GARSWOOD HALL. Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire. 2nd. April, 1902.

The explosion took place in the No.9 sinking pit when fourteen men were killed and fifteen others injured. The Colliery was owned by the Garswood Hall Colliery Company.

The shaft had reached a depth of 270 yards and had just reached the Ravin Coal Seam which was known to give off a considerable amount of gas. The ventilation to the sinking pit was by a fan and air-pipes from the surface to within seventeen yards of the bottom of the pit. The fan was 50 inches in diameter and was running at 600 revolutions per minute at the time of the accident. The diameter of the shaft was 14 feet 6 inches.

The lighting in the shaft was by means of a 100 candle power electric light with a cable being run down the shaft and the lamp was supposed to be kept above the heads of the men at work so as not to risk it being hit by any tools. It was wound up the shaft when shots were being fired. There were safety lamps at the bottom of the shaft to test for the presence of gas. The Inspector in his report says that “nothing had been spared in providing proper fittings and apparatus for carrying on the work”.

Some months before the accident the Inspector had received a complaint that the contractor, Mr. Bradley, hurried the work to such an extent that safety was prejudiced. The specific complaint was that the men were sent back down after a shot had been fired before the smoke had properly cleared. On receiving this complaint Mr. Hall, the Government Inspector made a visit to the colliery and warned the contractor that he should take more care.

The accident occurred in the sinking pit at the Garswood Hall Collieries at Edge Green which was being sunk to the Arley Mine at 260 yards deep. Ten men, including eight sinkers and two bricksetters, were at work at the time when there was a sudden outburst of gas from a feeder. It was thought that the gas had made its way up the shaft and became ignited, causing a terrific explosion. It wrecked the headgear, forty feet in height, and a large area of staging was destroyed at the surface was wrecked. A large piece of timber being blown twenty yards and smaller pieces of timber one hundred yards across the fields. The engine house was damaged as was the inside and the outside of the shaft.

The pit browman, Joseph Naylor, of Ashton was killed instantly and of the ten men down the shaft, only four were rescued alive. Work to clear the shaft and get the unfortunate men to the surface began immediately at 3 a.m. on Thursday, four were brought out alive but fearfully scorched all the other fellows lie dead. The banksman was married and he leaves seven children.

The gas was undoubtedly ignited by the electric light, either by the lamp being struck and broken or through some short-circuiting at some point in the cable. The evidence at the inquest showed that the cable had been bared at some time in the past or scraped for a short length in order to attach a cable to fire shots. It also emerged at the inquest that the lamp had been lowered from its safe place the day before the accident and there was a real risk of it being stick by the men’s tools as they were working.

The fuse that should have melted if there was a short circuit did not operate and when it was tested under experimental conditions failed to operate again.

The explosion had a very great force and the whole of the fittings in the shaft were destroyed and much of the heavy timber reduced to matchwood. Eight of the twelve men at the bottom of the shaft were killed and also the banksman who, at the moment of the explosion was near the edge of the shaft.

Immediately after the explosion, the shaft was filled with firedamp and there was great difficulty and danger in removing the dead and the survivors. The rescuers went down the shaft with no lights and had to grope at the bottom and then make their way to the surface through an atmosphere of explosive firedamp.

The shaft remained full of gas for some months in spite of persistent efforts to clear it. Eventually, it was cleared and the gas from the Ravin Seam is now piped to the surface and sinking was resumed.

Mr. Hall reached the colliery at noon on the day following the explosion. Four survivors had been brought out of the pit. The rescuers lowered their lamps down the shaft but they were all extinguished by the gas. Although this was so Edward Jones and his son made an attempt to descend but the Inspector would not let them go beyond the point where the lamps were extinguished, which was about forty yards from the surface. Strenuous efforts were made to restore the ventilation in the shaft and it was not until 6th April that the bodies of the six dead were recovered.

Mr. Smethurst, the manager of the colliery, and the Inspector went down the pit and found that so much gas was still being given off the Ravin Seam through which the shaft passed that the ventilation was quite ineffective in clearing it. the gas started coming out of the Ravin the day after it was reached and the volume of the gas increased and it is probable that at the moment of the explosion there were large quantities of gas not only at the bottom of the shaft but also above the heads of the men as they were working. The presence of this gas was known to the officials at the colliery and the steps that had been taken when a shot was about to be fired namely, that the lamps were withdrawn led to the conclusion that they were afraid of keeping them down when the shot was fired.

How the gas was ignited was not certain but it is certain that it was fired electrically and there was evidence from the survivors that they saw flashes from the lamp and that the cable to the lamp was tangled with the rope and that the cable was bared for shot firing was also known to the men.

In the opinion of the inspector, the explosion was the result of continuing to work when the ventilation had broken down and there was a build up of gas in the shaft. It also seemed strange that the ventilation pipe was not brought further down the shaft and that lamps were taken away when tests were needed very urgently. The certificated manager did not appear to have properly appreciated his position and responsibility when the problem of the gas arose and it was very ill-judged for Bradley to withdraw the lamps when he did and the only explanation was that he has afraid of the conditions in the shaft in which case he should have withdrawn the men.

