RAINFORD  Rainford, Lancashire. 16th. January, 1869.

Rainford Colliery was the property of the Rainford Colliery Company and the pit was situated close to Rainford Junction station. The No.7 shaft was the upcast shaft and No.8 the downcast and it worked the Seven Feet and the Rushy Park seams both of which had been exhausted and the pit had been sunk deeper to the Four Foot Seam corresponding to the Arley Seam at Wigan and the workings were quite extensive.

About noon on Thursday, the sinkers noticed that a large quantity of smoke was coming from the mouth of the Seven Feet Mine and on examination it was found that the pillars that had been left to support the shaft were on fire. It was thought that the ventilating furnace in the upcast shaft had, in some way, ignited the coal. Preparations were made to extinguish the flames and about 10 a.m. arrangements were completed to take water to the fire. First by a siphon was made in the downcast shaft and then the water was taken along an airway between the two shafts, eight men were sent to assist in the work.

On reaching the scene of the fire the seven sat down a short distance from the burning coal and the other went to the downcast to make arrangements for the water. The flame suddenly flared and the seven were severely burnt. None of the men thought that firedamp was present and it was found that this was the case. A fall of roof occurred and interrupted the ventilation for short time and this caused the fire to flare up suddenly. The men on the surface were not immediately aware at what had happened. There was nothing wrong with the shafts and they were quickly brought to the surface and attended to by Mr. Turbin, a surgeon of Rainford and Mr. Gaskell of St. Helens.

On Friday both the shafts were closed a short distance below the pit bank and a strong jet of steam was sent down the downcast shaft in an attempt to smother the flames. During the night the pits were left in the charge of Thomas Barrow and Thomas Whalley, engineers who had to maintain the steam pressure. All went well until early the next morning.

About 4 a.m., it was noticed that large quantities of steam and smoke were ascending the downcast shaft and it was clear that the ventilation had been reversed. Barrow and Whalley left the stoker by the boiler and went to an archway in the shaft 3 to 4 yards below the pit bank. The scaffold that was supposed to be along the shaft was only 3 to 4 feet down and Barrow was heard to say to his engineman how far they would have to jump and he replied that it was not far. He jumped but the scaffold was not there and he fell 60 to 70 yards into the fire below. It is thought that an explosion had taken place in the mine and destroyed the scaffold or that the weight of the men landing on it, caused it to break.

By the following Saturday, steps had been taken to send a current down the downcast shaft and up the other shaft. Stem was sent into the workings. It was found impossible to descend the shaft to remove the bodies and shortly after the arching which had fallen was buckled up and thick boards and sand were placed over both shafts while the steam continued in the downcast shaft. It was believed that despite these precautions that there was still a fire in the old workings. Mr. Higson, the Inspector, came to the mine to supervise the operations.

All the victims were colliers and they died as a result of their injuries over the following few days.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • Michael Brown aged 36 years,
  • Thomas Bullen aged 34 years,
  • William Glover aged 40 years,
  • Samuel Rice aged 28 years,
  • John Smith aged 57 years,
  • Henry Birchall aged 49 years,
  • Edward Turner aged 26 years and
  • Barrow and Whalley who fell down the shaft into the fire.

The inquest was held at the Junction Hotel at Rainford the inquest Enoch Cheetham, the underlooker for the Rainford Coal Company, gave an account of what happened at the pit. The inquest was adjourned for one month and then opened on the bodies of Barrow and Whalley. A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned but the jury did not know why the scaffold was not there.


The Mines Inspectors Report, 1869. Mr. Peter Higson.
The Wigan Observer.
The St.Helens Standard.

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

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