INGHAM. Dewsbury, Yorkshire. 9th. September, 1947.

The colliery was at Ingham to the south of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire and had been producing coal from about 1860. It was connected to the Combs Colliery underground and there was a tramway on the surface along which the coal produced at Combs was hauled to the screening plant at Ingham. Part of the ventilation system was common to both mines but despite these connections, Ingham and Combs were worked as two separate mines and were divided by proper boundaries under Section 25 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911.

At Ingham there were two shafts which were used for coal winding, the No.1 was downcast, 13 feet in diameter and the No.2 was upcast and 14 feet in diameter. Both shafts were sunk to the Black Bed seam at a depth of 277 yards and each shaft had an inset at 188 yards in the Beeston Seam. One hundred and eighty tons was wound daily from the Black Bed and Blocking Bed Seams from the Black Bed level in No.1 shaft and 450 tons from the Beeston and Wheatley Lime Seams was wound from the Beeston Seam inset in the No.2 shaft which gave a daily total output for the colliery of 630 tons, 80 percent of which went to the coke ovens. The Wheatley Lime Seam had been worked for 85 years so that its characteristics were well known.

At Combs Colliery the downcast shaft was 11 feet in diameter and was sunk to the Black Bed Seam at 369 yards. The daily output of the shaft was 140 tons per day and from an inset in this shaft to the Beeston Sea, at 224 yards, a road was driven in the seam which formed an intake for the No.2 South District, Wheatley Lime Seam, Ingham Colliery. This was the district in which the explosion took place. There was also a pumping shaft at Combs, 12 feet 6 inches in diameter sunk to the New Hard Seam at 106 yards from which there was a connection to staple pit sunk to the Blocking Bed Seam. These water pits were not connected with the working of the mine but were used for drainage.

The ventilation was produced by a steam-driven Walker fan, 7 feet in diameter which was at the surface of the Ingham upcast shaft and passed 140,000 cubic feet of air per minute at a water gauge of 3.6 inches. Safety lamps were used throughout the mine and for general underground use, Ceag 2-volt electric cap lamps and Ceag 4-volt electric hand lamps were issued. For gas testing the workmen were issued with Davis-Kirkby flame safety lamps which were magnetically locked and the officials with Prestwich type No.6 flame safety lamps fitted with internal re-lighters and lead rivet locks. To meet the requirements of the General Regulations in respect of precautions against coal dust and to facilitate systematic cleaning-up, stone-dusting and sampling, the roadways were apportioned in numbered zones. Gypsum dust was used for stone dusting throughout the colliery at a rate of 2.5 lbs. per ton of coal output.

The agent and manager of the Ingham Colliery were Mr. E.E. Cleaver and the undermanager of the No.1 Pit was Mr. C. Walshaw and for the No.2 Pit Mr. B. Aston. Mr. Cleaver was also agent for the Combs Colliery which had a separate manager but no undermanager. Mr. Cleaver came under the direction of the Area General Manager, Mr. J. Scoular who, in turn, came under Mr. H.M. Hundspeth, the Deputy Production Director and Mr. J. Hunter, production Director of the North Eastern Division of the National Coal Board.

As to the history of firedamp in the colliery, there was an explosion in 1893 which occurred at the bottom of the Combs downcast shaft when 139 men and boys lost their lives. The shaft was then sunk to the Blocking Bed Coal at 165 yards but the seam that was being worked at the time was the Wheatley Lime which was entered from an inset 34 yards higher up in the shaft across which a wooden staging had been fixed leaving a four-foot space at one side of the passage of air down the Blocking Bed seam. Safety lamps were used throughout, except in the immediate vicinity of the shaft where six open paraffin lamps were used to illuminate the shaft inset. A joint report on the disaster was made by F.N. Waddell, H.M. District Inspector of Mines and Sir Henry Hall who concluded that firedamp had accumulated below the staging and communicated with a feeder of firedamp behind the brick shaft lining. The gas was ignited by one of the paraffin lamps and the explosion was mild and not extensive. The heavy death toll resulted from suffocation as smoke from the wooden fittings and the wood staging at the Wheatley Lime inset which were set on fire by the explosion. The shaft passed through a fault and an attempt had been made previously to pipe the gas made there to light the inset. Gas had been ignited at this point some months before the explosion.

