THE MAYPOLE. Abram, Lancashire. 18th. August, 1908.
Maypole Colliery was at Abram about four miles from Wigan and was worked by the Moss Hall Coal Company, Limited who was also proprietors of several other collieries in the district. There were two shafts at the colliery, Nos. 1 and 2 and the fan was fixed at No.2. The downcast was 16 feet in diameter and the upcast 18 feet in diameter. The downcast was 600 yards deep and the upcast 630 yards. The shafts were connected to several seams, the Pemberton Five Feet at 410 yards, the Bickershaw Seven Feet at 425 yards, the Wigan Five Feet at 544 yards, the Wigan Four Feet or Cannel Mine at 571 yards and the Wigan Six Feet at 585 yards.
Two shafts were sunk below the Wigan Six Feet seam and tunnels driven to the Wigan seams. The sinking of these shafts commenced on May 30th, 1895 and finished in December 1899. For 180 yards the shafts were sunk through New Red Sandstone which was heavily watered and the lower part was cased with iron tubbing. The Pemberton Five Feet and the Bickershaw Seven Feet were not involved in the disaster but the Wigan Five and Four and Six Feet were won by tunnels driven from the shafts and worked in conjunction with each other. They were mined on the longwall method, the roof being carried on pack walls and the roads thus passing through the goaf except where shaft pillars were necessary.
The Five Feet seam had just touched a fault and had not been opened to any great extent. The Four Feet was considered the most important seam and in places, it was eight or nine feet thick, mostly composed of the famous Wigan Cannel Coal. The workings in this seam had extended north for about 700 yards and bout 1,000 yards to the south. The overlying rock made a strong roof for these workings. The Six Feet seam was mined by tunnels driven about four feet and was about 5 feet thick. The seam was notorious in the early seventies for disastrous firedamp explosions which occurred in nearly every neighbouring colliery in the Wigan area where it had been worked.
The ventilation of the colliery was held up by pack walls, stoppings and doors. Each district of the workings was ventilated through separate “splits” of air but in some cases, the ventilation of a section passed through a number of working places in one seam and then on to other working places in another. The fact that the air was divided into many splits and although seemed to be sufficient, in the view of Mr. W. Brace and R. Smillie, the representatives of the Miner’s Federation of Great Britain at the inquest, “In our judgment, the way it was dealt with left much to be desired.”.
The rock at the face of each working was supported by a double or triple row of props and chocks and the waste material that was got through working the seams was thrown back into the goaf and also supplied the material from which the packs were built. There was, at times, difficulty in finding enough rubbish to fill all the open spaces. The rise side workings in the Wigan Four Feet seam were connected by a roadway about 1,000 yards long to the workings of the neighbouring Wigan Junction Colliery which had been recently acquired by the Moss Hall Coal Company. At the time of the disaster, this colliery gave a third means of egress from the Maypole workings. The connection had been made about a year before and the fresh air going down the Wigan Junction shaft regularly found its way into the Maypole and aided with the later ventilation of the colliery.
At the Maypole Colliery, there was an exhausting Walkers fan, 30 feet in diameter, double inlet, placed at the surface and connected by a 16 feet diameter shaft, 60 yards deep fro the bottom of which a tunnel was arched 12 feet by 10 feet for 30 yards and connected to the upcast shaft. The fan was capable of producing 600,000 cubic feet of air per minute at 6 inches water gauge. On the day of the disaster, the fan was turning at its usual speed of 78 revolutions per minute and was registering 2.5 inches water gauge. The last measurements of the quantity of ventilation passing through the mine were made on 7th August, eleven days before the explosion and there was no cause for worry. The fan was placed in such a position that it would be protected from damage in the event of an explosion.
The officials of the Wigan Mines at the Maypole Colliery consisted of a certificated manager who was in charge of all seams, one undermanager and one assistant undermanager in the day, and one assistant undermanager at night, six day firemen and five night firemen. The manager was Arthur Rushton and the undermanager, William Picton. The assistant undermanager on the day shift was Robert Picton and on the night shift Isaac James. The day firemen were James Dawson, James Hodson, Herbert Nelson, W.H. Monks, Thomas Gaskell, and Peter Simm. The night firemen were James Holcroft, George Turley, Edward Aspinall, W.H. Brown, and Enock Atherton. The general manager of the colliery was Arthur Rushton who had returned from holiday on the day of the explosion. During the manager’s absence, the pit had been managed by Robert Picton, the undermanager, and Mr. Edwin Nelson the manager of a neighbouring colliery. There were 705 men employed underground in different shifts. The colliery was classed as a fiery mine and was worked throughout with safety lamps provided by the Company. The lamp that was used was the Naylor’s “bifold burner” with a single gauze efficiently shielded, locked by a rivet, and burned refined petroleum. The re-lighting stations were situated in fresh air in every case and the electric battery that was used for re-lighting was in the charge of an authorised fireman. The firemen in their respective districts examined the lamps to see that they were secure before the workmen were allowed to go to their working places.
