MENSES. Barebones Pit. Wigan, Lancashire 21st. November, 1873.

The colliery, known locally as the Barebones Pit, was the property of Messrs. W. and J. Turner and had worked for a large number of years and had a large area of goaf. There were two shafts, an upcast and a downcast. The upcast went to the Yard Seam at 150 yards and the latter went to the Smith Coal Seam seventy yards below. At the time of the explosion, there were about 74 men in the Yard seam and about the same number in the Smith seam. The seam was not noted as a fiery one and was worked with candles. Joseph Moss was the manager and had been at the pit for just over a year. Joseph Orrell was the underlooker. About four months before he had had a complaint about gas from Ralph Goulding in a place about 130 yards further up from Yates’s.

The pit fired and except for some smoke at the surface, there was little evidence of what had happened but news spread quickly and a constant stream of anxious friends and relatives went to the colliery. At the time, Joseph Moss, the manager, was in the office near the pit eye when he heard it. Fortunately, the shafts and winding apparatus were not damaged and Joseph Moss, who was down the pit at the time, made an assessment of the damage. Joseph Barton, underviewer of a nearby pit owned by Messrs. Lamb and Moore was quickly on the scene, and exploring parties were organised one to go to the north workings and one to go to the south under the direction of Moss and Barton.

The parties some found colliers in the workings who were hurrying to the pit eye to escape and many of them were badly burned. They were sent to the surface where three surgeons, Messrs. Fisher, Unwin and Stewart were waiting to treat them. Cabs were sent for and the men were sent to their homes. In the pit the explorers found little afterdamp which indicated that little gas had exploded. Other collieries gave their support by W. Kellett and W.R. Ellis, mining surveyors, Joseph Thompson manager of the Norley Collieries, John Darbyshire of Barley Brook, Robert Jones of Ince Hall, Jabez Thorpe of Worsley Menses and J. Robinson for Rylands and Sons. There was little damage to the workings and tubs were not damaged. Colliers in other parts of the mine were unaware of the disaster.

The parties went along the east road from the pit eye for about 200 yards to an opening called the Park Lane shunt and here it looked as the explosion had ripped through the workings like down the barrel of a gun. Almost 70 yards from the level the bodies of two boys and a man were found badly burnt. Further on there were strong traces of fire and a place where a collier named Yates was working with his drawer there was evidence that a shot had been fired which was thought to have fired the gas and be the cause of the disaster. The bodies of two boys were found in a narrow brow to the north and they were not as burned like the others.

The cage brought burnt and half suffocated survivors to the surface at the downcast shaft. To the men in the Smith Seam, the only indication that anything was wrong was an interruption of the ventilation. The relatives at the surface greeted their loved ones and there was a wail from the women who found that there husbands, sons, and fathers were badly burnt. One youngster who was scorched beyond recognition behaved like a Spartan and encouraged his brother, who was sitting at the pit bank, to be firm and not give way to emotion. The whole of the workings had been examined and all the bodies recovered by three oÕclock. The bodies were placed in a workshop. For a long time two of the five were not identified but by dusk all had been claimed and the crowd began to disperse.

The men who died were:

  • George Lole aged 20 years, collier,
  • Peter Lawrence aged 14 years, driver,
  • Matthew Myers aged 14 years, driver,
  • James Fairclough aged 13 years, driver,
  • William Millit aged 13 years, drawer,
  • James Hodson aged 31 years, collier,
  • George Yates aged 32 years, collier.

It was reported that another twenty others were injured to some extent.

The inquest to identify the bodies was opened by the Wigan Borough Coroner, Mr. Darlington. George Lole was a Welshman from Blaenleecha in Glamorganshire and had been employed by the firm for two or three days. He had no friends or relatives in the district and his identity was discovered from a dog license which he had in his pocket. No one was at the inquest to represent the owners as they were all working down the pit and the proceedings were adjourned for two weeks.

When it resumed, all interested parties were represented and evidence was taken from the witnesses, The first was Joseph Moss, the manager. As far as he could say the explosion originated in Yates and Hodson’s place. These two men were taking down a pillar which Moss did not know why it had been left and he found it when he first went into the mine. There was a goaf from Barton’s old colliery and along goaf on Turner’s side. There was no barrier between Barton’s and Turner’s pits. During the time they were working the goaf made blackdamp but only once was firedamp found.

Joseph Orrell the underlooker gave evidence that he had been at the colliery for only a matter of days before the explosion. On the day of the disaster, Yates and Hodson sent for him and asked for some brattice as some gas had come into their place during the morning. While the men were having their breakfast, Orrell inspected the place and found gas at the roof but it went when the brattice was put up.

Ralph Goulding was called and he said he was down the pit at the time of the explosion. He heard nothing but felt a “sucking” but it did not affect his lamp. He and his mates ran out with wet jackets wrapped around their heads. On his way to the shaft, Goulding encountered afterdamp. He shouted Yates and Hodson to follow him but they did not. John O’Neil and William Broxon, both colliers, said that the ventilation in the mine was good and that there had never been any apprehensions of an explosion among the colliers. Robert Bolton had been the fireman at the pit for five or six years and on the morning of the explosion, he had visited Yates’s place and not found any gas. He told the court that every collier was expected to take a lamp with him and to examine the place for gas before he went in with a naked light.

Patrick O’Brien of the Wigan Borough Police visited Hodson before he died and said that he did not know how the explosion occurred but he was using a candle at the time. Further evidence was taken from William Kellett and mining engineer and the Mines Inspector, Mr. Thomas Bell and the Coroner proceeded to sum up and during the course of his remarks he said:

There is one important matter which I wish to impress on colliery managers. Latterly the ventilation of all-out mines has been very good indeed I know of no collieries where the ventilation was not excellent but I think that very improvement had been the cause of a great many accidents – that too much reliance has been placed on the ventilation. That ventilation in itself is a cause of danger and requires more care than where the ventilation is worse. I believe that many of the accidents that have occurred lately have arisen from relying on the ventilation instead of that care and forethought that ought to exists in every colliery where men are liable at any moment to outbreaks of gas.

The jury deliberated for a few minutes and found a verdict of “Accidental Death” in each case and added that in their opinion Hodson caused the accident by disobeying the underlooker and used a candle instead of a lamp. They added that they thought that in all cases where lamps were used in mines they should be locked.


Mines Inspector Report, 1873. Mr. Thomas Bell.
Colliery Guardian, 28th November 1873, p.708, 5th December, p.745, 19th December, p.816.

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

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