The area of coal in the Wheatley Lime Seam in which the present explosion occurred was opened out some years before from two stone drifts driven from the Beeston Seam, through 40 yards downthrow fault. One drift was driven at an inclination of 1 in 7 in line with and as a continuation of, the Evison Bord in the Beeston Seam and this roadway was used as a return airway, travelling and haulage road to the workings in the Wheatley Lime Seam. The other drift, which was used as the intake airway, was driven at an inclination of 1 in 2. The seam was 2 feet 11 inches thick and the immediate roof was of strong bind with well-defined bedding planes. The floor was of hard fireclay and the only district working at the time was the No.2 South. It was worked by an advancing longwall with gates at the extremity of the face which served as the intake and the return airways. Three dummy gates were also driven to provide material to pack the waste. The face at the time of the explosion was 140 yards long and the coal was undercut by longwall coal cutters to a depth of 4 feet 6 inches and was loaded on to the face conveyor on the main haulage road which discharged the coal into tubs at a loading point near the top of the 1 in 7 drift. From this point, the coal was hauled to the No. 2 upcast shaft in tubs of four and a half and six and a half cwt. By an endless rope haulage running at one and a half miles per hour. The first 1500 yards of this haulage road was the Evison Bord including the 1 in 7 drift. Five hundred yards from the shaft the haulage passed round a right-angle bend into the South Ending where it received coal coming from the South Districts in the Beeston Seam so the haulage and conveyor roads were all in the return airway which was also the travelling road for the No.2 South District.

The deputies meeting station was near the top of the 1 in 7 drift and was also the return airway. Throughout the district, the conditions were slightly damp and water collected in certain parts and had to be pumped outbye. Electricity was used for operating the coal cutters, conveyors, pumps, drills for coal and stone, signalling system and for the telephone circuit, which extended almost to the working face. The air intake came to the No.2 South Distract came from the Combs shaft by way of a roadway in the Beeston Seam. This roadway and although small was nevertheless well regulated. The air intake then passed up the 1 in 2 drift parallel to the 1 in 7 return drift through the 40-yards fault and the on to the Wheatley Lime Seam. a statutory air measurement taken at the top of the intake drift on 26th. August 1947, a fortnight before the explosion, showed 15,500 cubic feet of air per minute to be entering the district. Other measurements showed that of this quantity only 5,950 cubic feet reached the face of the No.2 South so that leakages, which occurred at three main points, were very heavy.

On the 5th. June 1947, the No.2 South Face was 185 yards long and at that time the right-hand side of the face extended 30 yards beyond the No.2 South Conveyor Gate to a fault which had been stripped at the time. The left side of the face extended for a shorter distance beyond the intake airway tailgate. In this 30 yards of face between the No.2 South Conveyor Gate and the fault, a subsidiary tailgate was packed 9 yards from the fault side. On 5th. June 1947, when the third and the last in a series of ripping shots was being fired in this subsidiary tail gate, firedamp was ignited in a break which crossed the shothole and the flame passed 64 yards back along the side of the fault. In consequence, the face was shortened in order to concentrate and improve the ventilation, and a 9-inch brick wall, with a two-yard brick pack on the outside of it, was built in the crossgate to seal off the subsidiary tailgates. The ignition of gas was investigated at the time by H.M. Inspectors of Mines and Officers of the Safety in Mines Research and Testing Branch. It was later proved that there was no connection with this explosion and the explosion of the 9th September.

The explosion occurred in the No.2 South District of the Wheatley Lime Seam on Tuesday, 9th. September 1947 at 11.15 p.m. during the first hour of the night shift. There were normally 105 men employed in the district during the 24 hours but owing to a wage dispute on the No.2 South Face had not been filled off since the previous Friday and in consequence, ten normal sequences of work were interrupted. On the day shift of the 9th. September, men, other than the usual colliers were employed filling coal at the face and boring shotholes in the coal as the filling proceeded. At the end of the shift there was still 30 to 40 yards of face to fill off. Other workmen were employed in enlarging the intake airway near to and on the outbye side of the Geldhill Crossgate and one man was attending the pump in the intake tailgate. Apart from the broken belt, which was repaired, in the outbye conveyor in the South 2 Conveyor Gate, the shift was uneventful.

On the afternoon shift, five men were erecting bars at the face of the South 2 Conveyor Gate and one man was again attending the pump. Seven others were enlarging the intake at a point near Old North 2 District. The deputy on this shift said he made tests with a flame safety lamp for firedamp at various points in the district but found none. He went up the shaft at 10.30 p.m. with five men who had been working in the South 2 Conveyor Gate, leaving the district, so far as he knew, in a perfectly normal condition and not anticipating danger of any kind. The remainder of the men on the shift had left the mine about an hour before the deputy.