Explosives were used in the mine and they were Geloxite, Ammonite, Westphalite, and Faversham powder. Geloxite was used for ripping the roof and other stonework while the last three were used in the coal. At the time all the explosives were on the permitted list but since the explosion, Geloxite had been removed from the list. Shots were only permitted to be fired by the firemen, authorised in writing by the manager, whose wages did not depend on the amount of coal that was got. Blasting was not allowed on the day shift when the mine was full of workmen but was confined to the evening and night shifts when only repairers and certain officials were below ground. The amount of charge varied considerably from 4 ounces or less to as much as 20 ounces. These heavy shots were used in ripping or “brushing” the roof immediately behind the working places.
Electric power was not used in the mine except for underground signalling at very low voltage. The men had been inspected from time to time by H,.M, Inspectors but no inspections had been made by the miners under No.39 General Rule. No complaints of want of care or dangerous conditions had reached either H.M. Inspectors or the Miner’s Representatives previous to the explosion.
The coal that was worked was dusty and dry and the roadways were generally dusty. Near the faces, the dust was mainly coal but along the main haulage roads, there was a considerable amount of stone dust and foreign matter mixed with it. Watering or any other method of damping the dust was not practised nor was any attempt made to clear the dust except where it interfered with traffic and that work seemed to consist of collecting large lumps of coal and sending it to the surface.
The explosion occurred on Tuesday 18th August 1908 at 5.10 p.m. on a sultry August afternoon. Up to 4 p.m. on that day there were 580 men below ground but fortunately, nearly all had finished work and had been raised to the surface before the accident. A night shift of repairers and shotlighters, about 60 in number had descended between 4 and 5 p.m., making the total number that was below ground 84. Six were in the upper seam, the Bickershaw Seven Feet which was not affected by the explosion, and of the remaining 78 men and boys, only three escaped.
Mr. Arthur Rushton, the manager of the colliery in Abram returned home for ten days holiday. As he put the key into the lock at his home a dull rumble caused him to look over his shoulder. What he saw was the start of a nightmare that stayed with him for the rest of his life. A dense cloud of black smoke was pouring with great force put of the shaft of the pit. At the inquest he gave the following account of the disaster:
When near the colliery I heard a low rumbling noise and saw a cloud of dust. I got out of the conveyance and walked straight to the colliery. When going between the lamp room and the fan house, I saw a portion of the masonry of the fan house had been blown down. It was then I realised what had occurred. I walked to the General Office, wrote a telegram to Mr. Hall, H.M. Inspector of Mines, and afterwards went to the pit. I saw that the headgear of No.1 was dismantled and the rope was hanging in the headgear. The cage itself had gone below. Knowing that the afterdamp was coming up the No.1 pit I went to No.2 pit. The undermanager of No.1 came along and I instructed him to get a rescue party together and go to the Wigan Junction Colliery, descend the shaft and get into the seven Feet. I took it that there was nothing wrong with the Seven Feet. I told Mr. Nelson who had been in my place while I had been away and the undermanager to get the cage from the Seven Feet, then go down to the Seven Feet and if all was right there, to lengthen the rope and go down into the Wigan Mine. I went to Wigan Junction and found that the rescue party had got to the East Brow. A little further in they came across a fall that blocked the entire road. I gave orders that the fall be cleared, and in the meantime went back to the Maypole where I found Mr. Hall in the office. We went down No.2 pit about 9 o’clock and were able to join Mr, Picton and his party who had made their way from Wigan Junction.
