LOFTHOUSE. Wakefield, Yorkshire. 21st. March, 1973.

The Lofthouse Colliery was in the North Area of the National Coal Board and was about 2 miles to the north of Wakefield on the western fringe of the workable coalfield. Production began at the colliery in 1877 and at the time of the accident, the colliery was producing 18, 500 tons of saleable coal per week and employed 837 men below ground and 207 at the surface.

There were four shafts. The A was the downcast and was 18 feet 6 inches in diameter and the B, the upcast was 15 feet in diameter were at Lofthouse and the Silkstone which was a downcast and the Beeston which was upcast of 14 feet in diameter were at Wrenthorpe about one and three-quarter miles to the south. The Silkstone shaft had winding equipment but there were no winding facilities at the Beeston shaft. At the top of the B shaft, there were three Aerex fans in parallel which extracted 180,000 cubic feet of air per minute at 7 inches water gauge. A Keith Blackman centrifugal fan extracted 60,00 cubic feet per minute at 3.2 inches water gauge at the Beeston shaft at Wrenthorpe.

Electric cap lamps were in general use with flame safety lamps issued and firedamp detectors. Certain officials were also issued with methanometers. The officials holding statutory appointments at the time of the accident were, Mr. T, Wright, Acting Area Director, M.r G. Hayes, Deputy Director (Mining), Mr. W. Forrest, Chief Mining Engineer, Mr. R.P. Hollis Deputy Chief Mining Engineer (Mine Planning and Surveying), Mr. T. Donnelly, Production Manager and Mr. T. Mapplebeck, colliery manager.

The coal was won from longwall advancing mechanised faces and the seams that were worked in descending order were, the Flockton Thin which had three working faces, the Eleven Yards with one working face and the Beeston which had two working faces. Development was taking place in the Blocking Bed seam which lay between the Eleven Yards and the Beeston seams. Very little water was pumped from the mine. The main intake at the Lofthouse A and B shafts was from the old Haigh Moor workings and was between 160 and 230 gallons per minute depending on the season. At the Wrenthorpe shafts, there was a well shaft 63 feet deep, from which 33 to 35 gallons of water per minute were pumped. The make of water in the main shafts at Wrenthorpe was only 15 gallons per minute pumped from the Silkstone pit bottom.

The south 9B district was in the Flockton Thin seam to the west of the South 4 loader gate and the face was 5,600 yards from the Lofthouse pit bottom. The Flockton seam was 34 inches thick which included a dirt band three inches thick. The roof was of a medium grey shaley mudstone and the floor was also of mudstone. The face lay about 220 yards below the surface and two seams were worked above it 120 to 130 years before. They were the Gawthorpe, (Warren House) at a depth of 50 yards and the Top Haigh Moor at 120 yards. The Silkstone seam was about 80 yards below the Flockton Thin and was worked around 1914.

Access to the South 9B district from South 4 loader gate was gained by a cross measure intake drift dipping 1 in 6 through faults of 48 feet vertical displacement. A 216 yards long single unit conveyor face was formed in the seam, with the return airway connected by an overcast to a roadway leading to the Wrenthorpe shafts, a slit at the air crossing, with two wooden airlock doors, provided a connection between intake and return.

Production commenced in December 1971 and the coal was won on three shifts per day by a double-ended conveyor mounted trepanner taking the full thickness of the seam and 2 inches of dirt from the floor. The trepanner took a 26 inches web and the average weekly advance was 20 yards and the face had got to a rise at 1 in 24 for a total of 1,060 yards when the inrush occurred. At the main gate of the face, an advancing heading 4 feet 6 inches high was taken 18 to 25 feet ahead of the general face line and a stable at the same height extended 12 feet along the face. At the tailgate there was an 8 feet long stable at seam height. Rigid bars and hydraulic props were used in the roadhead areas and powered supports throughout the face.

Collapsed gate
Used with kind permission of Yorkshire Post Newspapers

Both gates were formed by conventional ripping and packing, with the main gate supported by arch girders 10 feet wide and 8 feet high set at 3 feet intervals and the tailgate similarly supported by 8 feet wide by 7 feet high steel arches. The district was ventilated by a separate split giving  11,700 cubic feet of air per minute on the face. Methane drainage was installed from the tailgate with holes 120 feet long spaced at 120 feet intervals at right angles to the gate and inclined at 45 degrees over the waste. The methane content at the statutory measuring point was about 0.3 per cent. The amount of water in the district was small and systematic pumping was necessary. Although there was a small fault on the face, 80 yards from the main gate and weighted breaks were evident from time to time, the roof was well controlled by five-legged powered supports.

