BENTLEY. Doncaster, Yorkshire. 20th. November, 1931.
Bentley Colliery was the property of Messrs. Barber, Walker and Company Limited and the explosion took place in the North-East District of the Barnsley Seam at 5.45 p.m. on Friday 20th November 1931. The workings were divided into eight districts with independent intake and return airways so that any district could quickly be isolated. The coal was worked by longwall method and gates from 40 to 44 yards part and crossgates 150 yards apart. The packs at the side of the gates and crossgates were 3 yards and those in the banks 2 yards wide, the wastes between the bank packs were 14 feet wide. The gateside and crossgate side packs were built of bind and clunch (shale and fireclay) but for the bank packs, it was necessary to use a proportion of coal since there was no other material available. The coal that was used was the Top Softs or “Conny” Coal and it was left as the roof at the face but ripped down in the gates, none was filled out of the wastes. A section of the seam that was taken in the southern end of the North-East District the September before the disaster was 1 foot 9 inches of coal (Day Beds), 2 feet 9 inches of Clunch, 4 feet of Top Softs (Conny Coal), one-inch dirt parting, 3 feet 10 inches of Barnsley Coal, 5 inches of Jacks, 1 foot 8 inches of Bottom Softs and finally 3 inches of fireclay.
The mine was ventilated by a Capell single inlet fan. There were two such fans but both were not used at the same time and according to the measurements taken on the 2nd. November, the total quantity of air passing per minute was 370,282 cubic feet at a water gauge of 1.7 inches. According to the same record, there were 28,044 cubic feet per minute entering the North East District by two intakes. The workmen used electric hand lamps and in addition, one man in each stall took in a flame safety lamp to make tests for firedamp. The flame lamp for any individual stall was not necessarily always taken in by the same workman. Checks, one for each stall, were hung on a board in the lamp room and the first man of a stall to arrive took the appropriate check from the board an exchanged it for a flame lamp. This lamp and his electric lamps he carried inbye and made an examination for firedamp in the gate road and along the stall.
On average one hundred tons of stone dust were sent into the mine each month. The material that was used was the material that was got down in back ripping the roof of the roads and ground to the required fineness at the colliery. Dust samples were collected and examined by the Colliery Chemist and the attention of the Colliery Manager and Agent were called to any sample in which the incombustible matter was 60 per cent or less. The chemist sent the particulars of samples to the overman on a special pink form and the overman made arrangements to be sent to the places that required attention. He also telephoned the deputy in the district to say that he was sending in stone dust and told him where it was to be used. At the end of the shift, the deputy reported on the pink form the length of the road which had been redusted and the number of tubs that had been used.
Mr. Donald McGregor was the Agent and Mr. Albert Longdon and Mr. Thomas Cook were the Manager and Undermanager. On each of the three shifts, there was an overman on charge and under him there were two district overmen, each of whom had four districts under his supervision. the eight ventilation districts were divided into nine deputies districts each of which was supervised during the 24 hours by four deputies, so, as each deputy worked an eight-hour shift, there was an overlap in each district amounting to eight hours in the 24. Every deputy made two examinations during his shift and recorded the results of the examinations in the statutory report book. There were also eight other deputies whose duty it was to inspect and supervise the work done in the main, travelling and return roads. They also recorded their results in the report book.
In addition, one overman and three deputies, known as the P.F.G. (Prevention of Gob Fires) staff, were employed solely for the purpose of dealing with heatings detected whether by themselves or others. These deputies made their reports in the statutory report book at the end of their shift and also recorded their findings in the P.G.F. book, the work that had been done by the men under their supervision. The overmen in all cases made reports using a copy of the Deputy’s statutory report book for the purpose.
On average 1,000, 990 and 400 men and boys were employed on the day, afternoon and night shifts respectively and their hours and those of the overmen and deputies, made a complicated system with the men going down on the day shift at 6 a.m. until 1.30 p., those on the afternoon shift going down at 2 p.m. and coming up at about 9.45 p.m. and those on the night shift descending at 10 p.m. and coming up at 5.30 a.m.
In the North-East District workings at the time of the explosion, there were 85 men working. Of these 2 were deputies, Harry Hartley and James Hughes, 49 colliers, 11 byeworkers, 2 bricklayers, and 21 connected with the haulage. The 140’s new crossgate had cut off the rib-side gate, the 140’s Old Gate, and as was customary seals were being put in at the inbye and outbye ends of that old gate. All the supports had been withdrawn from the old gate and a seal at each end had been made during the day. Men were engaged in reinforcing these seals by packs at the time of the explosion.
