SIX BELLS. Newport, Monmouthshire. 28th. June, 1960.

Six Bells Colliery was formerly known as the Arrael Griffin Nos. 4 and 5 and was in the No. 6 Area of the National Coal Board’s South West Division and was at the village of Six Bells some twelve miles north of Newport. There were three shafts at the colliery. One of these was the manriding and downcast shaft known as the Vivian Pit. This was half a mile north and was formerly part of another mine. The two other shafts were at Six Bells and were used for winding both men, coal and materials. The No.4 upcast was equipped with an electrically driven exhausting fan with a capacity of 280,000 cubic feet per minute at 4.6 inches water gauge. The No.5 shaft was the downcast. There were 1,213 men employed below ground and 239 at the surface. The colliery produced 1,800 tons of saleable coal per day with about 830 tons coming from the Old Coal Seam. The colliery always had been a safety lamp mine. There were 1,450 electric cap lamps, 85 flame safety lamps for the use of workmen as firedamp detectors and 79 internal relighter type flame lamps for the use of officials. The undermanager of the No.5 Pit, which included the W District, was F. White, who was killed in the explosion and the Colliery Manager was V. Luther. The Group Manager, R. Williams, the Area Production Manager A.E. Hiscox and the Area General Manager L. Walker.

The Old Coal Seam, which was the lowest that was worked, was at a depth of 352 yards at the Six Bells shaft but the average depth of the W District was 550 yards which was due to dip and surface rise. The seam averaged in thickness from four feet nine inches with a middle dirt band a few inches thick. The Meadow Vein Coal was about 22 yards above and had not been working in this area. The strata between these seams were mainly strong clift or shale, but it included two features that called for special mention. Some five feet above the Old Coal Seam there was often a bed of quartzitic sandstone which was about on foot three inches thick. This was found in the shaft sinking and observed in parts of the district after the explosion. There was also a “rider” coal some one foot six inches thick about 25 feet above the Old Coal Seam.

The W District was near the old, disused workings in the Old Coal Seam of the Marine Colliery where a disastrous explosion occurred in the Black Vein in 1927. The workings faces in the W District we identified by the letter “O” followed by a number. There was a single-unit longwall conveyor faces situated between a mile and a mile and a quarter from the shafts. All three were advancing northwards towards the disused workings of the Marine Colliery. The O.10 unit had on its right side, the gob of a series of previously worked faces, the O.12 unit was beginning to skirt the left side of the O.10 unit. The O.18 unit had solid coal on both sides. The roadways slightly towards the faces which, in turn, rose slightly from west to east. O.10 and O.18 were normal production units and O.12 a standby face. Coal was filled for two weeks out of three on the morning shift and in the third week on the afternoon shift.

The O.10 face was 103 yards long and had been advanced at the rate of about 12 yards a month to within about 55 yards of the Marine Colliery old workings. The coal was cut near the floor to a depth of three and a quarter feet by a machine mounted on an armoured conveyor and both machines were driven by compressed air. Hydraulic props and linked bars a meter long were used in a “prop-free front” system of support. The roadside packs were eight yards wide and the waste between was completely caved. The intake loading gate was supported by steel arches backed with wood lagging and the height was gained by ripping the roof to six feet. The arches were 12 feet wide and ten feet high and were known as the “twelve feet arches”. The road that had formerly been the intake for O.9 face had become the supply road for O.10 and was being reconditioned as the face advance. Shots were fired in coal and in the stone of the intake face ripping.

The O.18 face was 96 yards long and had been advanced at the rate of 27 yards a month. The coal was cut near the floor to a depth of four feet six inches and filled by hand to a belt conveyor; both machines were driven by compressed air. The roof was supported by adjustable friction-type props and linked bars four feet six inches long. The waste had been completely caved until difficult roof conditions prompted a change in May 1960, to strip packing. The packs were four yards wide and the wastes nine yards. The intake road was supported with twelve feet arches for the first 200 yards and with eight feet arches eight feet wide and seven feet high for the last 40 yards. The return was supported by ten arches. The height was made by ripping the roof and shots were fired in the coal and in stone except in the intake.

The O.12 standby face was 118 yards long. The coal was worked and filled by hand onto an electrically driven scraper chain conveyor. The face had advanced a total distance of 20 yards and only ten yards in the six months prior to the explosion. It was last worked for one shift on the 8th. June 1960.

