EDMUNDS MAIN. Barnsley, Yorkshire. 8th. December, 1862.
The colliery was owned by Messrs. Mitchell and Co. of Barnsley and was situated in Worsboro’ Dale, a mile away from a new deep colliery called Swaith Main. The plan was to connect the two collieries underground by two parallel passages sloping downwards. These were called “the dip bordgates”. The plan was established by Messrs. Mitchell Snr., Bartholomew and Tyas with Mitchell the Managing Director of both collieries. The disaster resulted in fifty-four dead and sixteen injured and it was the worst in the Yorkshire coalfield for thirteen years.
The colliery had three shafts two downcasts, which were close to each other. No.1 was eight feet in diameter and No. 2 ten and a half feet in diameter and both 106 yards deep. The third shaft was about two hundred yards away and was the upcast or furnace shaft with two furnaces at the bottom and a cupola at the top. The workings went to the Nine Foot Barnsley Seam and extended a mile north from the shafts which were one hundred and eighty feet deep. The coal sloped, rising towards the north and dipping to the south. The shafts were sunk about halfway along and the upcast was higher than the downcast shaft. The coals were drawn and water pumped in Nos.1 and 2 shafts. No 3 was nine feet in diameter and 104 yards deep and had two very large furnaces. This shaft was topped by a very large chimney.
Over the years there had been extensive workings upbrow which was by then worked out and the coal was now coming from the downbrow part of the mine. The seam was being opened up by driving two parallel roads which were called bordgates. These followed the coal for three-quarters of a mile to the bottom of the downcast shaft and were eight feet wide with a strip of coal the same width between them. From the bordgates, other passages branched out into the coal which was being mined in large squares. The branches or roads were at three different points, the one nearest the shaft was called the “first halfway”, the middle one the “second halfway” and the furthest was called the “Swaith level”.
A bonus had been offered to speed up the work in joining the two pits. James Allen, a miner who worked in the bordgates, said Mr. Lawton told him and his four mates to get on with the work as quickly as possible. They were getting 5/- a yard for blasting and Lawton had offered them 6/- a yard for wedging with a sovereign between the four of them if they did fifty yards in a fortnight but they thought they should get 9/- or 10/- for wedging and could not earn their money at Lawton’s price so they decided to carry on blasting.
The ventilating air current to the workings went down a central wooden brattice in the bordgate, the air going down one side and up the next. When the excavations had gone twenty yards a “slit” or hole was made in the coal to the other bordgate and air passed through this slit from one bordgate to the other and the brattice was then taken down. This procedure was repeated every twenty yards. As each slit was made, the one nearest the shaft is built up with bricks and mortar to make a stopping to force the air on to the next stopping.
The work at the colliery had been going like this for three-quarters of a mile and the air passed down the bordgate and up the last stopping which was three-quarters of a mile away from the downcast shaft. The ventilating air was forced into the workings by brattice.
Two hundred and eighty-five men and boys were employed in the mine but on the day of the explosion, there were two hundred and thirty-eight down the pit. They were working the Barnsley Bed which was nine feet thick and dipped to the northeast 1 in 11. The workings were one mile west to east and half a mile wide and the Inspector reported that the ventilation was very good, but the air passed over and through the furnaces of the upcast shaft. The workings were 1 mile west to east and half a mile wide and the inspector reported that the ventilation was very good and at that the air passed over and through the furnaces.
Blasting was indiscriminately used to get coal so as to save labour and the colliers fired the shots when they needed them. The shots were lit by the persons selected for the duty and it was their job to examine for gas. The Barnsley seam was known to be a fiery seam. On the day of the explosion, the ventilation was so good and no gas was found in the mine except at the face of the two “dip gates”. The men and management had so much confidence in the ventilation that candles were permitted in parts of the mine and the Inspector had advised that the colliery used lamps.
Due to the situation at the bordgate dips, the blasting of coal at this point was dangerous. During the week before the explosion firedamp had been ignited by naked lights and gunpowder at the remote extremities of the bordgates and as a result safety lamps had been brought in but blasting was continued and naked lights were not entirely discontinued and they were taken to within a few yards of the bordgates. The gas that had been ignited the week before had set fire to the coal and this fire had proved difficult to put out.
