CRIGGLESTON. Wakefield, Yorkshire. 29th. July, 1941.

The colliery was the property of Messrs. Benzol & By-Products Limited and was about three and a half miles south-west of Wakefield. The Agent and the Manager was Mr. F.B. Howitt. The seams that were worked at the colliery were the Top and Bottom Haigh Moor and the explosion occurred in the No.1 West District of the Top Haigh Moor seam which was 256 yards deep. The Bottom Haigh Moor seam was about 11 yards below had not been worked anywhere near the explosion area. The No.1 West District was opened out by taking a narrow bord face forward from which the end faces were developed to the right and left. Coal was first produced from these two faces on the 29th. April 1941 and at the time of the explosion, these faces were 100 and 110 yards long respectively. The seam was almost flat, 3 feet thick with a blue blind roof in which there were bands of ironstone. It was undercut in a 4-inch band of dirt. Over the seam was a 4-inch dirt band which usually came down with the coal. The district was fully mechanised and electricity was used for coal cutting, drilling, face conveyors, gate conveyors, haulage, a loader and signalling. Direct current at 500 volts was used for haulage and alternating current at 400 volts for the rest of the electrical plant.

Coal was loaded on the day shift and on the afternoon shift the face conveyors were dismantled, the seam undercut to a depth of 5 feet 6 inches, shotholes were bored, 7 feet to 9 feet apart in the coal and as required in the ripping gate lips, the ripping shots fired and the packs built. On the night shift, shots were fired in the coal, the face conveyors were re-assembled and the gate conveyors were moved forward. There were two deputies in the No.2 West District on the day shift, one deputy and one shot firer on the afternoon shift and one deputy and two shot firers on the night shift.

The quantity of air passing in the district was last measured before the explosion on the 30th. June 1941 was 10,600 cubic feet per minute of which 6,450 cubic feet reached the South Conveyor face. It was well known that the quantity of air circulating in a district varied in 24 hours, especially in mechanised faces with thin seams and so the percentage of firedamp varied. These fluctuations resulted in the different kinds of work that were carried out during the cycle and were independent of leakages at donors due to deficiencies or of their being left open. Just before the explosion, 7,129 cubic feet were measured at the entrance to the district of which 3,958 cubic feet were measured at the South Conveyor face although in the meantime a brick wall with a door inset had been built to prevent direct leakages between the intake and return and a door erected in the West main gate.

The explosion occurred at 7.20 p.m. on Tuesday, 29th. July 1941 in the sixth hour of the afternoon shift and it was confined to the one district. There were 25 people in the district at the time including 4 machine men and a timberer form the South Side coal cutting machine that was in the West Main Gate on the way out. the two outer of these men and the timberer for the coal cutting machine on the North face, who had reached the return airway were the only survivors., Twenty-one men were found dead and one died in hospital within a few hours in the district. A deputy 280 yards away in another district heard a terrific bump and he went quickly to the No.1 West District and gave the alarm, to the surface by telephone. He helped the survivors and was able to reach the point where Bruce Beaumont was found but because of the firedamp he could not get to Charles Megson who he heard breathing. Megson died in hospital.

Four machinemen on the North Side had completed their work and were on their way out. They were found a few yards from their machine. The four rippers in the North Loader gate had completed the gate side packs and had only to erect another steel arch to finish their shift. The deputy and the shotfirer were with them. The four rippers in the South Timber gate had almost finished their gate side packs and the five rippers in the South Loader gate were erecting a girder at the gate end. These men were found in a heap under the girder and it was significant that they met their deaths where they were working while other men in the district working a few yards away seemed to have had a warning on the imminent disaster as they were found away from their working places, overcome by afterdamp. From the position of one man, it appeared that he had a warning, went out and they turned back.

The West Yorkshire Rescue Station Brigade were summoned from Wakefield and arrived at the colliery 15 minutes after the call. They went underground immediately and started an exploration of the affected area. They travelled the Southside and then came back to the entrance of the North Loader gate. All the ventilating sheets and the door in the north Loader gate had been blown down and steps were taken to restore the ventilation which was short-circuiting directly into the return. Sheets were erected about midnight at the North Loader gate between the intake and return and the exploration of the North face was able to be made without breathing apparatus by way of the North Timber gate. Two percent firedamp was found in the general body of the air and later on the South Side, a layer of firedamp was found near the roof along almost the whole length of the Loader and timber gates. There were only two small falls and no evidence of any great violence although the timber supports had been blown out. Coal dust played no part in the disaster. Arrangements were made for noting the position of the bodies which were then sent to the surface.

