BARNBURGH MAIN. Doncaster, Yorkshire. 26th. June, 1957.

Barnburgh Main Colliery was situated at Barnburgh in Yorkshire about six miles from Doncaster. There were two shafts at the colliery; the No.5 upcast was 18 feet in diameter and the No.6 downcast 16 feet in diameter. The shafts were sunk to the Parkgate Seam at 775 yards and intersected the Newhill Seam at 340 yards and the Barnsley Seam at 508 yards. Both shafts were regularly used for winding men and materials. The mine produced nearly 4,500 tons of coal per day with 2,000 men employed underground and 379 on the surface. Ventilation was provided by an Aerex fan which produced about 328,000 cubic feet of air per minute at a water gauge of 4.7 inches and there was a Walker Indestructible fan of equal capacity as a standby.

The mine was in the No.2 Area of the North Eastern Division of the National Coal Board and the principal officials were Mr. H. Heap, Area General Manager appointed 1st. June 1957, Mr. C.A.S. Moore, Area Production Manager, Mr. F. Darley, Deputy Area Production Manager (operations), Mr. W.T. Marsh, Deputy Area Production Manager (planning), Mr. J. Ford, group Manager, Mr.S. Beaumont, Manager, Mr. R. Edwards, Undermanager Parkgate Seam and Mr. W. Hayselden, Undermanager Newhill Seam who had been promoted from overman on 26th. April 1957.

The seams worked at the colliery in descending order were the Newhill and the Parkgate. The Barnsley Seam was between them and had been extensively worked and was not in production at the time of the disaster. The Barnsley and the Parkgate had been extracted below the area of the explosion. Lamps were in general use throughout the mine and were Ceag Type G.C.L. electric cap lamps with Ringrose Automatic Detectors, and Protector, Type 6, flame safety lamps as firedamp detectors.

The Newhill Seam had been worked for 12 years and was four feet thick overlain with fairly strong well-laminated shale and underlain by strong clunch. At the time of the explosion, there were seven producing districts in the seam, one single and six double units with a total length of the face of 1,336 yards. They were worked by a longwall advancing face with the coal machine cut and after blasting by sheathed explosives and hand filled onto a face belt conveyor. Trunk belt conveyors took the coal from the face to a spiral chute from which it was loaded into mine cars for transportation to skip bunkers.

The North West 1 District was made up of a double unit face with a left side 41 yards long which was gradually being cut off by a seven feet down-throw fault and a right side, 127 yards long. The gradient on the face was 1 in 28 dipping to the right. Three roadways communicated with the face. The left side gate branched in the middle loading gate and formed the main intake, with the right side gate as the return. The loading gate had two regulator doors a few yards inbye from the junction and served as a leakage intake. The roadways were formed about 12 feet by 14 feet by taking a roof ripping at the face and using the ripping material to build six yards wide gate side packs. Roadway supports consisted of wooden “cockers” set about four feet apart to the strong roof and sides. Shots were forced in the front rippings and in the main gate back rippings as required using Ajax sheathed explosive and in the coal using Viking sheathed explosives. On the coal filling shifts, the shots were fired by shotfirers and on the ripping shifts by the deputies.

The face worked on a twenty-four hour cycle. The day shift worked 6 a.m to 1.30 p.m and was engaged in coal getting. the split shift 12 noon to 7.30 p.m. bored shot holes in the coal, turned conveyors and back ripped in the main gate, the afternoon shift 2 p.m. to 9.30 p.m., built waste packs, drew off the wastes and extended the main gate conveyor, and the night shift 10 p.m. to 5.30 a.m., cut coal and worked in the main rippings. The face normally yielded about 430 tons per shift. The roof condition at the face was good, the roof unbroken, the convergence slight and supports were set to a fair standard. A three feet thick bed of roof stone fell in the wastes, providing a plentiful supply of packing material but leaving the wastes open.

