QUEEN PIT. Haydock, Lancashire. 21st. July, 1869.
The colliery was the property of Richard Evans and Company and was part of the Haydock Collieries. There had been an explosion at the colliery in December 1868 and since the December explosion, work had continued at the Queen Pit and the workforce had a generally good opinion of the conditions in the pit and the management of the colliery. It was considered a safe mine, despite the occurrence of the last explosion. Evans & Co. had made important alterations to the system of ventilation of the mine in accordance with the recommendations of the Mines Inspector but the work had not yet been completed. The colliery could have employed about three hundred and fifty men but due to the work on the ventilation system and the general decline in the coal trade, there were seldom above one hundred employed at any one time.
The underground work had been concentrated close to the pit eye and special care had been taken in the Wigan Nine Foot Mine where the last explosion took place. The work that had been done was carefully planned and inspected but the Inspector of Mines had not been asked to make an inspection since the work was not yet complete.
On Wednesday 21st July about one hundred men descended the pit. A full inspection of the workings had been made and everything was found to be satisfactory. Work commenced about six a.m. and all went well until five minutes past eleven when the banksman, Thomas Taylor, who was working near the mouth of the shaft saw a momentary reversal of the ventilation and a cloud of dust come from the downcast shaft. He sent someone to look for Mr. Billinge, the underlooker of the mine and repeatedly sent signals to the bottom of the shaft. For several minutes there was no reply and then the cage came to the surface bringing a young man whose mane is not recorded, who said that there had been an explosion in the Wigan Nine Foot workings.
Mr. Billinge, who had been down the pit at the time that the explosion occurred, was in the opposite return air course when he was blown off his feet and banged against the wall of the tunnel by the force of the blast. He recovered quickly only too well aware of what had occurred and made his way to the bottom of Leigh Pit and from there he hurried the few hundred yards to Queen Pit.
Mr. Chadwick, the underground manager and Mr. Harvey, the Company secretary were quickly at the colliery organising the exploring parties. As news of the accident spread throughout the village, a large crowd of anxious men and women gathered at the pit head. Many were agitated and asked for information as to who was in the mine. Volunteers for the search parties willingly came forward and it was about one p.m. that operations were ready to commence. Up to midnight, about sixty men were working in relays and they found that the stoppings were badly damaged, wagons blown to pieces and the first two parties reported that they had found about twenty bodies.
Mr. Harvey and other pit officials set about making arrangements above ground. Twenty-three carts were obtained to take the thirty survivors that had been rescued home. Many of these men were in a very bad state suffering from the effects of the afterdamp and some were badly burnt. One of the survivors, William Blinstone, died in the cart on the way home. Drs. Twyford and Jameson from St. Helens arrived at the pit head and tended the survivors. The Reverend Sherlock, the Vicar of Haydock, was also at the scene comforting the anxious crowd.
Mr Richard Evans sons Joseph and Josiah were at a meeting in Manchester when the disaster occurred and they were sent a telegram informing them of the event. They were very soon at the colliery. Telegrams were also sent to the Government Inspector of Mines and to Mr. Driffield, the County Coroner. Help also came from the local colliery owners. Mr. Clark, mining engineer to Sir Robert Gerard of Ashton-in-Makerfield and Mr. J. Stone of Stony Lane Collieries, Hindley, near Wigan together with Mr. Chadwick supervise the early rescue operations.
One of the rescue parties had a very narrow escape when they were working at the far end of the workings. They came across a large body of afterdamp and first one and then another member of the party collapsed. Mr. Chadwick and Mr. Billinge began to feel the effects of the gas. Billinge went back to get help and Chadwick stayed with the two unconscious men. Mr. Chadwick then began to feel the effects of the gas and decided to go down the tunnel after Mr. Billinge. He saw the glimmer of a lamp in front of him and when he got to the spot he found Billinge unconscious. He went on and very soon found a rescue party who got Billinge and the two men safely out of the pit.
By 10 p.m. all the workings had been searched and fifty-six bodies recovered. It was after midnight before all the bodies were at the surface, many of them burnt and badly mutilated. They were taken to a shed that had been prepared as a temporary mortuary at the pit head. Here, during the night, they were washed and laid out to await identification. This was a difficult task due to the state of the bodies which indicated the force of the explosion.
