HINDLEY GREEN. Springs Pit. Wigan, Lancashire. 15th. November, 1871.

Hindley Green Colliery was the property of Messrs. John Sowcroft and Company Limited. The explosion that took place in the Arley mine claimed six lives. It was known that the Arley seam was liable to explode and there had been many disasters in the district in this seam. As a result great care was taken in laying out the colliery and the shaft had been sunk to the rise of the coal to give the best possible ventilation. The practice of blasting had been discontinued for getting coal but it was still in use to bring down roof and enlarge the roads. The scene of the explosion was on the east side of the pit about 400 yards from the downcast shaft. The colliery had three shafts. The downcast was near the Hindley Grammar School with another shaft close by and yet another shaft some distance away.

Most of the 150 men who worked at the pit had left work as usual about 5 p.m., and at 8 p.m., a shift of 21 men went to work. There were 13 metalmen who were to enlarge the roads, and the furnaceman on the south-west side and two colliers, a drawer, two metalmen, and a fireman on the north-east side of the pit. There was a fireman, William Fairclough, who was specially appointed to see that shots were fired correctly and that no shots were fired during the day. The two metalmen were making a pony road and as far as was known at the time, a shot was fired shortly after 11 p.m. to bring down part of the roof. This was followed by a violent explosion that devastated the north-east side of the pit.

Immediately the report of the explosion was heard, the residents rushed to the pit. Mr. Southworth, the manager was called and when he came to the pit he found that the cage had been wedged at the bottom of the shaft and at the surface, several iron plates round the shaft had been forced upwards by the blast. Every effort was made to get the damaged cage in working order. Shortly before 12 o’clock an exploring party consisting of the underlooker, Peter Meadows, and a number of miners went down the pit. They returned a short time later to report that six men had been killed but that Fairclough was still alive. In the part of the workings where the explosion had occurred boxes were thrown about and damaged and nearly all the props in the main level had been blown away.

Fairclough, the fireman, was brought to the surface by the second party and was not injured by very badly burned and he was taken to his home on Hindley Common. Numerous parties went down the pit but the bodies were not recovered until 11 a.m. the following morning. It was also found that eleven ponies had been killed in the east side. The men on the west side of the pit were unaware of the explosion and continued to work until they were told of the disaster when they left the pit and joined the rescue operations.

John Almond, the furnaceman who was in the southwest workings was found to have been left behind when the thirteen metal men who were working on that side of the pit got to the surface. He had gone to the upcast shaft immediately after the explosion and it was feared that he had fallen out of the hoppet. It was then decided that he had given the signals from the shaft bottom and a search was made for him. He was found totally unconscious unaware that anything had happened in the mine.

The bodies of the dead were not all recovered until 11 a.m. the following day. Some of the bodies were taken to their homes and some to the Victoria Inn.

The men who died were:

  • Peter Holt aged 48 years, metalman of Hindley Common, married with eight children.
  • James Bullough aged 50 years metalman of New Road Hindley, married with three children.
  • Walter Blythe aged 50 years, metalman of Hindley Common, married with five children.
  • John Green aged 24 years, collier of Wheat Sheaf Yard, Westhoughton, married with three children.
  • John Cowburn aged 22 years collier of Marsh Lane, Westhoughton, married.

The inquest took place before Mr. Driffield at the Victoria Inn. Francis Faiclough of Hindley Common, fireman was badly bruised and burned. He was reported to under the care of Dr. Brayton and in a precarious state and the inquest had to be adjourned until he could give evidence.

The explosion took place in the Arley Mine and was the scene of an explosion some four years before. Blasting was suspected as being the cause of the disaster and since the blasting was used only to blow down the roof to enlarge the roads. This was the work that was being done when the present explosion took place. There was a sudden outburst of gas from the floor in a road that had been used for years. It was not more than eight feet wide and five feet high and had a dirt floor.

There was a strong current of air blowing. About 60 yards to one side there was a goaf but between the upbrow there was a return air course which was undamaged by the blast. Mr. Peter Higson, the Inspector commented:

Under the circumstances, it is difficult to say whether the subsidence of the goaf had so broken the floor and so liberated the gas or it was the natural issue from the strata, such as frequently happened before. It is therefore manifest that there cannot be perfect safety in blasting in any mine that emits gas and that it should be strictly prohibited when workpeople are in the mine, and only permitted when necessary in their absence, and then only by competent persons employed for that purpose.

The Inspector said that a fireman going through the workings that night should have seen that the place was clear of gas and safe but the gas must have come suddenly at a place where it was not expected.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1871. Mr. Bell
Leigh Chronicle.
Leigh Journal.
Colliery Guardian, 17th November p.509, 24th November p.534, 1st December p.262, 15th December p.606.

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

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