ALLERTON BYWATER. Castleford, Yorkshire. 10th. March, 1930.

The colliery was about one and a half miles north of Castleford and was the property of the Airedale Collieries Limited. Mr. H.F. Smithson was the agent and Mr. F. W. Milson the manger. There were 1,400 men employed underground ad 462 at the surface. The Silkstone Seam was cut by the shaft at 312 yards and a rising haulage road about three-quarters of a mile long led to the Old East District in which the explosion occurred. Despite its name, the District was started in April 1929 to work out an area of coal between two wastes. The face had been extended to a length of 147 yards and there were six working places known, from left to right, like 11’s. 16’s, 15’s, 7’s, 101’s and 8’s; the numbers being those under which the colliers occupying the places were entered in their pay books. No.8’s men had a slant gate and anew end gate. At the extreme end of this small district was a strip of waste, 33 yards wide, which had been worked in 1893-4 by two roads which led to a district that was abandoned a the time of the accident. On the left side of the face, there was a goaf of working places which were abandoned in 1920.

The Old East District was worked on longwall, end-on to the cleavage. A compressed air driven disc coal cutting machine was used to undercut the face to a depth of 5 feet 6 inches. The seam was 4 feet 9 inches thick and the colliers drilled holes by hand about 18 inches fro the roof at intervals along the face as they considered them necessary, except in the place at the right end of the face, where shotfiring was prohibited because of the broken nature of the strata due to the nearness of the waste. In this place, 8’s slant gate, coal was got down and ripping was done by pneumatic picks. The shot holes were charged and fired by a deputy.

The coal was loaded into tubs and trammed into the gate, from where it was taken to the rope haulage by horses. Two shifts of coal getters were employed in the morning and afternoon. The third shift was being devoted to coal cutting and repairs.

Packs were built on each side of the gates from the material got down by ripping shots but no intermediate packs were erected. Timber was drawn from the gobs, which were allowed to fall between the packs, normally 15 or 16 yards apart. As the immediate roof of the seam consisted of about 18 feet of fairly hard bind and there were stone bands above this, falls in the gob did not occur regularly each time the back timber was withdrawn. The roof was subject to hang and be subject to periodic weighting which was not so severe to impede the working to any extent. These weights did cause breaks right up to the coal face which was closed but as the face advanced they opened out and were left behind in the gob. At intervals an exceptionally large break showed displacement of the roof at the lower edges and, after a time, opened, allowing stones to fall out, leaving crevices, open joints and cavities in the roof of the gobs. These openings in the roof were not in evidence opposite packs and not so well exhibited in the gates as in the gobs. In short, the roof was only partially supported by supports. The examiners had Ceag electric hand lamps and the deputies Hailwood combustion tube flame lamps.

The mine was ventilated by a steam-driven Sirocco exhausting fan and the quantity of air as measured on the 4th March was 174, 222 cubic feet per minute at 3-inch water gauge. Of this 5,837 cubic feet per minute was measured 100 yards from the first working place in the Old East District, Silkstone Seam. The first area that was ventilated were six stalls in a small district to the northeast of the area where the explosion occurred. The air reaching 8’s stall already contained about 0.4 percent firedamp and by the time it had done about half its work it had gathered 23 cubic feet of firedamp per minute.

The current turned in to 101’s gate by a door and two sheets and was further diverted into 8’s slant gate by two sheets in 101’s gate. the outbye sheet of the latter was not as efficient as it might have been as there was gas at the sides and at the top. It was said that it was not necessary to have these sheets tight since there had been no trouble with gas in 8’s stall and it was not desirable to force all the air into it. There had been no sheet in 8’s end-gate until the night before the explosion and the air was free to travel to the face either by this gate or the slant gate.

Gas had been reported by the deputies on 30 occasions at 8’s ripping between 20th November and 23rd December 1929 at the time when 8’s end-gate was being started from the slant gate. In three other reports on 9th January 1930, gas was reported from a cavity n 8’s gate and was cleared on the following day shift. After 9th January, no gas was reported until 9th March when Ben Robinson, the afternoon shift deputy, found 2%, 6 inches from the roof of 8’s slant gate. He erected a hurdle sheet in the end gate and after waiting a few minutes the gas cleared and also opened a compressed air pipe in the slant gate and the gas there cleared immediately. At 11.10 p.m. he left the district and reported that he had found gas and cleared it to the relieving deputy, J.G. Bratt who did not find any gas on his inspections.

From noon on Saturday 8th March to 11 a.m. on Sunday 9th March, the main ventilating fan was slowed which reduced the ventilation to 70% of normal. From 11 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. on Sunday the water gauge was raised to three and a quarter inches which was maintained until 10 p.m. and from that time the water gauge varied from two and a half to three and a quarter inches.

On Monday 10th March 1930, the normal complement of colliers, and drivers were at work in the district and nothing unusual had occurred up to 9.30 a.m. The day shift deputy, George Paley, went along the face from left to right and fired 8 shots before reaching 8’s end gate. There were two shifts to fire at this place, one on each side of the gate. One shot was heard by men in the adjoining gate, No.101’s, followed at an interval, which was estimated at 5 minutes, by a flash like lightning a flame was seen in 101’s gate and flame or the reflection of it in the 15’s right bank.