During the following morning, a constant stream of friends and relatives made their way to the shed to find their loved ones. They had to make their way through a crowd of the curious who peered through the cracks in the shed walls and glanced through the door as it was opened and closed. One man had to visit the place four times before he recognised his son. The floor of the shed was covered with sawdust and disinfectants had to be liberally used, necessary precautions due to the state of the bodies and the hot July weather.
On Thursday, the day after the explosion, Mr. Peter and Mr. John Higson, the Government Inspector and his assistant arrived at the colliery. They, together with Mr. Chadwick and Isaac Billinge descended the pit at about nine a.m. to examine the workings and try to find the cause of the disaster. They were later joined by Mr. Mercer of the Park Lane Collieries, Ashton-in-Makerfield and Mr. Smethurst of the Bryn Collieries also of Ashton. The party came to the surface about noon.
The Nine Foot workings were ventilated by a tunnel, called a jig brow, at the top of which, the air was split and sent east and west. Not many men were working on the east side. The majority of the victims were found on the west side and they had suffered serious burns. There was a tunnel leading from the Nine Foot workings into the Ravenhead Six Foot Mine and some of the victims were found in the latter killed by the afterdamp. In the early editions of the press, it was thought that Mr. Higson would make another inspection later in the week. As to the ignition of the gas, it was suspected that gunpowder used in a shot was responsible.
Most of the injured that had been got out of the pit were progressing favourably but some were not. William Yates, the fireman, was said to be the most seriously injured and very badly burnt. A man named Owen was suffering from the effects of afterdamp. William Lucas aged twelve years was reported to be in a critical condition suffering from a severely lacerated scalp and a fractured skull and Henry Picton, a dataller of Ashton-in-Makerfield, whose arms, legs and face were badly burnt was also said to be in a critical condition. William Yates and Henry Picton appear on the list of victims but William Lucas, although reported to be so badly injured does not appear on the list and so presumably, survived.
The identification of the dead was a difficult process due to the state of the bodies. One man described as “hale and hearty” arrived at the shed to protest that a corpse that had been labelled with his name was not in fact him and an accurate identification had to be found for the corpse. The families of two lads could not decide which was which but by Thursday all fifty-six victims had been identified. The Wigan Reporter wrote:
There was lamentation, moaning, and woe over these fifty-six grizzly corpses, and too truly did the tears of the women tell the story of the desolate homes which is recorded on the list of the dead.
By Friday the bodies had been placed in coffins to await the inspection of the Coroner’s jury which met at the Rams head Inn, Haydock. On Wednesday 21st July, Sergeants Gardiner and Murphy of the County Constabulary, the former of Ashton and the latter of Pemberton, Wigan were in charge of the arrangements at the Coroner’s court. Present were Mr. Peter Higson, the Government Inspector for the district, Mr. John Chadwick, the underground manager for Richard Evans & Co., Mr. Isaac Billinge the underlooker of the Haydock Collieries, Mr. Clark, mining engineer for Sir Robert Gerard, Mr. Mercer of Park Lane Collieries and Mr. William Smethurst of Bryn Collieries all of Ashton-in-Makerfield.
The jury consisted of the foreman, Captain E. Browne, Mr. Joseph Gibbons, Mr. Joseph Radcliffe, Mr. James Cunliffe, Mr. William Finney, Mr. George Hewitt, Mr. James Buckley, Mr. Edward Johnson, Mr. John France, Mr Edward Birchall, Mr. James Clark, Mr. John Glover and Mr. Edward Edwardson.
Mr. Driffield opened the proceedings with a speech in which he told the jury that it was their sole duty to inquire into the deaths at the colliery. He said that he had no idea as to the cause of the explosion but he had no doubt that the inquiry would ascertain the cause of the disaster.
Those who died were:
- Arnold Baxendale, aged 20 years. A drawer of Park road, Parr who was a single man. His body was found in the Six Foot Mine badly burnt and mutilated.
- James Billinge, aged 44 years. A fireman of Gibralter Row, Newton. Married with no family. He was brother to Isaac the underlooker and was found badly burnt in the Nine Foot Mine.
- William Blinstone, aged 15 years. Pony driver of Earlestown. He was brought out of the pit alive but died on the cart on his way home.
