When the air reached the old Gibfield district, two paths were available to it. The first by the bottom of the Gibfield No.1 East district, on which a loosely built stopping was built, which acted as a regulator. It was possible to travel through this stopping and close it and a board indicated that this was the dividing line between the Chanters and Gibfield. The second went by a length of the old face and the middle road of the same district which could not be travelled. Following an inspection at Gibfield by officials on 22nd February it was decided to divert about 6,000 cubic feet by the installation of an 80-yard length of tubing from the loosely built stopping through some ventilation doors to 21’s intake. This was to try to lower the temperature in the 21’s district. The installation of the air tubes which were partly metal and partly canvas was completed on the 27th of February. No attempt was made to force air through these pipes and a measurement of the air coming out of the pipes on 28th. February showed 1,581 cubic feet of air per minute was passing through them into the 21’s intake.

The electrical apparatus in the Plodder district was supplied from a 150 KVA 2,000/600 volts transformer in the No.2 Plodder substation which was 340 yards from the No.1 pit bottom. On the occurrence of an earth fault, an earth leakage device was arranged to trip out the switch and lock it out mechanically with an indicator flag to show that it had operated. A paper covered, double wire armoured 600 volt feeder cable from the switch passed up No.1 drift to a flame-proof gate-end switchboard in the connecting road between Nos. 1 and 2 drifts which controlled the conveying and cutting apparatus at the face. A similar cable was looped from busbars at this gate-end switch outbye to supply the switch controlling the 10 h.p. Pikrose haulage in No.2 drift. This control switch and the haulage motor were both of the flame-proof type and were connected by armoured cables with bolted connectors at each end. The haulage unit and its control switch were about 90 yards from the section switch in the No.2 Plodder substation.

During the night of 28th February / 1st March a fall about 20 yards long occurred on the east side of the dip on the development face. The next morning an inspection of the face was made by Mr. Haslam, the undermanager, whilst the air measurements were taken by Mr. K. Middleton, the ventilation officer. It was found that the quantity of air passing on the left of the face had reduced slightly from the measurement taken the previous week and with the possibility that the face could become further blocked to raise the screen fastened on two wooden frames in the connection between Nos. 1 and 2 intakes about 20 yards back from but parallel with the face. The openings of both these frames had an area of 18 square feet.

Until the 5th March the Plodder district was supervised by one deputy on each shift but with the growth of the district, in particular the need for a flank face to be started as soon as possible, it was desirable for extra supervision to be provided. On the 6th March, the day of the disaster, and extra deputy J.E. Houghton was appointed on the day shift. He took charge of the dip development face; the two intakes and the Haigh Yard level while H. Dickenson who was formerly in charge of the whole of the Plodder concentrated towards Gibfield.

On the morning of the day of the explosion, eight men were employed on the east side of the dip development face, preparing to take a coal buttock past the fall. The deputy in charge, Houghton, found no gas when he tested at the face rippings and in the general body of the air. The two brattice sheets in the connection between the two intakes were in the raised position but only a slight current of air was passing and only a small amount was flowing past the fall on the face. Houghton made his pre-shift inspection between 1 and 2 p.m. No one had been working at the Pikrose haulage at the highest point of the No.2 intake during his shift and although he visited the place he did not test for gas. After telephoning a satisfactory report on the condition of the district to the pit bottom, Houghton went to the coal face to supervise the moving of a coal cutter and remained there for about an hour.

The afternoon shift was admitted by deputy V, Robinson. Five men, P. Socha, J. Howcroft, E. Nutter, T. Dzundza and W. Beckett were sent to work at the ripping, 10 yards up the No.2 drift where the air crossing was being enlarged. Normally only three of the men worked there but the place where Dzundza and Beckett were usually, employed was not available on that shift. Other men whom Robinson passed in were two bricklayers, E. Williams and R. Sutton who were to work in the Haigh Yard level. F. Woodward was to operate the Pikrose haulage at the top of the No.2 drift which was used by the rippers to lower dirt they were to fill a short distance down the drift and some pit bottom and general oncost workers. Since the haulage which Woodward was to operate was situated more than 300 feet from the nearest coal face, it was not a requirement of the Coal and Other Mines (Ventilation) Regulations, 1956 that a firedamp detector should be placed there.

