HINDLEY GREEN. Wigan, Lancashire. 25th November, 1868.

The colliery was the property of Messrs. John Sowcroft and Company Limited, and the explosion occurred in the Arley Mine which was notorious as being fiery. The disaster claimed the lives of sixty-two persons. Mr. Higson, the Inspector, arrived at the colliery on the day of the disaster

Some of those who died:

  • W. Holcroft.
  • John Berry.
  • James Jackson.
  • Robert Haslam.
  • Thomas Greenalgh.
  • Joseph Greenalgh.
  • Thomas Kaye.
  • James Houghton.
  • Thomas Ashurst.
  • W. Haslam.
  • James Latham.
  • Abraham Grundy.
  • Abel Haslam.
  • James Nicholson.
  • Samuel Hayes.
  • James Pilkington.
  • John Kirkpatrick.
  • James Ramsdale.
  • William Markland.
  • William Johnson.
  • Thomas Starkie.
  • Booth, a metalman.
  • Halliwell, a metalman.
  • Crook, a metalman.
  • Ingham, a metalman.
  • Wood.
  • Gregory.
  • Sargent.
  • John Kendrick.
  • William Tyldsley.
  • John Holcroft.
  • William Isherwood.
  • R. Beasly.
  • Thomas Holcroft.
  • William Dearden.

The inquest lasted six days and the verdict if the jury failed to fix responsibility for the disaster. Mr. Higson commented that “it was a sort of open verdict, aiming as it were at something beyond, which is omitted to express”. It condemned blasting in coal with gunpowder and the practice was discontinued at the colliery.

Mr. Higson commented:

The explosion happened within a few hundred yards of the downcast pit and on the deep side of the horse road level, where the heat and flame lefts its marks on the roof and pillars of the unworked coal. On the rise, and in undoubtedly the worst ventilated district of the mine, men who were working there cam out uninjured, while on the other side of the pit the explosion was scarcely heard.

 The scene and origin of this disaster were to be easily traced to two slants which were being driven downhill by one of the deceased, Thomas Holcroft, collier of no great ability, who seems to have little or no experience in the use of gunpowder. He had worked in both these slants, and on the day of the explosion, he was making a cut through from one to the other and was working at the time in the lower one, the other having been suspended for some time. Both were giving off gas rather freely from the floor, sides, and face, the lower one at the face only, and the ventilation of both at the time was conducted by brattice.

 In the lower bottom slant, I found a shot hole that had been charged and the charge had been blown out but the coal had not been disturbed. In the upper slant the sides and roof had been marked by fire which could be traced more or less distinctly for a very considerable distance in the direction of the inbye current of air until, at the place in which William Isherwood worked, it appeared to have been more intense and to have exploded there. At this point an empty powder can was found, in which the gunpowder had, no doubt exploded.

 Some of the witnesses attributed the explosion to that cause but subsequent inquiries brought out the facts that Isherwood could not have had so much as one pound weight of powder in the can, and the most the can could have held was two pounds. As this seemed too ridiculous to be maintained, it died away in an echo. There can be little or no doubt that some gunpowder was ignited but for the primary cause, an accumulation of gas only could be assigned.

 After many a careful examination of workings, I was obliged to return to place first identified as that in which the gas had been accumulated and where it was ignited, namely in Thomas Holcroft’s place. That place was giving off gas freely and having been stopped for some time, the gas would have accumulated if the brattice happened to be down, and from traces of fire there, it must have been so. When Thomas Holcroft fired shot in place below, it would, in consequence of not blowing down coal, produce great flame, which would so expand as to reach and ignite the gas in pace above and that, being once ignited, would go on burning so long as the air was inflammable and on meeting a supply of fresh air a little beyond Isherwood’s place, it would as a natural consequence, exploded. The flame travelling from burning gas, would in all probability, ignite the powder and cause the death of some unfortunate men from actual burning, but the majority died from suffocation in afterdamp which was much stronger than any reasonable quantity of gunpowder could have produced, while the flame from latter would have extended a tenth part of the distance, as it had evidently travelled in this instance.

 The workings under consideration could not have been properly inspected by morning fireman, or, if they had, the gas must have been found by him. It could not have accumulated in time that had elapsed between the hour of inspection and that of the explosion. It was on the day following the election for South West Lancashire, on which works were suspended and a great deal of drinking going on in the neighbourhood, in which the foreman, John Highton, generally a sober man, joined. He returned home at eleven at night, quarrelled with his wife, and what he did after that hour is still only imperfectly known but at the proper hour the following morning, he was seen by underlooker and Dan then reported to him that all the places were safe.

 A fair and reasonable quantity of air appeared to have been going through workings generally, but this particular district could not have had any surplus quantity. When workings were suspended a less quantity was capable of diluting gas but as they were finally stopped, I have no means of testing it under other circumstances.

 All care that could be taken by manager, in the sense of safety lamps, employment of the underground officers, and the provision of materials, had been judiciously exercised, but the mode of opening out the workings was too bold a character to admit of my discovering that ordinary skill had been sagaciously applied in that department of the engineering works. Still, it was only a copy of proceedings of some neighbouring mines, which has recently come into existence, but which cannot be too soon abandoned. These workings, which were only being opened out, have a range of strait work extending over 22 miles. Many of the deceased persons were found on the wagon road, and in openings on the south side below. Only a few were burned, the rest were suffocated in the afterdamp.

 The colliery had a good reputation amongst workpeople for being well ventilated and for the honest liberality of the firm so that the greatest sympathy was shown to them.

 This is another painful instance of the uncertainty of depending too much on the ventilating by brattice cloth, instead of driving double roads, particularly in opening out mines and of omitting to have places that have been stopped or suspended carefully examined each day.

 Much was written and talked about the barometer and manner in which atmospheric changes affect the ventilation of mines and promote the escape of gas. In admitting the accuracy of such statements, I may here observe how ridiculous it seems to attribute the origin of explosions in mines to such causes when there is sufficient evidence exhibited plainly to prove the most gross neglect. The barometer was rising and had been for two days when this casualty happened.


The Mines Inspectors Report 1868. Mr. Higson.

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

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