The district was ventilated by a separate split from the main intake, the air travelling along the main belt gate for about 200 yards and then splitting at the junction with the greater part going into the left side tailgate. About 7, 000 cubic feet per minute travelled down the left gate and 4,000 feet per minute along the main gate after passing through two regulators placed a few yards inbye of the junction. as a safeguard against firedamp accumulating at the face-ripping lips, a brattice cloth hurdle was maintained at each. An examination of the Firemen’s Books showed that firedamp had not been reported in the district during the previous three months. An Inspection by the Safety Board Inspector accompanied by Mr. T. Burke, the local Workmen’s Inspector was made on the 19th. June 1956 and found an explosive mixture in a cavity in the roof on the left side of the main intake.

The electrical supply was by an alternating current at 3,300 volts and was taken to North West No.1 District Sub-station where it was transformed down to 550 volts for use in the district. The transformer was fitted with a 3,300 volt off-load isolator and 550-volt oil circuit breaker to form a transwitch unit. The oil circuit breaker had two overcurrent trips with time lags and an under-voltage release trip. The main gate feeder cable was 3 core, 3.3 KV grade, paper insulated, lead covered, double wire armoured but the 50 yards length in the first back rip was 660-volt grade. For the greater part of the roadway, the cable was slung from roof supports but it was buried in the floor in the back rippings. The feeder cable supplied a bank of five gate end boxes, two of which were spare. The other three were arranged for the control of a coal cutter and the face conveyors but there was no evidence that these were in use at the time of the explosion.

On the afternoon shift of the 26th June, the deputy in charge of the North West 1 District was Robert Ashton, the regular deputy. The pre-shift inspection was made by J. Triffitt, a spare deputy who was on duty for the regular deputy who was absent that day. Triffitt was well acquainted with the district reported that everything was in order except the telephone near the face was out of order.

Coal filling had been completed about mid-day and when the conveyor turners arrived at the face about 12.30 p.m. They were able to uncouple the belts and began to remove them onto their new track to be ready for the waste side men to start their work when they arrived at 2.30 p.m. The men who formed the split shift were admitted by the day shift deputy, Triffitt. There were six back rippers, three conveyor turners, one steel checker and two gate belt extenders. In addition, there were two surveyor’s assistants, J. Charlesworth and B. Silcock. They were near the face extending the roadway centre lines. Charlesworth was the only main the district with a flame safety lamp.

The main gate conveyor belt stopped before 1.00 p.m. and two outbye sets of back rippers were engaged in setting wood chocks. On the back rip nearest the face and 82 yards from it, J. Hill and B. Holliday bored three shot holes by compressed air machine in the 2feet ripping lip. On the afternoon shift there were ten waste men for waste packing and support withdrawal and two men for main belt conveyor maintenance about 500 yards from the face. At the time of the explosion, work was proceeding normally at the face and no electric power was being used.

The afternoon shift deputy, R. Ashton, entered the district about 2.30 p.m. and travelled along the main belt gate. After inspecting the two outbye back rippings, where men were at work, he went inbye to the back rip, 82 yards from the face where J. Hill and B. Holliday had bored three shot holes. These were four feet deep and six inches from the strong, smooth roof one in the middle of the roadway and the others close to the side. he told the men that he would take his clothes further inbye and gave the men instructions to cover up the armoured electrical cable that was lying on the floor about two feet from the side of the road. The men covered the cable with a piece of old conveyor belting, 56 inches long and 19 inches wide which was laid lengthwise over the cable immediately beneath the roof that was to be blasted. The men also said they used several pieces of timber as additional protection.

On his return, Ashton tested for firedamp at the ripping lip and along the gate outbye. He then prepared the charges for the shots, using 7 ounces of Viking sheathed explosive and an NPO6 L.T. detonator for each hole. He allowed two workmen to stem the centre and right had holes while he stemmed the left. The stemming used was good quality clay sent from the surface and each hole was stemmed to within nine inches of the mouth. After the deputy again tested for gas in the immediate vicinity of the shothole, he sent J. Hill to the face to act as guard and took B. Holliday with him to the firing position about 25 yards outbye.

