CRONTON. Widnes, Lancashire. 11th. December, 1917.

Cronton Colliery was the property of the Hulton Colliery Company and the explosion in the Pasture Seam occurred shortly after 8 a.m. and caused the deaths of eight men and injured another. At the time of the accident twelve men including a fireman, were at work in the Pasture Seam which was an entirely distinct district and had a separate ventilation system from the rest of the mine. The seam had been opened out for about nine months and the ventilation appeared to be adequate under normal working conditions and the last measurement showed that 5,400 cubic feet per minute were passing.

The Pasture Seam was reached by means of rising tunnels from the Florida Seam and opened out in bord and pillar workings. At the time of the accident, there were only three stalls, Nos. 301, 302, and 303, and of these only the first one was being worked. The stalls were 15 yards wide, packed solid against the coal on the dip side, and had an air road left against the coal on the rising side. There were 12 top 15 yards of solid coal between the stalls which were driven for 25 yards. The holing in stalls 301 and 302 was done by coal cutting machines worked by compressed air. The explosion occurred at the face of stall 301 where two Monobel No.1 shots were fired in the coal by an electric battery.

Beyond a few falls, very little damage was done to the workings and there was no doubt that the explosion would have been more serious but for the fact that the top portion of the intake tunnel and the level to the left of it was naturally wet for about 30 yards. The workings were also damp and the coal dust formed by the cutting machines did not affect or extend the explosion.

The ventilation was soon restored after the accident and still, No.310 cleared of gas by means of compressed air, and an inspection was made within three hours of the event, It was found that two shots in the coal had been coupled and fired simultaneously. The battery with handles attached and cable were found coupled together. The firing cable was traced to one of the leads of an exploded detonator. The second lead from the detonator was not connected to the second wire of the firing cable. There was a stamp mark on the roof showing where the machine had been fixed when both holes were drilled. The top hole was about six inches off the roof and after the shot, there was about an inch of socket remaining. The bottom hole was six inches above the floor and twenty inches of this remained but it had been enlarged by the shot to 3 or 4 inches in diameter. The detonator wires were still in the hole as was a portion of the clay stemming. Lying in front of this hole was a large block of coal with the other detonator leads lying over them, one of which was connected to the firing cable. The leads could be replaced and put in position for the top shot hole. This caused some doubt at the inquest but Mr. Nicholson had no doubt that the shots had been fired simultaneously.

Firedamp had been reported on several occasions in very slight quantities and the management had issued instructions that the presence of gas was to be recorded in the book on every occasion. Gas was reported in the ripping of the No.310 stall on every inspection for a week up to the day of the accident but on that day, no gas was reported. The amount of gas reported in the rippings was slight and easily cleared away, which was done on every occasion shots were to be fired.

After the explosion, it was found that a seam, nine feet thick, existed seven and a half feet above the Pasture Seam. This seam was not encountered during the sinkings due to the ground being faulted. The ground between the seams consisted of clod and thin bands of coal which sagged down considerably on the roads and at the faces of the stalls. The top seam no doubt gave off a large amount of gas which collected in the space between the seams.

There was a large fall at the face of stall No.302 which extended across almost the whole width of the stall and reached the upper seam. It was suggested that this fall had occurred just before the shots were fired and released a quantity of gas which was carried in the air current at the critical moment. This suggestion was strengthened by the fact that O’Neill’s body was found partly under a fall close to the coal on the dip side of stall 302 and was burnt only where he was not covered by the fall.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • Albert Ball aged 30 years, collier,
  • Walter Pye aged 42 years, collier,
  • James O’Neil aged 40 years, collier,
  • John Harrison aged 36 years, collier,
  • George Richard Jones aged 23, jigger,
  • John W.Travis aged 24, haulage hand,
  • Samuel Foulkes aged 63 years, waydrawer,
  • Joseph Lawton aged 32 years, fireman,
  • James Cummings aged 18 years, haulage hand was injured.

All the men in the workings at the time were severely burnt and subsequently died from their injuries except for the boy Cummings. The fireman, Lawton who fired the shots was an experienced foreman and walked out after the explosion to the cabin in the Florida Seam.

The inquest into the deaths of the men was held by Mr. Brighouse, H.M. Coroner on the 15th of January. The manager put forward the theory that there had been some weighting in the roof which caused the fall at the face of stall 302 and was also responsible for bursting off the large coal block in stall 301. The Inspector thought that this was a reasonable explanation.

There was a contravention of the Explosives in Coal Mines Order by firing two simultaneous shots in the coal and although this was not a direct result of the explosion, the possibility of such an occurrence would have been reduced if one shot had been fired at a time. It was difficult to account for the firing of two shots at once unless it was with the object of saving time.

The jury returned a verdict of “Death from misadventure” and attributed no blame to anyone.



The Mines Inspectors Report 1918. Mr. A.D. Nicholson.
The Colliery Guardian, 14th December 1918, p.1141.

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

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