Special Rules had been drawn up for the colliery but they were not always observed and authority and discipline, in the opinion of the Inspector, was not held in high esteem. So the scene was set for the explosion; between 9 and 10 in the morning of the 8th December another shot was lit. The coal was again set on fire but this time it could not be extinguished. For half an hour the men tried to put it out but were driven back by the heat and the fumes and smoke and went to seek guidance from the underground viewer and the deputies.
Mr. George Lawton, the underground viewer, was not in the colliery but was at Swaith Main and had to be fetched. He and his son made an ineffectual attempt to build a brick stopping at the Swaith Level but they were driven back by the smoke and flames from the burning seam below. Every minute now became important and the flames were fed by a powerful breeze. The flames took possession of the two dip-bordgates and advanced rapidly to the west.
About 7 a.m. it was necessary to fire a shot which was a gunpowder charge. The coal gave off a large quantity of gas and all the men had Davy lamps but the shot lit a blower of gas which set fire to the coal and blew down a portion of the brattice in the air course.
There were two hundred and sixty men in the mine at the time and it seemed reasonable they should have been warned of the danger that the fire presented. Some of the men said that this was not done. George Lawton tried to put the fire out without telling anyone in the mine. He got a party of men and started to build a stopping to prevent air from getting to the fire. While this was going on, some men were trying to put the fire out but neither of these efforts was successful.
The air became foul in the mine and at 11.30 am there was an explosion which blew down air courses. The miners in the pit flocked to the bottom of the shaft for aid. To many in the mine, the first sign of danger was the appearance of the deadly afterdamp.
A young man James M’Quillan told the inquiry he was in the No.2 board in the south workings which were away from the other workings. He felt the gas and became alarmed and left his workplace to look for other miners. He found Peter Blacker who said there was something the matter with the mine and suggested that they should retreat but Blacker said that he was too frightened. M’Quillan went towards the shaft and met gas and had to make a detour through the mine which took him about one and a half miles through the workings and roads of the mine. On his way, he met Edward Hunt at the bottom of the bord. Hunt asked him to go with him to find his younger brother but they were driven back by gas. M’Quillan struggled into the shaft where a large number of men were waiting to get up the shaft.
No systematic efforts were made to warn the men underground or to send them out of the pit. Subordinate officers were waiting for specific orders from the underground viewer who did not arrive on the scene until 11 am.. Many people were told about the fire between 10.30 and 11 am and many were apprehensive about suffocation but no one foresaw the explosion. Some men and boys did leave the mine and George Lawton’s arrival at the colliery hastened the departure of others. By 11.30 a large number were on the surface or had got to the pit bottom and were waiting to be drawn up but there were still others in the far workings that either never heard or disregarded the messages reaching them.
There were some that thought it no risk at all to stay saying that the fire would soon be put out. It appears that George Lawton believed that by blocking the intake air course in the first incline between the second, halfway along to the Swaith Main Level, he could put out the fire without danger to the men. He, his son and others took a lot of materials and desperately tried to erect a brick stopping in an ill-judged experiment. All were killed in the subsequent explosion.
At 11.30 am a fearful explosion took place which carried death and destruction throughout the pit. Confusion and panic reigned. George Lawton was the underground viewer and was assisted by his son Henry and several deputies were all killed. Despite the obstacles, some escaped from the pit. Volunteers rushed to the pit and some died trying to save others. The horse-keeper, Mr. Soresby, managed to get nine out of the ten animals up the shaft but he himself was burnt.
There was a second explosion and alarm had been spread throughout the pit. The survivors gathered at the bottom of the shaft in the hope that they would all get up the pit before there was another explosion, which was expected at any time. The shaft was worked with discipline and order and a great many men were rescued.
Communication with the shaft to the workings of the mine had been destroyed by the second explosion and it was thought that fifty to seventy men who were still in the mine. A number of volunteers went to the workings to look for survivors and five men made up the rescue team: George Lawton (the bottom steward), Henry Lawton (his eldest son), Charles Frobisher, John Parkin & Benjamin Hoyland. None of these men was to return, all were killed in the third explosion. They had been in the mine for some time and a number of injured men had been sent to the pit bank, some of them in a very bad condition, when at about 1 p.m. there was a third explosion which sealed the fate of those in the mine.
