WHISTON. Whiston, Lancashire. 17th. February, 1878.

The explosion occurred at 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon at the colliery owned by the Wigan and Whiston Colliery Company and caused the death of seven people and injury to others. It was caused by spontaneous combustion and the seam had been liable to fires from this cause for some years and the management of the colliery dealt with them by isolating the area where they broke out by brick stoppings. Mr. Henry Hall was the Inspector for the district and three years before he had asked how to deal with the situation at the colliery and he had suggested that the management should get advice from mining engineers. Twenty or so such men had been consulted by the management and it was determined that the best method to deal with the situation was by stoppings.

Mr. Makinson was the certificated manager of the collier and had been in that position for ten years. Abel Wall, one of the firemen reported to him that there had been an explosion in the Main Delf Mine No.1 Pit. The manager consulted the plans of the colliery with Wall to try to find the best was to shut off the air and three men started the work. The manager went down but returned to the surface to get the required materials for the work. He went down again at 2.30 p.m. with William Jones, the furnaceman.

The men were at work at the stopping and he continued bringing sand to them. There was a delay in clearing some roads but after they got the first two boxes of sand up the jigger brow using full boxes of coal as a balance, the explosion occurred. He saw no fire but was knocked down by the blast coming down the brow and his lamp went out. He got a light from the office at the pit bottom and asked the firemen, Corrighan and Clough to with him to the top of the brow. In the jigger brow he met Howard coming out, he was burned and some others took him to the pit top. Makinson went forward and met three others coming out without lights and a little higher up; he met three more who he took to the pit eye.

He saw the fire of another explosion apparently coming from the stopping and he found himself under a lot of timber. He got himself free and with difficulty, made his way to the pit eye from there he was taken to the surface. The other injured had been taken up before him.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • Abel Wall aged 44 years, fireman,
  • James Briscoe aged 40 years, dataller,
  • Isaac Anders aged 40 years, dataller,
  • John Macdonald aged 20 years, dataller,
  • James William aged 25 years, dataller,
  • Henry Heyes aged 33 years, dataller,
  • James Mullaney aged 30 years, dataller.

At the inquest, which was held at Huyton Quarry before Mr. Driffield, Coroner, Mr. Makinson told the court about the burning in the mine:

The fire had been burning for about three years in various places. There had been five or six different districts on fire slightly and those had been stopped off effectually.

John Howard, the chief fireman attributed the disaster to gas collecting in the stoppings and due to imperfect sealing, the air had got in and made an explosive mixture.

Mr. Hall said he knew the colliery well and the situation had been dealt with in the past without loss of life and continued:

The question that seemed to arise was whether proper care was taken to put the stoppings as near to the face as they could be got. if the jury were satisfied with what had been done in this respect I am content. The manager knew and every official must have known that it was extremely dangerous work.

The jury returned the following verdict:

That the deaths were caused by accident and they considered the manger and all connected with the colliery were serving of praise for the efforts they made to put out the fire and save lives.

The Inspector thought that there had been no breach of the Act of Parliament and no prosecution or inquiry into the conduct of the manager was called for. The owners abandoned the working of the mine rather than run the risk of a similar accident.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1878. Mr. Henry Hall.
Colliery Guardian, March 1878, p. 467.

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

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