At 4.20 p.m. the outgoing deputy Edward Gold Swift completed his second inspection. The deputy in charge of the district, James Hughes, after conferring with Swift, left the meeting station at the outbye end of the 140’s new crossgate at 4.30 p.m. on his first round of inspection. Hughes had been informed by Swift that a little gas was being given off at the seal at the outbye end of the 140’s Old Gate and he went to this place first. He found J.H. Rowe and W. Brockenhurst at work there finishing off the third pack of the seal. He made a test for gas and found a trace just as Swift had. This was the only indication of gas that he found during his inspection which he had completed by 5.40 p.m. and wit the exception of a fall in the 149’s left bank, which did not impede the ventilation everything was in good order. As Hughes described it as “Everything seemed beautiful”.
Having finished his inspection, Hughes went down 140’s crossgate to its junction with the main road, 148’s, and when he was there about 5.45 p.m. to quote his own words, “there was a regular flash of wind and dust”. Hughes telephoned to the pit bottom office explaining that something was very serious that had happened and that the management should be notified. A telephone message was sent at once from that office to Mr. Cook the undermanager at his house, Mr. Cook telephoned the Manager, Mr. Longdon who in turn telephoned the Agent’s house and went to the colliery office where he found Cook waiting for him. Further information was then available and Longdon sent Cook underground, summoned members of the Colliery Rescue Teams, telephoned local doctors, H.M. Inspector of Mines, the Central Rescue Station and sent a message to the house of the local representative of the workmen Mr. W.J. Ballham.
Cook, on getting down the pit, found that William Fisher, the overman in charge of the shift, had already summoned rescue men and ambulance men at work in several districts of the mine to collect stretchers in their districts and bring them to the pit bottom. After telling Fisher to send these men with others into the North East District to render assistance, Mr. Cook went inbye.
Deputy Hughes was at the 140’s crossgate junction. Soon after he had felt the rush of wind and dust, and before the dust had settled, Dan Maloney, who had been at work in the 142’s stall, came down 144’s new crossgate. He was badly burned. He was followed by Arthur Kirkland from 143’s stall. Kirkland, although badly burned had lifted a tub off a boy, Thomas Hannon, whose foot was trapped near the 143’s junction and Hannon followed him out. Hannon was followed by a collier Horace Windle who had been at work in the 140’s stall. He to was badly burned. These four men were assisted by some of those in the district who had not been injured and taken to the pit bottom where they received first aid. Only one other man, Harry Roberts, came out of the face. He was helped by a driver John Ward, who at the moment of the explosion was at the outbye end of the passbye and had heard someone trying to get outbye past the tubs. He went at once to help Roberts and took him to the 140’s new crossgate junction. Roberts, aided by a contractor, George Bailey, walked to the pit bottom where he also received first aid.
In the meantime, one of the stallmen, Harry Clarke, had come out to the main road from 150’s stall by way of 149’s stall and the junction of 150’s crossgate with the main road and saw Hughes, who finding that Clarke was from 149’s and 150’s were uninjured, told Clarke to bring then out to give assistance. Other uninjured men led by a corporal, Frank Sykes, had gone up 140’s new crossgate as a far as the door just beyond 142’s junction, they looked through the door but did not go further because it was too hot.
A gob fire deputy, Harry Hartley, who was supervising work on the main road about three-quarters of a mile outbye felt the ventilation change which stirred up a great cloud of dust. At first, he thought that a compressed air pipe had burst and went 200 yards outbye with one of his workmen, found nothing and returned inbye, followed by two haulage hands. Some of these together with the uninjured men already in the district under the direction of Hughes went to the face starting at 148’s and moved some of the injured men from 148’s, 147’s and 146’s stalls into the gates. They could do this since the ventilation had been retired and the dust had cleared. While they were taking these men out, the undermanager, Mr. Cook arrived.
