UNITY BROOK. Kersley, Lancashire. 12th. March, 1878.

The colliery was near Bolton and was the property of Messrs. James Stott and Company. Two seams were worked at the collier near Manchester, the Trencherbone at about 300 yards down and the Cannel at about 360 yards. There were two shafts with a winding engine at each and the downcast was the winding shaft for both seams. The workings were not extensive being some 350 yards on the level and 200 yards wide and dipped about 1 in 4 on the dip side of the shafts. Open lights were used to work both seams and safety lamps were used only for examinations.

The explosion took place in the lower Cannel mine where the workings were divided into an east and a west side by an engine plane or downbrow. There were five levels at each side, each of which had been driven to the boundary where the cut-throughs were completed from one level to another and work had commenced on the pillars to be worked back to the shaft. The pillar work on the east side had suffered a sinking of the ground and a fall of the roof a month before the explosion but this had not happened on the west side.

Early in the morning of the day of the explosion, Mr. James Holt, the underlooker, found a small fall of roof on the west pillar work when he was making his inspection before the men went down. During the morning he was called back to the fall by his assistant, William Mayoh, and he found that the fall had increased. It had come down about three or four feet over an area of seven by ten yards and the roof was settling on the gob walling which had been left for its support. Holt was an experienced miner and accustomed to firedamp and he was aware of the old rule and practice in this district that when the roof is falling, especially if it was the first fall in the district, open lights should be excluded but neither of these pints seems to have occurred to him nor any of the other experienced colliers that were in the place.

Holt went to the top of the fallen material and found that there was a good ventilation current passing through and arranged with his assistant to have a strong prop set under one part of the fall, he went away to other duties leaving the men working with naked candles. He finished with the Cannel Mines and went to the Trencherbone, spent about an hour or two there and then went to the surface at 1 p.m. He usually came to the surface an hour or two later but the manager of the colliery, Mr. Isaiah Johnson was away on business that day and he had to see to matters at the surface.

On entering the cage to come up from the Trencherbone mouthing, he found a miner, Ralph Welsby, coming out of the east side of the Cannel Mine. It was before Welsby’s time for going out but he had made arrangements to go to visit a sick child. Another forty men came up from the Cannel mine just before the explosion. Ten minutes later, the explosion took place. The cage had just reached the pit bank with tubs and the blast lifted the heavy iron plates at the top and blew the cage to fragments, some of which fell down the shaft.

All the men in the Cannel Mine lost their lives as did the onsetter at the Trencherbone mouthing. This was a total of forty-three dead. Both shafts were damaged and some of the brick linings was blown out, timber was broken and landing plates were torn up. One of the cages at the top was not severely damaged as the blast vented to an opening underneath. No time was lost on repairing things and the rope that was down the shaft was fast but was disconnected. Holt and two men named Teesdale were lowered carefully down the shaft. They descended to within five yards of the Trencherbone mouthing but further descent was stopped by debris in the shaft. Holt got out and climbed down the conducting ropes to get to the mouthing and there he found men alive.

Mr. Dickinson, the Inspector got a telegram informing of the disaster and he arrived at the colliery at 3 p.m., two hours after the explosion. By that time a hoppet had been slung instead of the cage and this was able to pass the debris in the shaft. Holt was bringing men up from the Trencherbone by this method. The inspector found that the air coming from the upcast shaft was rich in afterdamp and there was a smell that indicated that the mine was on fire. There was fresh air going down the downcast shaft but the men as they came to the surface were suffering from the effects of the afterdamp. They stated that they heard no signs of life from the Cannel Mine and that the fresh air was going to the Trencherbone only where it mixed with the afterdamp which was coming from the Cannel Mine.

Mining engineers from neighbouring collieries arrived to offer their help. They included Mr. Edward Pilkington and Mr. Simon Horrocks and a consultation took place on the pit bank on the Inspector. It was decided to get all the men that were alive in the pit out as quickly as possible and thirty men were rescued.

Dickinson and Holt descended the shaft to see if anything could be done about the Cannel Mine. This was hazardous as the indicator on the winding engine was not working and no one to signal the engineman to stop but the hoppet was lowered a few feet below the mouthing. Arriving at the Trencherbone mouthing, they found that the ventilation had corrected itself. They saw that the air doors were intact and the furnace had gone out. They then tried to get into the Cannel mine but found the way barred with broken timber and rubbish and they needed workmen to clear it away. They shouted but got no reply and returned to the surface to let the pit carpenters clear the debris.

They were down for about an hour and they returned with the body of the onsetter. Five hours had passed since the explosion and Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Holt, Mr. Grimshaw and Mr. Woodward went down into the mine again in the hoppet. Avoiding the debris at the bottom, they managed to get into the Cannel Mine and found it very hot and afterdamp was present. They tried to go up the west level where the roof was falling in the morning but were driven back by gas. They then went down the engine brow and through those parts of the mine that were safe for them to do so. They found considerable destruction and the bodies of the dead who appeared to have been killed where they were working at the time of the explosion. Eventually, they managed to get into the west level and found that there had been an extensive fall and that this was still continuing a little. They then went to the surface having been down the mine for about two hours.