The coal from the face conveyors was transported by way of stage loaders and semi-troughed belt gate conveyors to two 30-inch belt trunk conveyors in tandem on the main intake which were all electrically driven. The tram-loading point was on the double parting near the old O.1 intake. Supplies for the O.18 unit were distributed by trams driven by a system of compressed air from the double parting through O.7 Crosscut to the main return and then to the face of the supply gate. Those from O.10 and O.12 units were taken in trams through O.7 Crosscut to the main return and then back through O.2 Crosscut to the main intake and there they were offloaded and manhandled. They were then drawn to O.10 supply gate on a single tram hauled by a compressed air driven engine situated near the face.

About 5.000 cubic feet of air per minute entered the O.10 face from the loading gate and about another 1,500 cubic feet per minute from a controlled leakage passing along the supply gate. There was no provision made to deflect air into the O.12 face but some air naturally took this course. The ventilation of the O.18 face was in series with the O.12.

The only major difficulty that had been encountered in working the O.10 unit arose from a large roof cavity that developed in the intake near two parallel faults about 170 yards from the main intake. The cavity began at the roadhead and extended as the face advanced until it was at least 30 feet long and about 20 to 30 feet high from the roof to the seam. The arches set beneath it were originally covered with lagging timber and some debris but this was altered by later repair work. At the time of the explosion, there was a considerable thickness of fallen stone above the lagging. Firedamp accumulated above the debris and was sometimes found at the face-ripping up to, but not after, 9th. May 1960. At the time of the disaster, it was not considered necessary to maintain a brattice sheet at the face ripping.

The most serious problem from the point of view of the ventilation was encountered in O.18 unit. Firedamp was frequently found at the intake roadhead face-ripping and from time to time shots could not be fired there. The ventilation engineer, R.W. Simpson, investigated the problem in December 1959 and on his recommendation a “Venturi” type air blower was installed at the ripping. this did not overcome the problem and in May 1960 the thickness of the roof ripping was reduced from about six feet to three feet by taking up some of the floor and reducing the size of the roadway by using eight feet arches. The manager prohibited shotfiring in the ripping and arranged for methanometer surveys with daily reports of the results. Another “Venturi” was installed in the face-ripping of the return roadhead.

On the afternoon shift of 27th June, coal filling proceeded normally on the O.10 unit under the supervision of W. Doel, an overman, and J. McDonald, a deputy. R. Hall, a deputy acting as shotfirer, assisted by K. Baker, a collier, fired about 30 shots in the coal. Neither Hall nor the overman, who had tested the waste at the return end of the face before any shots were fired, found any indication of firedamp. McDonald, on his mid-shift inspection, found small feeders of firedamp in O.10 and O.9 returns and in the O.12 loader gate. During his pre-night shift inspection, he found the same small amounts of gas. T.G. Morgan, the overman in charge of O.18 stated at the inquiry that because of trouble with the conveyors, coal filling stated late in the shift and the “cut” was not cleared. The deputy for the O.18 unit D.E. Price found firedamp at the face-ripping in the return and intake and at two places on the face in both his mid-shift and pre-night inspections. It was reported to him later in the shift that a coupling on the face conveyor motor had been sparking, but when he reached this place the trouble had been attended to by a fitter and Price was satisfied with his work.

Only ripping and repair work was done on the night shift of 27th-28th June in O.10 unit where deputy R.H. Law was in charge. He had found small quantities of firedamp in the returns of O.9 and O.10 during his mid-shift inspection. During his pre-day shift inspection, he found slight indications of gas in the return end of the waste and in the return of O.10 unit, in O.9 return rippings and in a cavity farther outbye. He did not find any firedamp in O.10 intake rippings during either of his inspections. At about 3 a.m., E. Boots, a shotfirer, assisted by J.H. Evans, fired a round of shots on the O.10 intake face rippings. Boots tested for firedamp, examined the holes with a break detector and used a charge of two, four-ounce cartridges of Unigex explosion in each. He fired the round and examined the rippings for firedamp and pulled down the loose stone. Law was not present at the firing of the shots but on his inspection later noticed some bed separation at the face of the ripping. The supports had not been advanced but he considered that this could safely left for the day shift as nothing was likely to fall.

On O.18 unit, the deputy W.C. Mash, detected some firedamp in the intake ripping and replaced the brattice sheet. W.V. Jenkins and A. Mathews, underground fitters, were putting in a two-inch compressed airline through an existing hole in the brickwork of the O.9 Undercast and they noticed that a girder on the face side of the undercast had shifted slightly and a small quantity of debris had fallen but they considered that there was no danger from further falls. The compressed air supply was twice cut off for the whole of the district as Jenkins repaired a tapping gland. The first period was from about 11.30 p.m. to 12.15 p.m. and the second from 5.30 a.m. to 6.15 a.m. During these periods the “Venturi” appliances in O.18 unit could not function.

