OLD BOSTON. Haydock, Lancashire. 29th. June 1900.

The explosion occurred when shaft sinking operations were going on at the colliery which was owned by Richard Evans & Co. and the disaster was the worst in the village since the Wood Pit explosion of 1878. The cause was the same in each case, a sudden and unexpected outburst of gas.

A gang of ten men were engaged in sinking operations at the colliery when the accident happened. They were taking the main shaft down from the Nine Feet Seam to the Rushy Park Seam and they had gone down about 10 to 12 yards. By 1 a.m. on that day they had bored nine shotholes in the floor which was of metal to a depth of about three feet. The holes were charged in the usual way and fired by Mark Luke.

All went well until about 5 a.m. up to which time the men had sent up forty full hoppets of metal. At the centre of the shaft, there was an electric lamp suspended on a cable and candles were burning around the edge of the pit. Suddenly, and without any warning, there was an outburst of gas from the floor. The gas ignited and burnt the ten men that were working there.

The men were quickly put into the hoppet and sent to the surface. They were seen to be seriously burnt and sent to the Cottage Hospital. Six of the men died from their injuries and there were fears for the lives of four others. These fears proved to be correct and the four later died bringing the death toll to eight out of the ten that had been working down the shaft.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • James Gillard sinker. aged 45 years, of Leigh Street, Earlestown,
  • Patrick Babe sinker over 40 years of age, of 41, Barber Street, St. Helens,
  • James King sinker, aged 20 years, of 342, Church Road, Haydock,
  • Patrick Flaherty sinker, aged 35 years, of 19, Reservoir Street, of Ashton-in-Makerfield
  • James Haines sinker, aged 33 years, of 83, Eccles Street, Earlestown,
  • Patrick King sinker, aged 36 years, of 342, Church Road, Haydock,
  • Mark Luke aged 51 years, a chargehand of 139, Legh Street, Earlestown and
  • John Fitzpatrick sinker, of 28, Leigh Street, Ashton-in-Makerfield.

Mr. Samuel Brighouse, the County Coroner, opened the inquest into the deaths at the Waggon and Horses Hotel with a jury of eighteen men. Coroner Brighouse who unfortunately made regular visits to Haydock was walking with the help of two sticks. He was a keen cyclist and had been involved in an accident which had injured his knee. The jury expressed their sympathy. His medical man had advised him to rest for ten but the Coroner did not take their advice and the County authorities did not view favourably his hobbling around the county on sticks. He was delayed half an hour by missing the train. He is a popular figure in this part of the county and elsewhere but his visits are more frequent would have been desired.

The Coroner took the formal evidence of identification of the victims. The first witness was John Luke who lived at 28, Crow Lane, Earlestown. He said that Thomas Gilliard aged 45 years, a sinker, was his brother-in-law and lived with him. He last saw him alive at 9 o’clock and saw him dead at the Cottage Hospital. Margaret Bebe, widow of Patrick said the deceased was a sinker living at 41, Barber Street, St Helens. She did not know his exact age but he was past 40 years.

Elisa Merricks, of 342, Church Road, Haydock, said the James and Patrick King were two brothers who lodged with her. They were sinkers James was 20 years old and Patrick was 26 years. They had a mother and three brothers in County Mayo.

Catherine Flaherty said her husband, Patrick, was a sinker and they lived at 19, Reservoir Street, Ashton-in-Makerfield. Rachel Jones, wife of James, of 83, Athol Street, Earlestown said James Hindes lived with her. He was a sinker aged 33 years. The witness said that she wanted to write to the deceased friends in Ireland.

Gladys Owen, a nurse at the Cottage Hospital said Thomas Gilliard was admitted between 6 and 7 in the morning badly burnt. She was present when he died. Patrick King was admitted at the same time and died at 12.50 a.m.

Martha Marsh Jack, a sister at the Hospital said Babe, King and Flaherty were admitted between 6 and 7 suffering from burns. Babe died at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning and King at 8.20 on Sunday morning. Flaherty died on Monday morning.

The injured men who are still in hospital were Mark Luke, chargeman, aged 51 years of Legh Street, Earlestown, Thomas Woods, aged 51 years, of Fairclough Street, Earlestown, Luke Dillon aged 39 years, of 23, Queen Street, Golborne, John Fitzpatrick of 1, Heath Lane, Ashton-in-Makerfield. The four men were better but they were not yet out of danger.

Dr. Hayward and his assistants and the entire hospital staff have been unremitting in their attentions to the unfortunate men. A telegram had been received from the Home Secretary, Sir Matthew Wight Ridley by Mr. Hall the Government Inspector of Mines, to express his sympathy.