- David Bunney, aged 13 years. A pony driver of Havannah, Parr. Found burnt in the Nine Foot Mine.
- John Chadwick, aged 42 years. A married collier of Stone Row, Haydock who was found burnt in the Nine Foot mine. His son, John was also killed in the explosion.
- John Chadwick, aged 13 years. A drawer of Stone Row, Haydock found burnt in the Nine Foot Mine.
- John Chorley, aged 29 years. A waggoner of Slater’s Yard, Haydock who left a wife and one child. He was found burnt in the Nine Foot Mine.
- John Crossley, aged 42 years. A single man, drawer of Twenty Eight Row, Haydock. Found burnt in the Nine Foot Mine.
- Patrick Diskin, aged 28 years A single collier of UnsworthÕs Cottages, Haydock. Found in the Six Foot Mine, suffocated.
- Thomas Diskin, aged 23 years. A collier of Penny Lane Haydock. Found in the Six Foot Mine suffocated.
- James Devine, aged 16 years. A pony driver of Haydock Green. James was licenced to Evans & Co. from the Liverpool Reformatory. He was found suffocated in the Six Foot Mine and identified by Thomas McComb.
- John Duckworth, aged 15 years. A drawer of Twenty Eight Row, Haydock, who was single.
- Thomas Dyson, aged 15 years A pony driver of Stone Row, Haydock. He was found burnt and mutilated in the Ravenhead Mine.
- Joseph Edwards, aged 25 years. A drawer of Clipsley Lane, Haydock who was single. He was identified by Mary Ann Eden, wife of John Eden of Clipsley Lane. He was found burnt in the Nine Foot Mine.
- Sylvester Fairclough, aged 40 years. A tunneller of Wigan who was lodging at New Boston. He left a wife and four children and was found suffocated in the Nine Foot Mine.
- John Foley, aged 35 years. Collier of New Boston, Haydock. He was found suffocated in the Wigan Six Foot Mine and. He left a wife and four children.
- Thomas Foster, aged 36 years He left a wife and two children. He was a collier and was identified by his wife, Mary Ann who lived in Blackbrook, Haydock. His body was found in the Six Foot Mine, suffocated.
- Joseph Finney, aged 32 years. A collier of Coal Pit Lane, Haydock who left a wife and four children. He was found in the Nine Foot Mine burnt and mutilated and was, who said that Joseph’s brother, James was also killed in the explosion.
- James Finney, aged 20 years. A single man, collier of Park Road, Parr. He was found burnt in the Nine Foot Mine.
- Thomas Garnett, aged 20 years. A collier of Blackbrook, Haydock who had been married only a few weeks. He was found in the Nine Foot mine burnt and mutilated. David was his brother.
- David Garnet, aged 32 years. Collier of Toll Bar, Haydock who left a wife and four children and was found suffocated.
- John Garretty, aged 38 years. Collier of Penny Lane, Haydock. He was a widower who left five children. He was found suffocated in the Nine Foot Mine.
- ohn German, aged 13 years. A taker-off of Gibraltar Row, Newton. He was found in the Nine Foot Mine and was badly burnt and mutilated.
- Joseph Hall, aged 16 years. A drawer of Stone Row, Haydock and the grandson of Abraham Livesley who was also killed in the explosion. He was found in the Six Foot Mine burnt and mutilated.
- John Halsall, aged 51 years. Collier of Haydock Lane married with three children two of which, James and William were killed in the explosion. He was found suffocated in the Six Foot Mine.
- James Halsall, aged 13 years. A drawer of Haydock Lane and the son of John. He was found suffocated in the Six Foot Mine.
- William Halsall, aged 11 years. Dataller of Haydock lane. Son of John and brother to James. Found burnt near the pit eye.
- Richard Harrison, aged 41 years. A collier of Toll Bar, Haydock who left a wife and three children. He was found burnt in the Nine Foot Mine.
- James Hatton, aged 16 years. A drawer of Stone Row, Haydock. Brother to William and found suffocated in the Six Foot Mine. Identified by Thomas Reed.
- William Hatton, aged 16 years. A pony driver of Stone Row Haydock, Brother to James and found suffocated in the Six Foot Mine. Identified by Thomas Reed.