The day shift descended between 6 and 6.30 p.m, on the 28th. June. No one can say what the men were doing on that shift but the manager would have expected five men, including the deputy on O.10 face, three or four men working on the face rippings of O.18 intake, a maximum of six supply men in O.18 return and a borer and his assistant in the return outbye of the crosscut near O.18 unit. The rest of the men would normally have been advancing packs, withdrawing supports and advancing the face conveyor and should have been along the main loader belts since the manager had had a report that the conveyors were getting very dirty and had arranged that they should be thoroughly cleaned.

At about 10.45 a.m. on Monday 28th June, M. Purnell, a linesman, was working with D. Lang putting up a signal line near the electric haulage engine about 25 yards inbye of the entrance to the old T intake. Lane was about ten yards inbye of Purnell when there was a noise and a lot of dust. Purnell fell on the engine and Lane was blown past him. Purnell had no idea what had happened but when he picked himself up he found Lane apparently dead. He began to make his way to the pit bottom, feeling along pipes because the air was so thick with dust.

Two fitters H.J. Legge and C.J. Lewis, were eating by the transformers in the mouth of the old T intake when they heard a sound like compressed air pipe bursting. There was a great deal of dust in the air and they lost contact with each other but made for the pot bottom as best they could. Legge thought that a transformer had blown up and on his way to outbye, he telephoned to the pit bottom. Shortly afterwards he met S, Holland, a deputy, and W. Coleman, an underground engineer, who were coming to investigate and told them of his experience.

Holland was the deputy responsible for the inspection of the airways and had a good overall knowledge of the pit. He and Coleman had been coming outbye from an old district when they met a cloud of dust. They thought a compressed air pipe had broken and hurried to the bottom of the downcast pit. The dust cloud had been seen at both shafts and someone had telephoned the surface. The manager told Holland to investigate and he and Coleman went along the main intake towards W District. They met a number of men going about their normal work and were told that a man nearby was feeling ill. Holland gave instructions to take the man out of the pit. He did not speak to the man but later realised it was Lewis.

Holland and Coleman later met Legge who told them of his experience at the old T transformers. They went to the transformers and finding them undamaged, returned to the main intake and continued inbye. A few yards past the junction with the old T intake, they saw a body, which must have been Lane. At the double parting, they found the air so thick with dust that they concluded that an explosion must have occurred. They were unable to make contact with the pit bottom by telephone so Holland sent Coleman out to report to the manager and went on alone. Just inbye of the air bridge at O.7 he found a fall almost blocking the main intake and he decided to retreat. On the way back he noticed that one of the separation doors in the mouth of the old T return was damaged. The other was open. He close it and observed then a considerable increase in the quantity of air passing down the main intake.

Holland continued inbye and met the manager and the area general manager who happened to be making a visit to the colliery. He reported his findings and the manager issued instructions that all the men were to be withdrawn from the pit and the emergency procedure was to be put into operational, All three went to the surface to study the plans of the mine and to decide what action to take. The manager and Holland returned below shortly afterwards with a canary. On their way inbye they met H. Silverthorne, an overman and these three went over the fall where they met P.J. McLaughlin, the captain of the colliery rescue team. They also found other men among whom was B. Rees, a collier in No.4 Pit, who was chairman of the colliery lodge of the National Union of Mineworkers. Some of these men had found two doors in O.7 Crosscut destroyed and fixed a temporary door to try to restore the ventilation.

The manager instructed everyone to leave the pit except Holland, Silverthorne and McLaughlin. These men accompanied him through O.7 Crosscut into the main return. There they tested for firedamp and found up to two per cent. About 15 yards inbye Mclaughlin saw that the canary had died so the party had to go back. They went to the fall in the main intake and started to make a hole over it. They had just succeeded in doing this when the rescue teams arrived.

The rescue brigade from Porth Central Rescue Station and Six bells Colliery went down the pit soon after 1 p.m. under the supervision of the Superintendent of the Crumlin Rescue Station. After setting up a fresh air base, these teams started exploratory work and were later supported by two other teams.

