SHAKERLEY. Wellington Pit. Tyldesley, Lancashire, 1st. October, 1895.

The colliery was the property of William Ramsden and Sons and there was an explosion of firedamp which claimed five lives. The colliery worked the Trencherbone seam from the Wellington pit which was the furnace upcast shaft and was 360 yards deep. The officials of the mine were manager John Kaye aged 50 years, the undermanager, James Sharples aged 39 years, the day fireman was John Harrison aged 39 years and the night fireman, Thomas Preston aged 35 years, all of who were killed along with a dataller, William Pollitt aged 62 years. All were shockingly burnt.

Firedamp had accumulated and there was a large amount of afterdamp. There was no doubt that the gas was ignited by a safety lamp. The manager had a bonneted Clanny lamp which was screw-locked and fuelled by colza oil. The undermanager had a similar lamp and fuel as had Harrison. The night fireman and the dataller had bonnetted Protector Marsaut lamps locked by a lead plug and containing cozaline. The lamps were found intact after the accident so no lamps were open.

On Saturday, 28th September, that part of the mine was at work. Nothing out of the usual was reported and no firedamp found but no part of the mine worked on Monday 30th September due to the local Fair. The fireman did make an inspection and found an accumulation of firedamp which was reported to the manager. He sent the undermanager and four firemen, two of these from another mine to try to remove the gas. They worked for three hours with no success. The next day, the manager accompanied by the four deceased went into the place about 10 a.m. and while they were there the explosion occurred. It took several hours for the afterdamp to disperse and for the first of the bodies to be recovered. About 7 p.m. Mr. Kay’s body was found two yards in the firedamp. It took twenty-four hours to remove the firedamp and got as far as Sharples body. It was found 8 yards beyond Mr. Kay.

The men who lost their lives were:

  • John Kay aged 50 years, manager,
  • James Sharples aged 39 years, undermanager,
  • John Harrison aged 39 years, fireman,
  • Thomas Preston aged 35 years, fireman,
  • William Pollitt aged 62 years, dataller.

A full inspection of the explosion area was completed by Mr. Gerrard, the Inspector. From the fact that brattice cloth was found with props to fix the cloth, it was quite certain that the manager had used the brattice to take the air forward to remove the gas. It was also certain that Sharples had gone forward, without a lamp as he knew that there was not sufficient air, to remove some obstruction. They may have thought that there was a fall of roof blocking the passage. No lamp was found near Sharples but a lamp was found 8 feet on the outbye side of Mr. Kay. Three lamps were found together behind the brattice. Apparently, these lamps had been extinguished. The only other lamp that was found in that part of the mine was found 30 yards of the outbye side of Mr. Kay. Mr. Gerrard picked it up in the presence of Mr. Kearsley, the general manager. All agreed that there were signs that the gauze had overheated very much and one person observed that it had been red hot. It was a Clanny lamp and had a loose bonnet or shield around the gauze and the oil vessel was not tight. It took two and three quarter turns to make it tight. The glass, which was not in the true shape, had an asbestos ring at the bottom on which it did not seat properly. The gauzes were of copper wire which was badly seamed and the top of the lamp had an opening on each side which exposed the top of the gauze. The lamp was sent for testing at Aldwarke Main Colliery who had the required apparatus. The tests were carried out by Mr. James Hilton, Mining Engineer. The results were later reported to the inquest.

The inquest was held at the George and Dragon before Mr. F. Butcher, Corner. Mr. Ramsden, one of the owners took the opportunity to say

On behalf of the firm, we express our deep regret at this lamentable accident and express to the wives and families of the poor fellows who have lost their lives, our upmost sympathy. We have had a wire at the colliery from the secretary of the Board of Management of the Permanent Relief Society, expressing their sympathy. I must say that the Society has been quick in giving us instructions to hand over the relief to the widows. I am exceedingly pleased that they were in the Permanent Society. I do not wish to say that is a matter of compensation, because none can offer that but what we can do is give them out sympathy and support.

John Grime, of 14, Ellesmere Street, was the hooker-on at the Wellington No.2 Pit and was working there when the explosion took place. He saw Mr. Kay, Mr. Sharples and the fireman, Harrison, but not the two daywagemen at about 9.40 a.m. Harrison told him that they were going in the district but he took some brattice cloth with him. Grime did not examine Harrison’s lamp as Harrison was the fireman but he examined the lamps of the other men. This was the last time he saw Harrison alive. Kay and Sharples left the pit eye shortly after 10 a.m. and Sharples was acting undermanager that day and had gone down before Mr. Kay. They met at the pit bottom and went in together. They did not tell Grime where they were going but went in the same direction as Harrison.

John Grime did not find anything wrong until between 11 and 11.30 a.m. when there was a great volume of dust. He said:

It came for about five minutes as if there had been a great fall. Then I smelt something that was not dust but after the way of burning. I went to the nearest place where I thought there was an official. I went down the nelson Tunnel and Edward Simister came. He was an under-deputy on the other side. During the time he was coming, another fireman, James Hurst came from the thin mine. I shouted to him and asked him what he thought was the matter and he was of the opinion that something was burning. The other man came and both Simister and Hurst went away together. They could not get down the brow for smoke so they had to go through the airways. Mr. Almond came up and he went in the same direction. It would be two o’clock before they knew that something very serious had occurred and caused them to send the men out of the pit. Mr. Almond went up the brow and reported the matter and sent for Mr. Gerrard. Parties went in search of the deceased men.

The experiments on the lamp did not prove to be conclusive but it was found that gas would continue to burn until the gauze was red hot and in all probability, the fatal lamp was placed on the floor by Kay and the heat built up to such an extent that it could have ignited the surrounding gas.

Mr. Gerrard commented:

In my opinion, the Clanny lamp is not one of the best types of safety lamps. I know it is extensively used. A lamp which will not burn gas within it is a safer lamp, but the construction of this lamp was bad and the crooked glass should never have been put on it. Screw locks stand long condemned not only as a lock but also as tending to make the lamp defective by the undue strain put on it by repeated screwing of the lock.

After hearing all the evidence and a full summing up from the Coroner, the jury brought in a verdict of “Accidental Death.”


The Mines Inspectors Report 1895. Mr.Gerrard.
The Colliery Guardian, 11th October 1895, p.697, 4th October, p.645.

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

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