A few minutes later the Agent, Mr McGregor came in with William Brown, the night overman an after visiting the 148’s stall and 146’s crossgates telephoned Mr. Longdon whom McGregor had instructed to remain at the surface to wait for H.M. Inspectors to organise a dressing station, to get blankets, stretchers, dressings and to ask the neighbouring collieries to send their motor ambulances. From this time onwards the work of recovering the injured and the dead was carried on until 11 p.m. when as far as was known at the time all the bodies had been recovered. Later it was found out from deputy Hughes that some of the men had been working in 141’s return, outbye of the junction of 140’s new crossgate and an attempt was then made to rescue these men by getting into the return via 140’s old crossgate but owing to intense heat and smoke this attempt had to be abandoned and the bodies of five men, J.W. Rowe, W. Brocklehurst, S. Mason, J.H. Smith and T. Dove were not recovered.
The work done to recover those who had been enveloped by the explosion divides itself into two parts, namely, the work was done immediately following the explosion and that done later.
Immediately following the explosion there were at or near the outbye end of 140’s new crossgate the following persons: James Hughes, deputy, Frank Sykes, Corporal, Richard Edward Darker, road contractor, Norman McMullen and Norman Moult, drivers and Henry Oakland, road contractor. On the main haulage road (148’s) between 140’s new and 140’s old crossgates were Oliver Soulsby and William Follows, haulage hands Phillip William Yates, haulage engine driver and William Heath, pony driver, were on 148’s road between the doors across that road at the outbye end oft 150’s crossgate. John Ward, pony driver was at the outbye end of the face passbye in 148’s gate and Ernest March, the corporal, was in the same gate some eight yards on the outbye side of Ward.
In 149’s stall there were Alfred Stringfellow, Leonard Yeomans, Albert Taylor, Charles Rooke and Arthur Eveson, colliers, in 150’s stall, Harry Clarke, Percy Devey, Frederick Franklin, Clarence Harding and Irvine Spencer, colliers near the outbye end of 150’s gate Arthur and George Bailey, contractors.
Harry Hartley, deputy, George Rollinson and Thomas Holloway, bricklayers J, Glancy and Richard William Booth, byeworkers were at the junction of the old North East and new North East haulage roads and at or near the same junction were Sydney Walter Waddoups, Arthur Wakelan and James William Beardsley, haulage hands.
All these men and youths gave help in one way or another after the explosion and details of some of their work are as follows:
Frank Sykes, the Corporal, who was standing on the main haulage road (148’s) opposite 140’s new crossgate at the time of the explosion, felt a sudden rush of wind outbye along 148’s followed by a very thick cloud of dust. he was blown over and could hardly see the light of his lamp. Before the dust had settled, he and Norman McMullen, pony driver, went inbye on 140’s new crossgate and at the travelling road (147’s), met Daniel Maloney who had been working in 142’s gate, walking out by himself. They took him to the main road junction and put some clothing on him and then started up 140’s new crossgate and met Arthur Kirkland, who had been working in 143’s gate just inbye of the travelling road. Kirkland told Sykes that there was lad under some full tubs who had asked for help but he could not do so as he was much burnt. Kirkland was taken to the main road junction by Sykes and McMullen and they then went inbye again and near the door just beyond the travelling road, met Thomas Hannon, pony driver, the lad whom Kirkland had said was under some full tubs and had not been able to help because he was burnt. As a fact, Kirkland had liberated Hannon. Hannon was taken to the main road junction and Sykes and McMullen again went inbye and on this occasion near 144’s gate, they met Horace Windle, who had walked out from the fast end of 140’s stall.
Further work by Frank Sykes will be referred to later. Norman McMullen and George Bailey were on their way outbye with Windle and Hannon when they met Harry Hartley, deputy, and his four men on their way inbye. One of the latter, Thomas Holloway, turned back and helped to take Windle first to the ambulance office at the pit bottom and thence to the surface ambulance room were Doctors Young, Erskine and Lind Walker attended to him. Holloway, as will be found later, returned underground to give further assistance.
Arthur Bailey started outbye from 140’s junction with Daniel Maloney but. more assistance being required, George Rollinson joined them and they got as far as the junction of the old North East and new North East haulage roads where a stretcher was improvised and Maloney was carried to the pit bottom on it by Bailey, Rollinson and two haulage hands, Arthur Wakelan and James William Beardsley. Kirkland was accompanied outbye by the two driver lads, Norman Moult and William Heath.
Maloney and Windle died the following day and Kirkland five days later. Happily, the boy Hannon, survived.
