BARNSLEY MAIN. Barnsley, Yorkshire. 16th and 17th February, 1942.

The Colliery was the property of the Barrow Barnsley Main Collieries Limited. Professor Douglas Hay was the Managing Director of the Colliery Company with Mr. J.E. Longden as Agent. The manager of the Barnsley Main Colliery was Mr. A. Benford with an Assistant Manager and three undermanagers one of whom, Mr. E. Pilkington acted for the Fenton seam. Mr. J. Harrott was the assistant manager for the seam. There were two shafts which were 400 yards apart. The No.2 downcast was 15 feet in diameter and 512 yards deep and from it, the coal from the Swallow Wood, Haigh Moor and Lidgett seams, lying at 344, 358 and 393 yards respectively was raised. The No.4 upcast shaft was 16 feet in diameter and was sunk to 542 yards. from this shaft, the Fenton and Parkgate seams at 524 and 542 yards respectively were raised. Only the Fenton seam was affected by the explosions.

The Fenton seam was 4 feet 4 inches thick with a dark bind roof and strong spavin floor. Fifteen inches from the floor there was a black shaley band 4 inches thick in which the cutting was done. The main intake and return to the workings passed through a 36 feet upthrow fault through which they were drifted in stone. The intake drift was 45 yards long rising 1 in 6 and the return 30 yards long at a gradient of 1 in 3. At the time of the explosion, two faces were being worked. They were known as “A” and “B”. The “B” face, in which the explosion occurred, was 140 yards long, 95 yards on the left side of the level or loader gate and 45 yards on the right, and dipped from left to right at about 1 in 20.

The coal was undercut 4 feet 6 inches by a B.J.D. chain machine and filled on to conveyors, on the left side a jigger and on the right a belt which delivered to a gate-end loader in the main loader gate. This was about to be moved to a new loader gate which turned off to the left of it. Coal cutting was done on both the afternoon and night shifts, ripping and packing on the afternoon shift, turning over conveyors on the night shift and filling on the day shift. Shots were fired in both the coal and in the rippings. Three hours before the first explosion, four shots were fired in “B” district, two in the right tailgate and two on the face in the left-hand corner. All these shots were fired without incident. On each of the three shifts, there was a deputy in charge of “B” face supervised by an overman who also had charge of the “A” face.

The ventilation of the mine was produced by a Keith Blackman fan which circulated 175,000 cubic feet of air per minute at a water gauge of 4.8 inches. The last statutory monthly measurements were measured on 26th. January and showed that 27,2600 cubic feet per minute entered the North East District comprising the “A” and “B” faces. There was no record of the quantity that passed down each face as was required by the regulations. there was a book which recorded weekly measurements that were taken n the intake and return airways but these were taken 10 yards not 100 yards from the face. During the period of six months before the explosion, firedamp had been reported by the deputies on 10 occasions. All the reports related to feeders on the left-hand tailgate and were reported as “being diluted as give off”. Electricity was used at the face at 550 volt A.C. for coal cutting and conveying and compressed air which was supplied by a main which ran up the left tailgate was used for drilling shotholes and also to drive the jigger conveyor.

There were two explosions. The first occurred at about 7.30 p.m. on 16th. February and two persons were burned, one of whom subsequently died and the second explosion which was far greater occurred at 12.40 p.m. on 17th February which caused the deaths of 12 persons and injury to 28 others.

The events that lead up to the first explosions started on the afternoon of Monday 16th. February when cutting was to be done on the “B” face. On a previous shift, the machine had cut up the face to about 20 yards from the rise end and the front part of the cut coal had been stripped leaving a track wide enough to take the coal cutter through before the conveyor pans were moved forward. It was intended to flit the machine to the top end of the face, jib in there and then cut the 20 yards downhill and the take the whole machine down the to the lower end ready for cutting the whole length of the face uphill again.

Walter Lodge was the coalcutter driver and he and his assistant had gone to the face to commence work at about 6.20 p.m. The trailing cable used on the period’s shift had been damaged and sent out of the pit and another cable had been sent for which Lodge saw in a tub in the north East plane as he travelled inbye. There was a spare cable in the district but it was too short to reach from the loader gate, in which the switchgear was situated, to the top of the face. The switch panel was moved into the new loader gate or cross gate to solve this problem. As the new cable was on its way, arrangements were made by the overman, Horace Rawson, to transport this from the plane and since the main and tail haulage along the level was not in use on that shift, the cable was carried by about ten or more men up the face. Every care seems to have been taken to avoid damage to the cable and there was no reason to suppose that it suffered any damage on its way down the pit.