- James Houlton, aged 23 years. A married dataller of Twenty Eight Row, Haydock. Found suffocated in the Six Foot Mine.
- David Holding, aged 17 years. A labourer of Haydock. He was found in the Nine Foot Mine burnt and mutilated and identified by Abraham Lowe of Ashton who also worked at the colliery.
- Thomas John, aged 21 years. A single drawer who lived at Baines’s Row, Haydock. He was found in the Nine Foot Mine burnt and.
- Abraham Livesley aged 59 years. A collier of Stone Row, Haydock. He left a wife and eight grown up children. One of his grandsons, Joseph Hall, was also killed in the explosion. He was found suffocated in the Six Foot Mine and.
- John Lowe, aged 14 years. A dataller of Town Green Ashton. He was found near the pit eye.
- Edward Molyneau, aged 11 years. A pony driver of Blackbrook, Haydock who was identified by Elizabeth Marsh of New Boston, Haydock who was his mother. He was found in the Nine Foot Mine burnt and mutilated.
- Thomas Molyneau, aged 50 years. A collier of Park Road, Parr. a widower with two children. He was the father of Thomas aged 15 years.
- Thomas Molyneau, aged 15 years. A pony driver of Park Road, Parr, son of Thomas. He was found in the Nine Foot Mine, burnt.
- William Moore, aged 45 years. A collier of Twenty Eight Row, Haydock who left a wife and one child.
- James Morgan, aged 25 years. A single man who worked as a tunneller and lived in Barnes Row, Haydock. He was found in the Nine Foot Mine, suffocated.
- James Owen, aged 20 years. A single collier of Clipsley Row, Haydock who was identified by Mary Ann Smith as her husband’s drawer and her cousin. He was found suffocated in the Six Foot Mine.
- Thomas Parr, aged 16 years. A pony driver of Toll Bar, Haydock. He was brother to Henry and was found suffocated in the Six Foot Mine. he was identified by Thomas McComb.
- Henry Parr, aged 12 years. A drawer of Tollbar, Haydock and was identified by Aaron Livesley of Stone Row, Haydock who was an engine tenter.
- Joseph Parfett, aged 25 years. A collier who left a wife and two children. He was found burnt in the Six Foot Mine and identified by Esther Evans with whom he lodged.
- Henry Picton, aged 29 years, dataller of Newton Heath. He was found in the Nine Foot Mine badly burnt but he was brought out of the pit alive. He died on the Sunday after the explosion. He was identified by his brother, Thomas a hingemaker of Ashton-in-Makerfield.
- James Pilkington, aged 36 years collier of Coal Pit Lane, Haydock who left a wife and six children all under the age of eight. He was found in the Nine Foot Mine.
- John Render aged 27 years, tunneller with two children of Spring Terrace, Haydock. He was found in the six Foot Mine and identified by Esther Lightfoot with whom he lodged.
- Peter Roscoe, aged 32 years collier of Toll Bar Haydock who left a wife and four children. He was found in the Six Foot Mine, suffocated.
- Thomas Russell, aged 30 years collier of Toll Bar, Haydock with two children who was found burnt and mutilated in the Nine Foot Mine.
- Thomas Seddon, aged 45 years collier of New Boston, Haydock who left a wife and three children. He was found in the Six Foot Mine and was identified by Thomas Lee with whom he was working at the time of the explosion.
- Henry Smith, aged 26 years. He left a widow and two children. A collier of Park Road, Parr.
- Mathew Southern, aged 41 years, collier of Clipsley row, Haydock, married with seven children. Robert was one of those children. He was found in the Six Foot Mine, suffocated.
- Robert Southern, aged 18 years, dataller of Clipsley Row, Haydock, son of Mathew. He was found in the Six Foot Mine, suffocated.
- John Topping, aged 53 years. A tunneller of Chapel Lane, Wigan who was lodging in New Boston, Haydock. He was a widower with two children and was found suffocated in the Nine Foot Mine.
- James Westhead, aged 11 years. A pony driver of Twenty Eight Row, Haydock who was found burnt in the Nine Foot Mine. He was identified by his brother, William.
- Ralph Wilcock, aged 25 years. A collier of Haydock. A single man who was found suffocated in the Six foot Mine.