Several sets of men who had started work at 10 a.m. had not completed their shift when the afternoon men arrived. While he was going to the pit bottom after finishing work at the face Houghton met Robinson at the foot of the No.2 intake. Together they examined the lip of the ripping where Socha and his men were at work and found no gas. They parted at the foot of the drift Houghton making his way to the pit bottom and Robinson went to the No. 2 drift to the Pikrose haulier. Since Woodward was to work there during the shift, he made several tests for gas and found the place clear. Woodward was not there and Robinson came down the drift and went inbye along the Haigh Yard level, taking a look at the men employed there. While he was near the foot of No.1 drift he was called to the telephone and at about 3.30 p.m. was speaking to Houghton about a routine matter when Woodward came up that he wanted the electrician because there was a fault which he had found on the Pikrose panel. When he had put the switch in there was a buzzing sound and the smell of burning. Houghton, at the pit bottom, overheard the conversation but told Robinson that Woodward had already telephoned him from the ‘phone 30 yards outbye the foot of No. 2 drift and added that he had just examined the lamps of two electricians, L. Inman and K. Tryner who had descended the shaft for a routine examination and he had told them of Woodward’s message. As there was some doubt as to the cause of the trouble in the panel and two mechanics W. Pearson and T. Morris who happened to be at the pit bottom also decided to go to the Pikrose though they in fact paid a short visit to the haulage on the Haigh Yard level before following the electricians and Woodward. Robinson then went inbye up No.1 drift and Houghton went out of the mine.

Just before 4 p.m. F. Wolstenholme, an oncost man working near the No.1 pit bottom felt a strong blast of air that appeared to come from the direction of the Plodder district. The blast was followed almost at once by a cloud of dust. Wolstenholme went inbye and found five men, Socha, Howcroft, Nutter, Dzundza and Beckett, who had been working near the foot of the No.2 drift and one of the bricklayers, E. Williams. All these men were badly burned and they were making their way to the pit bottom. A little further on he met the second bricklayer R. Sutton who was guiding a man who was badly burned, the mechanic, W. Pearson.

At the time the fumes were so thick that Wolstenholme could get only as far as the top of the St George’s clip brow so he got to the telephone and informed the undermanager, Mr. Haslam, that something had happened in the Plodder district and that help was needed at once. Later Wolstenholme managed to get in as far as the foot of the No.2 intake where he found some timber, clothing and brattice cloth on fire. He tackled the fire with fire extinguishers. Other workers from the pit bottom joined Wolstenholme and a short time afterwards men from the No.1 intake in charge of Deputy Robinson arrived. Most of the party went out to the pit bottom but a few stayed to help deal with the burning material until the arrival of the undermanager a little later.

Sutton, a bricklayer was working 15 to 20 yards outbye of the foot of the No.1 intake when the explosion occurred. He was blown over and burned slightly on the right cheek and forehead but he was able to get out through the dust and smoke. Just as he was passing the foot of the No.2 intake he heard cries for help and turned to find Pearson badly burnt groping his way about. Sutton took charge of Pearson and led him to the pit bottom where he met the rest of the burnt men.

A number of oncost men had been working at the foot of No.1 intake. They were blown over and enveloped in dust when the blast occurred. One of them, R. Littler, managed to ring the surface to say that he thought an explosion had occurred between there and the pit bottom. After a short examination of the Haigh Yard level when a lot of smoke and dust had been seen, it was decided to go inbye up the No.1 intake with a view to escape by the Gibfield colliery as it was feared that there was a fire on the Chanters side. At the junction of No.1 intake and the crosscuts, the party met the men from the dip face under H. Ashton and soon afterwards were joined by Deputy Robinson and the workmen from the flank face. After a telephone conversation between the men and the manager at the surface, the 21 men formed a crocodile and on the manager’s advice, set off back to the Chanters pit bottom by way of No.1 intake. The atmosphere was thick with smoke and dust until they got to the foot of the No.2 drift, where they came across the men who were dealing with the burning material.