The shot was fired and the usual sound of falling material was followed by a further fall and almost at once by a hissing sound and a spurt of flame. The flame travelled inbye and was followed by a blast which raised clouds of dust. Ashton told the back rippers to crawl outbye along the conveyor belt which was the easiest way out considering the bad visibility and he went outbye along the conveyor to the junction with the left side intake where he told workmen to go as quickly as possible to the pit bottom and get assistance. He then went along the left intake gate and met some injured men who were walking outbye. He went all around the face and return airway to assess the situation. He then made his way outbye and reported to the manager that he had been all around the district that the ventilation was normal and there were no falls or fires.

The first official outside the affected area to realise that something was wrong was the afternoon deputy, R. Nelson, who noticed a sudden blast of air as he travelled the North district. He telephoned the afternoon overman F. Allsop who was in the office at the pit bottom. The overman told him to go to the overcast while he went around the pit bottom. Nelson found the overcast was all right and after meeting men who told him of the incident on North West 1, he reported to the manager and then went to the end of the North West 1 return airway to see what conditions were like and if possible to travel to the face. He found the air thick with dust and decided not to go.

When Allsopp heard of the incident he gave orders for all the men to withdraw from the seam and then taking an electrician, Colin Rogers, with him, they set off into the district. At the shaft bottom sub-station, he gave orders for all the switches to be turned off and gave the electrician instructions that they were not to be put on until instructed by him. As he passed the shaft sides some of the men from the district were there and he was told by one of the back rippers who was not injured that the incident was in the face and the conveyor gate. Taking Rogers with him, he went along the conveyor gate. The roadway was full of dust and with difficulty; they reached the back ripping where the shot had been fired. There were no signs of burning but there was a strong smell which Allsopp described as like bitumen. From there they went along the face and found injured men on the right-hand side of the face. The air was thick with dust and visibility was only two or three yards. The inbye telephone was not working and he sent Rogers with a message to the manager. He told Rogers to travel out along the left side of the face and roadway. At some distance along the left roadway, Rogers found several injured men making their way out of the pit and he continued with them until they were met by the first aid party.

In the meantime, Allsopp had been joined by a deputy named Jones and they proceeded to give morphia to the injured men. The rescue work and first aid was promptly organised and efficiently carried out. All the people working in the main conveyor gate inbye of the seat of the explosion and along the two faces suffered burns, a total of twenty casualties. The last injured man was taken to the surface at 4.50 p.m., less than two hours after the explosion. All the injured were taken to hospital and of the nineteen detained, six subsequently died.

Those who were killed in the disaster:

  • Derek Smith aged 28 years, wasteman
  • Charles Trevor Scott aged 32 years, belt turner
  • Joseph Hill aged 55 years, back ripper
  • David Lunness aged 48 years, wasteman
  • Herbert Fells aged 41 years, wasteman
  • Richard Corbridge aged 35 years, belt turner

The injured:

  • William Knox aged 53 years, belt extender
  • Jack Charlesworth aged 20 years, linesman
  • Brian Silcock aged 20 years, linesman
  • Herbert Edwards aged 37 years, belt turner
  • Samuel Gratton aged 35 years, wasteman
  • Robert Turner aged 43 years, wasteman
  • Thomas Wright aged 42 years, wasteman
  • John Hemsworth aged 37 years, wasteman
  • Martin Quigley aged 32 years, wasteman
  • Ernest Towning aged 43 years, wasteman
  • John William Scott aged 54 years, wasteman
  • Albert Staniforth aged 46 years, steel supervisor
  • John Thomas Auty aged 61 years, back ripper

On the 17th September 1957, Mr. A.P. Lockwood, H.M. Coroner for the Rotherham Division of the West Riding of Yorkshire sitting with a jury, held the inquest on the bodies of five men who were injured in the explosion and died in his ward. The jury returned the following verdict:

Deceased was by misadventure burned on 26th July 1957, underground in the North West 1 District of the Newhill Seam at Barnburgh Main Colliery, Barnburgh, in the county of York when he was involved in an explosion of firedamp that the explosion followed immediately after a shot was fired n the back ripping of the main gate bringing down a large stone which fell on a power cable with the result that the cable was damaged and a flash occurred at the damaged point that the said flash is the only discoverable cause of an ignition of firedamp that the only discoverable source of an emission of firedamp was from a break in the roof of the main gate some 73 yards inbye from the flash.