During these operations, three men were rescued alive and sent to the surface by way of the Wigan Junction shaft. The rescue parties were for some time able to explore some of the roads but no one was found alive except these three and all those who had been seen were dead. Advancing further they met afterdamp and exploration became very difficult. The roadways were filled with a mixture of smoke and afterdamp and although strenuous efforts were made to clear it, it resisted all their skill and bravery and stood like a wall preventing further advance, In spite of the appalling conditions seven bodies were located and fourteen others seen, but in positions that made their removable impossible. The seven were taken along the tunnel to Wigan Junction and to the surface 800 yards above. These men had survived the force of the explosion but have died from the effects of the afterdamp. From this point, it was clear that all the men below ground were lost.
Soot and debris were scattered over a wide area. Buildings over a mile away had been shaken by the blast and a dense cloud of smoke and poisonous vapours rose from the shaft for many hours.
It was soon discovered that the mine was on fire and smoke and afterdamp began to fill the roads which made access to the inner working impossible. Even so, the rescuers persevered and again and again, small parties were driven back by the poisonous atmosphere. It was clear to the rescuers that the explosion had blocked the bottom of the upcast shaft and that somewhere deep in the workings a fire had broken out and the mixture of smoke and afterdamp was rushing into the maze of tunnels and workings deep in the southern area of the pit. Unceasing efforts were made to penetrate the workings the men defying small explosions intense heat and suffocating smoke coming from the workings.
The struggle went on from Tuesday until Thursday midnight and fruitless attempts were made to reach the fire which continued to develop and filled the mine with smoke. At this time the only parts of the mine that could be reached were on the north side and the Spion Kop workings and it was from here that the dead were sent to the surface and those found on the north side near No.5 level were being carried out when something happened in the inner workings, probably a local explosion, which had the effect of driving the smoke and afterdamp towards the downcast shaft and thus cutting off their exit from the mine. The explorers had just enough warning to enable them to get to the shaft. There were 42 of them and they had to struggle through fumes and smoke which made some of them unconscious.
The No.2 shaft that had been the downcast had now become an upcast and was filled with a poisonous atmosphere. The No.1 shaft had been wrecked and access underground was completely cut off. This put an end to rescue attempts and a roll call showed that sixty-eight men remained below half a mine down the pit and without question they were all dead.
A team of five from the Howe Bridge Rescue Station, a few hours after the explosion, and their services were utilised to take out stopping so as to facilitate the explorations. On the following day, a team arrived from Altofts Station, Yorkshire under Mr. Garforth. The report commented:
We regret to have to report that no reasonable opportunity presented itself, where the services of these men might have been effective to save lives, and as all hope had been given up of rescuing anyone alive, it was inadvisable to allow them to venture into the poisonous atmosphere.
On Friday a conference was held to discuss what could be done. The Miner’s Representatives were asked to attend and Mr. Walsh M.P. also attended. After a careful review of the circumstances, it soon became apparent that the only solution was to flood the pit and put the fire out. The plan was submitted to the owners and their consulting engineers and they reluctantly approved them. Arrangements were at once made to obtain a supply of water from a neighbouring canal and flooding proceeded from day to day until the middle of October but as the water was being put down the pit, the fire continued to advance and eventually reached the top of the No.2 shaft, setting fire to the woodwork on the surface near the lip of the pit.
On Sunday 14th, September a series of violent explosions occurred in rapid succession, four of which appeared to be as violent as the original explosion and it was not until the whole of the workings in the owner seam and the Bickershaw Seven Feet were underwater that the fire was eventually extinguished. It was estimated that one hundred million gallons of water had been used. At the time of the report, it was noted that the recovery of the mine stated on 5th. November 1908 and had not been completed at the time of the report going to press.
At the time of their report, there were 68 bodies that were not recovered and only seven had been recovered.
Those who had been recovered:
- James Dawson aged 51 years, fireman,
- Albert Draper aged 24 years, haulage hand,
- Edward France aged 26 years, haulage hand,
- James Holcroft aged 55 years, fireman,
- George A. Holcroft aged 29 years, assistant hooker-on,
- Thomas Lloyd aged 29 years, contractors man,
- Thomas Henry Pimblett aged 26 years.
Those who had not been recovered:
- George Allen aged 28 years, pusher-on.
- Meynick Banks aged 28 years dataller.
- John Bennett aged 41 years contractors man.
- James Bryne aged 36 years, contractors man.
- Michael Bozle aged 25 years, contractors man.
- Patrick Carroll aged 33 years, contractors man.
- Peter Caulfield aged 25 years, contractors man.
- Thomas Cross aged 45 years, contractors man.
