WESTLEIGH. Leigh, Lancashire. 20th. February, 1896.

At a few minutes before 6 a.m. on the 20th. February at the Westleigh Colliery there were eight men in the cage preparing to descend the shaft. The engineman started the engine in the wrong direction and the cage was raised until the safety hook disengaged it and the safety catches of the headgear failed to hold the cage which fell 370 yards to the bottom of the shaft.

The men who died were:

  • John Seddon aged 51 years, collier.
  • Henry Dootson aged 41 years, bricklayer.
  • Edward Clough aged 41 years, collier.
  • Edward Farrington aged 35 years, collier.
  • Walter Cunliffe aged 25 years, drawer.
  • Joseph Parkinson aged 22 years, drawer.
  • James Hope aged 23 years, hooker-on.
  • Peter Croft aged 14 years, jig tenter.

The engineman had worked at the pit for nine months and at the time of the accident, he was sober. All the usual lamps were lit, those in the engine house and those at the pit bank. The engines were a pair of 26-inch diameter, horizontal cylinders wit a 5 feet stroke, slide valves with easers and a 12-foot diameter drum. The cage, which was double-decked holding two tubs on each deck, was fitted with a Bryham’s detaching hook which was simply a detaching hook and was not self suspensory. On being disengaged the hook passed with a rope over a pulley. The system worked by catches being fitted to the headgear so as to allow the cage to pass upwards but not backwards. There were four of these catches, two on each side of the cage and they worked on a round axle. By experiment of the day of the accident, Mr. Gerrard proved that:

These catches were so fixed as to be more than a foot from the bottom of the cage when the hook was at the point of disengagement. The cage at the side had sheets of iron, leaving a space below the middle hoop of 12 inches, and the space below the top hoop, four and a half inches. Into these spaces, it was expected the safety latches would project. The cage would have dropped about 2 feet when the 12-inch space came opposite the latches and would have dropped about 7 feet when the second space of four and a half inches was opposite the latches.

The shaft was an upcast shaft and had a furnace to aid the ventilation. Soot was freely deposited on the framework of the headgear and would have been deposited on the axle of the catches. The banksman said he poured paraffin oil on the bearings on the day before the accident but the soot was not removed and no cleaning of the axle was done. It was thought that the catches did not operate quickly enough to catch the cage and the catches should have been placed under the bottom of the cage.

The banksman was at his post by the lever of the keps which held the cage but he did not have the presence of mind to push the lever when the cage would have fallen about eight feet on to these. The engineman had been on duty from 5 p.m. the preceding day, no coal was drawn at night and at 7 a.m. the fireman was lowered down the shaft and at 8 p.m eight workmen, no one came up the shaft until 5 a.m. Beyond oiling the engines about 4 a.m. and occasionally looking at the two boiler fires, he had no work to do between 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. He would have gone off duty at 6 a.m.

As to the cause of the accident, Mr. Gerrard commented:

The engineman made a pure mistake in starting the wrong way. He had lowered two cage loads of men immediately before and he must have stated rashly as he would have seen the cage going up instead of down. The men in the cage carried lights which could be well seen and the finger on the indicator would have shown him that he travelling in the wrong direction. The cries of the men and those of the banksman would have given him ample time to rectify the error.

After the accident, the Byrham’s hook was replaced with an Ormrod’s hook and there was a thought that the introduction of the safety devices could lead to carelessness by the enginemen. Mr. Gerrard thought that they should be introduced throughout the country and could and had saved many lives. He commented:

In my opinion, detaching hooks should be required at all pits they should be supplemented by other safety catches, properly placed and not depending upon gravity alone, or by arrangements to shut off steam and apply brakes. I would not depend upon detaching hooks alone or upon visors or similar apparatus. Should the cage be carried up into the headgear at full speed, I am satisfied detaching hooks require supplementary apparatus and visors require detaching hooks.

As a result of the new Workman’s Compensation Act, a case was brought at Leigh County Court by the widow of John Seddon who claimed £250 compensation or three years loss of wages. After hearing about the defects in the machinery damages of £324 were awarded but the Company lodged an appeal which was heard before Judge Wynne Ffoulkes. The grounds for the appeal were that the jury brought in a verdict which was against the weight of evidence and that the compensation payment was excessive. The damages were upheld and the application dismissed with costs.


The Mines Inspectors Report.
The Colliery Guardian, 31st February 1895, p.364, 28th February, p.415, 24th December 1209.

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

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