INCE MOSS. Wigan, Lancashire. 6th. September, 1871.

The Moss Pits at Ince near Wigan were the property of Messrs. Pearson and Knowles. The mine had two shafts, both 15 feet in diameter and 460 yards deep. The workings at the colliery were not very extensive and had been working for only about a year. Mr. Peter Higson, the Inspector, had made two inspections of the colliery and was on the point of making at third when the explosion occurred. On both occasions, he found that mine gave off gas freely and that the coal was got by gunpowder but he commented that smaller quantities of powder were used than was usual. The mine was under the care of two careful underlookers who had been selected for their sobriety and care and Mr. Higson believed that the owners had spared no expense to prevent loss of life.

At the time of the explosion, there were sixty-four people at work in the Wigan Nine Feet Mine and six sinkers working on the upcast shaft in the seam below, the Wigan Four Feet Mine. The cannel pit was also worked at a depth of 560 yards. The sixty who were working in the Wigan Nine Feet died but all the rest escaped.

After the explosion, it was discovered that the mine was on fire and it was decided to seal the workings. This was done on the following day and an outlet for smoke and gas was left at the top of the upcast shaft. The smoke and heat gradually subsided and on 19th September a consultation between the engineers took place and it was decided it was safe to open the pit and recover the bodies of the men. As the pit was opened a terrific explosion took place and flames could be seen fifty yards above the shaft. It caused the death of the five men who were moving the covers. One of them fell down the shaft and Mr. Higson commented in his report that he still lay there.

There was no course left but for the engineers to flood the pit. This was a very tedious process as there was not a lot of water available. A few weeks later it was decided to pump out the pit and these operations met great difficulties as the shaft had been damaged by the explosion and fire. The casing and lining had collapsed in many places and had to be replaced as the workmen descended. The inquest was adjourned until 18th April 1872.

In the Report for 1872, Mr. Bell, the Inspector said that Mr. Higson, the previous Inspector, had died. The five men who had lost their lives after the explosion at the colliery, were in the colliery when it was decided to flood it. The water had been pumped from the mine and work had gone on to recover the bodies. Fifty-four had been recovered which left 16 unaccounted for. With the permission of the relatives, the search was abandoned and the decision was taken to close the mine altogether.

Those who died were:

  • William Finch aged 51 years, collier.
  • William Finch Jnr. aged 22 years, drawer.
  • Thomas Finch aged 23 years, collier.
  • John Finch aged 19 years, drawer.
  • George Parkinson aged 22 years, drawer.
  • Henry Radcliffe aged 22 years, drawer.
  • Joseph Finch aged 25 years, collier.
  • James Jones aged 20 years, drawer.
  • John Walsh aged 17 years, drawer.
  • John Taylor aged 25 years, collier.
  • John Burns aged 21 years, drawer.
  • John Greenall aged 25 years, collier.
  • Samuel White aged 44 years, drawer.
  • John White aged 18 years, drawer.
  • William Heaton aged 27 years, collier.
  • Charles Bolton aged 25 years, collier.
  • David Mason aged 19 years, drawer.
  • James Shawcross aged 2 2years, collier.
  • Thomas Tinsley aged 17 years, drawer.
  • Henry Rigby aged 31 years, collier.
  • Robert Hartley aged 27 years, drawer.
  • John Holland aged 33 years, collier.
  • John Pilkington aged 22years, collier.
  • James Brown aged 23 years, collier.
  • John Dyson aged 20 years, drawer.
  • James Aitkens aged 20 years, drawer.
  • Pat O’Donohoe aged 37 years, collier.
  • Owen Sheriden aged 25 years, collier.
  • John Whaley aged 31 years, drawer.
  • Samuel Archer aged 21 years, collier.
  • Martin Richardson aged 19 years, drawer.
  • Robert Hasledon aged 38 years, collier.
  • Thomas Prescot aged 218 years, drawer.
  • William Banks aged 18 years, drawer.
  • George Green aged 30 years, collier.
  • Isaac Richards aged 21 years, collier.
  • James Reed aged 26 years, collier.
  • Thomas Ellison aged 22 years, drawer.
  • William Wright aged 12 years, drawer.
  • William Morgan aged 33 years, collier.
  • Cutos Morgan aged 14 years, drawer.
  • Robert Morgan aged 17 years, drawer.
  • George Pilkington aged 32 years, collier.
  • Thomas Walsh aged 15 years, drawer.
  • Thomas Hart aged 25 years, drawer.
  • William Swift aged 35 years, collier.
  • Thomas Rigby aged 27 years, drawer.
  • John Winstanley aged 17 years, drawer.
  • William Smith aged 24 years, collier.
  • James Harris aged 22 years, collier.
  • Thomas Taylor aged 46 years, collier.
  • George Taylor aged 15 years, drawer.
  • George Archer aged 15 years, drawer.
  • John Archer aged 19 years, drawer.
  • John Kelly aged 16 years, winder-up.
  • Pat McCue aged 29 years, labourer.
  • John Knowles aged 50 years, metalman.
  • James Winrow aged 47 years, metalman.
  • Michael Grady aged 40 years, hooker-on.
  • John Wood aged 44 years, fireman.
  • George Prescott aged 40 years, fireman.
  • Adam Catterall aged 41 years, fireman.
  • Pat Grogan aged 23 years, sinker.
  • James McKirnel aged 25 years, sinker.
  • William O’Brian aged 33 years, sinker.
  • Thomas Williams aged 24 years, sinker.
  • Michael Butler aged 32 years, sinker.
  • John Eddy aged 28 years, sinker.