The men who died were:

  • John Wall aged 47 years, sinker, of 55, Ramford Street, Parr, St.Helens,
  • David Jones, aged 27 years, a married man of 6, Legh Street, Golborne,
  • Michael Toughy aged 30 years, a married man of Warrington Road, Abram,
  • John G. Roberts aged 22 years, Robert Davies aged 49 years,
  • Thomas Gilbert aged 21 years, bricksetter, of 275, Warrington Road, Ashton,
  • William Hurst aged 41 years, a married man of Ashton,
  • Joseph Naylor aged 42 years, banksman
  • Casimirsz Ridlewicz known as Carl Armond. A Polish Jew of 3, Commercial Square, Ashton.

The four men rescued and were taken to Wigan Infirmary. They were:

  • Patrick Stanton, a married man, Robert Davies, a married man
  • Thomas Holden, aged 35 years, of Bamfurlong,
  • John Griffiths, a married man of Stubshaw Cross and the latter was in a critical condition.

When the explosion occurred some of the men were sinking and others lining the shaft. One coal seam had been passed through and the bricksetters were mouthing and they had worked to a short distance. Some of the men were rescued in the mouthing and the others on a scaffolding six feet below. Suddenly the shaft was filled by a blinding scorching flame and the area around heard and shaken by the dull rumble of the explosion. The shaft is two miles from the Garswood Hall Offices and was being sunk to save the colliers a long journey under the surface. The shaft was lit by electricity and ventilated by means of a fan on the surface. The gas that caused the explosion may and probably did enter the shaft from a fissure in the mouthing.

The Managing Director of the Company says that at present nobody can tell anything. Mr. Edmondson, the Director of the Company, was in Westmoreland when the accident occurred and last night he returned to Lancashire immediately on hearing of the disaster. He said that the rescuers had done exceedingly well.

The management and staff set about recovering the six bodies that are lying at the bottom of the shaft and water had gathered some fourteen feet deep. This had first to be removed and a large amount of debris removed from the bottom of the shaft. A temporary tackle was being rigged and on Sunday morning parties were ready to search for the missing men and the bodies were very soon found lying in water and brought to the surface. It was seen that some of them were shockingly mutilated. Not only did they bear the results of the explosion nut they had been crushed by falling debris. They were removed to a shed on the premises.

The rescue operations were witnessed by thousands of people but they were not allowed near the shaft and there many pathetic scenes. While doing the recovery workmen became seriously affected by gas and one man need the efforts of another four to bring him to the surface.

The death toll was added to by the deaths of Robert Davies and John Griffiths they are married men who left families. The other two survivors in the Infirmary Walden and Stanton are doing well.

The inquest was opened at the Rams Head Hotel Stubshaw Cross The coroner said that on Wednesday another explosion had taken place at a pit that was being sunk at Garswood Hall as a result of the explosion a man was killed.

The father of the deceased was not in a fit state to appear Ann Taylor gave the necessary evidence of identification. On Tuesday morning the Coroner convened the court again. On a report from the Infirmary, Thomas Holden would come before the court in two weeks. The body of John Hurst, of 538, Warrington Road, Ashton, was identified by William Hurst, his brother who lived at 267, Wigan Road. He was a bricksetter with the Garswood Hall Company and was 41 years of age. William Gilbert, father of Thomas, of 275, Wigan Road, Ashton, a bricksetter aged 21 years. Annie Sedovski identified the Pole who lodged with her. He was a sinker aged 33 years. John Toughey of 361, Warrington Road, Abram identified Michael Toughey as his father of 195, Warrington Road, Abram, a sinker aged 51 years. James Wall of 55, Rainford Street, Parr identified John Wall who was his father aged 43 years and a sinker. Margaret Jones identified David Jones as her husband of 56, Leigh Street, Golborne aged 27 years a sinker.

Richard Davies of 309, Bryn Road, Ashton was at the surface at Richard Evans Colliery when the explosion occurred and his father was working at the Garswood Coal Company Colliery as a sinker. At 8.45 a.m. On hearing the explosion and he went with his father in the colliery ambulance to the infirmary and he was told that the Pole was spreading mortar with a spade when he cut the cable with the spade.

They saw some sparks fly off the cable and the accident took place. His father also told him that he had put his hat over his face to stop the gas coming into his mouth but he could not get the hat into his mouth and wished he had had a cap. His father did not think he was as badly burnt as he was. It was Tom Walden who was in the ambulance and it was he who made a statement Arthur Causey the blacksmith at the colliery was also in the ambulance and heard the statement; the witness’s father died at 5 pm.

Molly Roberts, the young widow said she lived at 19, Lily Lane, and her husband was John Griffiths Roberts who was a pit sinker she saw him after the explosion but he was too ill to make a statement.

Thomas Walden, at an interview in the infirmary, said that they were walling the bottom of the pit and the next thing he heard was a great crash and a tongue of flame leapt up the shaft and the machinery and headgear came headlong down with a lot of debris and they felt as though they were being suffocated. The fumes were dreadful. He tried to get help but soon got exhausted and remembered no more. He had three others were brought up the put at 7 o’clock and a fourth man who was nearest him was brought up later.