The cable, which was 120 yards long, arrived at the new loader gate and was carried up to the machine. Forty yards of it were left coiled up in the gate. the pommels were examined by Samuel Dawson, an electrician, who also examined 45 yards of the cable next to the machine by passing it through his hands as it was taken up the face. He found nothing wrong with it or the pommels. The pommel was inserted in the switch panel and William B. Rushforth, the assistant electrician, stood there ready to switch on. Lodge had previously been up to this machine and made his usual examination for gas in the general body of air about 10 yards on each side of it with the flame safety lamp he carried. He found no gas.

The other pommel was fixed to the machine and Lodge shouted for the machine to go down the face to have the power put on. As soon as Rushforth switched on, and before Lodge had time to put in the machine switch, there was a flash from the trailing cable, and Rushforth which was still held of the switch handle, immediately heard shouts of “Switch off again” but the switch had tripped automatically. Witnesses agreed that the flash occurred at a point about 20 yards below the coalcutter and Dawson and the deputy later found there a hole in the new cable which was half to three-quarters of an inch in diameter and appeared to extend down to one of the cores. Mr. Rowell, the safety engineer, also saw the hole when he examined the cable some hours afterwards.

The flash from the cable ignited firedamp and Frederick Wood and Ephraim Wilson were burned. Wood died some days later. Prior to switching off the current wood had been freeing the coalcutter jib. He then went up the face and was thought to have been somewhere opposite the top waste when he was caught by the flame. His clothes were set on fire and he ran out of the tailgate to the level where he was overtaken by M. Walsh and C. Bailey, having discarded his pants which were still burning and had to be extinguished. He refused first aid treatment and they put a coat over him and a lad gave him his pants after which he was taken to the pit bottom and from there to the Ambulance room on the surface where he was treated and sent to the hospital. Ephraim Wilson was working at the top left corner of the face and ran out down the tailgate. He was burned on his shoulders, arms, hands and head. He was taken to hospital and was unable to give evidence at the inquiry as he was too ill.

Roof breaks appeared regularly after each cut. The afternoon shift overman stated that as result of a heavy weighting over the weekend there was an open break about 40 yards long, along the face and roof on the gob side but the afternoon shift deputy and others said they knew nothing of this weight and the roof appeared normal. It seemed that the two breaks nearest the face had opened more than normal and when seen later by the manager and the safety engineer they had widened to several inches during to the settlement of the strata. The Inspector commented:

It is desirable, especially in gassy seams, that open breaks at the face should be avoided as far as is practicable by careful attention to roof control.

Lodge and Dawson were at the machine when the flash occurred and Lodge said that the flash hit the roof and then died out leaving a fire in the roof and gas was on fire at the break. The flame which was 2 feet from the roof and 4 feet 6 inches wide billowed slowly up the face to the machine, went back to where it originated, returned and went up the tailgate. Both men rushed to the waste opposite the machine and got behind the pack where they remained until flame passed. They then went out to the loader gate. The overman Rawson was at the ripping edge in the new loader gate and from where he stood he could see up the face. He noticed the flash and said, “as the flame went into the break in the roof it flashed up and down both ways in the breaks to within 10 yards of me and across into the gob straight over the pans and along the face.”

After the explosion, Rawson withdrew all the men from the Fenton seam and also gave instructions for their withdrawal from the Parkgate seam. He then found that three fires had been started. A small one on the face and two others in the gob, one in the second waste from the tailgate and another in the third waste. The deputy and two overmen were sent to deal with these while Rawson went to the telephone to report what had occurred.

The fire at the face was of small coal and was quickly dealt with by applying stone dust. Those in the wastes were 4 or 5 yards in from the face. deputy Lunn’s first impression was that heaps of small coal or gummings had got on fire but on thinking about the matter he changed his mind and at the inquiry thought that it was gas burning. These fires were extinguished by about six bags of stone dust. The overman was of the same opinion at first, that it was the coal that was one fire but later thought it could be gas that was burning.

