BARNSLEY MAIN. Barnsley, Yorkshire. 7th. May, 1947.

The colliery was in the Borough of Barnsley where in the last century explosions which had caused a large loss of life had occurred in the neighbourhood. the colliery had two shafts, 400 yards apart. The No.2 downcast shaft was 15 feet in diameter and 512 yards deep and the No.4 upcast shaft was 15 feet in diameter and sunk to 640 yards. Up to the beginning of 1947, the colliery was owned by Barrow Barnsley Main Collieries Limited and in the reorganisation of the industry they had decided to close it and win the coal from two other collieries but on representations, this plan was modified and it was decided to work the Kent’s Thick Seam and to cease work on all other seams. The development started from the inset in the No.2 downcast shaft on 1st December 1945 and proceeded so quickly, that on the 1st December 1946, the output had reached 1,000 tons a day which was wound on one shift. At the time of the explosion, this figure had increased to about 1,200 tons.

The electrical system was 3 phase 50 cycle alternating current at 1,500 volts supplied by the Colliery Power Station 1,250 KVA alternator. Two 550 volt KVA transformers were available to provide supply from the Yorkshire Electric Power Company. The current was used at 550 volts for all power purposes except for drilling for which 125 volts was employed. The Kent’s Thick Seam lay at 213 yards from the surface and was 3 feet 10 inches thick and the whole section was worked. Occasionally there was a 2-inch dirt band 1 foot 7 inches from the bottom. The seam was overlain by 12 feet 2 inches of blue bind and underlain by 5 feet 9 inches of spavin. The inclination of the No.3 face was about 1 in 18 and the full dip of the seam about 1 in 11.

The explosion occurred on the No.3 face which was 150 yards long with the conveyor or intake gate 80 yards and the main gate 30 yards from the top right-hand side. The tailgates at the extremities of the face were also returns but the object of the second return of the top side was to maintain one that would not be damaged by No.8 District which was being opened out parallel to them or by other similar districts which might be opened out at a later date. No.8 District consisted of a face which had just been headed out. The connections of the two tailgates were made only within a day or two of the explosion and these explosions were being enlarged on the morning of the explosion. The effect of this new district on the ventilation of No.3 face was of considerable importance to the later events. Electricity was used for coal cutting, drilling, face conveyors, gate and trunk convectors and signalling in each district.

The system of support was mainly by chocks set at maximum distances of 6 feet centres in a row with rows at 5 feet 6 inch centres. Few props and bars were used but steel props were supplied to each filler to be set temporarily before the erection of the chocks. Packs were built at the sides of the four airway gates and the eight dummy gates at the No.3 face so that there were few actual wastes.

The sequence of operations on all the faces was that in the day shift, shots were fired in coal, and the coal loaded. On the afternoon shift, the conveyors were dismantled and moved forward and shots fired in the dummy gates and at the various ripping lips and packs built. On the night shift, the coal was cut 10 inches from the bottom of the seam to a depth of 5 feet 6 inches by chain machines. There were no haulages apart from the one near the foot of the No.4 shaft for taking in supplies. At the face, coal was loaded by hand onto conveyors which delivered to gate conveyors which again fed trunk conveyors from which the coal was transferred into tubs at the round-about near No.2 Downcast shaft where the whole of the output was raised. On No. 3 low side face coal was loaded by hand on to belt conveyor and on the high side face on a shaker conveyor operated by an Anderson Boyes 20 H.P. driving gear placed near the top end of the face. Electric current for operation it was conveyed through a collectively screened 5 core trailing cable suspended from the chocks on the gob side of the conveyor. Shotholes were carefully spaced in the top and bottom coal and shotfiring considerable proportions. There was a shotfirer from each side of No.3 face and the deputy also fired a number of shots. The explosive used was Plastex in the coal and Polar Viking in the rippings.

A small amount of firedamp was made in the No.3 District but only of the order of .1 per cent with 5,000 cubic feet of air per minute flowing. Firedamp was reported at the top of the face two days before the explosion and in a cavity at the junction of the new crossgates and at the top tailgate on the No. 3 face on the day before the explosion. The gas in the cavity persisted right up to the time of the explosion. These were the only reports of gas since January previous when it was found by the manager and an Inspector at a similar place when the cross gate was put through. On account of this gas, a door which had been in a position in the main return just outbye of the No.8 left-hand tailgate was moved just inbye of the new crossgate junction on the day before the disaster.

