*FITZWILLIAM MAIN. Pontefract, Yorkshire. 25th. January, 1879.

Fitzwilliam Main Colliery was the property of Mr. R. Fosdick and was in the village of Hemswick. It was comparatively new and had been open for less than a year at the time of the accident. The seam that was being worked was known as the “Shafton” which lay 145 yards from the surface. Up to the time of the accident, there had been very little seen in the mine and the men were allowed to work with naked lights.

During Friday night the surveyors had made a survey of the workings and left the pit between 5 and 6 a.m. on Saturday. They reported that all was in good order. This was confirmed about 6 a.m. when Bird, a deputy, made an examination of all the workings and made a report to that effect in the Report Book.

About 150 men and boys went to work and all went well until 9.30 a.m. when the explosion occurred in the dip levels on the west side of the pit. the explosion did not seem to have been violent and the men in other parts of the mine were unaware that anything had happened.

Mr. Bennett, the manager, and others went down the pit immediately to make an examination. They found that the blast had occurred in the bank on the west bord. They found three gates driven to the face of the coal which was being worked on the longwall system. It was found that there was little damage and the ventilation was quickly restored.

Two men had been killed on the spot and three others later died from their injuries. The two who had been killed were working at the face of the No.31 gate and it was thought that a fall had taken place which liberated the gas which fired at a naked light of one of the men.

Those who died were colliers:

  • George Hill aged 45 years,
  • John Rushton aged 37 years,
  • John Mann aged 35 years,
  • Paul Brailsford aged 32 years,
  • Isiah James aged 33 years.

At the inquiry, the Inspector, Mr. Wardell, found that shots had been fired previous to the explosion but thought that these had taken no parts in the disaster. He thought that the roof had weighted and the deputies had not noticed this. It emerged that there was a thin layer of coal above the seam which was left in the roof and during sinking operations, a little gas had come from this seam.

The Inspector advised Mr. Fosdick to stop the use of naked lights and introduce safety lamps throughout the mine. The jury brought in a verdict of “Accidental Death” on the men and expressed their opinion that lamps should be introduced as soon as possible.

* Also known as Hemsworth Colliery


Mines Inspector Report, 1879.

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

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