After the third explosion a conference was held at the pit bank as the pit headgear was not damaged there were volunteers to go down the pit but their efforts were fruitless. There were fires raging underground and they reported that the air was so foul that it was impossible to go more than ten yards along the levels.
About 4 p.m. it was realised that the state of the mine was such that there was no chance of getting anyone out of the mine and the managers turned their attention to putting out the fires that were raging underground by putting water down the pit.
The Inspector urged the owners to run water in the pit to quench the flames. On 9th December the two downcast shafts were capped and smoke and gas came out of the upcast shaft for some time. There was great pressure to get the bodies out as soon as possible but the advice of the Inspector was taken and the pit flooded.
On Thursday afternoon a deputation of men went to the colliery office to have an interview with the proprietors and Mr. Morton, the Government Inspector, and they told these men that they thought that the bodies ought to be brought up but Mr. Morton would not give his consent for anyone to descend the mine because of the danger of gas and another explosion. When it became known Mr. Morton was going to flood the pit there were threats of violence against him from the relatives of the victims.
Most of the men that were got out were uninjured and others were affected by the afterdamp but they were soon removed to the surface. Some were bruised and burnt and one man, William Davy of Worsborough Common was so burnt that he lived for only a few minutes. His body was removed by the police to the nearest public house.
Some of the injured were named as George Pickering, fireman, a man named Hollingworth, Samuel Tyas, Joseph Walton, John Bellerby, Samuel Soresby, Hewitt, Swift, Morrison, William Davy, Edward Hunt and several who had been removed to Barnsley.
George Pickering was the most seriously injured. He had gone down the pit in the morning and was in the headings when the last explosion occurred. The blast passed over him, licking him with flames which burnt off his clothes and hair and left him almost dead. He managed to crawl to the bottom of the pit and was taken to his house in Worsborough.
There he lay in great pain, in a temporary bed, tended by his wife and daughters who administered what remedies they could. Around the bed stood a group of colliers, some of whom had been with him and others that had come to offer help to their afflicted neighbour. A local paper at the time reported that:
As the poor fellow groaned, there was always a helping hand near. He said, “I can not lie. I can not sit, I can not stand.”
”Pray God to help you through,” said his daughter.
The incumbent of the Parish, Reverend Mr. Barnham, went from house to house and he did not spare himself.
Sometime later the possibility of re-opening the pit was looked into. At the investigation of the Inspector, the proprietors invited Mr. John Thomas Woodhouse, mining engineer of Derby and Mr. John Brown mining engineer of Barnsley, met to seek a way the best and safest of re-opening the colliery and reclaiming the bodies of the victims.
They met at the colliery on the 17th December and there were still vapours coming out of the upcast shaft and decided not to carry on with the operations. A quarter of an hour after they had left the colliery and there was a violent explosion and a loud blast was heard throughout Worsborough Dale. Great clouds of smoke enveloped the headgears of both downcast shafts and fragments of splintered wood flew aloft. A black a smoky column at the furnace shaft-mounted straight and high into the air for a period of several minutes and then quickly reversed.
John Brown and the Inspector went straight back to the colliery and ordered the downcast shafts to be closed. The upcast shaft was filled with soil to a point ten yards above the roof of the furnace drifts and a stream of water was being run into the dip workings. This was necessary to save the colliery and the bodies therein.
The advice of the Inspector was accepted by the viewers and it was agreed that the water should reach at least twelve feet above the floor of the mine the downcast shafts. This was considered enough to extinguish the underground fires. The work was completed in the middle of February and the water reached eighteen feet in the first of the downcast shafts.
Mr. Charles Morton, the Inspector of Mines for Yorkshire, commented in his Report on the explosion:
The explosion was remarkable for its origin and for its awful result. It would be a mistake to call it an explosion of firedamp but an explosion of inflammable gasses and vapours which were given off a burning coal seam. It involved the terrible sacrifice of human life and mining property. 59 were killed and 15 others were burnt and injured. There were 36 widows and 93 children left fatherless by the disaster.
Those who died were:
- George Firth of Worsborough Dale, married with two children.
