INCE HALL. Saw Mill Pit. Wigan, Lancashire. 18th. July, 1874.

The colliery was in Ince Green Lane near the Company’s works and had suffered two explosions about twenty years before. New pits had been sunk about 5 or 6 years before the accident to win the Wigan Five Foot, Four Foot and Nine Foot coal which lay at 363 yards, 391 yards and 416 yards from the surface respectively. The air went down the Saw Mill pit and went round the various workings and went to the Pemberton, up cast pit, which was a short distance to the west and also sinks to the Nine Foot seam. Mr. Bullen was the manager of the colliery and Mr. George Gilroy was the managing director of the Ince Hall Coal and Cannel Company, Limited. He was a very eminent man in the coal industry and was the President of the Mining Association of Great Britain.

At the time of the explosion, there were twelve men in the Nine Foot mine and thirteen in the Five Foot and Four Foot mines. About 6.46 a.m. there was a loud report followed by a dense cloud of dust from the shaft. All the men in the Nine Foot were killed and three of those who were at the mouthing of the Four Foot where they were waiting to be drawn up. The remainder of the men in the mine and felt the explosion, escaped by the shaft at the East Cannel pits.

The system of working the coal at the Ince Hall Colliery was one that was generally adopted in the Wigan Mines. During the day the colliers holed the coal at the top without cutting the side and prepared the shots, one in each corner of the place. The blasting was done by men selected for the purpose and was fired at night when the colliers were absent. On the day of the disaster, 15 shots had been prepared in the No.3 district and it was the duty of John Crompton, the head fireman, and his assistant McAllister to fire these shots. They had fired seven shots and reached the No.3 Main Jig Brow where the explosion appeared to have taken place.

The rules that were laid down for firing shots stated that all the places were to be examined and the first shots to be fired were those at the return end of the district and work around meeting the air so that any gas given off would be carried to the upcast shaft and any places that showed any gas were not to be fired. On the night in question, there seems to have been neglect on the part of Crompton who was said to be a steady and careful man. He had fired shots on Appleton’s main Jig Brow and in Jones’s opening close to Bullen’s back brow which had been reported to him as containing gas both by the underlooker and the day fireman before he left the pit.

The evidence showed that Crompton had not examined the place and one of the shots in Appleton’s main brow had blown out and it was possible that this had disturbed the gas in the back brow which would have been carried by air to the lights for firing the shot in Jones’s opening. The position of the bodies showed that they had been retreating from Jones’s place when the explosion occurred. The damage to the mine was fearful, not a single prop or bar was left standing and everything else was torn to pieces. The roof had fallen in several places to several feet in thickness which made the rescue operations difficult and dangerous and several of the rescuers had to go to the surface for treatment after they had been overcome by the gas. John Peake, the carpenter at the pit took part in the rescue operations and found the body of John Ashcroft about fifteen yards from the shaft and later that of Martin Rourke, the fireman, in the office. The last body was recovered only in February 1875.

The men who died were:

  • John Ashcroft aged 28 years, fireman.
  • John Burns, fireman, aged 25 years.
  • John Crompton, fireman, aged 40 years left a wife and eight children.
  • Samuel McAllister, fireman, aged 43 years left a wife and six children.
  • John Harris aged 54 years, dataller.
  • Richard Tregise aged 27 years, dataller.
  • Richard Rown aged 46 years, dataller.
  • Frank Anther aged 50 years, dataller.
  • Richard Goulding aged 21 years, dataller.
  • Anthony Jenkins aged 21 years, dataller.
  • Oliver Spencer aged 18 years, dataller.
  • Charles Kimble aged 25 years, dataller.
  • Martin Rourke aged 45 years, furnaceman left a widower with two children.
  • Morris Shaw aged 47 years, bricksetter.
  • John Wood aged 27 years, labourer left a wife and child.

At the inquiry, Mr. Bullen expressed a fear that if the coal was blown away as at present there would be similar accidents and if the coal was cut, fewer shots would be required. The south Levels had been worked without powder for 900 yards from the shaft and the men paid an extra price for cutting. Mr. Gilroy said:

As to the working of the mine and the use of powder, I might mention what is intended for the future. The South Levels have been got without powder but the reason was that there was gas in the roof (course roof coal) which facilitated the working of the coal. We intend to stop the No.3 district and to open out new pairs of brows at distances of about 200 yards along the main level which will all be driven put slowly without powder and held at intervals of from 100 to 150 yards, forming large pillars which will be allowed to stand a sufficient length of time for the gas to drain off. When these pillars are properly drained, we will work them, indeed the pillars now standing are now free from gas. I think they will have to become modified to longwall working tonight I am afraid that this work may not be practice in consequence of the thickness of the mine and the packing would be too expensive. In the mine was not worked in this way and the time given for the gas to drain, the powder could not be used safely.

Mr. Bell agreed with these methods of working the coal and recommended the system to other coal owners as a way of guarding against disastrous explosions.

The jury returned the verdict:

That the said deceased on the 18th July died from the effects of an explosion of firedamp then occurring in a certain coal mine. The explosion probably occurred either in Jones’s or Appleton’s working place from gas which had proceeded from Bullen’s working place, owing, as we believe, to Crompton the shotlighter having omitted to examine the place, as it was his duty to do so.


Mines Inspector Report, 1874. Mr. Thomas Bell.
Colliery Guardian, 24th July, p.131, 31st July, p.168, 21st August, 276, 11th September, p.384.

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


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