- William Winstanley, aged 42 years. A collier of Twenty Eight Row, Haydock who left a wife and three children. he was found in the Nine Foot Mine burnt and mutilated.
- William Yates. A fireman of Haydock. He was rescued from the mine and was badly burnt and injured. He was identified by Jane Prescott of Spring Terrace, Haydock. She said that she had heard him ask where the gas had fired and it was her opinion that he did not know.
Relief of the victim’s families relied on public subscription and, as there had been several disasters in the district about this time, the difficulties in raising money for yet another were voiced in the press. There had been an explosion at the Hindley Green Colliery, at the Norley Collieries just outside Wigan and at the Rainford Colliery near St. Helens where three men had been killed and four injured.
Richard Evans & Co. provided the families with coffins and a Fund for the Relief of the Victims Dependants was opened with a donation of £800 from the Company. Mr. Legh M.P. and Sir Robert Gerard each donated the sum of £200 and donations came from people of standing in the district and from local firms. The workers of the Haydock Collieries collected £456-6-0d. over two months and the subscription list published in the St. Helens Newspaper dated 2nd January 1869 shows that a total of £1717-0-0d had been raised.
At a meeting held in Haydock in January, the subscribers expressed a desire that the funds that had been collected for the various disasters should be amalgamated. To this end, there was a meeting of the people concerned with the administration of the funds at the Quarter Sessions Court in Wigan. The Mayor of Wigan was in the chair and heard that the Hindley Green Fund stood at £2,480 and together with the funds from the Rainford and the Haydock disasters, a considerable sum had been accumulated,
At this meeting, it was resolved that the Local Disaster Committees should be instructed to put their funds together and it should be shared for the relief of the families of all the victims of these explosions. It was also resolved that the scales of relief should not exceed in any case the maximum for widows of five shillings a week until death or marriage and for children three shillings a week until the age of fourteen. The Local Committee should look at each individual case and agree on the amount of relief with the dependants.
The inquest into the disaster was held at the Rams Head Hotel, Haydock, and many of the tensions that the two disasters following each other so closely, had caused came to the surface.
There was a reluctance of witnesses coming forward from the workmen to give their evidence as it was thought that Hugh Arnold, the only survivor of the explosion the previous December, had been victimised by the Company.
The whole question of getting coal by blasting it down by gunpowder was examined and Mr. Higson related, that the colliery owners had not responded to a curricular he had sent them on the subject. Joseph Dickinson, the Inspector for Manchester was very much against blasting to get coal but the coal in this seam was very hard and a mining engineer put forward the point of view that hard coal like this was should be left until there was the technology to mine it safely.
The atmosphere in the room was sometimes electric and always stained. the Coroner’s authority was questioned and Mr. Higson displayed signs of strain. The Coroner made his summing up and the jury returned the following verdict:
We find that Joseph Edwards and the fifty-eight others came to their deaths from an explosion occurring in the Nine Foot Mine at the Queen Pit, Haydock of 21st July 1869 last and that the expulsion was of firedamp caused by a shot igniting the gas brought f by a fall in Pilkington’s place and we are also of the opinion that the explosion was aggravated and the loss of life considerably increased by the quantities of gunpowder in the mine. We further find that if proper care had been taken to remove the gas in the cavity this fall, the explosion would not have taken place. We recommend that the coal should be got in that manner spoken of by Mr. Dickenson, that is, cutting on one side and that further blasting operations shall be carried out at night in the absence of the workmen. We also consider it objectionable for the Nine Foot air to be returned through the Six Foot workings.
The Coroner asked directly if they thought the explosion was “a point of accident?” and the Forman said that the jury did not wish to have the words “unexpected or accidental” in the verdict.
The proceedings prompted may reactions in the Press both National and Local the “Times” thought the verdict threw a serious reflection on the men who were responsible for the mine and that if the jury had been prepared to say that there was neglect, then criminal proceedings would have been taken against those who were thought to be responsible.
The Mines Inspectors Report, 1869. Mr. Peter Higson.
The Colliery Guardian, 23rd July 1869, p.86, 30th July 1869, p.111, 6th August 1869, p.135, 13th. August, 1869, p.162
The St. Helens Standard.
The Wigan Observer.
The Wigan Examiner.
With Hearts so Light. Ian Winstanley.
Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.Return to previous page