- James Ewins of Barnsley, married with five children.
- Richard Hunt of Worsborough Common who was a single man.
- Charles Wildsmith. of Worsborough Common who was married with eight children.
- Matthew Bates of Worsborough Dale who was married with three children.
- Thomas Gawthorpe of Worsborough Dale who was married with five children.
- William Rigby of Barnsley who was single.
- George Columbine of Worsborough Common, a boy.
- Thomas Wroe alias Mitchell of Worsborough Common who was single.
- Thomas Oxterberry of Barnsley who was married with two children.
- George Galloway. of Worsborough Common who was single.
- Henry Palfreyman. of Barnsley who was married with six children.
- George Ogley. of Worsborough Common who was single.
- William Ogley. of Worsborough Common who was married with two children.
- William Sharrock. of Worsborough Common who was married with two children.
- John Shaw. of Barnsley who was single.
- James Radcliffe. of Worsborough Dale who was married with one child.
- Radcliffe’s hurrier whose name was not known.
- William Parkinson. of Worsborough Common who was married with two children.
- Peter Blacker. of Worsborough Dale who was single.
- George Wroe. of Worsborough Common who was single.
- Edward Leech. alias Phillips of Worsborough Dale who was married with five children.
- Two of Leech’s sons not included in the five children that he left.
- John Hitchin. of Worsborough Dale who was married with one child.
- George Baker. of Worsborough Dale who was single.
- John Schofield. of Worsborough Dale who was married with one child.
- Joseph Walker. of Worsborough Common who was married with two children.
- Joseph Hawley. of Worsborough Dale who was married with one child.
- Patrick M’Court of Barnsley who was single.
- George Lawton of Worsborough Dale who was married with one child.
- Henry Lawton of Worsborough Dale who was single.
- Benjamin Hoyland of Worsborough Dale who was married with one child.
- Robert Farrington a Lancashire man whose residence was unknown.
- William Porter of Worsborough Dale who was married with five children.
- William James Porter of Worsborough Dale, a boy.
- John Hartley of Worsborough Common a widower with one child.
- Two of Hartley’s sons, John and Walter.
- James Ellis. of Worsborough Bridge who was single.
- John Ellis (Snr.). of Worborough Bridge who was married with two children.
- Walter Ellis. Son of John Ellis.
- Charles Frobisher. of Worsborough Dale who was married with three children.
- Robert Oldfield. of Worsborough Dale who was married with two children.
- Robert Cottle. of Worsborough Dale who was married with five children.
- Nicholas Cottle son of Robert Cottle.
- A son-in-law of Robert Cottle whose name was unknown.
- Robert Watson. of Worsborough Dale who was married with three children.
- Robert Hough. of Worsborough Common who was married with two children.
- Thomas Margerison. of Worsborough Common, a boy.
- John Parkin. of Worborough Dale who was married with one child.
- William Fielding. of Barnsley who was single.
- James Eastwood. of Kitroyd who was married with two children.
- William Davy. of Worsborough Common who was married with one child.
A list of the injured and their injuries were also listed in the press of the time:
- George Barnett of Worsborough Common suffering from contusions.
- A man named Rose of Worsborough Common who was slightly burnt.
- Charles Taylor of Pantrey who was slightly burnt.
- A man named M’Court of Barnsley who was slightly burnt.
- William Hollingworth of Pantrey, burned ankle.
- George Pickering of Darley Houses, severely burned.
- Samuel Sowersby, Berry Row, slightly burnt.
- Edward Hunt of Worsborough Common who was severely contused.
- A man named Armitage of Barnsley slightly burnt.
- H.Swift of Goose Holes who was severely burned.
- A man named Rose of Speddings Fold suffering from the effects of chokedamp.
- William Morrison Edmunds Main Cottages severely burned.
- Samuel Tyas of Berry Row, slightly burnt.
- John Davy of Worsborough Common, contusions.
- A man named Roder of Worsborough Common, slightly burnt.
- Joseph Walter of Barnsley suffering from the effects of chokedamp.
The inquest was held before Mr. T. Taylor, the Coroner, and it concentrated on four points, the measures were taken to warn the men in the mine of the danger when the gas fired, the steps taken to put out the fire before the explosion, the steps taken to inform the men of the dangers and lastly the general state of the pit before the explosion.