The hole over the fall was not large enough to allow a man to pass wearing breathing apparatus and the first explorations were made by way of the O.7 Crosscut and the main return. One team got as far as halfway along the O.18 face before they had to retire since the air in their breathing apparatus was used up. They found a number of bodies and saw that the doors on the crosscut near O.18 unit had been blown towards the return. Another team went into the O.9 return but found the way blocked by a fall of roof inbye of O.9 Undercast. By the time these two teams had returned and reported, the hole over the fall had been sufficiently enlarged for the men to get in wearing apparatus. The teams returned to say that the air was stagnant and there were no survivors.

The men who lost their lives were:

  • Ivor James Bainton aged 48 years, cutterman.
  • Daniel James Bancroft aged 46 years, collier on Panzer.
  • Robert Charles Brown aged 35 years, roof control officer.
  • Frank Cooper aged 44 years, supplies man.
  • Joseph Corbett aged 50 years, haulier.
  • Thomas George Crandon aged 46 years, repairer.
  • Walter Thomas Davies aged 34 years, borer.
  • Royden James Edwards aged 27 years, repairer.
  • Percy Gordon Elsey aged 52 years, repairer.
  • Albert John Evans aged 34 years, packer.
  • Leonard Keith Frampton aged 29 years, collier.
  • Albert Gardner aged 59 years, assistant cutterman.
  • George Goldspink aged 37 years, repairer.
  • Clive Alan Griffiths aged 18 years, prop checker.
  • Vernon Alexander Griffiths aged 33 years Deputy Grade I.
  • Ernest Victor Harding aged 51 years, Deputy Grade I.
  • Idris Jones aged 57 years, packer.
  • John Percival Jones aged 56 years, repairer.
  • Joseph John King aged 56 years, packer.
  • Dennis Edmund Lane aged 19 years, wireman.
  • George Henry Luffman aged 55 years, general worker.
  • Telford Cecil Mapp aged 42 years, general worker.
  • Herbert Amos Mayberry aged 55 years, dumper.
  • William John Morden aged 52 years, engine driver.
  • Sidney Moore aged 54 years, repairer.
  • Colin Malcolm Donald Morgan aged 26 years, repairers.
  • Colin Reginald Morgan aged 22 years, assistant repairer.
  • Ray Martin Morgan aged 44 years, repairer.
  • Islwyn Morris aged 44 years, deputy grade II.
  • Anthony Verdun Partridge aged 20 years, assistant borer.
  • William Henry Partridge aged 45 years, borer.
  • Trevor Paul aged 25 years, assistant repairer.
  • Wilfred Alfred Charles Phipps aged 60 years, cutterman.
  • Albert George Pinkett aged 45 years, collier.
  • Frederick Rees aged 37 years, fitter grade II.
  • Mansel Reynolds aged 21 years, measurer.
  • William Glyn Reynolds aged 21 years, assistant repairer.
  • Wilfred Hughes Thomas aged 57 Years, repairer.
  • Arthur Waters aged 37 years, general worker.
  • Phillip John Watkins aged 53 years, engine driver.
  • Wilfred Weston aged 47 years, water infuser on Panzer.
  • Frederick White aged 58 years underground manager.
  • William Burdon Whittingham aged 55 years, assistant repairer.
  • Richard John Williams aged 51years, general worker.
  • John Woosnam aged 24 years fitter Grade I.

The inquiry into the causes and circumstances of the disaster took place in the No.2 Court of the Civic Centre, Newport on the 19th September 1960 and sat for eight days until the 28th September. All the interested parties were represented and the inquiry was made by T.A. Rogers, C.B.E. M.I.Min.E., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines and Quarries. The final report was presented to The Right Honourable Richard Wood, M.P., Minister of Power on the 15th December 1960.

The preliminary investigation of the area of the explosion failed to disclose any obvious cause of ignition and it was realised that it would be difficult to determine the point of origin of the explosion. Microscopic examination of a large number of samples showed that the flame had swept through about 3,000 yards of the roadway and each of the faces with the exception of the O.10. The explosion as not violent and there were few signs of the blast. Specimens of coked dust gave clear signs that the flame had entered both ends of the O.12 face and coked deposits were found in O.10 supple road which indicated that the flame had travelled from the main intake to the old O.9 face and along it to the O.9 return where it died out about 200 yards from the face.