The men who died were:

  • A.E. Broadhead, 45 ripper.
  • Bruce Beaumont, 25 machine man.
  • William Mitchell, 29 shotfirer.
  • Lloyd Fox, 24 ripper.
  • Bernard Fox, 32 ripper.
  • William Handley, ripper.
  • James Arthur (Joe) Fox, 39 ripper.
  • William Hartley, 30 deputy.
  • Jim Hancock, 38 machine man.
  • Basil Wood, 53 machine man.
  • Arthur Piper, 31 machine man.
  • Alf Oatland, machine man.
  • John William Mollart, 47 ripper.
  • Robert Wison White, 40 ripper.
  • Harry Wright, 36 ripper.
  • William Priestley, 40 ripper.
  • George William Riley, 29 ripper.
  • George Norman Nussey, 49 ripper.
  • William Charlesworth, 38 ripper.
  • Ezra Lambert, 34 ripper.
  • Sam Tunnicliffe, 45 machine man and
  • George Megson, 27 machine man who died in hospital.

The injured:

  • Clar Kennett, timberman,
  • Ernest Broadhead, machine man
  • Albert Fawcett, timberman.

The inquiry into the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Criggleston Colliery, Yorkshire on the 29th July 1941, was conducted by H.J. Humphrys, D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines. The inquiry was conducted alongside the inquest which was held by Mr. C.J. Haworth, one of H.M. Coroners for the West Riding of Yorkshire who sat without a jury. All interested parties were represented and the court found that:

The men died as the result of extensive burns or injuries and carbon monoxide poisoning following an explosion of firedamp and that they met their deaths by misadventure.

The report was presented to Mr. D.R. Grenfell, Esq., C.B.E., J.P., M.P. Secretary for Mines on the 3rd November 1841. The proceedings occupied seven days and 21 witnesses were called to identify the victims and evidence was taken from 27 witnesses about the events of the disaster.

Three workmen how survived the explosion gave evidence. One could remember nothing about the events, another knew of nothing unusual during the shift and the third was working at the coal cutter on the South Face. He said that there was little firedamp at the face ripping lip of the South Loader gate which he mentioned to a deputy. he also stated that the machineman in charge carried a flame safety lamp which was hung up on the Loader gate for the whole of the shift.

The question as to the presence of firedamp was examined and directed to see if there was any truth in the rumours that there was gas in the there was gas present in the district before the explosion but it was not established that gas had been found except on two occasions and in small quantities. There was evidence from the deputies that there saw a feeder of gas a few feet from the face and the point of issue moved forwards as the face advanced. A belt breaker on the South Face was in the district two hours before the explosion and he smelt firedamp in the South Timber Gate 9 or 10 yards from the ripping edge but he did not report this to anyone and the day shift deputy found none and a half percent in the South Side at 6.25 a.m. he fixed a hurdle sheet and the gas cleared but he did not record this the book which was a breach of No.7 of the Coal Mines Regulations, 1938. There were no automatic gas detectors issued on the shift and on the day of the explosion nine flames were issued in the whole pit.

The ventilation of the district was regarded as insufficient by H.M. Inspectors as there were leakages through the sheets. The opinion was expressed by several witnesses that firedamp accumulated in the cavities formed above the roof level during of t e settlement of the beds above the seam and Dr. D.W. Phillips of the Safety in Mines Research Board explained how the gas could be forced through breaks in the roof into the South Loader and the South Timber gate sand along the fault sides.

Mr. Humphrys summed up the evidence and said:

In my opinion, the firedamp was ignited in a break by a ripping shot fired in the South Loader gate two and a half hours prior to the explosion and it continued to burn unseen until contact was made by the flame with an explosive mixture.

Mr. Humphrys made the following recommendations:

  1. That the statutory regulations as to the supply of flame lamps or detectors should be rigidly complied with everywhere, particularly where the workings were electrified and intensively worked.
  2. That even men, deputies or other, should carry out the requirements as to reporting impurities in the air.
  3. Leakages should be tightened up, and additional doors provided where necessary.
  4. The system of packing should receive every consideration, especially in view of Dr. Phillip’s evidence.
  5. That every explosion however small – even if no one is hurt – should be treated as a matter of major importance.
  6. Every precaution should be taken by management and men to see that all regulations are enforced.


The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Criggleston Colliery, Yorkshire on the 29th July 1941 by H.J. Humphrys, D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 16th January 1942, p.54

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

Return to previous page