GARSWOOD PARK,  Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire. 20th. August, 1867.

The colliery was the property of David Bromilow and this disaster followed the one of the 4th May in the previous year. There were extensive workings at the colliery and four seams were worked. The deepest was the Little Delf Mine which was about three feet thick and was 440 yards from the surface and extended 1,000 yards from the pit eye.

Two colliers, Henry Winstanley and John Halsall were working in the rise workings on the northeastern boundary of the mine in two separate places and in working the mine. Powder was used but under strict regulation. No work person was allowed to fire a shot until the fireman had carefully examined the place with a safety lamp. The fireman, Joseph Topping aged 64 years, was a very experienced man. At about 9 a.m., Samuel Mather, the underlooker and Paul Lea, his assistant, were in Winstanley’s place measuring up. They saw Joseph Topping, the fireman who told them that the ventilation was “very brisk”. The explosion occurred about midday and a few minutes before the report was heard Topping was seen in the No.5 level going to fire a shot for Henry Winstanley. His shift would have ended at midday and another fireman would have taken his place.

At the surface, a rush of air told of the disaster and soon the news was brought to the surface from terrified workmen who had flocked to the pit eye to be drawn up and escape from below. There was great confusion and it was impossible to tell how many were involved in the disaster. As the news spread, people flocked to the pit to find out about the fate of their loved ones, friends and relatives. Most were reassured but there was a small band who could only stand and wait.

A party of volunteers was organised and led by Thomas Molyneux and his son Thomas who were the senior and junior underground managers at the colliery along with William Tickle, the surface manager. Their task was long and tedious and it was some time before they could get to the seat of the explosion and it was dark when the bodies were recovered. They were taken up the shaft in three windings of the cage and removed to the Hare and Hounds public house where they were ranged in the club room. There were two that had not been recovered but were known to be in the mine. They were in a brow that was full of chokedamp and were not recovered until one o’clock the next morning.

The Inspector, Peter Higson, was at the Vron Pits in North Wales when he was informed of the disaster by telegram. When he got to the colliery all the men had been taken out of the mine and the ventilation had been partially restored.

Those who died were:

  • John Leadbetter, driver of Parr.
  • William Brown, collier of Parr.
  • Thomas Radcliffe of St. Helens.
  • Thomas Wilkinson. A jigger of Parr.
  • John Eden.
  • Henry Wright. A driver of Ashton-in-Makerfield.
  • William Cheetham jun.. A collier of Parr.
  • William Chesworth. A collier of Haydock.
  • Thomas Anders. A collier of Parr.
  • William Baron. A driver of Parr.
  • Joseph Topping, fireman of Haydock.
  • Henry Winstanley. A collier St.Helens.
  • William Briers. A driver of Parr.
  • Anthony Fillingham. A collier of Parr.
  • The fireman Joseph Topping.

Topping had escaped the disaster of 1866 but now was on the list of the dead. John Eden was the son of Mrs. Mather whose husband had been murdered at St. Helens a few weeks before.

The inquest was held at the Hare and Hounds by Mr, Driffield the Coroner. Evidence was taken from the workmen and expert witnesses and the Coroner summed up at great length. The jury returned an open verdict, coupling it with an expression that in the future working of the mine the bratticing should not be carried to a great distance as in this case, and that every precaution was called for in the appointment of firemen, and in adopting all possible means of improving the discipline of the mine.

The Inspector commented in his report that the evidence at the inquest stated that 6,000 cubic feet of air per minute were going from the downcast shaft and after repeated measurements; he found that there was no gas when 4,500 cubic feet of air were passing. He continued:

There was no indication of any sudden discharge of gas having taken place, only an empty shothole 20 inches deep, out of which the powder had blown the ramming, removing little, if any of the coal. It caused the current of air to be shut off, taking down a portion of the brattice, to discover how soon the place would become foul at the extremity. In 10 minutes I perceived a slight blue cap on the flame of my lamp, which increased in magnitude very slowly for some time, gradually approaching the point of danger. On the brattice being readjusted the level became quickly cleared, sweet and cool. It was manifest, therefore, that a quantity of gas had been negligently suffered to accumulate thereby Winstanley not having maintained the efficiency of the brattice, and that it was ignited by firing the shot, which in the consequence of burning out, would produce a large and extended flame but whether Winstanley fired the shot himself before Topping got to the spot, or whether, on Topping going in, he found the brattice down, and gas lying in the extremity, he adjusted of replaced the brattice, and ignited the fuse before the current removed the gas beyond the reach of the flame of the shot, or diluted it so as to render it harmless, there was no proof, as all the work people in that part of the mine were killed. Winstanley was lying in the upbrow a little nearer the face than Topping, but the lamp of the latter was nearer the shothole than either of them and unlocked. Topping had to fire the shots for five men. The air was borne up into this place by a double cloth door the roads are narrow and low, the mine being only three feet thick. A cut through in the middle of the distance being opened would have dispensed with a considerable length of brattice and made the place safer, but the mine was deteriorated and faulty, and the object sought was to avoid working in bad ground.


The Mines Inspectors Report, 1866. Mr. Peter Higson.
The Colliery Guardian. 31st August 1867. p.191., 14th September, 1867. p.237.
The Wigan Observer.
The St.Helens Standard.

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

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