I then found myself in bed here. What became of the six men I do not know. He said that he had no idea how the explosion happened but he had heard that it was caused by one of the men cutting an electric cable with his spade but he could not say that this was certain. I can not tell you how we felt at the bottom of the shaft cut away from help.

At the resumed inquest on Wednesday at the Rams Head Ashton, Mr. Smethurst the first witness was called who was the certificated manager of the mine. Evidence was given that the Pole could not speak any English and he had heard that the Pole had struck the cable with a spade and caused sparks.

Charles Bradley, of 164, The Thorns, Wigan Road, Bryn stated that he had been a contractor for twenty-eight years and he was a contractor for this job. He employed the sinkers and the firm employed the bricksetters. Wall took the place of the regular chargeman who had not turned up. The work went on in three shifts and the shaft was light by electricity. The witness left the ten men below on the day of the disaster.

After passing the Ravin Mine they used an electric cable to fire shot and he showed how they spliced the cable. The statements given by the two survivors to the Police were read out and Stanton heard a man say that he had hit the cable.

William Fletcher and Edwin Jones were the first to go down the pit in the rescue operations. Jones went down twice and tried to go a third time but he was affected by the gas and the shaft had been full of gas ever since despite the ventilation.

It was stated at the inquest that lamps were taken from the pit as dirt was falling from the sides and water kept putting the lamps out. Thomas Holden, one of the survivors had had a conversation with the Coroner in an adjournment and told him that Walden was drunk and said that he had had enough and wanted to talk in front of his betters but the Coroner was not sure that he was in a fit state to give evidence. Witness said he was 56 and he was one of the two survivors and he had been on the “Bust” since he came out of the Infirmary. The coroner threatened to deal with him severely and said, “I thought that you had had a great deal more than was good for you when I saw you downstairs.”

Patrick O’Neil, of Golborne, said he was a chargehand at the colliery and he could not account for the explosion and the inquest was adjourned until Monday.

Patrick Walden, one of the survivors continued his story said that he had noticed gas on the day of the accident he saw the cable cut, and sparks begin to fly and then the explosion followed. Stanton, the other survivor, said that he saw sparks and he turned around and a moment later he was knocked down by the explosion.

The contractor, Bradley, was recalled and said that lamps went out through dirt and water, not gas. John Jones of Ashton, who was chargeman until March 22nd said the gas was not met with until they had reached the Ravin Seam and then they commenced to fire their shots by an electric cable. They had used an ordinary attachment but when used this broke and then they stripped the wire to get a connection.

The Polish workman could not speak more than a few words of English but he was good at his work. James Kirkham, who was chargeman at the pit, said they had fired shots by bearing the cable but had wrapped the cable afterwards.

Mr. O’Brien, an electrical engineer of Manchester who had installed the electrical appliances at the colliery, said that it was of the best material and in his opinion, the cable had been so weakened by the cable being broken that it subsequently broke and brought about the explosion.

The jury retired to consider its verdict and after an hour they said that the explosion was caused by a gas which was incited by an electrical cable. The ventilation of the shaft was not sufficient to render the gas harmless and the amount of gas known to be given off by the Ravin called for greater safety precautions. They recommended that no person not skilled in the use of electricity should be allowed to operate electrical appliances and that no person should be employed sinking pit unless they understand immediately any order that they might be given.

It was the opinion that the moral guilt rested on Bradley the contractor. The Wigan Borough Coroner held the inquest into the bodies that died in Wigan Infirmary. Robert Davies, of 369, Bryn Road aged 49 years and John Griffiths Roberts, of 19, Lily Lane, Ashton.

George Roberts retracted his evidence which said that the cable was bared and said that this was the first time he had done so. The jury found that the explosion was due to the careless use of an electric cable and the management were not sufficiently protective of the men as shown by the taking of the lamps away.

The formal verdict read:

  1. That the seven deceased persons met their deaths as the result of an explosion at the Edge Green sinking pit.
  2. That the explosion was caused by the ignition of gas which ignition was brought about by some damage to the electric cable.
  3. That the ventilation on the day of the explosion was not sufficient to render the gas harmless.
  4. That the amount of gas given out by the Ravin Mine demanded greater precautions for the safety of the workmen.

The jury further recommended that:

None but workmen skilled in electrical apparatus should be allowed to manipulate the electrical appliances, and that also no person should be employed in a sinking pit unless he could understand immediately any order which may be given to him.

A formal verdict of “Accidental Death” was recorded.

The Mines Inspector took proceedings against the manager of the mine and there were two charges:

  1. for not supplying adequate ventilation as required by No.1 General Rule, and
  2. for not withdrawing men where danger existed as required by the No 7 General Rule.

A fine of £10 was inflicted on each case.


The Mines Inspector Report, 1902 Mr. Henry Hall.
Colliery Guardian, 4th April 1902, p.729

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

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