LOW HALL. Wigan, Lancashire. 15th. November, 1869.

The colliery was the property of the Moss Hall Company, Platt Bridge near Wigan, and an explosion that caused the deaths of twenty-seven persons and set the colliery on fire. The colliery was managed by one of the Company directors above ground and an underlooker below ground. The No.5 Pit was in Hindley, about 150 yards from the Platt Bridge Station on the Eccles, Tyldesley, and Wigan Railway. Close by, was the No.6 shaft which was the downcast to the three seams that were worked, The Wigan Five Feet, The Wigan Four Feet, and the Six or Nine feet as it is sometimes called, this at 275 yards from the surface, worked by straight work and it was in this seam that the explosion occurred. In no place were the workings more than 350 yards from the pit eye. The colliery was a new one opened two years before and work on the engines at No.6 shaft had not been completed so all the winding was done at the upcast shaft.

In the preceding years, it was reported that many hamlets had sprung up in the area. About 4 p.m. on the day of the disaster, the residents of a number of cottages were startled by a loud report which was described like the discharge of heavy artillery and dust and a dense cloud of smoke came from No. 5 Pit and soot fell from the sky up to a mile and a half away.

The pit officials lived in cottages close by and were quickly on the scene. They found that a very great deal of damage had been done to the No. 5 shaft and the cage was badly mangled. A pulley was set up over the No. 6 Pit and after the guide rods had been removed, descent by the explorers was possible.

Help had arrived from other collieries nearby and Mr. Clark, the underground manager of Strangeways Hall Colliery, Mr. Howarth of Crompton and Shawcross, and John Higson, son of the Inspector of Mines for the district organised a party to go into the workings. They arrived at the bottom of the shaft to find two bodies at the mouthing. The man had died from the concussion of the explosion.

A great crowd assembled at the pit bank and there were many fires to be seen as the crowd waited patiently for news of their loved ones as the men explored the workings. A man named Sharratt travelled 200 yards from the pit eye and encountered chokedamp and the party returned to the surface.

Mr. Peter Higson the Inspector arrived at the colliery and was conducting a conference with mining engineers when a man named Green, a fireman, came to the surface and informed the men that the coal was on fire. There was not enough nearby water to flood the pit and it was decided to fill the shafts and try to starve the fire of air.

The Rivington aqueduct, which supplied Liverpool with water, passed close to the colliery and a message was sent to Liverpool Corporation seeking permission to tap into it to flood the workings. A telegram granting permission arrived at 1 p.m. and the pipe was tapped into under the supervision of officials from the Water Company. The dead that had been found were from the pit and taken to an untenanted farmhouse nearby, Low Hall, which was used as a temporary mortuary.

The seat of the explosion was in a place where a shot had blown out and the Inspector commented that the explosion was a surprise as the ventilation was so very good but it was supposed that the liberated gas was carried by the ventilation and ignited at a naked flame of one who was working. Whether the gas was an accumulation or a sudden outburst was not know but e fireman had inspected the area just before the explosion and pronounced it safe.

The shot lighter was found dead in a place where he would have retreated for safety. The Inspector commented that if the place had been carefully examined then the calamity might not have been so great if the gas had been found.

Those who died and were recovered immediately after the disaster were:

  • William Goulding aged 14 years.
  • Peter Simm aged 16 years, drawer.
  • William Seddon aged 20 years, dataller.
  • John Ormishaw aged 23 years, fireman.
  • James Winstanley aged 14 years, jigger.
  • Henry Wood aged 17 years, dataller.
  • Robert Walls aged 15 years, runner-in.
  • Richard Hilton aged 32 years married with four children.
  • Richard Monks, drawer was badly injured and not expected to recover.
  • Those whose bodies were recovered later were:
  • Samuel Simm, drawer.
  • John Fairhurst, collier.
  • Peter Fairhurst, John’s son.
  • Luke (?), drawer.
  • Albert Duxbury, collier.
  • Cain Hart, collier.
  • Thomas Pimblett, collier.
  • James Slater, drawer.
  • George Harrison, collier.
  • Peter Dickson, collier.
  • William Oliver, collier.
  • James Hampson, drawer.
  • Peter Bolton, collier.
  • Henry Foster, drawer.
  • William Hampson, drawer.
  • William Ridyard, jigger.
  • William Hurst.
  • John Bennett.

The inquest was held in the Victoria Inn, Platt Bridge by the County Coroner, Mr. Driffield. The inquest could not be concluded until the pit was clear of the water and this took some time.

From “The Colliery Guardian” 3rd December 1869:

At the adjourned inquest at the Victoria Inn, Platt Bridge The jury heard of the death of Richard Monks which had taken place since the last session. His widow was called and gave the evidence of identification. Mr. Caldwell the proprietor of the colliery said it would take two to three weeks to get the water out of the mine and it had been lowered by only six feet and they had 30 yards to go. Mr. Higson was satisfied and the inquest was adjourned for two weeks.

From “The Colliery Guardian” 10th December 1869:

The winding of water continued in the No.5 shaft and a tank that held 351 gallons and No.5 with two buckets each holding 200 gallons but one caught in the shaft at the Four Feet mouthing on the conducting rods that were broken the explosion. It was decided to continue winding at No. 3 and 100 gallons in 5 minutes or 12,000 gallons per hour were being raised. It is hardly possible that the bodies will be got out before the resumption of the inquest.

From “The Colliery Guardian” 17th December 1869:

The winding of water was going slowly and the inquest was adjourned for another week.

From “The Colliery Guardian” 24th December 1869:

Twenty-seven deaths in the explosion and the water was then reported at the floor. No.5 stopped as the tank could no longer reach the water and the proceedings were adjourned for another week.

From “The Colliery Guardian” 18th March 1870:

The inquest was resumed and the identification of the bodies carried out. They were William Oliver aged 26 years, a collier of Hindley who left a wife and two children, John Hampson aged 22 years of Platt Bridge a drawer married with one child. It was feared that they would not be found because they were in the area where the coal caught fire. They were brought to the surface for identification and burial.

The jury returned the following verdict:

The jury finds that John Ormsher and the twenty-seven others died by an explosion of gas in the Six Feet seam caused by a blown-out shot in No.5 level but how the gas originated we have difficulty in ascertaining.

We are of the opinion that there was a sudden outburst in the immediate district.

We recommend in the future no shot shall be fired in the Six Feet seam at this colliery unless charged by or in the presence of with the assent of the fireman or shotlighter.

We find no blame attached to any quarter.


The Mines Inspectors Report, 1869. Mr. Peter Higson.
The Colliery Guardian, 19th November 1869, p.495, 10th December 1869, p.563, 17th December 1869, 587, p.587, 24th December 1869, p.617, 31st December 1869, p.647, 14th January 1870, p.20, 14th January 1870, p.43, 21st January 1870, p.70, 18th March 1870, p.280, 18th March 1870, p.285.
The Wigan Examiner.
The Wigan Observer.
The St. Helens Standard.

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

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