STONEHILL. Farnworth, Lancashire. 23rd. January, 1877.

The colliery was previously known as the Dow Mine before it came into the hands of Roscoe and Lord. At the time of the disaster, it was one of the largest collieries in the district employing about 500 men and boys. The colliery worked the Quarters, Trencherbone, Dow and Cannel mines and it was in the latter that disaster stuck.

The mine was well equipped with the latest safety devices included Owen’s patent safety hook to prevent the cage falling down the shaft in the event of the rope breaking. The underground workings were extensive running about 2,000 yards to a point known as Pigtail Lodge. It was here that a fire started.

In working the New Cannel Mine, the men came across the Plodder seam which was worked from a jig brow a few yards long into the wagonway of the New Cannel Mine. At the top of the jig brow, a brattice cloth was fixed to regulate the amount of air carried to the workings. The colliery was free from gas and the men in the Cannel mine worked with naked lights.

At about 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning 300 men and boys descended the pit to start their work and everything went well until about 10 o’clock when the officials at the colliery passed on the information quietly one to another that there was a fire raging in the New Cannel Mine, where about 30 men and boys were employed and that it was desirable for as much hose piping to be found as was possible. Messengers were dispatched to local firms and institutions for the hose pipe and large quantities were quickly obtained.

At this time it was thought that the fire was not serious but shortly men came out of the workings near the fire and alarm spread quickly through the pit. The men who came out reported that persons were lying dead in the wagonway. Their stories quickly spread through the neighbourhood and a crowd began to assemble at the pit head. Robert Drennan, collier reported that he was making his escape when he came across a boy wagoner lying helpless on the ground. The lad recognised him and called out, “Robert, help me.” Drennan lifted the lad on to his back and made their precarious way to safety. Both required medical attention when they got to the surface. The crowd at the surface saw large quantities of hose piping arriving at the pit and the large crowd was kept back from the pit head by the police. An exploring party headed by Mr. S. Crowther, an agent of the Earl of Bedford, Mr. Bentley, surveyor to the Bridgewater Trustees, Mr. W.R. Sowcroft, colliery proprietor and Messrs. David Mills, Heathcoat, Jones, Wallwork, Lloyd, Watkinson, Timmings, Fredericks, Bowkers and other colliery managers went down the pit.

By 7 p.m. the hose pipes had been connected and orders were given to turn on the water. In the meantime, the fire had grown and it was clear that a speedy evacuation of the men in the mine would not be possible and the fire had gone along the main air course and the party could not get nearer than 80 yards to the seat.

During the night water was poured down the mine from a pit close to the colliery. This was a slow job because the pipes would not take any great pressure. A crowd remained at the pit head through Wednesday and it became known that Shorrocks had lost his life in an attempt to save his son.

James Lindsay gave an account of conditions underground after the fire was discovered. He said:

I went to work about 5 a.m. in the Trencherbone mine beyond where the fire occurred. I worked along with John Jackson, collier and Ralph Eckersley who was our drawer. About 9.30 a.m. we could see smoke coming towards us and could not make it out as to where it was coming from. Suspecting something wrong we all made our way into the shunt and met Daniel Walker, the fireman and asked him if he knew what the matter was. He replied that he did not. There were thirty men and boys in the shunt and like us, bothered by the smoke and all of us considered that it was best for us to make our way to the top of the pit shaft but we stopped when we got to Toper’s jig owing to the smoke being very dense and it was at this point where death began to ensue about nine falling down and dying. Daniel Walker was with us and he consulted as to what was the best thing to do. He thought it was the air that had got turned and that a portion of the mine was on fire. Had he known there was clean air beyond the air road at Toper’s jig brow, more might have been saved. Some passed through the smoke but others durst not attempt it but I made an effort to get through and was helped by two men named Pickup and Lomax. It is not correct that Daniel Walker made his escape. He stayed behind with the others struggling for their lives.

The difficulty of getting to the seat of the fire was achieved by taking a circuitous route through an old airway through which two or three of the survivors had escaped. The rescuers wore the new patent smoke helmets with the help of which they could get to within a few yards of the fire. Mr. Dickinson, H.M. Inspector, arrived at the mine on Thursday and went down the pit by which time the bodies had been recovered.

At about 8 p.m. on Thursday the bodies of Daniel Walker and another were brought out of the pit and they were taken to the carpenter’s shop in which the bodies were washed by the women of the district and laid out for formal identification by their relatives. After the fire had subsided the passages soon cleared of smoke and the removal of all the bodies commenced. Unknown to the leaders of the exploring party two men, John Smith; collier and Joseph Farnworth; fireman, left the main party and made their own way forward. They went along a road that was not fully cleared and found the bodies of many of the men. A group was found 19 yards from where the air was good. Some of the men were found kneeling, some sitting and some with their faces pressed into the floor in an effort to get clean air. The eighteen men and boys died by suffocation from smoke.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • John Stones aged 23 years who left a wife and child.
  • William Churnside aged 35 years who left a wife and two children.
  • George Gerrard aged 23 years, single,
  • William Entwistle aged 27 years, single.
  • James William Brown aged 19 years who supported his mother and grandmother.
  • Thomas Barnes aged 21 years, single,
  • Ralph Eckersley aged 18 years, single.
  • Owen Williams aged 35 years who left a wife.
  • Daniel Walker aged 27 years who left a wife and three children.
  • Albert Daley aged 25 years on his first day in this pit after coming from St. Helens.
  • James H. Shorrocks aged 37 years who left a wife and five children.
  • Richard Shorrocks aged 15 years, son of James.
  • Joseph James Hall aged 15 years.
  • Joseph Farnworth aged 26 years who left a wife and two children.
  • James Lomas aged 19 years.
  • Abraham Scott aged 31 years who left a wife and five children.
  • Thomas Smethurst aged 34 years who left a wife and child.

The inquest into the disaster was opened by A.D. Edwards, Deputy Coroner for the district at the house of Mr. John Nuttall, The Bridgewater Arms, Buckley Lane, when the formal evidence of identification was taken.

The court heard that the fire originated when a boy named Ogden, took his candle to the entrance of a place where gas had been found beyond a fault. There was some brattice nearby but the lad said that it was the gas that first ignited. Nearly all the men were reached by the explorers when they were alive and they might have been saved but they would not come out as the air was very bad, there was no time to think about the situation. They would have been affected by the smoke and fumes and their judgement would have been impaired. They also had a fireman with them whose judgement they trusted and he thought that the fire was at the furnace near the shaft and that this would foul the intakes. Those who stayed could not be persuaded to go to where the air was fresh and they even tried to persuade the explorers not to return that way.

After hearing all the evidence, and the Coroner’s summing up, the jury returned the following verdict:

That Daniels and seventeen others died from suffocation caused by the firing of gas, brattice cloth and timber in the Plodder tunnel but from the conflicting nature of the evidence we are unable to determine which was fired in the first instance.

The pit had to be flooded to put out the fire and when the Inspector, Mr. Dickinson wrote his report the mine had not been re-opened.


Colliery Guardian, 23rd February 1877, p.295.
Mines Inspectors Report, 1876. Mr. Joseph Dickinson.
Farnworth Journal.

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

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