John Ward, the pony driver, at the moment of the explosion was standing in 148’s gate some 20 yards from the face with his back to it. He was thrown forward on to his face, and his pony which was facing him, on it’s hind legs and then falling just missed him. Ward saw no flame but the dust was choking – it was so thick he could not see the light of his lamp which was on his belt. He called out to Ernest Marsh, corporal, who was some eight yards further out and Marsh replied that he was all right. He (Ward) heard the men in 148’s face shouting, so, guiding himself by the rails and the tubs, he went towards the face. He met and helped out a man, Harold Robertson who had his right arm broken and was burned down to below the waist but who happily recovered. He could not see Roberts because of the dust but feeling his way out by the rails, helped him out to 140’s new crossgate end where he saw the deputy, James Hughes and others, including the injured collier, Daniel Maloney and the injured driver boy, Thomas Hannon. He told the deputy that the men were fast in 148’s stall and taking up his drinking flask, he returned to that stall and there found W. Middleton on the flat sheets with a leg fast under two full tubs and one of them broken. Ward moved the lumps of coal and then a collier, G. Bentley, came out of the right bank and Ward assisted him as far as the middle of the full set of rubs in the passbye, but could get no further because the empty set blocked the way. He tried to push out the empties but could not do so, so he went outbye for help. On his way outbye he met the deputy, James Hughes, who told him to go into 150’s face and tell the men there to hurry out. He, however, saw a haulage hand, Sydney Walter Waddoups who had come inbye from the junction of the old and new East haulage roads, and asked him to come into 148’s face to help him and then was on his way to hurry 150’s men when he met them coming put, gave them the deputy’s message and returned to 184’s face. The men from 149’s and 150’s then came and with Ward and Waddoups, shoved the empty tubs outbye to the haulage rope end, whence a pony driver, Richard Edward Darker drew them out on the haulage engine.
Atkinson, Bentley and Middleton were carried a short distance outbye by 149’s and 150’s men, who, after going into the other stalls and recovering injured men from them, later acted as stretcher-bearers to the surface ambulance room, and some of whom namely, A. Stringfellow, L. Yeomans, A. Taylor, C, Rook and F. Franklin, returned underground to give further help.
After Atkinson, Bentley and Middleton had been moved from the face, Ward went to 140’s new crossgate junction, passing Samuel Cook, deputy, on the way, where he saw Frank Sykes, corporal and Oliver Soulsby, driver. Wards’ further work is interwoven with that of Sykes and Soulsby, and is referred to later.
Of those at or near the outbye end of 140’s new crossgate when the explosion occurred, Richard Edward Darker, pony driver, was blown on to his face on the main haulage road (148’s). he walked a short way outbye and then joined Oliver Soulsby and William Follows, haulage hands. The three then went, via 140’s old crossgate, from the haulage road (148’s) to the travelling road (147’s) and then turning inbye came to 140’s new crossgate, where they saw Frank Sykes.
Henry Oakland, road contractor, who, with Henry Beastall, was, prior to the explosion, setting steel arches in 146’s crossgate, had come out of 140’s new crossgate to get a foot block and had just gone a few yards on his return journey when the explosion occurred. He spoke to the deputy, James Hughes, wondering what had happened, and saying no matter what the consequences might be, he was going for his mate Beastall. William Follows said he would go with him and they (Oakland and Follows) set off inbye and went up 146’s crossgate, where the found Beastall and Hopkinson, just beyond where the door had been. Oakland went outbye for help Follows staying with the injured men, and shortly returned with Phillip William Yates and Oliver Soulsby and a stretcher. Oakland, Yates and Soulsby carried Beastall’s body outbye to 140’s crossgate junction, where it was laid on one side, and Oakland returned with the stretcher to fetch Hopkinson. H. Clarke one of the men from 150’s stall, and R.W. Booth one of H. Hartley’s men, going with him, and these four men carried Hopkinson to the ambulance room at the surface.
Hopkinson died in hospital the following day. He had been badly burned and had a broken thigh he was an ambulance man and, through in such great distress, he had the great fortitude to direct those who came to help him, exactly as how to treat his broken thigh.
