KERSLEY. Kersley, Lancashire. 24th. December, 1879.

The colliery, sometimes known as “Sowcrofts”, was the property of Samuel Sowcroft and Sons and eleven men and boys lost their lives in an explosion in the Plodder Mine. An outburst of gas followed a fall of the roof when naked lights were used. John Jones was the manager of the colliery which worked three mines, the Trencherbone, the Cannel and the Plodder. There was also the Dow mine but this was not entered from that shaft. There were four shafts, two upcast and two downcast. The downcasts were 11 feet in diameter and the upcast 9 feet in diameter. The Dow mine was 150 yards from the surface, the Five Quarters was 30 yards below the Dow had not been work for some years but recently works had stated in this seam when a tunnel from the Dow mine had been driven into it. Next to the Five Quarters and 70 yards below was the Trencherbone, 66 yards below this was the Cannel mine and then the Plodder 44 to 45 years below the Cannel.

The Ventilation for the Plodder was down the Dow shaft which was 280 yards deep. It then travelled along a tunnel about 200 yards and entered the Plodder at the lowest dip and another current went down by the Trencherbone pit which was 226 yards deep and then travelled 210 yards into the Cannel Mine, on to the Plodder along a 100-yard long tunnel. The air then travelled along from the deep tunnel along the west workings and then up to the highest level on the north side, along the level to the east end, through an old goaf and then to the upcast shaft. All the return air from the Plodder and Cannel mines went up the same upcast shaft. There was gas in the mine but it had been encountered in very small quantities.

At the upcast shaft, there was a ventilating furnace for the Cannel mine and on the day of the disaster, it was attended by the fireman due to the absence of John Norris from three in the morning to two in the afternoon. The fireman made up the fire when he left.

James Kirkham, collier, was working in the Plodder mine on the day of the explosion. He was next to Heathcoat’s place. When the explosion occurred he was just going to assist his brother, Joseph, to fill a tub when he was suddenly blown off his feet by a blast which came from Heathcoat’s place. he saw a light which travelled across his place and then down the side. He ran along the level where he found a man named Fogg who called out, “I’m done”, and fell down. Kirkham helped him to the jig brow. The afterdamp was very strong and Fogg was burnt on his neck and suffering the effects of the afterdamp. Kirkham went on to say:

There were three working places, Heathcoat’s, Crompton’s and Kirkham’s. There were also two bays which were finished up to the boundary. I had worked in the bay beyond Heathcoat’s for six days before the explosion. The air travels around it and goes down at the back of the boundary. On the day of the explosion, I went in with the fireman Ralph Wallwork and waited until he tried the place. He then gave me a light and went forward. The old bays had not fallen except for a very slight fall a few weeks before when it was cleared up as it fell at the weekend. We never heard of any gas in the working places, and we worked with naked lights. When I was making my way out after finding Fogg I came across the younger Heathcoat who was fast to a tub by the foot. He was burned.

The manager was not at the pit on the day of the explosion and Joseph Ducker, the underlooker, was in charge. At the time of the explosion, he was on the pit bank and the first indication he had of the disaster was when Ellis Crompton brought Allen Lee who was badly burnt. He went down the mine at once with John Rayner and James Halliday. They noticed afterdamp in the Plodder tunnel and met Heathcoat 100 yards from the tunnel. He was alone and without a light, suffering from the effects of afterdamp. He went on along the level and up the slant into the northeast workings. At the top of the slant, they shouted and Thomas Livesey and William Jackson replied. They were not injured. Proceeding to the top-level they encountered very strong afterdamp but went into George Mann’s place but they were stopped by the afterdamp a few minutes later. The screens at the top of the level were blown down but they replaced them which restored the ventilation. They went up into Heathcoat’s place but there was no trace of gas.

Ducker with an exploring party entered the pit the following day, Christmas Day when they found signs of the explosion at the top of the slant. There was soot all the way to Heathcoat’s place where the roof had fallen for about 10 yards but the ventilation was working. The explosion had blown out some props.

Those who died were:

  • Richard Fogg.
  • Thomas Woodward.
  • James Kirkham.
  • Joseph Kirkham.
  • John Fletcher aged 29 years, miner.
  • Thomas Tonge aged 32 years, miner who died on the 25th.
  • Allan Lee aged 21 years, waggoner, died on the 26th.
  • Thomas Heathcote aged 45 years, miner, died on the 26th.
  • Anthony Padden aged 27 years, miner, died on the 27th.
  • James Taylor aged 21 years, waggoner, died on the 1st January 1880.
  • W.H. Heathcote aged 45 years, collier, died on the 1st January 1880.

The inquest was held before J.B. Edge, District Coroner at the Bowling Green Inn. After hearing all the evidence the Coroner addressed the jury and said that there was not a conflict of the evidence as to the cause of the explosion and that it occurred at the top of Heathcoat’s place. The jury retired to consider their verdict and after about ten minutes returned a verdict of “Accidental Death” and recommended that more precaution ought to be used by the officials of the colliery in the future.


Mines Inspector Report, 1879. Mr. Joseph Dickenson.

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

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