- James Conway aged 17 years, haulage hand.
- John Cassidy aged 19 years, contractors man.
- Peter Charnock aged 34 years, contractors man.
- Michael Cafferty aged 33 years, contractors man.
- James Cullen aged 26 years, contractors man.
- James Crehen aged 26 years, contractors man.
- John Donlan aged 31 years, contractors man.
- Thomas Donlan aged 28 years, contractors man.
- Austin Deanney aged 28 years, contractors man.
- Joseph Doyle aged 28 years, contractors man.
- John W. Davies aged 24 years, contractors man.
- Patrick Duffey aged 27 years, contractors man.
- Samuel Evans aged 56 years, contractors man.
- Jethro Frances aged 30 years, ropeman.
- Charles Ford aged 30 years, contractors man.
- John Flannery aged 34 years, contractors man.
- Peter Fishwick aged 50 years, contractor.
- Thomas Gaskell aged 45 years, fireman.
- Martin Gallagher aged 28 years, contractors man.
- Thomas Groark aged 36 years, contractors man.
- Michael Thomas Guchion aged 20 years, contractors man.
- James Gloghegan aged 26 years, contractors man.
- Latrick Howze aged 22 years, contractors man.
- Anthony Hughes aged 42 years, contractors man.
- J.W. Hannon aged 33 years.
- James Hodson aged 48 years, fireman.
- Thomas Harrison aged 24 years, dataller.
- Andrew Henderson aged 50 years, contractors man.
- Thomas Jennings aged 42 years, contractors man.
- Thomas Hearns aged 25 years, contractors man.
- John Kirby aged 21 years, contractors man.
- Hugh Killoran aged 29 years, contractor.
- Anthony McDonough aged 29 years, contractors man.
- James McDonald aged 38 years, contractors man.
- Thomas McEllen aged 40 years, contractors man.
- William McCabe aged 43 years, contractors man.
- Patrick McGowen aged 26 years, contractors man.
- John McGrath aged 37 years, contractors man.
- Mick McGrail aged 33 years, contractors man.
- William Henry Monks aged 40 years, contractors man.
- Alfred Monks aged 32 years, dataller.
- Thomas Murphy aged 25 years, contractors man.
- John Moran aged 25 years, contractors man.
- Michael Molloy aged 43 years, contractor.
- Patrick Mulligan aged 43 years, contractors man.
- Herbert Nelson aged 33 years, fireman.
- John Pennington aged 42 years, contractors man.
- Robert Pimblett aged 53 years, contractors man.
- Ozias Robinson aged 40 years, contractors man.
- John James Robinson aged 50 years, contractors man.
- Levi Rushton aged 52 years, pusher-on.
- Peter Simm aged 42 years, fireman.
- Patrick Sloyan aged 29 years, contractors man.
- Henry Taylor aged 33 years, contractors man.
- John Edward Taylor aged 41 years, ropeman.
- Joseph Walsh aged 32 years, hooker-on.
- Robert Wilding aged 37 years, contractors man.
- James Walkden aged 33 years, contractors man.
The inquest was opened on Thursday evening 20th August 1908 by Mr. Samuel Brighouse, Coroner for South West Lancashire who said that this was the saddest disaster the ad had to investigate and that the jury and himself would have an honest inquiry into the circumstances attending the explosion, to find out how it took place and if possible devise some means to prevent it happening again so that life might be protected in the future. He was very much in command in the court and showed concern for the relatives. He said
As the bodies were recovered, I shall convene the court and summon the jury at once, so that burial orders can be made without delay of any sort. All the officials and gentlemen of the jury must put themselves at the service of the relatives and not study their own personal convenience.
He added that they would allow the witnesses to be examined by the miners’ representatives both legal and lay and that “there would be no red-tapism at this inquiry.” On this first meeting of the jury evidence of identification was given on the seven bodies that had been recovered and the proceedings adjourned when formal evidence was given of those who were still in the mine. The underground fire had not been extinguished and water was still pouring into the mine and it was decided to adjourn the proceedings again until 17th November. Harry Twist, the Miners’ Agent spoke for the mining community. He had been an eye witness of the rescue attempts, himself being a member of one of the teams which had penetrated the workings. “Company Officials miners and all concerned had not spared heart or brain in their rescue attempts,” said Mr. Twist.