To return to Frank Sykes, corporal, when Darker, Soulsby and Follows, returning inbye via the travelling road (147’s) met on 140’s new crossgate. He (Sykes) with Soulsby and Darker went inbye on 140’s new crossgate and found pony driver Hannon’s pony between 144’s and 143’s, but seeing no men, took the pony to the main haulage road. Sykes there saw H. Roberts whom Ward had assisted out of 148’s and then telephoned to the pit bottom office asking for stretchers and assistance and said there had been an explosion extending from 140’s to 148’s. He and Darker the went up the new crossgate again and Sykes, looking through the door between 142’s and 141’s, saw that beyond the door the crossgate was full of smoke and very hot. They returned to the main road and went inbye; Sykes, with John Wards and Ernest Marsh into 146’s crossgate and Darker into 148’s stall. Sykes Ward and Marsh passed Beastall, who was being carried out, and which they carried out Albert Edward Huckerby and another man. Sykes and Marsh then got John Llewellyn out of 147’s stall and took him outbye via 158’s and 140’s old crossgate to the travelling road, where they met Mr. T. Cook, undermanager, on his way inbye, and ten two men, William Henry Potter, and George Robinson, with a stretcher. They put Llewellyn on the stretcher and he was then carried to the pit bottom by Marsh and Robinson, Sykes returning inbye, Potter going with him, to 146’s crossgate, where they met the deputies, James Hughes, Harry Hartley and Oliver Soulsby and John Ward in the 148’s crossgate. Richard Edward Darker in the meantime had gone into 148’s stall, and having assisted to bring out the men there rejoined Sykes and Ward, and with them had Hughes and Hartley and Phillip William Yates carried four men out of 147’s stall. The men from 149’s and 150’s stalls, with T. Holloway, R.W. Booth, J. Glancy and R. Pritchard, then came, and with their help, the injured were moved from the faces into the gate-roads, 145’s and 143’s men being taken into the 144’s gate.
Ward and Soulsby assisted in this work as far as 144’s and then, being exhausted, returned along the face to 146’s and the down the crossgate to the main road (148’s) where at the haulage engine they saw J.E. Peck, who was receiving the attention of Doctor Lind Walker, and they, with A. Stringfellow and two others, helped to carry Peck outbye to the pit bottom, arriving there about 9 p.m. when they went home.
Phillip William Yates assisted on the face as far as 145’s, but the sights becoming too much for him, he retired outbye and thereafter assisted to carry out stretcher cases.
Sykes, T. Holloway, Darker and another man who had come from the shaft bottom carried an injured man from 144’s gate to the pit bottom, and Sykes and Darker, being asked by the overman (Bernard Frost), who was in charge there, to return to the district, they did so and with R. Pritchard and another lad helped to carry out the body of a dead man, R. Derrick from 143’s gate to the surface. Holloway went on to the infirmary, where he gave further assistance until after midnight.
John Moss, deputy, accompanied by Henry Murray and Vernon Kerry, also deputies, arrived at the pit bottom from other districts of the mine shortly before seven o’clock and going inbye into 147’s gate carried an injured man from there to the main road (148’s) and then going along the face beyond 143’s gate with deputy Frank Beal and Joseph Edward Sharpe, a rescue man, brought out of 143’s left bank and 142’s stall five injured men and carried them into 144’s gate where Dr. Lind Walker and deputies James Hughes and Samuel Cook and the ambulance men had established a dressing station and where they were joined later by Dr. Hargreaves.
Samuel Cook, the afternoon shift deputy in the North-West District, had already done good work in the faces, bandaging the injured and helping to get them out into the gates.
Moss, Kerry, Beal and Sharpe did not get into 141’s left bank but carried to 14’s gate another injured man who was brought out by Robert Bestwick, Ernest Allport and Alfred Clay, rescue men and then a further injured man, also brought out by these rescue men with the help of a deputy Frank Lee, who was not wearing breathing apparatus.
At this time there was a fire in the first waste on 142’s right bank and a prop in front of 141’s left side gate pack was smouldering.
All the injured and dead from the face between 148’s and 141’s had now been accounted for and there remained those in 140’s stall (with the exception of H. Windle who, as has been told, walked out) those in 141’s airway and Rowe and Brocklehurst, who were working at the seal at the outbye end of 140’s old gate.
