LOVERS LANE. Atherton, Lancashire. 28th. March, 1872.

The colliery was the property of John Fletcher and others and was about 200 yards from Chowbent Station on the Lancashire and North Western Railway, two miles from Leigh and seven from Wigan.

The mine was 300 yards deep to the Gibfield coal which had been worked for about twenty-seven years and the workings were extensive towards Tyldesley on the side and Hindley on the other. There were two shafts one at Gibfield and one to the west.

Upwards of one hundred men and boys were employed in the part of the mine where the explosion occurred, four hundred yards from the pit eye in the Five Feet Mine. A part of the workings near a fault became fouled with gas since the source was too small for good ventilation. The air had to pass through six iron pipes about a foot in the area to reach the place. The ignition of the gas was caused by a shot that blew out the stemming. The report of the blast was heard up to two miles away and news spread quickly through Atherton and Leigh.

Mr. Ralph Fletcher Jnr. was quickly on the scene and organised a rescue party to go down. A man soon returned with the news for the waiting, anxious crowds, that the workings in the immediate vicinity of the shaft were greatly damaged and there would be great difficulty in releasing the victims.

The survivors from the Gibfield mine were sent to the surface one by one. Some of them were seriously injured. The dead were laid out in the lamproom and other buildings

Those who died were:

  • Ralph Holcroft aged 34 years, deputy underlooker.
  • James Hilton, aged 12 years, hooker-on.
  • William Crank, aged 12 years, pony driver.
  • Thomas Walker, aged 19 years, collier.
  • Leigh Farrington, aged 35 years, collier, father of James.
  • James Farrington, aged 12 years, drawer.
  • George Hunt, aged 15 years, pony driver.
  • Thomas Hunt, aged 22 years, drawer, brother of George.
  • Joseph Halliday aged 14 years, drawer.
  • Allen Howcroft, aged 16 years, drawer.
  • Thomas Schofield, aged 13 years, drawer.
  • Peter Halliwell, aged 20 years, dataller.
  • Robert Shaw, aged 32 years, dataller.
  • Robert Smith, aged 24 years, collier.
  • John Lee, collier.
  • John Hodgson, aged 38 years, collier.
  • Jacob Worthington, aged 13 years, drawer.
  • Peter Pemberton, aged 28 years, collier, married two weeks before.
  • Thomas Whittle aged 19 years, drawer.
  • James Day, aged 33 years, collier.
  • Thomas Barlow aged 17 years, drawer.
  • Thomas Morris aged 18 years, apprentice surveyor.
  • Thomas Wainwright aged 20 years, collier.
  • Thomas Prescot aged 37 years, collier.
  • James Rothwell aged 16 years, wagoner.
  • Job Greenough, aged 20 years, collier, who had been burned in the Queen Pit explosion at Haydock.

Those who were injured:

  • Joseph Ainsworth, collier.
  • Joseph Clarkson, collier.
  • Benjamin Banks, drawer.
  • William Gregory, collier.
  • Enoch Alldred, collier.
  • John Casey Dodds, drawer.
  • James Mather, drawer.
  • Richard Beaver, collier.
  • Henry Halliday, drawer.
  • John Whittle, drawer.
  • James Banks, drawer.
  • Ralph Cowburn, drawer.
  • John Clarkson, drawer.
  • Edward Harrison, drawer

The inquest into the disaster was opened in the Town Hall, Atherton by Mr. J.B. Edge, Coroner. The mining engineer, Herbert Fletcher told the court that he went down the pit with Roger Yates and Richard Morris. They found a door blown out and then went down the tunnel with the air when three men came groping their way towards them in the dark. They were shouting for help and were injured. A little further on they came across James Farrington’s body and further up, three men who were rolling about and shouting apparently under the influence of the afterdamp. They lifted the men into the airway and went further in to see if there were others who required help. He then brought out two of the three. The third was dead.

He returned below and heard a lad shouting that he could go no further and that his master was below him. At the top, this party met Moses and Richard Morris and others and went to William’s Brow where they found a body and further of three of the dead lying together.

Thomas Coburn, collier was cutting at the far end at the time of the explosion. There was a great wind but he did not lose his light. Then there was shaking but he did not see any fire. They met with some others but were driven back by smoke when they tried to leave the pit but managed to get to the main brow when they met Thomas Gregory who took them out of the pit. He told the court of the afterdamp and that he had seen the shothole in Lee’s place.

Ralph Fletcher, Jnr. told the court that the workmen fired their own shots unless there were orders to the contrary and he had dismissed the underlooker about two years before for allowing men to work where there was gas. The only report of the state of the mine in the morning of the explosion was a verbal report from Roger Yates who had received information from Holcroft that all was right.

After hearing all the evidence the Coroner summed up and the jury brought in a verdict that:

Joseph Halliday and twenty-six others came to their deaths by the ignition of gas at the mine caused by the shot in John Lee’s place. We also find that the gas had accumulated through insufficient ventilation and the attention in Wainwright’s place had impaired not improved it.

The Inspector recommended that double roadways and cut-throughs should be used instead of single drifts and long piping. He also requested the proprietors to stop the use of gunpowder as much as was practicable and to fee that firemen fired all the shots in the future.


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

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