INCE HALL. Wigan, Lancashire. 24th. March, 1853.

The colliery worked the Arley Mine at a depth of 414 yards. and was the property of the Ince Hall Coal and Cannel Company. The Arley mine was one of a cluster of eight pits within an area of about two miles and were about one mile due east of Wigan near the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Although it was known to be a very fiery seam, it was worked with naked lights and in the resulting explosion, fifty men and boys were killed.

The pithead been worked for about three years and was ventilated in the usual way, by means of an upcast shaft and downcast with a number of airways and doors. The General Manager of the whole Company was Mr. James Darlington but George Bury was the overlooker of the Arley Mine and Thomas Jones who had responsibility for the ventilation of the mine.

On the morning of the day of the disaster, there was a slight accident to the guide rods in the upcast shaft and Jones immediately reduced the power of the ventilation of the furnace so that joiners could effect repairs. He took this action without consulting Mr. Darlington and he also kept the men down while the furnace was slackened. When the repairs were completed the furnace was fired up again. During the time the furnace had been slackened it was thought that gas had accumulated in the workings and had been drawn towards the furnace where it had exploded.

A few minutes after one o’clock on that Wednesday, the men were leaving work a little earlier as it was pay time about four o’clock and they had just come out of the pit and were waiting at the pit bottom to be drawn to the surface. There were about sixty-four men with a group of about twenty waiting at the shaft bottom near the furnace. The explosion occurred a little after one o’clock close to the furnace and vented up the upcast shaft, tearing up iron plates at the pit mouth and damaging the cage and the shaft machinery and well as portions of its brick lining. The force of the blast carried materials into the air and hurled them into the canal. The concussions shook furniture in two inns, the Britannia and the Navigation Inn, a least three hundred yards from the pit mouth. It was amazing that little was heard or felt of the explosion in the mine and some of the colliers who were rescued stated that they heard a noise that was no louder than the banging of a door.

As soon as the explosion was heard, a considerable number of people collected at the pit bank. The upcast shaft was not much damaged but hot sulphurous fumes and thick smoke stopped any attempt to go down. James Darlington got together a number of volunteers and sent for surgeons. He organised a stream of water to be poured down the downcast shaft in order to restore the ventilation. This was carried on for about twenty minutes when an attempt to descend was made. The party included Mr. Darlington, Thomas Jones, the underlooker of the Arley Mine, Burrell the underlooker of the Cannel Pit and four or five colliers but before the cage had reached the bottom, the suffocating fumes, known as afterdamp was found to be too strong and the signal was given to bring them to the surface.

Again large quantities of water were thrown down the shaft for about a quarter of an hour when a second attempt to descend was made by the same party. The fumes were found to be strong but they persevered and reached the pit eye near the furnace. By this time one of the men was so exhausted that he had to be sent to the surface where he arrived in a state of great exhaustion to be immediately attended by the medical men and brandy and other restoratives were administered and they recovered in a short time.

Survivors started arriving at the surface, many of the men supported by a rescuer and the backs carried on the backs of men. They were taken to the engine house and soon recovered to the state that they were either capable to walk home and conveyed there in cabs. Sergeant France of the County Constabulary arrived at the pit and found a large crowd who had come to learn the fate of their relations. Many were women anxious about their husbands, brothers or fathers. It was difficult to preserve order and the Sergeant was supported by eight men from the County Constabulary and three constables from The Wigan Borough Police.

Some of the dead were brought to the surface and many of the rescuers needed medical assistance when they returned. About half-past four, Mr Fisher, surgeon and several assistants went down the pit to help ten men below and in a short time they brought up five men and boys all in an exhausted condition. Among them was a man named Aaron Jelly who besides the effects of the gas was suffering a fractured skull and leg. He appeared lifeless for some time but regained some consciousness and was taken to his home in Schofield Lane in a straw-filled cart.

By five o’clock, twenty-four had been taken put alive from the stricken pit. By that time the crowd at the pit was so large that it was considered undesirable to bring the bodies to the surface and the workmen were employed searching the workings for bodies which were brought to the pit eye ready to be drawn up.

About midnight, the first grim cage-load came to the surface and by a quarter to two in the morning, twenty-four bodies of men and boys had been taken to two outbuildings at the Navigation Inn on heaps of straw in the ground. Proper persons were employed to lay out the corpses with the greatest care and priority. The bodies remained there for the CoronerÕs jury top view them.

About half-past three in the morning the twenty-sixth survivor was brought out of the pit. Robert William had been in the most distant part of the workings at the time of the explosion, about three-quarters of a mile from the pit eye. He suffered exhaustion from the atmosphere in the mine but when he was brought out he was able to stand and after a short time he made his own way home.