When the inquest commenced again Mr. Hall and Mr. Twist, who represented the miners were agreed that there should be a further adjournment. Mr. Twist, supporting this said that he had consulted Mr. R. Smillie. Mr. Brace M.P., Mr. Ashton, Secretary of the Miners’ Federation, and Mr. S. Walsh, M.P. and all were of the opinion that the inquiry ought to be adjourned until the exploration of the mine could be carried out. Proceedings were adjourned until the 22nd of March 1909. There was still no prospect of examining the mine at this time and it was thought that the best interest of all parties would be served in completing the formal inquest.
All interested parties were represented and there were twenty-three sittings from March until July 1909. The Coroner summed up on the 8th of July 1909 and gave the jury nine questions to answer. They left to consider their verdict at 11.15 a.m. and returned after five and a half hours of deliberation.
The verdict of the jury was given by answers to questions posed by the coroner:
First question: How did the deceased come to their deaths?
Answer: The seventy-five men met their deaths by the explosion.
Second Question: If the deaths came about through an explosion, in what district of the mine did the explosion originate?
Answer: The South Slant District.
Third Question: If the district of the mine in which the explosion originated can be ascertained, in what place in that district did it originate, and was there any lack of due care and caution in the firing of shots in such place or otherwise?
Answer: In the balances. There was a lack of supervision in the balances.
Fourth Question: Was the explosion caused by the ignition of gas, or coal dust, or by gas or coal dust combined?
Answer: Gas and coal dust combined.
Fifth Question: Was the explosion caused by shot firing with a permitted explosive or by the use of a defective safety lamp or how otherwise?
Answer: The explosion was caused by shot-firing with a permitted explosive, and we believe there has been too much trust placed in the permitted explosive.
Sixth Question: Was due care and were all reasonable precautions taken in the following districts, namely, South Slant, South East, South 6-ft and North 6-ft, in respect to all and each of the following matters a) the examination for and the removal of gas in and near any place at which shots wee to be fired b) the withdrawal of all workmen other than those actually engaged in the work of shot-firing, and other than those whose presence was absolutely necessary in the mine at the time when shots were to be fired c) in prohibiting the firing of shots in or near places where gas had been discovered d) for preventing workmen from working in places where gas was present e) in maintaining the airways (intakes and returns) in safe and proper condition f) in keeping all working places supplied in the quantity of air adequate to render them safe and proper to work in, and render harmless all noxious gases g) and in the exercise of all due care and caution by the manager, undermanager, firemen and other officials in their respective capacities of supervision and control, and specially to the use of explosives?
Answer: South Slant District, yes, with the exception of the balances south-east District, yes, wit the exception of Hull’s place, Mann’s place and Conway’s place South 6-ft and North 6-ft, yes a) yes, with the exception of the above-named places b) same answer c) same answer d) same answer e) due care and reasonable precautions have been taken f) same answer, with the exception of the above-named places g) in the absence of the manager we believe there was slack of supervision, especially in the use of explosives.
Seventh Question: was the explosion attributable to the non-observance of any statutory obligation?
Answer: Seeing that the person who could give us definite information on this has been killed by the explosion, and in the absence of any other evidence, we are not able to form a conclusive opinion.
Eighth Question: Does blame rest with anyone in connection with the explosion, and if so who and in what respect of what acts of commission or omission?
Answer: Same answer as to question seven.
Ninth Question: Do you, with a view to preserving life in the future, make a recommendation, more particularly with respect to 1) shot-firing, 2) dealing with coal dust in a dry and dusty mine. 3) Government inspection of mines, 4) generally?
Answer: We strongly recommend during shot-firing in the mines no men shall be below ground, only the firemen and shot-lighters, so as not to endanger the lives of others. We suggest the sweeping and watering of all dusty mines in the colliery to prevent dust explosion. We strongly recommend the appointment by the Government of more inspectors of mines. We recommend that firmed should carry out the duties of shot-lighting, and that shot-lighters should net carry out shot-firing without being called, on to act as firemen and in both cases practical men should be appointed. We recommend wherever long-wall work is in operation six-yard packs on either side of the drawing road would greatly add to the safety of those working in the mine and that all packing shall be kept within a distance of not more than six yards from the face and that all drawing roads shall not be more than thirty yards apart. This is the verdict of the Jury.
A Relief Fund was opened and there was an immediate donation of £100 from His Majesty the King. Contributions came from near and far, the coppers of the unemployed and the gifts from the wealthier and the industrial concerns all over the country.