The night shift of the South 2 District was made up of 13 men, 12 of who died in the explosion. There was one survivor, Jesse Clarke, a shotfirer who was discharged from hospital on the 5th. November 1947, apparently fit and unharmed apart from scars and burns, but unfortunately suffering from the loss of memory and quite unable to remember anything of the events of the tragic night. Had he been able to recall what had happened, he would have been a very valuable witness at the inquiry.

The night shift deputy F.W. Pearson, two shotfirers, Bernard Hewitt and Jesse Clarke and two beltmen, Arthur Wilson and Clifford Howarth, descended the mine at 10 p.m. This was an hour before the normal time for the descent of the night shift proper. At 10.05 p.m. before proceeding inbye, Pearson consulted with his opposite number on the afternoon shift. About 10.15 p.m., workmen of the afternoon shift, while on their way outbye from the no.2 South District, met Pearson and his men at the outbye end of the Evison Bord on their way inbye to work. The beltmen, Wilson and Howarth, had been instructed to run the conveyor belts and, after the explosion their bodies were found in the position they would have occupied had they been performing this task. The switch in the switch-box controlling the conveyor motor was found to in the “on” position but a pilot switch alongside one of the dead men was in the “off” position. It was possible that the men may have had time to open the pilot switch. On the other hand, the conveyor may not have been started up. What exactly happened will never be known but in the opinion of the inquiry, was not a material question.

The bodies of Pearson and Hewitt and the unconscious Clarke were found after the event at the deputies’ meeting station near the top of the return drift. the time that was required to walk from the shaft bottom to the meeting station was 20 to 30 minutes so these three would have arrived about 10 to 10.33 p.m. Their movements after this were a matter of deduction a surmise. It was known that Pearson telephoned from the meeting station to the night onsetter, Herbert Collomosse, in the shaft bottom at a time which Collomosse put at 10.50 p.m. The call enquired about the number of men on the regular night shift who had descended the shaft at 10.30 p.m. and who were on their way to the No.2 South District in the Wheatley Lime Seam. The conversation went on to general topics and did not finish until 11.05 p.m. Collomosse said Pearson sounded cheerful and certainly not a man who expected any danger. Immediately after this conversation, Collomosse received a call from a deputy in another district who was also inquiring about the numbers of men likely to proceed to the district. This conversation finished at about 11.10 p.m.

At the Inquiry, Collomosse said, “Well, at 11.15 p.m., there was a thud. This was the time it happened as far as I can say. I went out of the office and looked around the pit bottom, and I could see there was something unusual had happened. There were clouds of smoke and things coming into the pit bottom which should not have been.” After trying, unsuccessfully trying to get into communication with the inbye districts, he telephoned to the surface to raise the alarm.

Four of the night shift workers were travelling the South Ending when the explosion occurred. They had reached a point about 350 yards from the upcast shaft, where two doors led into an intake airway along which they customarily travelled on their way to work in the Beeston Seam. One of these workers saw a terrible flash and heard a report and was thrown 5 or 6 yards, he described how the air became thick with smoke and he could not see his hand before him as he stood upright. It was very hot but clearer and cooler nearer the floor. After that, he and his mates pulled themselves together and assisted each other through the doors into the intake where the air seemed to be stagnant but was clear. They then travelled outbye along the intake and through the separation doors to No.2 shaft. A deputy, who was in the West No.3 Bord in the Beeston Seam intake 480 yards inbye from the junction of the Evison Bord with the South Ending, said that he noticed a swell of dust which blew open the separation doors between the intake and the return. This deputy also stated that he parted from Pearson and his two shotfirers at the junction of the Evison Board at 10.15 p.m., as they proceed on their respective ways. This established that Pearson and his mates had left the junction of the Evison Bord with the South Ending.

The night shift proper for the No.2 South District in the Wheatley Lime Seam descended the shaft at 10.30 p.m.. and consisted of eight men. They were still on their way inbye and were travelling up the 1 in 7 Drift but had not reached the meeting station when the explosion occurred. They met the full violence of the blast and were all instantly killed. This brought the death toll to 12 killed and one man injured.