At the inquest, the jury met for four days and heard thirty witnesses. Mr William Stewart, solicitor appeared for the owners and Mr William Henry Gill, solicitor, for the relatives. The proceedings were taken down in shorthand at the request of the Inspector. Mr Thomas Taylor was the coroner. Evidence was first taken from the men who had worked in the mine and then the expert witnesses were called. Finally, the Inspector gave evidence to the inquiry.
The primary cause of the explosion was gas which came from a blower caused by blasting at the dip point at the southernmost part of the workings. As the mine was being connected to a new shaft which was being sunk and a straight heading was being driven through the coal to this shaft which was at Swaith Main colliery. The headings and bordgates became magazines of gas and as the furnace was blown down all ventilation to the mine was effectively stopped.
Many witnesses were called to give evidence to the inquiry and a clear picture of the working of the mine previous to the explosion was given in the statements of these men.
Joseph Mitchell jnr. a mechanical engineer of Derby Road said Benjamin Clegg, of the fireman in the mine, was in charge of the pit on Monday morning of the explosion and James Sigley was in charge of the cupola. After the explosion, Mitchell gave Sigley orders to put the ventilating fire out.
Benjamin Clegg, a deputy in the mine, and lived in Worborough Common. He was a “fire-triers” or fireman at the colliery where he had worked for five years went down the pit on Sunday midnight. There were no men working when he went down the pit but he saw Pickering, the other shotfirer, who had to examine the faces near the shaft before the men came down. He arrived at the dip bordgates about 1 am. He found two or three blowers of gas in there but these were both very weak and the ventilation appeared to be good. These blowers were common and he saw no special danger in them.
Joseph Walton, a shotfirer, arrived a little after 1 p.m. as Clegg was leaving the area. The men working in the bordgate were James Allen, William Leach, William Archer and some others that Clegg did not know but there were three colliers and three hurriers. It was the practice that horse-lamps were taken to within nine or ten yards of the face and naked lights were authorised to go up the last dip. This was done on George Lawton’s orders. As a result of something he heard at the surface, he went down the pit at 1 p.m. He had not been down more than a few minutes when the explosion made him stagger. He did not know what direction it came from and he was nearly insensible by the afterdamp for two or three minutes. He got out of the pit by going up the north side and then went with the air current.
He saw Pickering brought up and he went into the pit again to see if there was any fire in the pit. He made his way to the furnace and found that it was out but he could only get within ten yards as there were suffocating vapours and blackdamp but he came out with what little air there was available. He went down the pit for a third time about 2.30 with Mr. Maddison Guest and others. They found that for one hundred and twenty yards all the stoppings were blow out and the ventilation in the pit had stopped. They could make no further progress because of the afterdamp. They came back together and heard no moans or cries of any description and this leads them to believe that everyone in the pit was dead. They then went twenty yards down the south side to the stables. Mr. Maddison was told that nobody was alive or could possibly be alive and they came out of the pit. The fourth time he went down he got the horses out with John Guest and Ralph Simms. He found it strange that the horses were not in the least damaged.
James Johnson of Worsborough Common, a shotfirer was appointed by Lawton to fire shots with a touchpaper and to see that they were within a foot of the face before he lit them. He went to work on Sunday night with Benjamin Clegg and the hurriers had candles, the miners’ safety lamps. The hurriers came within five yards of the face. On Saturday there was some gas on fire in the bordgate and William Archer and another man were trying to put it out. The coal was red but did not blaze. It took twenty minutes to put it out.
When he was at the pit bottom he saw Lawton and told him that he had ordered nothing but safety lamps to be used. The lamps were supplied by Solomon Morley but some of them were not safety lamps. There was nothing out of the ordinary with the pit on Monday and he came out about 6 a.m. after telling Lawton at the bottom that everything was all right. Joseph Walton succeeded him and as he went put he met him and asked him if he had any lamp keys and he replied that he had some. He was recalled to the pit at 1-12 when the explosion occurred when he arrived he saw Pickering being taken out of the pit when he was going down for the third time.