The inquiry was very exhaustive and lasted over 23 days with 56 witnesses being called. His Majesty’s Inspector of Mines, Mr. Hall, outlined the likeliest causes of the explosion the gas having been ignited from several possible causes the most obvious being a blown-out shot or a defective lamp. None could tell until a search had been made. The shafts at the colliery had been sealed and there was evidence that the fire was less intense than at first nevertheless millions of gallons of water remained in the mine, He had accompanied rescuers within four hours of the explosion but no sound had been heard from the men below. He assured the relatives that no person was living when the mine was flooded.
All the witnesses agreed that the explosion was from the ignition of gas but how it was ignited had to be the subject of speculation. It was suggested that the explosion was aggravated by coal dust in dirty roads and that pockets of gas in the cavities of old and abandoned workings were ignited by a shot penetrating these cavities. The shot firer would have been unaware of their existence. Letters were received from miners and engineers in other parts of the country. Some letters condemned the owners for making men work in dangerous areas other letters condemned the Miners Lodges for ignoring complaints allegedly made by men at the Maypole colliery. Several letters blamed the safety lamps that were used the Marsault type. “After some years”, said one of the letters, “the threads of the base filament wear out allowing gas to travel along the threads,” Another pointed out from his own experience that the corrosion of the pillars supporting the glass and yet another correspondent wrote: “If only one corrodes, the glass is no longer an airtight fit.”
Witness agreed that the so-called “permitted” explosives were only safe if it was used under specified conditions. There was disagreement amongst the witnesses about the value of damping with water to keep down coal dust about the heat in certain working places, and about the correctness of and notice taken of the fireman’s report. Even the location of these reports were in despite, one man leaving it on the surface and another leaving it below. It was clear from the evidence that the reports were rarely compared. The surviving firemen were questioned very closely by the legal representatives and by one of the jurors who was a collier of many years experience. The firemen held different views on the quantity of gas found especially in a large cavity in the roof caused by a fall sometime earlier. Mr. Monks, the fireman lost in the explosion, was said to be a very competent workman who had been in the industry all his life. At one hearing his widow was asked to address the court. She complained about the way in which some people attacked her husband in court, as he was unable to reply she had come to “stick up” for him. She had a six week old child and had great difficulty in making ends meet and accused Lodge Officers of making things hard for her. The coroner said that he could make difficulties for anyone who pre-judged the issue and the Miner’s Agent promised to help and offered to look into her complaints.
The movements of people and tubs could often clear small accumulations of gas away and these were not always reported since the gas cleared so quickly. Some men assured the court that the gas was so strong near the working face that their lamps had to be “put back” into a clearer area. Some men had their drawers or helpers, “fanning” them with a shirt. Others claimed that frequently they had to go away to clear their heads into cleaner air. A contrary opinion was put by others who had never seen or heard of anyone “Fanning”, putting lamps behind, removing fenced areas, bringing down brattice cloth or “working low” that is in the clearer air at the bottom of the place near the floor. There is no record of complaints being made at the Lodge meetings and in fact, the men did not wish to make use of rule 38 by which two men could be appointed to examine working conditions on the miners’ behalf. The court had to decide, were some men working in bad areas because the money was good, and ignoring safety rules, or were the firemen helping them by making light of the hazards? Did the management know this and choose to ignore the case? Some places were so easy to work that as one man put it “I could kick the coal out with my clogs.” The main complaint was that there were not enough empty tubs, and since a man-made his money on the amount he cut, waiting for boxes (or tubs) meant a loss of income. One witness said he made an average of £2-5s and week which was enough to keep a man and his family in reasonable comfort.
There were frequent brushes between the coroner and Mr. Walsh who represented the Miners’ Lodge. He was rebuked many times for repeating questions which the coroner felt had been satisfactorily answered already and for wasting the court time. Mr. Walsh accused the coroner of deliberately silencing him. At the end of the inquest, they made their peace each man admitting that they had misunderstood the other. The checkweighman at the Maypole, Mr. Seth Blackledge, was threatened with removal from the court for communicating with a juror.
The Mines Inspector, Mr. Hall, gave the mine and the manger a good report. The reports he had seen from the firemen were adequate and neither worse nor better than those he had seen elsewhere. He agreed that much was discussed man to man that did not appear in the reports. He classed it as a clean, well-run pit, a bit fiery but easy to work. He would not give an opinion as to the cause of the explosion no one could do that until the pit had been inspected and the job would be difficult because of the flooding.