Mr. B. Aston, the undermanager of the No.2 Pit, arrived at the colliery at 11.45 p.m. on the night of the explosion and was told by the manager that smoke was coming from the fan drift. He descended the No.1 downcast shaft and saw a number of the workmen, from districts other than the No. 2 South in the Wheatley Lime Seam, congregated round the office near the bottom of the upcast shaft. He withdrew them into the intake, which he then proceeded to explore with a small party of deputies and workmen. On arriving at the separations doors about 350 yards from the pit bottom, they found both doors damaged, the one nearest the return airway being the most seriously damaged. They made a temporary repair one of the doors and then went along the intake to the separation doors near the outbye end of the Evison Bord, they found the doors were completely blown out and smoke and fumes coming from the Evison Bord. Realising that an explosion had taken place in the No.3 South District the undermanager saw at once that the exploration of the district at that time by way of the Evison Bord was impossible. He returned to the shaft an ascended to report the position to the Manager, leaving instructions with the deputies at erect brattice sheets in the connection between the intake and the return at the outbye end of the Evison Bord.

After consultation, it was decided to explore by way of the intake airway to the district from the Combs Shaft and at 1.40 a.m. on the 10th. September, Mr. Aston accompanied by Mr. I. Keeton, assistant Superintendent of the Wakefield Rescue Station and a Rescue Brigade, descended Combs shaft and reached the stricken district. Although the intake airway was undamaged by the explosion, it was not a good travelling road because of the height, rough floor and the steepness which was 1 in 2. On reaching the slit between the intake and the return just beyond the intake drift, they found the two separation doors and their frames blown out away from the return airway. On travelling through the slit they thought they heard a moan and on going forward they found Jesse Clarke, the shotfirer, in the return haulage and travelling road with his head resting on the full side rope which was elevated a little above the floor. It was then about three hours after the explosion and the reason Clarke had survived had an important bearing on the cause of the explosion and was examined at the Inquiry. Clarke was brought out into the intake, received first aid and was kept warm.

They went back into the slit beyond the haulage road at the point where Pearson had made his last telephone call and within a few yards recovered the bodies of Pearson and Hewitt. Mr. Keeton returned to the surface for first-aid material, blankets, and brattice cloth and for further assistance including another Rescue Brigade as there were no telephones available. He then returned to the fresh air base at the to of the intake drift about 3 p.m. and to restore the normal ventilation circuit, brattice sheets were erected where the stoppings had been blown out. The party explored further along the intake to the inbye end of the Evison Bord and the back along the Bord to the junction of the South No. Conveyor Gate where they found the bodies of the beltmen Wilson and Howarth. They also found that the brattice sheets that had been erected just beyond the junction of the Evison Bord and the South 2 Conveyor Gate had also been blown out. Meanwhile, Clarke was taken out of the pit to hospital.

While Mr. Keeton was at the surface work went on trying to restore the ventilation and more assistance arrived. Mr. H.J. Humphrys, H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines, Mr. I.G.E. Leek, Rescue Apparatus Testing officer, M.r H.M. Hundspeth, Deputy Production Director and Dr. H.L. Willett, Head of Research and Safety for the North Eastern Division of the Nation Coal Board and up the party which descended the Combs shaft at 6.15 a.m. In passing through the second slit to the Evison Bord they detected a trace of firedamp rising to about 3 per cent at the entrance to an old road opposite and on the far side of the Evison Bord. They returned to the intake and at a point about 300 yards inbye of the South 3 they found a fall which blocked their way although a small quantity of air was passing through.

It was then about 7.30 a.m. and the undermanager was left at the fall with the instructions to get a travelling road through it. About this time the Production Director, Mr. Hunter and Mr. W.E. Jones, Secretary for the Yorkshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers arrived together with Mr. Cleaver the Colliery Manager and Agent. After consultation an exploration of the South 2 Conveyor Gate was undertaken by a party wearing rescue apparatus although the canary carried by the party was not affected, the percentage of carbon monoxide in the air proved to be harmful for several members became affected and were forced to retire. Their exertion and hence their breathing was heavy due to the road being badly obstructed by falls, some several feet in height.