Two rescue men (Frederick Tonkin and Henry Bond) at the request of Mr. P.L. Collinson, H.M. Junior Inspector of Mines who had gone down the pit in company with Messrs. Ballam and R. Curry, and who was at the time dealing with the prop which was burning, went into the 140’s fast side. They saw a body on 140’s flatsheets and another body 7 yards down 140’s new crossgate. Tonkin made a test for firedamp at the flatsheets and found three and a half per cent in the general body of the air. They came back and reported to Mr. D. Macaskill, the Rescue Station Superintendent, who was on the 140’s new crossgate at 144’s junction. They were then sent to assist other rescue men, Robert Bestwick, Joseph Ward, Alfred Clay and Ernest Allport, to put out a fire at 104’s new crossgate between 142’s and 141’s gates.
Mr. Thomas Cook, undermanager, who had gone down the pit about 6.20 p.m., went inbye to the North East District with T. Renshaw, deputy. On arriving there he found the work bringing the injured out of 148’s, 147’s and 146’s stalls being done as has already been described. He travelled along the face to 142’s stall where, from the waste in the right-hand bank, smoke was issuing. He came down 142’s gate on to 140’s new crossgate and saw a fire on that crossgate between 142’s and 141’s gates.
He then went to the meeting station and from there reported to Mr. Longon, manager by telephone, and asked for doctors, rescue men ambulance man stretchers and blankets. He then took charge of the rescue operations generally until the arrival of Albert Longdon, manager, who, on the instructions of Donald McGregor, Agent, was at the surface organising arrangements there and awaiting the arrival of Mr. E.H. Frazer, Divisional Inspector and Mr. H.J. Humphrys, Senior Inspector.
Mr. Longdon, Mr. Frazer and Mr. Humphrys went underground about 8.35 p.m. and after passing many stretcher parties on their way outbye arrived at 140’s new crossgate junction where they saw Mr, McGregor who had gone underground two hours earlier and of whom more will be said later. Mr. McGregor, who was suffering from the affects of afterdamp, told them that the top end of the district alone remained to be cleared and that rescue men had been right to 140’s stall.
The party then separated, Mr. Frazer going by way of 143’s gate and the face to 140’s fast end Mr Humphrys to the fire in the 140’s new crossgate, and Mr. Longdon, after seeing Mr. Thomas Cook, up 140’s new crossgate and into 142’s stall by way of 142’s gate. Mr. Longdon there saw smoke issuing from the first right-hand waste of 142’s stall, but saw no fire. he travelled outbye along the face to 145’s stall, going into 143’s and 144’s gates on the way. Retracing his step, he went to 141’s gate end and then down that gate to its junction with 140’s new crossgate, back up 141’s gate and then along the face into 140’s stall where smoke was coming out of the second right-hand waste. Near 140’s flatsheets he saw a body. He went into the fast end and there making a test for gas and found one and a half percent to be present. He came down the crossgate and saw another body. He then came back by way of the face and 142’s gate and 140’s new crossgate.
Mr. Frazer had already been through the face between 143’s and the fast end and had seen the smoke coming out of the first waste on the right side of 142’s gate and out of the waste immediately to the right of 140’s gate. He had tested for firedamp in the fast end, finding under two and a half percent to be present, and, after seeing the two bodies, just referred to, he retraced his steps and joined Mr. Humphrys at the fire in 140’s new crossgate.
Mr. Frazer and Mr. Humphrys, after receiving from Mr. Collinson a report as to what he had seen and down, went into the face by way of 143’s gate and on their way to the fast end passed Mr. Longdon who was on his way out. In the fast end they found the percentage of firedamp to be between two and two and a half they turned into the crossgate and came down it to 141’s, the return airway, where the atmosphere was thick with smoke from the fires in 142’s ad 140’s right side wastes and the fire in the crossgate, Mr. Frazer heard someone in the return airway moaning, so he and Mr. Humphrys ran back to 142’s junction by he way they had come for rescue men to get this live man out. Before the rescue men were ready, Mr. Frazer returned to the airway by way of the face, leaving Mr Humphrys to follow with the rescue men.
In the meantime, Mr. Humphrys and Mr. S.J. Temperley, Assistant Surveyor, two rescue men, William Henry Hall and John Jones, Mr. Macaskill, rescue Station Superintendent, these last there wearing rescue apparatus, and Samuel Watkinson, ambulance man and Henry Turner, collier, were on their way from 140’s new crossgate via 142’s gate and the face to the airway, when as they were passing through 140’s stall there was the second explosion and flame poured out of the waste, burning Hall, Watkinson, Turner and Mr. Macaskill, Hall a so severely he was confined to the hospital for several weeks afterwards.