The jury at the inquiry came to the following conclusions:
The explosion originated in the balances and was an explosion of firedamp and coal dust combined, ignited by a permitted explosive.
We attach importance to the fact that there had been two previous explosions in the colliery, each of them caused by blasting. Fortunately in neither of these accidents was there loss of life, but in one case a serious disaster was narrowly escaped. We also attach great importance to the evidence that on the day previous to the disaster there was a considerable body of gas accumulated in the balances which it would be very difficult to completely clear out or adequately test, because of the large open spaces in the roof caused by previous falls.
The fact that this unusual condition of things existed at the balances on Monday, and that the explosion occurred on Tuesday just at the time when, in the usual course of his round, the shotlighter would be engaged in firing shots which had been prepared there that day, makes it difficult to dissociate the one circumstance from the other.
The jury made several recommendations. On shotfiring they said:
We strongly recommend during shotfiring in mines no men shall be below ground only the shotfirers and the fireman, so as not to endanger the lives of others.
We suggest the sweeping and watering of all dusty roads in this colliery to prevent dust explosions.
The jury was also critical that too much trust had been put in the “permitted” explosive and that very large charges had been used but the most important evidence that Mr. Hall called attention to was “the apparent lack of action to be followed by the fireman and shotlighters when they found parts of the mine dangerously affected by the emissions of firedamp.”
Mr. Hall concluded the report by saying that he was satisfied that nothing further could be done to throw any light on the disaster and did not recommend prosecution of anyone connected with the mine.
The Miners’ Federation Representatives commented:
Taking the case as presented by the evidence we can come to no conclusion other than in our serious judgment the conditions at the Maypole Colliery at the time of the accident and for a considerable period previous, were not what the workmen had a right to expect, and what the Mines Act and Special Rules demanded, we are further of the opinion that with a larger staff of Mines Inspectors which would naturally lead to a more efficient inspection of mines, we could with greater confidence look for a diminution of our truly appalling death and accident rate.
The men died from an explosion caused by a mixture of coal dust and gas, fired by shot using permitted explosive, and into which too much trust had been placed. The supervision during the manager’s absence was slack.
Since all that could answer were dead we cannot express an opinion on whether rules were being broken at the time of the explosion however it appears that due precaution had not previously been taken by some of the men whose lives had been lost.
The men concerned are dead and therefore we cannot answer the charge that men worked in conditions which were dangerous and they knew to be dangerous or could by expected to know were dangerous in order to make easy money.
Firemen should not be expected to for shots as well but there should always be a man doing the job exclusively.
There should be more Mines Inspectors.
There should be a rule limiting the number of people down the pit when shots are fired.
Floors should be swept as well as watered to keep down the dust.
The report was presented to The Right Honourable Herbert J. Gladstone, M.P., H.M. Principal Secretary of State for the Home Office.
There were 17 jurymen one having died during the proceedings. The coroner dismissing the jury for “it’s usual citizenship” and recalled the tragic stories brought out by witnesses. Boys found clinging to fathers’ legs, men with cloth on their faces and open tea cans as they vainly tried to combat the sulphurous fumes, families in which all the menfolk had been wiped out, the fearlessness of men who spoke out even though they feared being blacklisted by either collier or Company. Above all the shadow lasting longer than any fumes below that lay over the whole community from the day of the explosion eleven months earlier when the Maypole “went up”.
Mines Inspectors Report.
Report on the circumstances attending an explosion which occurred at the Maypole Colliery on the 18th August 1909 by Samuel Pope, Barrister-at-Law and Henry Hall, I.S.O., one of His Majesty’s Inspectors of Mines.
Minutes of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain.
The Maypole, Diary of a Colliery Disaster. John Hannavy and Roy Lewis.
The Colliery Guardian, 21st August 1908, p.307, 28th August, p.418, 18th September, p.568, 9th October, p.714, 30th October, p.851, 27th October, p.1068, 26th February 1909, p.428, 8th April, p. 742, 14th May, p.985, 21st May, p.1035, 28th May, p.1081, 18th June, p.236, 2nd July, p.35, 16th July, p.134, 23rd July, p.182, 30th July, p.227, 237.
Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.Return to previous page