Tests were made on the ventilation and a careful watch was maintained, especially when the barometer was falling, but there was not any time any indication that firedamp was given off. The safety lamps, forty-eight electric cap lamps, from the explosion area were examined at the S.M.R.E. Twenty-nine were found to be undamaged and the damage to the others could not have caused the disaster. The flame safety lamps were also examined with the same results. An examination of the colliery records showed that the dust had been sampled before the explosion and was in order except for December 1959 and April 1960. No explanation was given for the December omission but the man who had to take the samples said that he was prevented from doing so in April because of his daily work in the ventilation of the O.18 unit.

K.S. Worthington, H.M. Inspector of Mechanical Engineering, made a critical examination of all the mechanical machinery in the W District and of the compressed air machinery on the surface. He found some minor defects but none that could have been the source of the explosion. The electrical apparatus was examined by A.L. Alexander, H.M. Electrical Inspector of Mines and Quarries. The apparatus was found to comply with the certified designs and, apart from minor defects, was well maintained.

F.J. Hartwell, a Senior Principal Scientific Officer at the S.M.R.E. said that the indications of the directions of the blast and flame suggested that the explosion started in the vicinity of the O.10 intake roadhead and the inquiry accepted this. It was thought that the firedamp accumulated from small feeders close to the roadhead and although the evidence was not complete, the inquiry took the view that the firedamp came from a fall of roof and was ignited by a stone falling and sparking on a steel girder. As to the means of ignition, contraband, shotfiring and frictional heating could be dismissed. A. Davies, a National Union of Mineworkers Inspector, took a minority view that the gas was ignited by a shot fired in the ripping but the direction of the flames did not support this theory.

The inquiry came to the following conclusions:

No one can say with certainty where or by what means the explosion at the Six Bells Colliery started. But after careful consideration I think that:

1) The explosion started as an ignition of firedamp in the roadhead roof ripping of O.10 intake.

2) The accumulation of the firedamp might have been prevented had there been a hurdle sheet near the face-ripping.

3). The cause of ignition was frictional heat produced by the impact of a piece of quartzitic rock falling for a distance of about six feet, from the roof cavity exposed by shot firing, onto a steel girder forming part of a conveyor canopy.

4). The fall of this rock might have been prevented had the roof between the last-set steel arch and the new ripping face been supported immediately after the firing of a round of shots there about seven hours before.

5). An explosion of firedamp alone might not have caused any casualties as there was nobody in the vicinity at the time.

6). The explosion which spread throughout most of the district was mainly of coal dust raised on the conveyor roads.

7). The coal dust explosion might have possibly have been confined to O.10 unit had there been sufficient stone dust barriers suitably placed.

Mr. T.A. Rogers made some recommendations as a result of the inquiry. He said:

Implementation of some of these suggestions might well necessitate an increase in specialised staff, but I am convinced that in some fields much more specialised work should be done to help the manager in the discharge of his very onerous responsibility for safety.

 I recommend that-

 1). The Working Party of the Safety and Health Committee of the Coal Industry National Consultative Council which is to review the general problem of coal dust explosion hazards should consider, as a matter of urgency, what additional precautionary measures could be taken on lengths of conveyor roadways nearest the face and most likely to be affected by a firedamp explosion.

 2). The potential danger of firedamp ignition associated with the fall of certain kinds of rock should be recognised by management as an additional reason for perfecting measures designed to prevent falls at roadheads and for the maintenance at all times of effective ventilation of roof rippings, cavities and waste edges.

 3). The ventilation engineering service of the National Coal Board should provide managers with the greatest possible specialist advice and assistance on firedamp drainage by boreholes and on all aspects of ventilation.

 4). The National Coal Board’s efforts designed to provide deputies with the best means of examining for firedamp in places out of easy reach should, if possible, be intensified.

 5). All persons engaged in shot firing should bear in mind that the safe performance of their duties demands meticulous care and management should lose no opportunity of satisfying themselves that it is being exercised. The nature and form of stemming material best suited to general use and least likely to lead to malpractice should be investigated. Trails of foam injection into ripping shotholes should be encouraged. wider use of explosives specialists could have many advantages.

 6). Mining engineers of the National Coal Board and other interested parties in South Wales should give fresh consideration to ways and means of reducing the incidence of large cavities on roadheads and of dealing safely with any which occur.

 7). The Ministry of Fuel and Power should review with interested parties the use below ground of air ejectors.

The report of the causes and the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at the Six Bells Colliery, Monmouthshire, on the 28th June 1960 by T.A. Rogers, C.B.E., M.I.Min.E., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 30th June 1960 p.728, 7th July, p.14, 22nd September, p.338, 1st October, p.417, 7th February, 1961, p.146, 2nd March, p.274, 9th March, p.308.

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

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