When he got down there was smoke in the south level. Joseph Taylor was with him and they saw William Dean and William Rowbottom running towards the shaft with a naked light which they were told to put out. It was a candle and they did this at once. They went 300 yards down the engine plane and saw some men trying to repair a stopping. They wanted brattice and Walton said that he would get them some. Benjamin Hoyland was one of the men and it was about 1 p.m. then he saw Pickering brought up in a corve with three other men. He felt the second explosion as a “suck” and then a loud report. Pickering had been inured before and he was blown to the ground and lost some picks that he had in his hand.
He got George Hough and William Lawton to go down for them. Joseph Walton was his mate worked in the same board on the night shift taking water into the workings which was ladled out by the men to help them work.
Joseph Walton of 7, Banker Street, Barnsley who was a labourer, started to work at the pit in 1856 and his main duties were to attend to the doors and the brattice. He was at work in the south levels on the morning of the 6th. soon after 6 a.m. George Guest told him to get three safety lamps and to go and meet Gorge Lawton at the dipboards. He went and found Lawton with John Brown and Lawton took one of the lamps and exchanged it with Brown. Lawton told him that no shots were to be fired until all the soft coal at the bottom of the face had been removed.
George Pickering had made a complaint about his place and Walton thought that it was justified. He said that Clegg and Pickering wanted to alter the brattice and Lawton would not let them. There was plenty of gas in the mine of Saturday and it had fired at their lamps but there was no order to get out of the pit. He did not send them out on his own authority and he did not tell Lawton of the gas. He left the pit at 5.30 a.m. on Monday.
Lawton told him to go down the dip boards with safety lamps and he found three men working in the backboard getting coal they were Thomas Guest, Joseph Dobson, William Archer William Fisher and two others who had come to work at 6 a.m. At 10 a.m. a fall took place which liberated gas and he fired a shot on the Monday for a collier. Lawton thought that something would happen and he gave him a lamp key and told him to snuff out the lamps 30 yards from the face. The shot was fired for William Fisher in the bordgate Fisher gave him the touch paper. He fired another for Thomas Guest fifteen minutes later and he lit the fuse with his lamp. They took refuge and the blast blew down nearly all the coal but gas was ignited.
They tried to put it out with their jackets and by throwing on wet slack. There was no “throw” or slip in the place and the gas appeared to be coming from the coal. He went to the Swaith level and filled a corve with bricks. Henry Lawton had come up by that time and the coal was now getting on fire but he did not see the brattice boards on fire.
From the first breakout, it took Henry Lawton 45 minutes to arrive and he helped to throw the bricks out of the corve and stated to build a stopping to stop the air getting to the fire but the smoke was so bad that they had to withdraw. The other men had already gone to the pit bottom. Henry Lawton went there to get more bricks and to try to build a stopping halfway down.
Richard Watson and Sam Thomas came to him and asked him if they were to go out of the pit but we had no orders but he told them that they had better warn as many as they could. The conditions were then getting so bad that they had to leave and it took them a long time to get out. He was injured by the smoke and gas and it was 12 a.m. when he got out and he knew nothing of the explosion.
William Davy worked in the second bank in the first half on the north side. He saw George Pickering just before 12 he left the pit and he warned me that something was wrong. When he got to the pit top he went to the storeroom and it was there that he heard of the explosion. He knew that if the men at the been warned when he was at the second halfway then they would have got out of the pit.
William Archer of Worsborough Dale, a miner, went down the pit at 6 a.m. with William Fisher and George Firth the hurrier who worked with him. He said there was no explosion at the bordgate where he worked i.e. the dip boards. Joseph Walton looked after the bordgates and fired shots and he had fired one about 8 a.m. and he heard another at 9.30 a.m. He smelt gas and went there to find that the gas was alight. They tried to knock out the flames but they failed. He stayed 5 to 10 minutes and then went to look for Lawton. He met James Stead the water carrier and told him of the fire. He then went to Henry Lawton who told him to find his father at the shaft. There he told Thomas Glover and John Hurst of the fire and the men went up the pit to George Lawton’s house but he was not at home.