The ventilation was produced by a Keith Blackwell fan which circulated 163,000 cubic feet of air per minute at a water gauge of 2.8 inches. The speed of the fan could not be varied so the amount of air circulating in the mine and through the districts was recorded in the book for the purpose. The water gauge for the mine was increased to 3.3 inches on the afternoon before the explosion since gas had been found in the cavity and the crossgate junction near the top end of the No.3 face already mentioned and the fact that the opening out of the No. 8 face might reduce the amount of air available from the No.3 district, particularly on the right-hand side. Air entered the district by the conveyor gate and split right and left and sheets were hung in the No.8 tailgates, No.3 bottom gate and the slit between No.3 and 5 to act as regulators. The colliery was under the daily supervision of an Agent, Manager and Undermanager while on each shift there was an overman for the whole seam and a deputy for each district.

The explosion occurred at 12.15 p.m. on Wednesday 7th May 1947 in the 7th How of the filling shift. By common consent, it originated near the top end of the No.3 right face, which had been almost cleared of coal and travelled through the whole of the face and about half way down the No.3 left face. It extended about 20 yards along the conveyor gate, into the main return a few yards outbye to the crossgate junction, along the crossgate and probably some distance along the top gate, although there was no clear evidence of the passage of flame along this gate. As explosions go it was not a violent one although a newly erected door and its brickwork in the main return gate between the crossgate junction and the face was blown down and one or two chocks at the face were blown out. There was not, however, any damage to the air crossing and the main ventilation arrangements were not deranged in any way. The conveyors stopped at the moment of the explosion.

There were 40 men working on the left side of the face. Eleven colliers filing of the right side, tow repairers in the new crossgate, two borers on the left side of the face, a gear-head attendant at the face of the conveyor gate, four surveyor lads and three timber lads at the inbye end of the main return gate, one shaker attendant and one stemming lad on the right side of the face, one shotfirer for each side of the face and a deputy. There was also a ventilation measurer and a man erection sheets in the low side of the tailgate. The two repairers in the new crossgate and six of the seven colliers filling at the top of the face and the shotfirer were killed.

According to the medical evidence, one man died from a fractured skull and the others lived long enough to die from the effects of afterdamp which they inhaled but they were unlikely to have moved after the explosion. All the remaining people on the right side of the face and in the main return were burnt except one of the timber lads in the main gateway outbye of the new crossgate junction. The gate-head attendant at the face of the conveyor gate and the fillers working on the upper half of the left face were also burnt. The burns, for the most part, were on the upper part of the body although the seam was only 3 feet 10 inches thick.

Most of the injured made their way to the shaft unaided and very little was attempted underground in the way of first aid. The distance to the shaft was small and there was a hospital close to the colliery and the injured began to arrive there almost before the staff became aware that an explosion had occurred. It was a tribute to the hospital that all the injured recovered. Those who were not injured and some that were slightly burnt made valiant efforts to assist those less fortunate and carried on with the recovery work aided by the officials and other men from other districts. The report commented:

It is a great privilege once again to bear witness to the cool courage and determination which characterises the conduct of all concerned on these occasions regardless of all personal consequences.

It was not possible to enter the right side of the face owing to smoke and fumes but the left side of the face cleared at once. It was remarkable that it was possible to travel the main return right up to the new crossgate junction almost immediately after the explosion and for a period of one and a half hours despite the presence of fumes and smoke on the entire length of the right-hand face. Sheets were erected and these fumes were cleared and it was then possible to go in and recover the bodies of the victims.