From the right corner of the face to the main road, 15’s, the air was full of smoke and dust which was so dense that the men could no see. Beyond that, to the left end of the face, there seemed to be only a thick dust cloud. All the men immediately left the face and went outbye to where the air was clear. Amongst these were two men who had been badly burned, Albany Taylor and William Townsend, from 8’s stall. Townsend was taken to the shaft on a stretcher but Taylor walked out. Taylor died the same night and Townsend the next day.

Rescue parties quickly fund the body of John Allan, a pony driver who had been flung out of the 8’s slant gate against the side of 101’s gate had many broken bones. Further rescue operations were delayed by the presence of thick smoke in 8’s gate and 8’s slant until the arrival of the manager, undermanager and other officials who tightened up the brattice sheets and erected a sheet to replace a door which had been damaged in the explosion.

Ventilation removed the smoke and in the course of half an hour, it was possible to recover the bodies of Arthur Richards, collier and George Paley, deputy. Underneath Paley’s body was found his own flame safety lamp and the electric lamps of Richards and Taylor. The magneto to his exploder was strapped to his waist, his explosive canister was by his side and his shot-firing cable stretched forward to a shot hole on the right side of the 8’s gate. The detonator leads of the shot were fast in the shot hole and still attached to the shot-firing cable.

Signs of flame could be traced back almost to the outbye end of the 8’s slant, a distance of 184 feet and for about 192 feet along the face, including the short length of open ground near to the old waste. The explosion had been violent and hurled John Allan against the side of the road. It damaged a door in 7’s slant so that men passed through it without opening it. A youth, Harold Collinson at the outbye end of 7’s slant was peppered on the back by flying stones and pieces of bind were driven into the timber at the end of 8’s slant gate.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • George Paley,
  • Arthur Richards,
  • Albany Taylor,
  • William Townend
  • John Allan Harold.

Collinson was injured by the force of the explosion.

The inquest was held by Mr. Will Bentley, H.M. Coroner for Pontefract. All interested parties were called and the jury returned a verdict that death was due in four cases to burns and the fifth case, John Allan, to injuries due to an explosion of methane ignited by the firing of a shot, no negligence being attached to anyone.

The official report on the disaster was made by E.H. Frazer, H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines and presented to Mr. E. Shinwell, Esq., M.P., Secretary for Mines on 27th June 1930.

The explosion immediately followed the firing of the tenth shot by the deputy George Paley who was killed in the position in which the fired the shot. Al the safety lamps were recovered and sent to Captain Platt at the Mines Department Testing Station where they were all found to be in perfect condition and not capable of causing an explosion. The explosive and detonators were also found to be perfect but the exploder that Paley used was a three-shot dynamo electric machine of an old pattern which did not comply with the Explosives in Coal Mines Order and ought not to have been used. it was not provided with any form of a switch and the current could travel to the handle and risk the accidental firing of a shot.

Paley had used a six-ounce charge for all the shots and an inspection of the coal round the fatal shot hole showed that it had been cracked and eased without displacing it to any great extent. Everybody agreed that the shot had down its work. On close inspection, it appeared that the stemming had blown out although it was not was generally known as a blown out shot, but these conditions could have led to the ignition of the gas.

Gas was present and it was a question to be answered why Paley did not detect it. The question was carefully examined at the inquiry and Mr. Frazer stated:

I believe the simple explanation was the correct one, namely, tat a mixture of firedamp and air had accumulated in the workings before the explosion. Had this mixture existed ins 8’s slant gate and in the right hand side of the face, with a tail of gas near the roof extending tote shot hole, there could have been sufficient volume to produce, upon ignition, all the effects are seen.

No one had been working in 8’s slant since deputy Bratt left at 5.30 a.m., four hours before the explosion. Firedamp had been seen there the evening before. The ventilation was comparatively weak in 8’s slant. In my opinion, there is strong circumstantial evidence that a large volume of firedamp was present when the shot was fired and the evidence seems to point to the fact that Paley did not make a full examination for a radius of 20 yards from the shot hole.

In his report, Mr. Frazer came to the following conclusions:

  1. The explosion was one of firedamp very slightly extended by coal dust.
  2. The explosion was of small extent but of a violent nature, indicating that a highly explosive mixture was involved.
  3. The initiating cause was the projection of flame or burning particles from a shot in the coal face at the right-hand side of 8’s end-gate.
  4. The cause of the peculiar manner in which the shot blew part of its stemming had not been definitely ascertained.
  5. Circumstantial evidence, was e only evidence available, points to the conclusion that examination for firedamp required by Clause 6 (f) (i) could not have been made tot he full extent required by the Explosives in Coal Mines Act.
  6. Owing to the presence of breaks in the roof near the shot hole which could not have been examined properly, the shot was one which should not have been fired.
  7. The provisions of Clause 6 (f)(i)of the Explosives in Coal Mines Order regarding the thorough treatment with stone dust or water of the vicinity of shotholes were not observed by the shotfirer.


Mines Inspectors Report.
Report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Allerton Bywater Colliery, Castleford, Yorkshire, on the 10th March 1930 by E.H. Frazer, H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 12th September 1930, p.941.

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

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