He then went to Linley the blacksmith to get Lawton who was at Swaith and he told Solomon Morley that the pit was on fire. He then got his lamp and descended again and went as far as the halfway. He met Henry Lawton and several other men and Lawton was the only one with a lamp this was about 10.30 a.m. He went out of the pit with the men and Lawton went to the storeroom and took four lamps but he did not see him descend the pit. He did not get orders to take the men out of the pit. He saw George Lawton at the surface but did not say anything to him.
At the pit top he saw the two Mitchells in the pit yard. They asked Thomas Guest where the fire was and he told them in his own workings. When he told Henry Lawton what had taken place. At the time he did not think that there was any danger.
The Colliery Guardian of the 14th November 1863 reported that it had been almost eleven months since the explosion and the greater proportion of the bodies were still in the pit until a week ago.
The inquest was resumed by Mr. Taylor Coroner at the Barnsley Court House. Benjamin Clegg of Worborough Dale a shotfirer. He went down the pit with Johnson and went to the dip bordgate face 1500 yards from the shaft and he got there about 12.45 a.m. on the day of the explosion. He found three feeders of gas but this was not unusual. They were trying to cut through to the Swaith Main and they used powder to blast. There was firedamp seen before the explosion and for several days before there had been blasting in the mine. Naked light were used in the mine which he knew was against Rule 20.
James Johnson the shotfirer, went to look for gas with Clegg and he insisted that the lamps were locked. Allen commenced drilling and when the hole was fired Johnson fired the shot. He left the pit at 6 a.m. and all appeared well and he met another shotfirer Joseph Lawton. Archer helped him to unload the bricks to build the stopping after the fire. He was making his way out of the mine when he was asked by the men if he had ordered them out of the pit. He got to the first halfway when he saw Tyas and Watson who told him to warm the men. He met Henry Lawton coming down the incline from the pit bottom. He thought that from the first fire there was plenty of time to get the men out of the mine. Lawton had expressed a fear to him that something might happen before the two pits were joined.
John Webster whose job was to take the state of the air in the mine and he did not see any gas on the 6th. December but he told Lawton about the fire. He recorded his findings in a book that was produced at the inquiry.
Joseph Briggs labourer had heard Lawton telling Ewing to tell the men on the north side about the fire.
Thomas Guest the hanger-on, at the second halfway heard James Ewing give the alarm.
William Fisher miner He knew that Lawton was worried about the condition of the dip bordgates.
The following verdict was returned:
We find that James Ellis came to his death by suffocation caused by an explosion of gas in the Edmunds Main colliery on Monday 8th December 1862. And we are also of the opinion that the case of the explosion was owing to the dangerous use of gunpowder in blasting the coal in the dip bordgates in the mine which practice of blasting ought not to have been permitted by the managers or prosecuted by the workmen after the system of wedging was introduced.
The Coroner asked what was the real nature of the verdict and did they imply culpable negligence upon any person and if so whom? In reply to the coroner, the jury stated that they were of the unanimous opinion that Mr. Mitchell Snr was the manager of the colliery but they did not wish that this be added to the verdict. Mr. Sleigh barrister of London who was acting for the widows and orphans contended that the verdict substantial was one of manslaughter. The coroner said he thought it was an open verdict and this was confirmed by the jury.
The foreman then handed the following recommendations to the coroner and hoped that they would be forwarded to the Home Secretary:
We are of the opinion that a regular inspection of mines by the government takes place, accidents will be of a frequent nature in collieries in this neighbourhood.
The inquiry was terminated shortly before midnight.
After due deliberation the jury arrived at the following verdict:
We find that William Davy and George Pickering came to their deaths by an explosion of gas in Edmunds Main colliery on Monday the 8th day of December 1862. For their immediate deaths, we are unable to attach blame to any single individual.
The jury at the same time wishes to express their unanimous opinion that the cause of the explosion was owing to the unsafe working of the dip-bordgates of the colliery.
The mode of blasting with powder the jury sees as highly injudicious and dangerous and feel that it should not have been allowed by the underground viewer or prosecuted by workmen.
Sixteen of the jurymen were sworn at the inquest. Fifteen delivered the verdict and signed the coroner’s inquisition but there was one dissenting juror who protested about it.
Mines Inspectors’ Report, 1862. Mr. Charles Morton.
The Colliery Guardian.
Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.Return to previous page