Mr. Humphrys and Mr. Temperley went on, the others returned to 142’s junctions. and joined by Mr. Frazer at the entrance to the airway. They told him what had occurred and the egress via the face was impossible, whereupon they and he went down the crossgate, passing through the fire between 141’s and 142’s on their way.
Mr. Frazer asked for volunteers and Ernest Allport, who has already been mentioned, Walter Gillman and Cyril Davies, the two latter, members of the Bullcroft Colliery Rescue Brigade, all in rescue dress, went up the crossgate through the fire there and brought the two men out of the airway into the crossgate where they helped to take them outbye by Mr. Frazer, Mr Temperley and Samuel Watkinson.
There were still two bodies to be recovered, one in the fast end and the other neat 140’s flatsheets, and Mr. Frazer and Mr. Temperley went up 142’s gate with the intention of recovering the one in the fast end. They went along the face to 141’s but could not go beyond because of the afterdamp, smoke and heat, and they could see flames ahead. Accordingly, they turned down the 141’s gate then up 140’s crossgate, where the fumes were very bad, to the flatsheets they picked up the body there and managed to carry it down the crossgate to near 141’s junction. Mr. Frazer was exhausted and feeling he must get out, Mr. Temperley led him outbye by way of 141’s gate and the face as the fire in the crossgate between 142’s and 141’s had by then become much worse.
The question of the recovery of these two bodies, the only ones at that time known to be within the area affected by the explosion was then discussed by Mr. Frazer and Mr. Longdon, Mr. J.H. Allcock (Manager of the Bullcroft Colliery), Mr. Humphrys and others taking part. The feeling was that there was a great risk of losing more lives, but Mr. Frazer, in his anxiety that everything possible should be done, pressed that an attempt should be made, but feeling unfit to do so himself, asked Mr. Temperley, who knew where the bodies were, if he, although without apparatus, would lead the rescue men as far as he could get for the smoke and direct them where to find the bodies, Mr. Temperley at once agreed and he and four rescue men, Ernest Allport, George Needham, Isaac James Hallam and Edward Jenkins, the last three being members of the Bullcroft Colliery Rescue Brigade, with Mr. Allcock and Mr. Frazer, went up 142’s gate to the face, where Mr. Allcock and Mr. Frazer remained, thinking it was not advisable for them to go into the smoke again. The others went forwards, Mr. Temperley as far as the 141’s gate, passed two fires in 140’s wastes and brought out the body from the fast end of 142’s passbye, where it was put onto a stretcher and then carried by Mr. Allcock and Mr. Frazer to the bottom of the 142’s gate.
The rescue party and Mr. Temperley returned inbye and passing from the face down 141’s to the crossgate, Mr. Temperley remained at the face although the smoke was then so dense they should not see, recovered the body which Mr. Frazer and Mr. Temperley as has already been described, carried down the crossgate from 140’s flatsheets and brought it out by way of the face and down the 142’s gate to 140’s crossgate.
There was grave risk of a further explosion in the area where this work was being done and those without apparatus also ran the risk of being overcome by the foul atmosphere. As a fact a further explosion did occur shortly afterwards, but happily, by then all persons had been withdrawn from this area.
The name of the Agent, Mr. Donald MacGregor, has already been mentioned but nothing recorded of his movements. As mentioned in the Report, after instructing the Manager to remain on the surface to attend to essential work, Mr. MacGregor went down the pit and into the North East District where he arrived at about 7 o’clock. Being informed that the men in the 147’s and 148’s had been got out, he started at 146’s, intending to travel along the face to the return end. Ernest Hayes, an ambulance man, accompanied him as far as the left bank of 143’s, where he (Hayes) had a tragic experience of finding his own son terribly burned. Mr. MacGregor the went forward alone, but finding the atmosphere bad he returned along the face and went down 143’s gate to 140’s new crossgate, where he met three rescue men, Robert Bestwick, Ernest Allport and Alfred Clay. He returned with them, they coupling up their apparatus in 143’s gate, and led the way past a fire in the right waste of 142’s stall to 141’s stall. In 141’s stall, opposite the left gate pack, a broken wooden prop was burning and this Mr. MacGregor tried to put out with his cap. There were injured men in each of the banks and as stretchers were needed on which to remove them. Mr. MacGregor went to the telephone on 140’s new crossgate to hurry up their dispatch. He was by this time badly affected by afterdamp and although unable to do any further work on the face, he remained in the district until the bodies were recovered and the injured removed.