Those killed:

  • John Marsden aged 33 years, hooker-on, married with two children.
  • John Stanley aged 24 years, hooker-on, unmarried.
  • Joseph Hunt aged 37 years, fireman, married with six children.
  • Edward Hunt aged 15 years, son of Joseph, drawer.
  • Michael Connelly aged 21 years, jigger, unmarried.
  • James Green aged 11 years, drawer.
  • William Tabener aged 28 years, labourer, unmarried.
  • Joseph Tabener aged 18 years, brother of William, jigger, unmarried.
  • Joseph Blacklidge aged, about, drawer of Chorley.
  • George Hargreaves aged 24 or 25 years, drawer, married with two children.
  • William McKnight aged 25 years, jigger, married with two children.
  • Thomas Baxendale aged 38 years, labourer married with two children.
  • William Gent aged 19 years, drawer, unmarried.
  • Samuel Gent aged 20 years brother of William, drawer, unmarried.
  • Eli Jelly aged 33 or 34 years, collier, unmarried.
  • Thomas Wright aged 35 years. collier, married with five children.
  • William Byrom aged 26 years, collier, unmarried.
  • Matthew Rigby aged 23 years, drawer, unmarried.
  • John Huyton aged about 52 years, labourer, married with six children.
  • John Mallin aged 20 years. drawer, unmarried.
  • James Jones aged 18 years, drawer.
  • John McAllister aged 20 years, drawer.
  • James McAllister aged 14 years, drawer.
  • Joseph McAllister aged 16 years, drawer.
  • Henry Isherwood aged 27 years, married with one child.
  • Edward Marsden aged 18 years, drawer.
  • Joseph McIntosh aged 29 years, collier, married with two children.
  • Peter McNaught aged 13 years, drawer.
  • Robert McNaught aged 18 years, drawer.
  • Edward Hanley aged 12 years, drawer.
  • John Cavanah aged 22 years, drawer, married with one child.
  • Michael Cunliffe, aged 22 or 23 years, jigger.
  • Matthew Byrnes aged 21 years. drawer, unmarried.
  • Robert Jones, aged 26 years, collier, married with three children.
  • Thomas Ellison aged 20 years, collier, unmarried.
  • Robert Lewis aged 22 years. married, no children.
  • Ralph Valentine aged 25 years, labourer, married with one child.
  • Cutus Morgan aged 18 years. collier, unmarried.
  • Thomas Owen, aged 30 years, collier, married with two children.
  • James Hardman aged 13 years, door tenter.
  • Joseph Gaskell aged 20 years, collier, unmarried.
  • William Griffiths aged 32 years, collier, unmarried.
  • Charles O’Neill aged 28 years. collier, unmarried.
  • Arthur O’Neill aged 21 years, brother of Charles, collier, unmarried.
  • John O’Neill aged 18 years, brother of former two O’Neill’s, drawer, unmarried.
  • Thomas Glaive aged 22 years, Collier, unmarried.
  • John Davis aged, young man, drawer,
  • Thomas Jones.
  • David Jones.

The Wigan surgeons were treating several who were seriously injured including:

  • William Critchley, a young man, an unknown boy with a fractured leg and very much affected by the afterdamp,
  • Aaron Jelly,
  • Robert Ainscough aged 23 years, collier who was dangerously ill,
  • James Naylor aged 26 years, collier,
  • Thomas Martindale, a young man,
  • A man named Mason who had hurt his back.

The inquiry was held before Mr. C.E. Driffield, the County Coroner. Mr. Darlington, the colliery engineer, gave a detailed account of the cause of the disaster:

A reference to the plan will show the working on the 23rd of March 1853. The proximate cause of that disaster was traced to the south doors at the top of the No.2 Jig being left open for a shorter or longer period, thereby fouling the rise workings to the north of that Jig. It must be borne in mind that the explosion occurred at one o’clock. About nine o’clock a.m. the cage had broken the wooden guides, laying the pit idle for nearly four hours. During this interval, work was suspended, and door-lads, colliers, and drawers appeared to have left their posts and congregated together. Some had gone to the main level where the full current would in any case sweep past them, and others seated themselves about thirty yards north of the doors supposed to have been open in a sort of blind level, where no current traversed they would not, therefore, be conscious of the mischief that was accruing. On the pit resuming work at one o’clock, it was assumed the doors had been hastily closed, thus directing the air in its usual course, and sweeping over the shot on Griffith’s place the foul current from the north.

The north district was then ventilated by one current, which swept the face of every working-place in that district before it returned to the upcast. This current was measured to 15,903 feet a minute.


The Report of the Select Committee on Accidents in Coal Mines, 1853.
Evidence Taken before the Coroner’s Inquest At Wigan, Relating To The Explosion Of Gas Which Occurred In The Ince Hall Coal And Cannel Co. Arley Mine Pit, February 18, 1854. With Introductory Remarks By James Darlington, the Company’s Mining Engineer. London; Printed By M’corquodale and Co. Works, Newton 1854.
Manchester Guardian.

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

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