After the fires had been dealt with, smoke was discovered in the left tailgate coming from a break over the gate side pack from the first waste and about 10 yards back from the face. When he went into the waste, Lunn saw a “very fierce blue flame” beyond a big fall which stopped him seeing if it came from the floor or the roof. He thought it was gas burning and the flame seemed to fill the whole of the opening over an old fall which had come down on the 27th January when the roof broke down and closed the face. Fire extinguishers were applied through the opening and appeared to have extinguished the flame but there was still a great deal of heat. This was about 1 to 9.30 p.m.

Rowell and McNeill, the manager of the Barrow Colliery, reached the “B” face about 9.40 p.m. They found smoke coming from the right-hand side between the hurdle sheet and the ripping lip and there was a layer of smoke and steam and 4 per cent of gas 6 inches deep against the roof which extended back for about 8 yards from the ripping lip to about half a yards short of the hurdle sheet. In the first waste the undermanager and others were working throwing back the debris, and as it was warm, mixing stone dust with it to prevent it getting on fire. The Agent and manager arrived at about 9.50 p.m. and found these conditions. In the waste, there was little smoke hanging near the roof and some heating in the region of the old fall near the gate side pack. To improve the ventilation in the tailgate the sheets in the loader gate were tightened up, a second hurdle sheet was also erected in the tailgate about 2 yards from the ripping lip. This cleared the smoke and gas. Later a sheet was erected in the main plane leading to “A” face to force more air to the “B” district.

In the meantime, a scouring about 3 feet square was started through the gate side pack towards the old fall and when this had gone about 20 yards, the broken roof was encountered and two pieces of red hot timber got out. Working the waste was proceeding when Mr. Baker a Junior Inspector arrived about 10.45 p.m. Gummings and dirt were being cleared fro the floor and timber erected to secure the roof in the waste. Baker examined a yard or two into the waste and could find no firedamp and as there was no visible fire he concluded the heated material would be soon got out and he returned to the surface to report to his Senior Inspector. Before he left he asked Mr. Longden to let him know the position by telephone when he came out of the pit. An examination of the whole face by the manager showed normal conditions everywhere except in the first waste.

John Hayes, a ripper and colliery rescue brigade man reached the district as a member of the second rescue brigade just after 11 p.m. and went to work in the waste to relieve Mr. Pilkington with whom he then took two short spells shovelling the material out and throwing it back to Lunn and others behind him. A way was then cleared through the middle of the old fall and this work went on for half an hour or more. Leaning over the fall at the centre where Hayes was working the manager was able to put his lamp up and see into the gob for about 6 or 7 yards but saw no fire or flame. At the left side, there was a normal gob temperature and no smoke but on the top of the fall where Hayes was, the manager “got the temperature, and 2 yards from the right-hand pack the temperature got you whether you were standing up of kneeling”. In the gate he noticed thick smoke puffing out through the break over the pack and found 3 per cent gas at the ripping lip coming from a small separation about 9 inches from the roof. About this time a brattice sheet was put up across the face into the waste to cool the place for Hayes and others who were working at the fall.

At about 11.35 to 11.40 p.m. Hayes was slightly burned on the left arm and right ear. He had noticed a cavity just over the fall and a red glow which he said, “seemed to be shadowed in the cavity from a fire in the waste there was smoke going up into this cavity and then coming out travelling along the roof over my head as I was shovelling. While I was shovelling all at once I head a rumble and then there was a flame which came out and burnt me.”

Mr. Longden was in the gate at this time and heard a noise like a fall of dirt in the waste. He and Mr. McNeill examined the waste where they found 4 per cent firedamp just beyond the end of the brattice sheet about halfway between the roof and the floor. A brattice sheet was hung from the roof and went to the floor to direct as much air as possible into the waste to clear this gas. The heat in the waste had been increasing and was becoming almost unbearable. Longden thought that this was the case by gas burning in the hole and a flame had been wafted out by a fall in the waste beyond the fall. It seemed unsafe to continue work and he withdrew all the twenty men.