Another party under the charge of Mr. J.G. Bond, Deputy Area General Manager with Mr. M. McCarthy, H.M. Assistant Inspector of Mines and two rescue brigades under the charge of Mr. C.C. Riley, Superintendent of the Brierley Rescue Station started an exploration from Evison Bord from the outbye end. They descended the No.1 downcast shaft at Ingham Colliery at 9.45 a.m. on the 10th. September and travelled inbye until they came to the recently erected sheets at the outbye end of the Evison Bord. On passing through the sheets they were unable to detect firedamp and the canary was not affected. On travelling Evison Bord they found the bodies of five men near the bottom of 1 in 7 drift which was heavily fallen. They were unable to find the three other victims which were discovered later in the day further up the drift under heavy falls which almost blocked the airway near the top of the drift. The area was thoroughly inspected and evidence gathered,

Those who lost their lives were:

  • Fred William Pearson aged 40 years, deputy
  • Bernard Hewitt aged 42 years. shotfirer
  • Clifford Howarth aged 20 years, beltman
  • Arthur Wilson aged 44 years, beltman
  • George Walshaw aged 32 years, ripper
  • Milton Frudd aged 51 years, machineman
  • Ernest Johnson aged 68 years, byeworker
  • George Grayson aged 49 years, byeworker
  • Percy Robertshaw aged 49 years, ripper
  • John Middleton aged 38 years, drawer
  • Stanley Middleton aged 37 years, drawer


  • Jesse Clarke aged 34 years, shotfirer was injured

The inquiry was held at the Council Chamber of the Town Hall, Dewsbury from the 11th. on the 14th. November 1947 when all interested parties were represented and the report on the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Ingham Colliery, Thornhill, Yorkshire on the 9th. September 1947, was conducted by A. M. Bryan, J.P., B.Sc., F.R.S.E., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines. The report was presented to The Right Honourable Hugh Gaitskell, C.B.E., M.P., Minister of Fuel and Power on the 10th. May 1948.

All the expert witnesses were of the opinion that the explosion started as an explosion of firedamp. There were several ides as to the source of the gas but Mr. Bryan thought that a large build-up gas came from the Old North 1 Distinct and entered the Wheatley Lime Seam. At the Coroner’s Inquest into the death of the men the jury found that the firedamp came from the Old North 1 District and it was ignited by a spark from a safety lamp which was opened contrary to regulations. They considered that tests for firedamp should have been deeper into the hold district than at the entrances where fences had been erected and better still, it should have been permanently sealed off from the remainder of the workings.

As to the source of ignition, only one possibility was put forward at the inquiry. It was a Prestwich type 6 flame safety lamp No.9 fitted with an internal re-lighter and locked with a lead rivet. The lamp was issued to Bernard Hewitt. the shotfirer, before he descended the pit at 10 p.m. After the explosion, the lamp was found in two parts. The oil vessel, an opened pocket knife, and two portions of lead rivet were found close to the telephone at the meeting station where Hewitt’s body was found. The top of the lamp was found on the haulage road close to Pearson’s body. The conclusions that were drawn that the lamp had deliberately been opened by the knife cutting the rivet, though the evidence on this point was not conclusive. The lamp would have ignited firedamp if the relighter had been operated.

The inquiry came to the following conclusions:

1) The source of ignition was a spark produced by the operation of the relighting device from the flame safety lamp after the deliberate removal of the spirit vessel which was made possible by cutting the lead rivet. The lamp was opened to adjust the relighter which was not working properly.

2) The spark from the relighter in the opened lamp ignited inflammable firedamp-air mixture in the general body of the air current passing the meeting station at the time, causing a firedamp explosion.

3) The flame from the explosion traversed a distance of approximately 3,000 yards, including nearly all the inbye working roads and faces and more than 1,000 yards along the main return haulage road outbye the meeting station.

4) The explosion developed moderate violence in the South 2 Conveyor Gate and in the 1 in 7 Drift in the Evison Bord haulage road, but elsewhere the explosion was mild in character.

5) The explosion was mainly of firedamp and it is not possible to say with certainty that coal dust contributed to it, or if it did, to what extent.

6) The main source of the firedamp was the abandoned workings in the Old North 1 District this firedamp was forced out of the Old North 1 District by the fixing and closing, or nearly closing, of a door in the intake airway between two entrances to the old district this door had been fixed on the night shift about half an hour or thereby before the explosion occurred and it is not possible to say which of the five persons in the district at the time of the explosion fixed the door.

The inquiry made recommendations about the part played by coal dust in estimating a firedamp explosion, coal conveying in return airways and prevention of the removal of the accumulation of gas. About the lamps the inquiry recommended that the lead rivet in lamps should be replaced with the more efficient magnetic locks and the Pyrophor Relighter for the lamps should be replaced with a more positive and efficient type of relighter.

The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Ingham Colliery, Thornhill, Yorkshire on the 9th. September 1947 by A.M. Bryan, J.P., B.Sc., F.R.S.E., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines.

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

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