PEMBERTON. Wigan, Lancashire. 11th. October, 1877.

The explosion took place at the King pit, owned by Messrs. Jonathan Blundell and Sons in the Wigan Nine Foot Mine and killed 36 men and boys including Mr. Watkin, the manager of the colliery. Mr. Watkin had been appointed when the former manager, William Greener, was killed by a fall of roof whilst on a visit to the Rainford Colliery on 9th. July 1865.

William John Laverick, the underground manager, who was appointed by Mr. Watkin, came from Durham, where he had trained at the Pease and Parkers Collieries and married the sister of Mr. Douglas of West Lodge, Crook, near Durham.

There were two pits at the colliery, the Queen pit, 635 yards deep, which was the downcast pit and the King pit, which was 629 yards deep and was the upcast shaft. There were eleven working places in the pit at the time of the explosion which occurred in Rutters Level as was proved by the position of the body of Luke Parkinson the shotlighter and his tools.

The explosion took place shortly after 1 p.m. and help was called in for the rescue operations from neighbouring collieries. Mr. George Holland of the Winstanley Collieries went to the pit to lead the operations.

Survivors were found and brought out of the pit Wigan Nine Foot seam. They were Joseph and Peter Heaton, both hookers-on, E, Cannon, William Greaves, William Murray, James Allerton. They were all lads employed as pony drivers and all were suffering from the effects of the afterdamp. Canon was badly burnt and Allerton burnt and shaken after being blown out of the workings into the shaft. He was blown against some woodwork and his arm became entangled. He hung by his arm over the shaft until he was rescued. The shaft was three hundred and forty yards deep. Two lads, who were working near him, were blown out of the workings and down the shaft to their deaths.

Peter Heaton had a narrow escape when he was near the pit eye at the time of the explosion. A tub was blown on top of him and protected him from the burning gas which undoubtedly saved his life. All the lamps were blown out in the explosion and Heaton, who was near the signalling apparatus, knocked to the surface.

It was known to be a fiery seam and the whole of the air in the pit was charged with firedamp. The gas was thought to have been ignited by a blown out shot and it was thought unlikely that either Parkinson or Rutter, a collier, had detected gas, or foreseen danger otherwise they would have been further away from the shot when it was fired. The mine was inspected regularly by the management.

Watkin was killed along with Cooke, the underground manager, and Laverick. All three died heroically in an attempt to rescue others. Soon after 2 p.m. Messrs. Watkin, Cooke and Laverick descended the pit and went forward with the hope of saving lives leaving Messrs. Crossley, Wood, Ashurst and others behind.

Those who were left behind became anxious when their calls were not answered and they started a search. They reached the top of a jig brow two hundred yards from the workings and one hundred yards from the main airway when they found the three unconscious. Cooke had been leading with the two others close behind. They were found facing the shaft as though they were coming out of the pit and had been overcome by the afterdamp.

The party sent a man to the surface to get medical help and Mr. Barnish of Wigan and Messrs. Johnstone and Hartley of Pemberton, surgeons, volunteered to go down the pit. They were taken to the place where the three lay. After two hours of artificial respiration with no results, the three were pronounced dead. Cooke’s body was brought up first and conveyed to his home which was only a short distance from the pit. The two other bodies were brought up about half an hour later and taken to a cabin. The workforce were devastated that these men were dead and Mr. Watkins’ death caused a profound sensation of loss in the town.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • W.L.J. Watkin, aged 38 years, the agent.
  • Richard F. Cook, aged 45 years manager.
  • Robert Laverick, aged 39 years, underlooker.
  • James Winstanley, aged 20 years, dataller.
  • James Taylor, aged 45 years, fireman.
  • Nicholas Halliwell, aged 30 years, overman.
  • Luke Parkinson, aged 31 years, fireman.
  • William Byrom, aged 14 years, pony driver.
  • Edward James Birch, aged 13 years, pony driver
  • Robert Ritchie, aged 27 years, dataller.
  • Matthew Preston, aged 13 years, pony driver.
  • John Woodcock, aged 24 years, drawer.
  • Michael Hughes, aged 24 years, drawer.
  • Thomas Rowley, aged 31 years, drawer.
  • James Murray, aged 24 years, drawer.
  • William Heaton, aged 21 years, drawer.
  • Richard Tabener, aged 16 years, drawer
  • Charles Beadle, aged 13 years, pony diver.
  • Peter Charnock, aged 17 years, drawer.
  • Benjamin Hartley, aged 24 years, drawer.
  • Francis Reegan, aged 25 years drawer.
  • Luke Taylor, aged 19 years, drawer.
  • John Kellett, aged 21 years, collier.
  • John Bradshaw, aged 26 years, collier.
  • William Hulme, aged 49 years, collier.
  • Daniel Price, aged 32 years, collier.
  • John Cubbins, aged 28 years, collier
  • John Atherton, aged 28 years, collier.
  • William Chapman, aged 31 years, collier.
  • Thomas Steadman, aged 40 years, collier.
  • George Rutter, aged 32 years, collier.
  • Patrick Brogan, aged 32 years, collier.
  • John Wood, aged 31 years, collier.
  • John Wild, aged 45 years, collier.
  • William Webb, aged 42 years, drawer.
  • Nehemiah Houghton, aged 19 years, drawer.

The inquest was before Mr. Driffield with Messrs. Hall and Hedley Government Inspectors, Mr. Maule Q.C. representing the Home Office and Mr. Maskell Peace of Wigan for the proprietors. Mr. William Pickard, the miner’s agent and a large number of miners were present.

Mr. W. Armstrong of Durham, the consulting engineer to the colliery, said that the heat given out by the combustion of firedamp was twice that given out by an ordinary blast furnace while the pressure generated in an explosion was thirteen atmospheres or 200 lbs per square inch.

The experiments that he had made did away with Mr. Humbles theory that the explosion happened by a pony driver leaving open a door and so altering the ventilation. The seat of the explosion was, in his opinion, in the furthest south workings near Kellet’s working place. Kellet’s lamp was found twelve yards away from his body, in a damaged state.

Mr. Armstrong did not mean to say that the gas had been ignited by the lamp and he thought that there had been a considerable outburst of gas in his place, or in one of the places below Kellet’s place. He did not think that the blown out shot had anything to do with the explosion and the colliery record books made no mention of gas in this place for three months previous to the explosion.

Mr. Christopher Fisher Clarke, of the Garswood Iron and Coal Company, thought that the explosion was caused by a blown out shot in Rutter’s place and Mr. W. Harbottle of the Orrell Coal and Cannel Co. was of the same opinion as were Mr. Hedley, the Inspector and the Miners Agent Mr. Pickard.

The Coroner summed up the evidence and the jury retired to consider their verdict. They returned the following verdict:

The men were killed by an explosion of firedamp in the Wigan Nine Foot Mine at Messrs. Blundell’s Colliery. There is no evidence of neglect by the owners, managers or the workpeople, on the contrary, everything had been done for safety with no lack of expense. The jury are of the opinion that it was caused by a blown out shot in Rutters’ place. We recommend that blasting be done when the ordinary workpeople have left the mine.

After the accident, blasting was carried out at the mine only during the night.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1877.
Illustrated London News.
Colliery Guardian, 7th December 1877, p.906.

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

Return to previous page