Later, John Fitzpatrick, aged 28 years of Heath Road, Ashton-in-Makerfield, died in the Cottage Hospital from his injuries. Hugh Fitzpatrick, a bricklayer’s labourer, of Garswood Street, Ashton-in-Makerfield said that the deceased was his brother who lived at 1, Heath Road, Ashton-in-Makerfield. He had been a well sinker and was 38 years old.

Nurse Martha Marsh Jack gave evidence of another death that morning. Mark Luke, the chargeman, had died at 9 that morning in the Hospital. He was 51 years old and lived at 139, Leigh Street, Earlestown. This brought the final death toll of the explosion to eight deaths.

The inquest on Mark Luke on Friday and Mr. John Robinson the manager was present on behalf of the colliery. Luke was aged 28 years, a sinker of Crown Street, Earlestown identified his brother.

The proceedings then went on to examine the cause of the disaster. Luke Dillon, of 23, Queen Street, Golborne and Thomas Walsh of 45, Fairclough Street, Earlestown, were the two men that survived and after hospital treatment, they had been allowed to go home. Luke Dillon owed his remarkable escape to the fact that when the explosion occurred, King was knocked against him and he was knocked down and partially covered by debris.

The first witness was Thomas Walsh, 51, of Fairclough Street, Earlestown who was working down the pit when the accident occurred. He was working for a contractor named Morris but had signed according to the rules of the colliery.

Luke Dillon, one of the survivors, gave an account of the conditions down the shaft when the accident occurred. He was holding the hoppet because he was the strongest. He saw the flames and had time to turn to the face the side of the pit and put his cap over his face. He was tumbled over by the others moving about, by King he thought. He fell facedown and lay there for a while. He did not shout. When everything went still and he thought that everyone was dead. Some were lying on the hoppet and others trying to get into it. Hindes called Dillon by his nickname “Lord” and he led him to the hoppet and put him in. Flaherty and Bebe were further away but he led them to the hoppet. The witness was the last to get into the hoppet and they all went up the pit.

James Cook, the Certified Manager of the colliery, said that the pit was 245 yards deep and 18 feet wide. The ventilation for the work was by pipes that were taken down one side and up the other. There was no artificial current created.

Charles Johnson was the banksman at the time and he remembered the shots being fired. The hoppet had been down four times, twice with men and twice with tools. Johnson believed that Mark Luke went down first as he should do.

Hugh Neary, of 64, Gerard Street, Ashton-in-Makerfield, was helping the men on the night of the explosion and the men were all in the mouthing and out of danger when the shots were fired.

In answer to a question by the Coroner, Mr. Cook said a lamp was picked up. He had been down three times after the accident and remembers the lamp lying at the bottom of the shaft. It was an ordinary collier’s lamp.

Luke Jones, the chargeman said he was superior to Mark Luke and could give orders. He went off duty at 4.45 the evening before the disaster and the men were working by electric light and candles. There was one safety lamp that was taken down to test for gas. After shots were fired he took two men with him into the place and made his inspection for gas. He left the lamp down on Thursday.

Mr. Henry Hall, in the Mines Inspector’s Report, said the jury took ten minutes in deliberation to come to the verdict that the explosion was caused by an outburst of gas and recommended that in future all these operations should be carried out by electric light.

Payments under the Compensation Act were made under the Act in the Local Courts. Two claims were entered by Mrs. King, mother of John and Patrick at St. Helens Court. Mr. Riley appeared for the plaintiff and the action withdrawn with a settlement agreeable both to Mrs. King and Richard Evans & Co.

In another action at St. Helens Court, Richard Evans and Co. defended a case brought by James Fitzpatrick, blacksmith of 8, Garswood Terrace, Ashton-in-Makerfield. The case was heard by Judge Butler and the claim was for £300 in respect for the death of his son in the explosion. It was stated by Mr Riley who appears for the claimant claimed that the Company had not supplied a sufficient electric lighting system and did not provide or insist on the use of safety lamps. It was said that it was indiscreet to use candles at these depths when the seam was so near. The jury assessed damages at £50, with costs which had to be paid by the Company.

Sarah Ann Gillard, of Leigh Street, Earlestown sought compensation from Evans and Co. and the death of Thomas her married son who was killed in the explosion. The Judge said the only point that he had to consider was if the applicant was a partial dependent of the deceased. He had looked very carefully at the evidence and if he could have given an award he would have done so. The applicant was an aged woman whose eyesight was partially gone. He would have like to have given her £20 to £30 as Mr. Riley had suggested but there was no evidence to show that she was evenly partially dependant on him he, therefore, made no order.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1900.
Colliery Guardian, 1900, 6th July, 1900, p.28.

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

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