The jury recommended to the Minister of Power that the regulations should be altered to make it compulsory for protection of a rigid nature to be afforded to any power cable liable to be damaged by a shot.

A second inquest was held on 24th September 1957 by Mr. N.S. Robson, H.M. Coroner for the Borough of Rotherham on the body of man who died in his ward. The verdict was:

Misadventure and the jury at the second inquest recommended that definite instructions and regulations should be laid down regarding the type of protection for the cable and that more extensive examination for gas should be made immediately before shot firing in the immediate vicinity.

The inquiry into the causes of and the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at the Barnburgh Main Colliery in the County of York on 26th June 1957 was held by Mr. C.W. Scott, C.B.E., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines, who presented the report of the inquiry to The Right Honourable Lord Mills, K.B.E., Minister of Power, in October 1957. All interested parties were represented.

The explosion area was thoroughly investigated after the disaster. There had been no disruption of the ventilation system which resumed its normal course which dispersed the dust clouds by the time the casualties were removed. There was evidence of the passage of flame along the whole length of the face and for about 40 yards outbye along the left side of the intake and the right return airways and in the conveyor gate from the front ripping to about 50 yards outbye from the place where the shot was fired. There was no evidence of violence, only a slight coking at widely scattered points. All indications were that this was an explosion of firedamp and that dust played no part in it. During the inspection, firedamp was found in explosive quantities in the conveyor roadway and at the left-hand side, roadway ripping lip against a fault slip. On the outbye side of the ripping, the quantity of gas increased near the roof near the face. at 40 yards from the face-ripping there was an explosive layer of gas about six inches thick which increased to more than two feet at the ripping lip. It was found that the gas was coming from a break nine feet from the ripping. Since the brattice hurdle, hung near the face was not good enough to disperse the gas, it accumulated in the ripping lip.

The explosion occurred on firing a shot but all the evidence showed that the shot had done its work and there was no evidence that the shot firing had ignited the gas. The electric cable was damaged and tests showed that the cable feeding from the transformer to the switchgear near the face was faulty. The fault was located at the point where the cable had been buried by debris. A short circuit had resulted between phases and had blown a hole in the outer casing of the armoured cable. other electrical equipment was investigated as a source of ignition but the conclusion arrived at that only the damaged cable could be the source of ignition.

Mr. Scott came to the following conclusions:

1) It is obvious that there was a large body of very rich firedamp mixture in the top part of the loading gate between the face-ripping and the inbye back ripping immediately before the explosion. The source of this gas was a break in the roof nine feet back from the face of the ripping which probably opened into a gas reservoir sometime after the pre-shift inspection.

The quick make of firedamp was obviously too much for the low-velocity air current. I consider the ventilation close to the roof would be very sluggish and would offer little resistance to the tendency of the low-density methane to layer next to the roof, against the general ventilation.

2) There was strong evidence that the deputy tested for gas ten to fifteen minutes before firing the shot. I feel that careful examination should have revealed gas.

3) I consider that the flash from the damaged cable was the cause of the explosion. This would have been avoided if the cable had been properly protected in accordance with Regulation 10 of the Coal and Other Mines (Electricity) Regulations 1856 in which the legal requirements are clearly set out.

4) Examination afterwards showed that the 550-volt switch, because of a mechanical defect of the tripping gear, could not trip on earth fault and the overload protection was unreliable.

5) Large roadways are required in modern mining and there may be occasions when leakage intakes are difficult to avoid. However, the quantity of air passing along the roadways should be such that velocities near the roof are sufficient to prevent layering firedamp.


Report on the causes of and the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at the Barnburgh Main Colliery in the County of York on 26th. June 1957. By C.W. Scott, C.B.E., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 25th. July 1957, p.105.

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

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