On the surface, they found the manager had returned to the pit with Mr. James Stott, the managing partner of the colliery. Mr. Dickinson went home and returned the following day where he found that much of the damage had been repaired and the fall could be further examined. It extended 25 yards by 20 and was about seven times the area it was before the explosion. Firedamp was coming from the cavity in large quantities and it was considered that the fall was the centre of the explosion.

The men who died were:

  • William Barnes, 38, of Stoneclough
  • Absolom Barnes, 14
  • James Beattie, 19 of Manor Houses
  • George Booth, 21, of Denton
  • James Byron, 32, of Slater-field, Bolton
  • Thomas Byron, 28, of Kearsley
  • James Chadwick, 38, of Kearsley
  • Robert Clarke, 18, of Kearsley
  • Robert Enion, 39, of Kearsley Moor
  • Jonathan Enion, 12, of Kearsley Moor
  • David Enion 13, of Kearsley Moor
  • Richard Featherstone, 18, of Kearsley
  • Peter Fogg, 26, of Clifton
  • John Greenhalgh, 34, of Swinton
  • John Hamblet, 31, of Kearsley
  • John Harrison, 40, of Kearsley
  • John Haynes, 21, of Kearsley
  • Thomas Hilton, 20, of Kearsley
  • James Hobson, 30, of Kearsley
  • Joseph Hobson, 26, of Kearsley Moor
  • Alfred Isherwood, 31, of Lower Kearsley
  • George Jackson, 28, of Kearsley
  • William Leach, 24, of Lower Kearsley
  • Thomas Lever, 18, of Kearsley
  • George Lindley, 47, of Kearsley Moor
  • Ellis Lord (or Lindley), 14, of Kearsley Moor
  • Amos Lomax, 17, of Kearsley
  • John Tickle Lomax, 31, of Eckersley Buildings
  • Thomas Lomax, 28, of Kearsley
  • Wright Lomax, 26, of Kearsley
  • Thomas Edward Mace, 19, of Kearsley
  • William Mayoh, 38, of Kearsley
  • Christopher Moore, 26, of Lindley’s Houses
  • William Morris, 15, of Taskers lane
  • James Partington, 44, of Kearsley Moor
  • Thomas Peak, 17, of Kearsley
  • Charles Tonge, 16, of Taskers Lane
  • Andrew Walker, 23, of Stoneclough
  • Richard Wallwork, 25, of Swinton
  • Joseph Welsby, 18, of Kearsley Moor
  • Samuel Wolstenholme, 47, of Lindley’s Houses
  • Thomas Wolstenholme, 41, of Kearsley
  • William Wolstenholme, 21, of Kearsley Moor

The inquest was held by Mr. J. Broughton Edge, Coroner, where Isaiah Johnson, the manager, told the court that the Cannel mine had been worked from the previous January. He explored the mine after the disaster with Mr. Dickinson and they found the bodies burnt and badly mutilated. Nos. 1, 2 and 3 levels were badly affected and a crack was discovered in James Partington’s place from which gas was issuing from the state of the bodies it looked as if the men were just getting ready to have their dinner.

Mr. Dickinson thought that a fall of the roof had liberated gas which ignited at the naked lights. James Stott, one of the colliery proprietors said the mine was well ventilated and justified in allowing the men to stay after it was known that the roof was falling and allowing the men to use candles. He stated:

A good man with a candle is better than a bad one with a lamp as greater precautions are used.

After the Coroner summed up, the jury brought in a verdict of “Accidental Death”. They also stated that:

We are satisfied with the working of the pit and we also do not think anyone to blame. We believe everything has been done which could tend to the safety of the men.

Mr. Dickinson commented:

Safety lamps are now used in both seams although against the expressed wish of many of the miners who have to undergo the risks. Their fear is that the poor light of the Davy lamp more accident s will happen from falls of roof and coal.

Twelve years ago on the 10th December 1866, a similar outburst of firedamp accompanying the first break of roof occurred in the same seam at the Bank Colliery Little Lever when eight lives were lost and fourteen others including the underlooker and fireman were burnt. On that occasion, only safety lamps were allowed to be used but some of the miners thinking that precaution was unnecessary had opened them.

Mr. Dickinson visited the mine on the 18th March and the 2nd May and found gas still coming from the cavity left by the fall. On the 15th January 1879, the anniversary of the explosion he visited the colliery again and the pillaring had advanced about 100 yards past the fall but still, there was gas coming from new breaks.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1878. Mr. Joseph Dickinson.
Colliery Guardian, 15th March 1878, 22nd March 1878, 29th March, p.499.

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

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