SHEVINGTON. Wigan, Lancashire. 1st. November, 1861.

The colliery was the property of John Taylor and Son who made no restrictions on the money spent in the safe working of the mine which was small, covering less than a statute acre. The management of the mine was experienced and in the opinion of the Inspector, above average. The pit was also known as the Prince Albert Pit.

A plane had been driven against a fault on the south side and the workings there had been abandoned for a few months and the heading showed full of dirt. Several other places had also been driven to the same fault when the roof had become unstable and these also had been abandoned. There had been a fall of roof two days before the explosion which had liberated gas which accumulated in the goaf and had come over the stowed dirt, into the main intake.

Mr. Makinson, the manager of the colliery, and Mr. Close the fireman immediately prepared to examine the workings and a search party went towards the explosion area. Many were burnt and disfigured in the blast and Mr. Daglish of Wigan attended to their injuries

Almost immediately after the explosion Mr. Higson made a detailed examination of the colliery and even though the furnace was out, he found no trace of gas but he found the ventilation defective. A stopping had been put in the drift and at the end of the drift, pillar working had commenced. It was known that the roof would come down when this work started and that there was gas in the goaf and yet there were no provisions made to sweep that gas away by a ventilating current.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • John Culshaw aged 29 years, collier.
  • James Culshaw aged 22 years, collier, brother of John.
  • Edward Goulden aged 22 years, collier
  • William Yates aged 40 years, collier.
  • William Crook aged 79 years, collier
  • James Gaskell aged 35 years, collier.
  • John Ashcroft aged 47 years, collier.
  • Solomon Ashcroft aged 13 years, collier.
  • James Ashcroft aged 15 years, collier son of John
  • James Baron aged 12 years, collier son of John.
  • Thomas Reed, aged 60 years, collier.
  • William Ridings, labourer aged 45 years.
  • Robert Holcroft aged 38 years, collier.

The injured were:

  • Robert Howcroft, collier.
  • Robert Thompson, collier.
  • Ralph Ellison, collier, married with six children.

Two died later:

  • Thomas Reed aged 60 years, collier who died on the 6th November,
  • William Ridings aged 45 years, fireman, who died on the 11th November.

Ann Reed wife of Thomas was told that her husband had been injured on Wigan Station as she was waiting, with her daughter, for a train to take her home. When she received the news she began to shake and fell down. Efforts to revive her failed and she died in a few minutes. The inquest into her death returned a verdict of “died from fright.”

The inquest was held at the Plough and Harrow Inn before Mr. M. Myres, District Coroner. The proceedings went to the house of Ralph Ellison who had been injured in the accident and was too ill to be moved. He said that on the morning of the explosion he had found a piece of the side in the main road had fallen and he went to fetch Makinson and Riding. When they returned they found that some of the roof had fallen. They removed the debris and filled two or three tubs. Makinson then went away to get some bars after telling Riding to get Holcroft to help him put up the bars. After the fallen roof had been removed, Ellison left them and it was about twenty minutes later that the explosion occurred.

A long and detailed statement was taken from William Riding and was presented at the inquest. Riding died as a result of his injuries during the proceedings.

Mr. Higson thought that there was enough ventilation going through the mine if it was correctly distributed but a stopping had been placed in the drift at the very spot where the explosion occurred. There was no doubt as to the cause of the disaster which was caused by a labourer who had previously been employed as a fireman in the mine and had retained a lamp key. He was burnt in the explosion and his dying testimony said that he unlocked the lamp to relight of one of the men’s lamp and the explosion resulted.

From the Inspector’s Report:

It appeared from the testimony of the poor man whose temerity cost him his life and sacrificed the lives of others, that upon putting the open light on the stopping it suddenly ignited the gas. In this, there was nothing but what under the circumstances any one of ordinary capacity might have expected. As that was the highest point of the workings, the gas would, from its own specific gravity, escape, if possible, there while as the risk of attempting to stop it back had often been grossly neglected. If such omissions are to be tolerated, casualties of the description may be a daily occurrence.

The Coroner summed up and brought the statement of the Inspector to the notice of the jury. After a short consultation, the jury returned the verdict that

The deceased were killed by an explosion of firedamp at the Prince Albert Pit and that the explosion occurred in consequence of William Riding having improperly caused his lamp top to be taken off whilst working.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1861. Mr. Peter Higson.
Colliery Guardian, 9th November 1861, p.300, 16th November, p.316, 23rd November, p.336.

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

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