WINSTANLEY. Wigan, Lancashire. 3rd. August, 1860.

The colliery was owned by Meryrick Banks and the explosion killed thirteen men and boys and took place in the Orrell Five Feet Seam which was worked at a depth of 140 yards. Joseph Dickinson, the Inspector, had visited the colliery before the explosion and had found very little gas in the workings but thought that the ventilation of the mine was insufficient. He commented:

The ventilation seemed scarcely adequate to dilute even a moderate quantity of explosive gas if it were suddenly given off, and the mode of distributing the air through the working places was of the rudest and most primitive description it was the system adopted by our forefathers, vestiges of which I remember having seen in my youth in working mines, which did not call forth the power of steam, or the wonderful simplicity of artificial ventilation with the exception only, that there I found a small furnace underground fed by the return air from the workings, while to me the seam appeared the easiest to ventilate of any which I had become acquainted.

The risks of the ventilation system were pointed out to the manager. He agreed and had promised to carry out improvements with “unremitting energy”. The improvements were to install a new furnace which would feed on a pure air intake and the ventilation of the workings to be divided into three separate districts. Unfortunately, the manager died before the explosion. The workings were extensive, extending nearly a mile from the downcast shaft and two-thirds of a mile from the upcast. The Inspector again visited the colliery and found that work on the improvements had progressed but the work was not yet finished and he suggested that the mine should be lit by safety lamps which was accepted.

On the day of the explosion the underlooker at the mine, George Holland was in the act of making his daily examination and after visiting some of the places was giving instructions to workmen in the wagon road when he was hurled over by the force of the blast and severely scorched by the blaze.

Everything was going well while coal getting went of forward and the pillars of coal that were left supported the roof. When the pillars were removed the roof fell liberating much firedamp and the ventilation of the mine was overpowered. At one of the ends of the workings, a lamp was found after the explosion belonging to Thomas Sharples with its gauze top removed.

The men who died were:

  • Thomas Sharples aged 50 years a fireman.
  • Joseph Heaton, fireman
  • 11 others unnamed.

A searching inquiry was made as to the cause of the disaster and Mr. Dickinson along with Mr. William Greener, manager of the Pemberton Colliery, made an inspection of the explosion area. They came to the conclusion that the gas had been suddenly liberated by a fall of roof following the working of the pillar coal, that is accumulated in the adjoining workings and that the deceased fireman, Thomas Sharples, went there with an uncovered light and hence ignited the gas and caused the deaths of thirteen men and boys.

There was no evidence to show the state of the ventilation at the ends on the day of the explosion. The Inspector finished his report with the comment:

They had fallen victims to unskillful management, to the disregard of acknowledged and general principles of mining and the casualty, frightful as it was, would most certainly have been averted if the instructions I had given and the suggestions I had previously made been carried out with unslackened energy. They were sanctioned by the owner, who it was stated withheld nothing that was required for the works, and I had never found sufficient danger to justify further and more extensive measures.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1860. Mr. Joseph Dickenson.

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

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