ALTOFT’S. Normanton, Yorkshire. 2nd. October, 1886.

The colliery was the property of Messrs. Pope and Pearson. The pit had been worked for over twenty years and there had been no explosions until this one which occurred in the Silkstone Seam, worked by a longwall system, at a depth of about 430 yards. Mr. Garforth was the agent with Mr. Fisher as manager and Burton was the underviewer. Until just before the explosion the mine had been worked by naked lights but safety lamps had been recently introduced and at the time of the disaster were used at all the faces and throughout the pit beyond stations in the main intake road. The pit porches, the underground engine house and the roads near the shaft were lit by means of gas brought by pipes from the surface. The colliery was ventilated by furnaces which produced 147,925 cubic feet per minute through the workings. About 40,000 cubic feet passed down the West Chain road and it was here that the explosion originated.

On the day of the explosion, the day shift had finished work and left the pit about 1 p.m. so that the total number below ground was 28. Of these 20 were killed in the disaster, eight injured of which two later died from their injuries which brought the death toll to 22. Nine men were working at the end of “Roper’s Drift” which was an intake and they were straightening the road and using gunpowder to blast stone. Word of the disaster was sent to Mr. Wardell by special messenger and he arrived at the colliery, went down the pit and rendered all assistance in the rescue operations. The operations took about two weeks and work went on day and night. Jacob Higson and Marshall Nicholson, mining engineers were called in to assist in the operations.

The coal was on fire and the undercast and stoppings were destroyed and there was a total failure of the ventilation system yet work in recovering the bodies, restoring the ventilation and work to get the fires under control went on with no lack of willing help. The Inspector commented:

Men came forward, brave volunteers, anxious to save a life it if were possible, and to recover the bodies of their comrades, though they knew full well they risked their own lives by doing so. My experience of times like these is that the men are always eager to throw themselves into what is often a forlorn hope and that the difficulty is not to find volunteers but to select from every ready throng a number required for work, and here be it remembered, is no open enemy, no battlefield with a fair fight and all the consequent excitement, but a treacherous foe to encountered below ground and to be fought with cool calm deliberation and with the knowledge that if certain conditions arise, escape from the foe is impossible.

Those recovered 3rd October 1886:

  • G. Cookson aged 18 years, a lamp lad,
  • G. Allatt aged 28 years, engineman,
  • S. Green aged 54 years, furnace man,
  • J. Gill aged 50 years, furnaceman,
  • T. Ibbeson aged 15 years, assistant plumber,
  • G. Colley aged 28 years, plumber,
  • W. Barker aged 27 years, fitter.

Those recovered 9th October:

  • M. Buxton aged 44 years, byworker,
  • A. Davies aged 17 years, byworker.

Those recovered 9th November:

  • J. Newton aged 38 years, contractor,
  • J. Nicholson aged 44 years, contractor,
  • J. Hancock aged 36 years, contractor,
  • G. Wilcox aged 30 years, byworker,
  • W. Trueman aged 38 years, byworker,
  • J. Fox aged 27 years, byworker.

The others who died were:

  • S. Flint aged 42 years, byeworker. Recovered 10th. November,
  • H. Deakin aged 53 years, deputy. Recovered 11th. November,
  • T. Oakley aged 21 years, corpral. Recovered 20th. November,
  • C. Plimmer aged 18 years, chain lad. Recovered 20th. November,
  • S. Lomax aged 59 years, deputy. Recovered 20th. November,
  • W. Megson aged 33 years, a smith who died 4th. October 1886,
  • J. Worthington aged 25 years, stoker who died 31st. October 1886.

The injured were:

  • Joseph Whitaker, hanger-on,
  • Edward Kaye, lampman,
  • Allen Kaye aged 14 years, his son,
  • J. Worthington, engineman,
  • John Richardson, horse keeper,
  • Samuel Plummer, byeworker,
  • James Harris, bricklayer.

Mr. Wardell made an examination of the pit with Mr. Cowey and Mr. Pickard M.P., the president and secretary of the Yorkshire Miners’ association and by two workmen of the colliery and all agreed as to the facts of the disaster.

At the inquiry into the disaster, it became evident that three shot holes had been drilled and shots fired. All the shot holes had been badly planted. Two of the shafts had been fired without any adverse effects beyond filling the air with fine dust particles as the mine was very dusty and dry. The third shot due to the unskillful drilling of the hole did not do its work and although it was not a blown-out shot caused a large flame which ignited the dust particles and cause the explosion. The Inspector commented:

Such as small percentage of gas mixed with the coal dust as to be practically indiscernible, and which cannot be detected by the ordinary test from a safety lamp and yet this forms a highly explosive mixture. In this instance, however, it is very difficult to believe that there could be even a small quantity of gas for there was a current of fresh air of about 40,000 cubic feet per minute passing along the road where the shots were fired and there did not appear to be any place where gas could have lodged or accumulated.

The jury returned the following verdict:

That the whole of the workmen killed except the two deputies, met their deaths from an explosion of coal dust which originated in the West Chain Road, which explosion was caused by the firing of an unskillfully-drilled shot by one of the workmen engaged in widening the road. That the two deputies were suffocated by the stoppage of the ventilation consequent on the explosion.

Mr. Wardell did not think that dust in itself could be the sole cause of the disaster but that it intensified and aggravated it and so must be regarded as an element of danger. He said, “Wherever coal dust ceased, there ceased also all trace of the explosion.”


Mines Inspectors Report. 1886.
The Colliery Guardian 11th. March 1887, P.340.

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

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