It was two years later that all the bodies were recovered and the inquest was held. Richard Mulholland, collier of Lower Ince found some remains under a fall when the pit was re-opened. They were collected and placed in a coffin to be viewed later by the jury. They consisted of a small piece of trouser cloth and stocking and were thought to be those of a man. A pick with the initials “S.S.” was found nearby.

On the 21st December 1872, Nicholas Connor was in charge of an exploring party which found the remains of a body under a fall. It was supposed to be those of a boy and consisted of a part of a waistband, a clog sole and a piece of rope. The remains were not identified.

The inquest was eventually held and at the seventeenth sitting of the inquiry, the Corner recapitulated the evidence. Mr. Higson had commented in his report for 1873:

When the fire was reported by the explorers I had some doubt of such being the fact. I could not see any strong indication for a long time, neither was there any appearance of the mine being on fire before the third explosion. That a quantity of gas must have been ignited there can be no doubt but how, or by what means I have not the slightest idea and it is now very doubtful if I shall ever be able to trace the cause of its origin inasmuch as all marks that might have guided me in the inquiry be obliterated.

In the report for 1872, Mr. Bell, the Inspector, said that Mr. Higson had died. The water had been pumped from the mine and fifty-four bodies recovered but there were still sixteen left in the mine. With the permission of the relatives, the search was abandoned and the decision taken to close the mine altogether.

The inquest heard all the evidence and the jury but it was until September 1873 that the final verdict was returned:

That the deceased came to their deaths by an explosion of gas at the Moss Pits on the 6th September 1871 but how the explosion occurred there was no evidence to show, but we say the explosion was accidental and not otherwise.

A similar verdict was returned on Samuel Shuttleworth who died in the second explosion.

In his Report of 1872 Mr. Bell commented:

I take this opportunity in calling the attention of the colliery managers most particularly to the use of gunpowder in the mine, seeing that such large quantities are used to do the work (which ought properly to be performed by the colliers inside cutting) some better system than the present be adopted. In all mines an experienced person should be appointed, whose duty it would be to examine every shot-hole before it is charged, and see if it is properly bored, and planted in the best position he should also regulate the charges of powder to be used, and superintend the stemming and tamping. I am satisfied a large proportion of the accidents from this cause are the result of carelessness, or of inexperienced workmen charging and firing their own shots.

 To those in charge of sinking pits, I wish to call their attention to the examination of the sides after firing shots and frequently during each shift also, to the danger of carrying the pit too far below the bricking or other linings, and when sinking through broken strata to the use of timber instead of trusting to the pulling of any loose pieces of stone that may be found on an examination. In conclusion, I would recommend strict attention being paid to the Special Rules now established in this district by the managers and all others whose duties are therein enumerated, believing that strict compliance therewith will be the means of preventing many accidents.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1873. Mr. Bell.
Colliery Guardian, 8th September p.254, 15th September p.280, 22nd September p.300, 29th September p.333, 6th October p.387, 3rd November p.407, 15th December p.615, 19th January 1872, p.70, 19th April 1872, p.424, 15th November 1872, p.554, 10th January 1873, p.46, 21st February 1873, p.188, 18th April 1873, p.464, 16th May 1873, p.597, 30th May 1873, p.654, 15th August 1873, p.217, 14th November 1873, p.649, 10th April 1874, p.488.

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

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