Such is the bald narrative of work well done. It should be added that offers of assistance were made by all the neighbouring collieries and that many volunteers came forwards and offered their services, whilst others stood by with their rescue brigades at their collieries ready at a moments notice should their services be needed.
There was a third explosion at about 1 a.m. just at the time when the exploring party was trying to get into 141’s return from the 140’s old crossgate. Prior on the attempt, it was evident that fires were raging and that further exploration of the district would have to be abandoned and the district sealed off by three seals at appropriate points. This work was taken in hand at 2 a.m. and completed 12 hours later. The work of reinforcing the seals went on for several shifts.
The men who died were:
From stall 140:
- W. Agnew,
- L. Guy,
- H. Windle, who died the following day.
From stall 141:
- H. Womack,
- G. Singleton,
- L. Sleath.
From stall 142:
- J.W. Grain,
- W. Prichett,
- C. Wilcock,
- H. Hibbert
- D. Maloney.
From stall 143:
- R.T. Derrick,
- J. Prichett,
- J.R. Greaves,
- A. Kirkland,
- C. Hayes
- J. Callaghan.
From stall 144-
- W. Farnsworth.
- W. Ward,
- J. Brett,
- J. Leyland
- A. Calladine
From stall 145:
- S.W. Templeman,
- H. Cheetham,
- H. Lawton
- S. Buxton.
From stall 146:
- T. Hopkinson,
- J, Allsop,
- A.E. Huckerby,
- J.E. Peck
From stall 147:
- T. Green,
- J. Brown,
- L. Jones
- J. Llewellyn.
From stall 148:
- G.R. Bentley,
- W. Middleton,
- C. Atkinson,
- A.E. Barcock
The bodies of five men were not recovered:
- J.W. Rowe,
- W. Brocklehurst,
- S. Mason, J.H. Smith and T. Dove.
- Walker and Hall injured in the second explosion and Hannon and H. Roberts????
The inquiry into the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred in the North-East district, Barnsley seam at the Bentley Colliery, Doncaster, Yorkshire on the 20th November 1932, was conducted by Sir Henry Walker, C.B.E., LL.D., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines, at the Co-operative Hall, John Street, Doncaster and opened on the 29th December 1931. All interested parties were represented and the proceedings lasted for eight days. The Report was presented to Isaac Foot, Esq., M.P., Secretary for Mines on the 18th April 1932.
Owing to the fires that were found after the explosion the consequent risk of further explosions, the work of recovering the bodies and the injured had to be done as quickly as possible and there was little time to take detailed observations as to the point of origin of the explosion. There was sufficient evidence to place the point of origin at the neighbourhood of the 140’s stall. Props at the face had been blown from south to north and the door at the 141’s had been blown outbye.
As to the cause, there were several alternatives, spontaneous combustion or a damaged safety lamp. There was no shotfiring and electricity was not used and the Inspector considered that matches or any other such means of ignition were unlikely. The inspector concluded that:
I think the explosion was caused by a gob fire either in the waste between 141’s and 140’s or in the old gate and in lean to the former for the reason that if the explosion originated in 140’s old gate and the force behind it, the brattice led into 140’s fast end would have been blown away and it was not.
The inquiry also recommended that some other material be used in the packs other than the “Conny” coal and the fact that there were discrepancies in the Report Books was also commented on. The Inspector concluded the report by saying:
I would like to put on record my admiration of the conduct of those engaged in the work of recovery, conduct which fully upheld the high traditions of the miner.
The Mines Inspectors Report.
The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred in the North-East district, Barnsley seam at the Bentley Colliery, Doncaster, Yorkshire on the 20th November 1931 by Sir Henry Walker H.M. Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines.
”It’s Like New Wine to See You Again, Lass”. Published to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary. Bentley November 1991.
Colliery Guardian, 27th November 1931, p.1805, 1809, 1st January 1932, p.34, 8th January, p.70, 15th January, p.117, 8th July, p.49.
Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.Return to previous page