A conference was held at the bottom of the tailgate by the colliery officials and Mr. George Martin, President of the local branch of the Yorkshire Miners Association was present and it was unanimously decided to seal off the district. Longdon explained that the position had become critical and the decision had to be taken quickly with no time to consult anyone else. At the inquiry, Longdon agreed that the Divisional Inspector could have been informed but it did not occur to him at the time.

The face selected for the stoppings was at the drifts about 600 yards from “B” face and a start was made at about 12.30 a.m. on the 17th February there was no evidence of the work being held up at any time through lack of material and progress was maintained under the supervision of the agent, manager and undermanager evidence was taken that the intake stopping was 25 feet long and the return stopping 24 feet. The manager described the construction of the intake stopping thus:

The intake drift was supported by arched girders. After the rails and cable had been removed and the compressed air pipes have broken, the first two feet was built of stone packers intermixed with bags of stone dust forming the inbye facing. Two long girders were then placed at an angle across the road between two sets of arches and spragged by two short girders. Some old rails and pipes were inserted as sprags.

The return stopping was built similarly except that no girders or rails were put in support but at the centre of the stopping there was an existing door frame built into the brickwork and this served as reinforcement. Near the top of each stopping, a passage was left for air and at about 11.40 a.m. the plugging or sealing was commenced and continued simultaneously by means of sandbags. The manager estimated that 30 yards would be required to complete the plugging, and half an hour before the plugging started, 130 sandbags were filled. The sand was transported in tubs along the main plane to a point near the intake stopping where the bags were filled. During the building of the stopping, regular tests were made in the return air for firedamp and a reading of 1.38 per cent was found just before the plugging was completed. There appeared to be no decrease in the flow after the plugging had been completed and it was not until 5 to 10 minutes before the explosion that the circulation of the air through the stopping seemed to stop.

At 12.40 p.m., twelve and a half hours after the erection of the stoppings had begun and half an hour after starting to plug, 4 yards of the plugging had been completed when the major explosion occurred which blew out the stoppings. Two fillers, who were working near the intake stopping, were partially buried by sand but survived. One said that the bags in front of the stopping, “stated to move as if somebody was shoving them and then came with a rush”. The movement started at the top and not at the plug hole and he saw a blue flame come over the stopping and pass over his head. The other man said that the saw no flame. Mr. Longton, who was standing about 15 yards from the stopping, talking to Martin and Tom Brown, who were local officials, said, “there was a thump, and I seemed to be projected forward.” He was later found unconscious 80 yards further outbye.

At or near the return stopping there were 18 men including two Inspectors, Houston and Baker and Mr. Rowell. Mr. Baker was taking a final air sample when the explosion occurred and said he heard rumbles like three or four peals of thunder in quick succession, followed buy a rush of air and dust. Mr. Rowell’s impression was of a dull heavy thud followed by four more distinct thuds in the space of a second, and then the stopping plug blew. Afterwards dense clouds of fumes came through the hole and lasted for some minutes.

All the men at the return stopping escaped injury but the deputy who was in the plug hole and two others suffered from shock. After they had all assembled in the South East return in the practically fresh air and it was decided that Mr. Barker should accompany them to the shaft bottom and then report to the surface. True to the high conditions of mining men for coolness and courage in the face of danger, the others elected to stay and help the men at the other stopping.

Two of the rescue men went through first wearing breathing apparatus to the intake side to look at the position. The first door was closed, the second had previously been removed from its hinges and the third was found open. Between the second and third doors, they found an injured boy whom they carried back and reported that a lot of men were lying helpless in the intake, some apparently dead.

The men who died were:

Arthur Brown aged 35 years, filer who died from asphyxia.
William Burns aged 31 years, filer who died from a fractured skull.
John Thomas Cocking aged 38 years, collier who died from concussion and blast.
John Albert Harrott aged 39 years, assistant manager who died from asphyxia and bruising to the chest.
William Hinchcliffe aged 45 years, filler who died from shock and a fractured ankle.
William Larkin aged 55 years, overman who died from a fractured skull.
Verdi Lowe aged 54 years, filler who died from concussion and blast.
Robert Henry Luck aged 51 years, overman who died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
George Martin aged 54 years, repairer who died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Ernest Pilkington aged 37 years undermanager who died from a fractured skull and carbon monoxide poisoning.
William Rushforth aged 31 years, filler who died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Charles Wright aged 41 years, filler, who died from concussion and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Frederick Wood aged 34 years, filler who died from toxaemia following extensive burns.