Harry Crowcroft was saving up to get married at the time of his death. A workmate asked him if he wanted another shift instead of him.
It proved to be his last!
Copyright © Steve Frith

The men who lost their lives were:

  • Henry Storey aged 30 years, shotfirer,
  • Harry Crowcroft aged 26 years, collier,
  • Joseph Blayden aged 26 years, collier,
  • Arthur Edwards aged 54 years, collier,
  • Edward Ernshaw aged 53 years, collier,
  • John Denton aged 44 years, collier,
  • Harry Irwin Baxter aged 25 years, repairer,
  • Clifford Allen aged 34 years, collier,
  • William Peake aged 46 years, repairer.

The inquest was held before Mr. Sanderson H.B. Gill, H.M. Deputy Coroner for Wakefield and District who sat with a jury of eight people. It occupied four full days and examined 24 witnesses and all interested parties were represented. The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Barnsley Main Colliery, Barnsley, Yorkshire on the 7th May 1947, was made by H.J. Humphrys, D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines and presented to The Right Honourable Hugh Gaitskell, C.B.E., M.P., Minister of Fuel and Power on the 11th. December 1947.

Nine of the witnesses were in the district when the explosion occurred and seven of them were burnt. All of them agreed that it originated at the top end of the No.3 face and that the shaker conveyor was running at the time, suddenly stopped. It started again shortly afterwards and ran for a short time when it stopped as all power being shut off at the pit bottom.

As to the presence of firedamp, the representative of the National Coal Board, Dr. Willett, thought that it had been liberated from a waste below the conveyor driving gear by the reduction in pressure which would occur when the door in the main return on the top side of the face was opened by the surveyors. The Mines Inspector expressed the view that the stoppage of the ventilation on the right side of the face for one and a half to one and three-quarters of an hour after the explosion and particularly the stagnation on the face between the intake and main return indicated that the ventilating pressure must have been low at the time of the explosion. The persistence of gas in the cavity caused the management a good deal of concern and moved the door forward. In the opinion of Mr. Bryan, the reductions in ventilating pressure on No.3 face caused by these operations caused the current to be diminished so that it would not carry away the gas which was coming from the seam at a rate of about 5 cubic feet per minute.

In consequence, the firedamp accumulated in a layer near the roof of the working face probably extending the entrance to the main gate and the top end of the face. The deputy Haigh claimed to have made an examination for gas at the top end of the face only 15 minutes before the explosion, and if this theory was accepted, then it had to be concluded that his examination was not thorough enough to detect the firedamp.

There was no difference of opinion as to the source of ignition which was due to an arc formed between the cores of the trailing cable and a moving nut on the rocker arm of the driving gear of the shaker conveyor. Mr. Bryan commented:

The makers of the gear supply covers to completely enclose the rocker arms and prevent anything or anybody coming into accidental contact with them and it is most unfortunate that the cover on the gob side rocker arm was missing and had been missing for some days. It is extremely doubtful in the other cover was in position. These covers were provided primarily to prevent person making accidental contact with moving parts but their use would have prevented damage to the cable which was the direct cause of the explosion.

Other sources of ignition such as friction, shotfiring or defective safety lamps were explored but rejected.

The report recommended the appointment of a Ventilation engineer for each Group of Mines to supervise and direct the general schemes of ventilation in their Area and to advise on the many intricate problems that would occur from time to time and that substantial changes in the ventilation should not be made during a main working shift. With regard to short-circuiting and leakage of the ventilation the Inspector said:

I recommend that properly constricted wooden regulators set in brickwork be provided. A good practice is to have a short length of the road divided longitudinally by a brick wall with a regulator on one side and duplicate doors on the other. Ventilation doors should be duplicated with spaces between them, sufficient in length to accommodate the longest train that passes through them.

The Inquiry found that the number of shots that were fired was excessive and were such that the requirements of the Explosives in Coal Mines Orders could not be carried out and recommended that the number of shots fired in coal should not exceed 6 per hour or 40 per statutory shift and that they should be fired before the filling shift wherever possible.

Regarding the electrical equipment, it was recommended that wherever practicable, motors driving conveyors or any other fixed machinery should be placed in the intake air and all flexible cables in use at the face should be examined at least once in every working shift by a person who is properly trained. With these recommendations, the report finished.


The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Barnsley Main Colliery, Barnsley, Yorkshire on the 7th May 1942 by H.J. Humphrys, D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 30th June 1948, p.151.

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

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