Deputy Robinson had just charged two holes in the roof ripping in Gibfield Stret when he felt the rush of air created by the explosion. He thought a three-inch compressed air pipe had broken and proceeded to fire the shots. The air became thicker with dust and from a nearby leak in the compressed air Robinson saw that it was not caused by a pipe breaking. He got all his men to make their way to the junction of the connecting road and the No.1 intake where H. Ashton and his men were. After a conversation with the manager by telephone, the party of 21 made their way safely down No.1 intake and along the Haigh Yard level to the foot of No.2 intake.

Soon afterwards, Haslam, undermanager, arrived down the pit and it was understood at that time that only Woodward was missing. It was thought possible that he might have escaped towards the face on the inbye side of the haulage so Mr. Haslam and deputy, Houghton, went up the No.1 intake, along the connection and back up No.2 intake for about 20 yards. They could get no further on account of the smoke and fumes and did not find Woodward. When they returned, they found that Mr. Hiller, the manager, and a rescue team had just arrived.

While Mr. Haslam was in the district he opened two doors between No.1 intake and the return to try to get rid of the smoke. It was realised that other men besides Woodward were missing. A rescue team wearing self-contained breathing apparatus went up No.2 intake and located one body, that of Inman, the electrician. Further visits were made up the drift and by 6 40 p.m. four bodies had been brought out. T. Morris was hard to find since he was lying in that part of the road behind a brick wall where the conveyor had originally ran and it was a part that was not usually used for travelling. Inman’s body was five yards inbye of the Pikrose panel and those of Tryner and Woodward were about five yards further inbye.

The men who died were:

  • Leslie Inman aged 40 years, electrician,
  • Thomas Morris aged 23 years. Mechanic’s mate,
  • Kenneth Tryner aged 31 years, electrician’s mate,
  • Fred Woodward aged 45 years, engine driver.

Those who died from their injuries:

  • Wilfred Beckett aged 29 years, repairer,
  • Eric Nutter aged 21 years, repairer,
  • Walter Pearson aged 36 years, mechanic,
  • Pawel Socha aged 46 years, contractor.

Those who were injured-

  • Taras Dzundza aged 27 years, contractor,
  • Jack Howcroft aged 19 years, repairer and
  • Ernest Williams aged 48 years, bricklayer.

The inquiry on the circumstances and causes attending the explosion which occurred at Chanters Colliery, Lancashire on 6th March 1957, was conducted by G. Hoyle, C.M.G., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines and presented to the Right Honourable Lord Mills, K.B.E., Minister of Power on the 8th October 1857.

The inquest into the men’s deaths was held at Tyldesley on the 25th July 1957 by Mr. R. Barlow, H.M. County Coroner for Lancaster, Bury District, and a verdict of “Misadventure” was recorded in each case.

After the disaster, the mine was thoroughly inspected and the evidence was presented at the inquiry. Coal dust played no part in the explosion since there was an almost complete absence of dust on the road. The inspector concluded that the gas had accumulated at the top of the No.2 drift through a progressive reduction in the amount of air flowing up the drift, following a fall on the east side of the dip development face five days before. It was exploded when an arc was stuck as an electrician twisted the cover plate of the busbar chamber of the switch from the Pikrose haulage and the earthed flange of the cover plate came into contact with a live busbar. The source of the gas was the Plodder seam where it was exposed by driving of the No.2 drift.

The Inspector concluded that:

My investigations showed that the explosion was caused by an electric arc which was formed during the examination of the workings switch to which power was still connected when the top cover of the switch was twisted around and came into contact with the live busbar in the prescience of a body of inflammable gas.

He went on to comment:

The majority of electrical accidents occur when men work on exposed live apparatus either deliberately or accidentally and the high number of accidents indicates the presence of these dangerous practices. There is no need to provide more regulations. What is required on the part of some electricians is a greater sense of responsibility. Comparatively recent legislation requiring electricians to have higher qualifications should be a stimulus towards this end.


The report of the causes and the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Chanters Colliery, Lancashire on the 6th March, 1957 by G. Hoyle, C.M.G., C.B.E., D.Sc., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 25th March 1957, p.419, 13th February 1958, p.211.

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

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