The inquiry into the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Barnsley Main Colliery, Barnsley, Yorkshire on the 16th and 17th February 1942, was conducted by J.R. Felton, O.B.E., H.M. Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines. The inquiry and the inquest were held jointly by arrangement with Mr. Sanderson H.B. Gill, H.M. Deputy (and Acting) Coroner at the Town Hall, Barnsley on the 25th March to 10th April. The report was presented to Major The Right Honourable G. Lloyd George, M.P., Minister of Fuel and Power on the 11th August 1842.

The verdict of the Coroner was as follows:

Frederick Wood died from toxaemia due to burns sustained from an ignition of gas caused by the fusing of an electric trailing cable attached to a coal cutter. the other twelve men died from the causes stated in the medical evidence following an explosion in the Barnsley Main Colliery whilst they were working as members of a rescue party sealing off a district in the mine which had got on fire, the deaths being by misadventure in each case.

After all the victims had been removed, Mr. Houston and Mr. Rothwell went through the doors without breathing apparatus. They found the top of the intake stopping had been blown off and they saw seven dead. All those alive were examined; the last of these men was Mr. Longden.

It was clear that the first explosion was one of firedamp ignited by a flash from a coalcutter trailing cable. Since this cable had just reached the face after being repaired at the Company’s Barrow Colliery and sent to the Barnsley Main Colliery great attention was directed on to it. Professor Statham gave evidence and Mr. Felton agreed “that the matter of design, construction and use of trailing cables is one that is requiring further investigation, and suggest that as soon as circumstances permit a Committee should be set up for this purpose, on which cable makers, electrical experts and managers should be represented.”

As to the presence of firedamp and the ventilation of the face, it was evident that the lengthening of the face and its change in direction brought about a new set of conditions, and the method of ventilating the face ought to have been adjusted to meet them. As to whether the normal method of ventilation a fast end was by means of slits and an air passage along the rib side, there was some difference of opinion but it was agreed that from the point at which the pack was reduced it was built to the solid rib. On the 10th February on inspection was made of the district by Mr. E. Netherwood, Inspector of the Yorkshire Mines Safety Board, and Mr. G Martin and they reported as follows:

Ventilation is generally good. Feeders of gas were found in the left-hand corner of “B” face and also at the ripping on the left-hand tailgate and of the new loader gate.

All the evidence pointed to the major explosion having originated in the top waste and it was not possible to say definitely what was burning in the gob behind the fall. It was small coal and or timber that was smouldering then the erection of the brattice sheet across the entrance might have had the effect of fanning the fire. Whatever flame or heating there was beyond the fall it seemed to the Inquiry that there was a reasonable chance of it being extinguished by the application of water. The Inquiry commented:

A supply of water through pipelines and hose extensions posses the obvious advantage over the alternative method of supply and should be adopted wherever practicable, particular in mechanized areas.

At the colliery, barrels of water and a manual pump were taken to the “B” face but the water was not used, fire extinguishers being preferred.

Attention at the inquiry then turned to the major explosion which was an explosion of firedamp and whether coal dust played a part could not be determined but the evidence pointed to the fact that it did not. The accumulation of gas was ultimately ignited either by the flame from gas which had continued to burn at the break and then was forced down or by burning material in the waste. The Inspector was unable to say which.

The place chosen for the stoppings to be built was regarded by the inquiry as the most suitable but the large number of men that were used to erect the stoppings came under criticism from the miner’s representatives and it was thought that this had led to a greater death toll. The Inquiry commented:

While such work is in progress and particularly in the later stages when the air is being cut off, it is most important that the number of men exposed to risk should be reduced to a minimum compatible with the demands of efficiency and speed.

At the time there were 62 men within 30 yards from the stoppings but only 12, including four officials, on the intake side who lost their lives. With these proceedings at the Inquiry terminated and the report was presented to Parliament.


The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Mossfied Colliery, Longton, Staffordshire on the 21st. March 1940 by J.R. Felton, O.B.E., H.M. Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 18th September 1942, p.339, 25th September, p. 367, 30th June, 11948, p.515.

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

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