GARSWOOD PARK  Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire. 4th. May, 1866.

The colliery was owned by David Bromilow and Company. There were several seams worked at the colliery including St. Sebastian, the Rushy Park, and the Little Delf. The coal from the Little Delf was brought to the surface up the upcast shaft which was 400 yards deep and it was in the latter, which were the top workings, that the explosion took place. At the time there were 120 to 180 people underground but only twelve lost their lives.

Samuel Mather was the underlooker at the colliery with Thomas Molyneux the underground manager who assisted by his son. The works in the mine had been going on for four years. It was believed that the explosion had come about by a shot which was fired in Richard Swift’s place. Joseph Topping, the fireman, had visited the place between two and three o’clock on the morning of the accident. Swift had just commenced work and Topping did not notice any accumulation of coal at the end of the brattice and found no gas on his morning’s inspection.

The victims had all been found before three o’clock with the exception of Richard Swift and there was no hope left for him. Dr. Gaskell was sent for and attended the injured and a telegram was sent to David Bromilow who was in Liverpool at the time.

A list of those killed was reported in the local papers:

  • Richard Swift, aged 30 years. Married of Smarts Row, Parr.
  • Peter Swift, aged 18 years. Not married.
  • Henry Anders, aged 48 years. Unmarried of Islands Brow, Parr.
  • Thomas Harrison, aged 28 years of Fingerpost.
  • Peter Molyneux, aged 46 years. Married of Back Lane, Parr.
  • James Knowles, aged 16 years, a lad of Park Road.
  • Ralph Kilshaw, aged 11 years, a lad of Marsh Bridge.
  • Peter Thomas aged 12 years of Moss Bank, Windle.
  • Peter Beetle aged 16 years of Coal Pit Lane.
  • William Swift aged 20 years of Croppers Row.
  • Thomas Anders, married of Park Road, Parr.
  • Peter Thomas, married of Moss Bank, whose son was killed.

John Swift, Henry Finney, William Roughley and John Mills were rescued alive but died later bringing the death toll to sixteen.

In his report, Peter Higson refers to the deaths of “fourteen” persons but on the plan of the workings in his report he lists sixteen victims. It was reported that those who were injured were progressing well.

The “St. Helens Standard” open a subscription for the dependants of the victims of the explosion. Mr. E. Sullivan of Ravenhead, St. Helens formed a committee with Col. Gamble, Rev. R.J. Ward, Dr. McNicholl, H.R. Lacey, Samuel Robinson Esq., Mr. J. C. Anders and Mr. R. Thompson.

At another meeting, of the Committee of Miners was appointed to collect for the Relief Fund at The Black Horse Inn at Parr. Mr. William Pickard was appointed chairman. Subscriptions had been made by many local collieries which amounted to almost £3 each and 30/- for each boy under 12 years or girl under 14. The fathers also got 30/6d. for each son killed. The money was distributed as follows- Mr. Molyneux, £4-10-0d., Mrs. Anders £7-10-10d., Mrs. Harrison £7-10-0d., Mrs. J. Swift £6-0-0d., Mrs. Swift £7-10-0d., Peter Thomas £1-10-0d., Charles Knowles £1-10-0d., Mrs. H.  Swift £1-10-0d., Mrs. Mills £1-10-0d., Mrs. Meadowcroft £1-10-0d.

Trustees were appointed for funds that might yet come. Mr. John Stock and Robert Woodward of Haydock, James Atherton of Blackbrook, with Mr. Peter Anders was elected secretary. There was an application in the hands of the Trustees by Mrs, Smith, whose brother had been killed but the committee, after enquiring into the matter decided that no case had been made out.

The inquest took place at the Ship Inn, Blackbrook, before Mr. C.E. Driffield. The jury was made of the following local men, Thomas Aspinall, a farmer of Downall Green, John Hill, lamp maker of Senley Green, Henry Rose, a gentleman of Downall Green, Thurston Fairhurst, a farmer of Arch Lane, Moses Phythian, a farmer of Arch Lane, John Sumner, a grocer of Millfield Lane, Haydock, Daniel Holland, a collier of Park Road, Parr,  Thomas Sharples, a collier of Park Road, James Finney, a collier of Park Road, Joseph Bridge, a collier and Thomas Greenall, a  publican. Thomas Aspinall was elected the foreman.

Samuel Mathers, the underlooker told the court:

I was in the pit at the time of the explosion, in the lower workings. The explosion took place in the upper workings. I became aware of the explosion on account of a rush of wind. I had then, no knowledge of where it had happened. I met John Topping bringing out John Swift, he was living at that time. I afterwards met Joseph Parr, one of the firemen, who assisted me to explore. We soon came upon Peter Swift, a drawer, he was dead. I then went on 60 yards down the brow and found James Knowles who worked for his father, he was dead. William Smith was lying near to him, alive. I met Peter Thomas who was then alive and the next was Ralph Kilshaw a boy of 11 years of age. I found Harry Anders, he was dead and on the left side of the brow I found Richard Swift about 60 yards from the top of the jigger.

Thomas Molyneux, the manager of the colliery, gave evidence as to the layout of the mine and Mr. Higson, the Government Inspector also gave his expert testimony.

The Coroner summed up the evidence and the jury retired to consider their verdict. After about half an hour they returned the following verdict:

We find Thomas Harrison and eleven others who came to their deaths by an explosion at the Garswood Park Colliery on the 4th May through necessary precautions not having been taken by Richard Swift, deceased, previous to his firing off his shot. We recommend that the latter part of the ninth rule, which requires ”that no shot shall be fired except in the presence and by the direction of the fireman or underlooker’s be, for the future, strictly applied to the mine.”

In his report Mr. Higson commented:

One of the deceased was driving a cut-through downhill between two upper levels and put a large quantity of coal which he had got into the level which prevented the ventilation from reaching the end of the level where the gas must have built up.

 The gas was fired by a shot which he fired without seeing if there was gas present. The shot hole pointed to the place where the gas had accumulated. I could not justify the complaint about the ventilation bit I express my opinion strongly that colliers in fiery mines should not fire their own shots and that the practice of naked lights should be abandoned.


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

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