SANKEY BROOK. St. Helens, Lancashire. 11th. June, 1857.

The colliery was owned by the Sankey Brook Coal Company and Mr. Higson, the Inspector, had previously visited the pit and had drawn the attention of the manager who was not an engineer to the dangerous state of the pit but he could not understand what should have been done. Mr Higson recommended him to appoint a viewer and promised that he would return to the colliery and explain to the newly appointed viewer. On the day he arrived at the colliery to see the viewer, the accident had just happened.

John Myres the banksman stopped at 140 yards to clear the water table said it was not worthwhile making two windings so they would all go together and stop at the water table. There was the call to lower and those on the surface saw the rope vibrate and the engine was stopped. It was then lowered at a signal from the bottom and then raised. Two blood-stained caps that belonged to the lads were found and it was seen that two hooks had broken off. Michael Richie, the fireman at the bottom of the pit, heard screams and it was he who signalled the banksman. There were 60 yards of rope on the drum. William Rigby, a collier, said that the rope was in a bad state. Mr. Higson was at the colliery and saw what happened. He thought the colliery was badly managed and he expressed a pit of that depth should have guide rods. The Inspector said that no coal should be wound until the pit had been made safe.

Six persons, five men and a boy, were killed in descending the shaft to the Rushy Park mine in a waggon suspended from four corners. The waggon caught the side of the pit which caused two of the hooks to become detached and the men fell 200 yards to the bottom of the pit.

Those who died were:

  • Matthew Barnes aged 32 years,
  • Robert Halliday aged 16 years,
  • Thomas Whitehead aged 16 years,
  • Robert Thornton aged 16 years,
  • Thomas Hullet aged 12 years,
  • Thomas Jason aged 12 years.

The pit was 360 yards deep was out of the perpendicular, irregularly and badly walled and without guides. Mr. Higson had first-hand experience of what caused the accident when he was descending the shaft and the waggon nearly caught one of the rings.  Mr. Higson commented:

Sadly, this is enough to convince the colliery proprietors that the services of a competent colliery viewer are indispensable as are guides and conductors in deep shafts where two ropes are used in one shaft.

On the 3rd July 1857, a portion of the brickwork surrounding the pit fell down the shaft and filled it up for seven yards. A number of workmen were about to descend the pit to examine and repair the pit but fortunately, there was no one down the pit at the time. Mr. Higson had the working of the shaft suspended.


The Wigan Observer.
The St.Helens Intelligencer
Mines Inspectors Report, 1857. Mr. Peter Higson.

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

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