GREAT BOYS. Tyldesley, Lancashire. 6th. March, 1877.

The colliery was the property of Messrs. of T. Fletcher of which John Howell was the manager and eight men lost their lives in an explosion in the Brassey Mine which was 170 yards from the surface. The Six Feet seam was at 182 yards deep and had been working for about two years. .The coal was strong and there was difficulty in getting it down and also drilling perfectly round holes for the charges and the explosion occurred in the north panel, about 240 yards from the pit eye.

The explosion was not heard above ground but the underlooker, Gerrard Johnson knew what had happened below. He and several volunteers, immediately went down the pit, where they found the smoke and afterdamp so bad that there was no question of a search being made. Meanwhile, the 100 or so men and boys who were in the workings were crying out to be wound to the surface. This was done as quickly as possible and many of those recovered arrived at the surface, stripped, as they had left their work in a hurry and every one of them was suffering burns to some part of their bodies.

A party composed of Mr. Johnson, the underlooker, Mr. J. Howell, the manager, Mr. H. Tonge, the agent and Mr. R. Yates, the underlooker from Bradley Fold Colliery of Messrs. Fletcher, made an inspection of the workings. The brattice that had been blown out, was replaced, and the work went on. Within an hour all the bodies had been recovered and placed in a workshop at the surface. Police sergeant Burton found a pipe and tobacco in the pockets of Mason and the explorers found no trace of gas below ground but believed the cause of the explosion was a shot which had blown out. The shot was charged by one of the most seriously injured men, Robert Prendergrast. Five men were brought put dead and John William died at 3 a.m. on Wednesday.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • Matthew Hampson aged 32 years, married.
  • Abraham Grundy aged 36 years, married with three children.
  • David Grundy aged 20 years, married with one child, brother to Abraham.
  • John Mason aged 42 years, married.
  • John Williams aged 28 years, single.
  • William Worthington.

Stated as injured and not likely to recover were:

  • William Worthington aged 20 years,
  • Robert Prendergrast aged 35 years.

The inquest was held at the Town Hall, Bolton before Mr. Edge Coroner. John Howell, the manager, presented the court with plans of the colliery and said he was in Bolton when he heard of the accident. He got to the pit about 4.45 p.m. when all the men with the exception of John Mason had been removed from the shunt. He went down the pit And got to the furthest point where he found all the stoppings in the main level, blown out. Two double doors near Mason’s body had been blown down.

He then made arrangements for the reception of the bodies and returned to make a full inspection of the explosion area. He told the court that the mine was worked with safety lamps and the men had a shotlighter, Thomas Robinson. The men were not allowed to fire their own shots. The Coroner said that the Act required the shotlighter to make an examination immediately before the shot was fired.

John Yates, collier said he was driving a level from the corner of the upbrow. When he was drilling for a shot Robinson told him he could fire the shot as there was no gas about. Perhaps twenty minutes later, Yates lit the fuse and left the working. In the next level, a few minutes later, he felt a rush of wind which blew out his light. He went back to the shunt where he met the underlooker, Johnson and then went out of the pit.

Peter Yates, collier, was going out of the pit and was at the bottom of the jig brow when he felt a rush of air and dust. He saw fire approaching and ducked. He was burned about the hands. Another collier, Robert Clare was at the far end of the shunt when the explosion occurred and saw a blueish light coming in his direction. The next moment he was knocked down and his head and ear burned. He could not get up for a moment or two and then went out of the pit with Peter Yates. He did not hear a report but there was a hissing sound as the flame passed over him. He had fired a shot that day for Moses Yates but no one examined the place except himself.

James Henshaw, collier said that he was so the wagon road and was knocked down by the flames and burned on the elbows. he had fired a shot that morning after making an examination himself. John Southern, drawer for William Whittle was knocked down and slightly burned. He told the court that Whittle was in the habit of firing his own shots. Whittle was burned and could not attend the inquiry.

Johnson Mills, underlooker, went down the pit as soon as he heard of the explosion. He met Worthington and Prendergrast in the east level and took them to the surface. He went down again along the shunt and found several stoppings blown out and smoke in the level. He thought it was the smoke from a shot as it smelt of powder. he found no gas in Yate’s place. In the level, they found a burnt shirt and a little further on a jacket and waistcoat. A little further on they found Matthew Hampson, he as dressed as if ready to go out but quite dead. One of his clogs was found twenty feet away.

After hearing all the evidence, the Coroner summed up and the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death” and strongly censured the management of the mine.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1877.
Leigh Journal.
Colliery Guardian, 6th April 1877, p.532, 18th May 1877, p.774.
Farnworth Journal.

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

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