Work on the afternoon shift of 20th. March was normal and operations ceased as usual at 7.30 p.m. by which time the trepanner had taken two webs from the face and was in the tail gate. During the night shift of the 20/21st March, the district had 27 men working there. E. Finnegan was the deputy and he made his pre-shift inspection stating in the tailgate and reported to B. Oldroyd, the overman when they met in the main gate about midnight, that the face was normal. Work then commenced on coal filling, advancing the heading and stables and ripping both roadheads and proceeded without incident apart from the usual brief interruptions. With the men at work there were four rippers, two stable hole men and a shotfirer at the tailgate, four face men and the deputy who had returned from the main gate on the face near the machine and forty yards towards the tail gate there was an electrician. In the main gate roadhead area there were two men in the advance heading, a supports man in the stable, four rippers and a shotfirer near the ripping lip and an overman at the stage loader with a fitter, who had arrived there from the face. Along the conveyor roads, there were four transfer point men, two in the South 9B district main gate and the other two further outbye.

At about 2 a.m., the trepanner, which had cut to powered support No.60, approximately 70 yards from the main gate, was stopped together with the face conveyor because large stones were being broken at the main gate roadhead. The face conveyor never restarted. The inrush was sudden and violent and water flowed in both directions along the face. It was therefore impossible to set down briefly in correct chronological order the events which followed.

At approximately 2 a.m., T.Denton, the electrician was travelling along the face from the tailgate and was examining the power loader cable midway along the face when he head a bang, looked up and saw water flowing towards him from the direction of the trepanner. He made his way immediately to the tailgate with the water at the height of the conveyor, about 7 inches, flowing alongside him. By this time it had become apparent to those at the tailgate roadhead that something was wrong and R. Barrett, the tailgate shotfirer, attempted to make contact by telephone with anyone who might be available but got no reply. at 2 a.m. B. Kus was in advance of the face near the main gate roadhead when he heard a rumbling noise, looked along the face and saw lights at what he estimated to be 30 yards. He then heard a loud crack and saw his workmates at the roadhead start to run outbye. He shouted a warning to C. Barnaby who was in the advance heading. As Kus made his way out past the ripping lip he was overtaken by a wave of water at the full height of the seam which knocked him against the side of the road. He dragged himself upright and ran outbye.

Oldroyd, the overman which was at the stage loader, heard a heavy rumbling noise and thought the ventilation had reversed. He saw the main gate men running towards him and heard someone shout that water had broken in. He then tried, without success, to contact the facemen over the loud hailer. The water was now at knee height in the main gate and he hurried outbye to the conveyor tandem point, where he tried to contact the surface by telephone but was unable to do so. Oldroyd then tried to ride out on the gate conveyor but this stopped almost immediately so he jumped off and ran. He passed C. Cotton, a main gate ripper, and made his way to the top of the 1 in 6 drift where he again tried to contact the surface. He eventually did so from the South 4 loader.

K. Stone, a fitter who had travelled along the face with the trepanner to No.60 powered support, was at the main gate roadhead when he was warned that water had broken in. He ran outbye and when he passed the 9C south development heading he looked in and saw no one. Stone switched off the electricity to the development and continued outbye passing and warning S. Wojeck, the attendant at the conveyor transfer point at the outbye end of the main gate. He continued outbye and switched off the electricity supply to the main gate at the transformer house at the overcast, then ran on to the top of the 1 in 6 drift, where he picked up the telephone and found Barrett the South 9B tail gate shotfirer on the lone. He told Barrett, who was still at the inbye end of the South 9B tailgate, what had happened and was advising him to withdraw his men when Willoughby the main gate shotfirer arrived, took the telephone and told Barrett to withdraw his men immediately.

Barrett’s conversation with Stone and Willoughby took place sometime after his earlier unsuccessful attempt to make contact by phone but in the interval, no men had come off the face.  On replacing the phone he instructed Denton to cut off electrical supply to the face and after G. Firth, the tailgate stableman, had gone back and looked along the face but could see nothing, all the men at the tail gate roadhead made their way outbye. When this parity of eight men arrived at the slit at the air crossing, Denton opened the first door and saw that the second was bulging towards him with dirty water seeping through it. He retreated to the return and the party then travelled over the air crossing through South 9A gate and ultimately to South 4 gate. Had they delayed a little longer this escape route would almost certainly have been blocked. Later a check was made by Willoughby on the number of men who had got out of the South 4 gate,.

At approximately 2.35 a.m. K. Furniss the night overman who was at the pit bottom was told from the surface control room that water had broken in. He gave instructions for the manger, the assistant manager and Wakefield Rescue Station to be contacted. Furniss was later instructed by T. Mapplebeck, the manager, to return to the surface to check on the number of missing men. It was established that Frederick Armitage, Colin Barnaby, Frank Billingham, Sidney Brown, Charles Cotton, Alan Haigh and Edward Finnegan were missing. All, with the exception of Charles Cotton and  Colin Barnaby, were known to be last working on the South 9B face line. Barnaby was in the advance heading when the inrush occurred and Cotton was last seen making his way outbye down the main gate.

A rescue team heads towards the shaft
Used with kind permission of Yorkshire Post Newspapers

The emergency procedure was instituted by the manager shortly after 2.35 a.m. and the call was received by the Wakefield Rescue Station at 2.45 a.m.. led by W. Cave of the permanent rescue brigade, the first team went below to the South 4 gate and then to the 1 in 6 drift where at 4.35 a.m. the water was seen blocking the roadway 60 yards from the drift top. The team travelled towards the South 9B district by means of the return airway where at the junction with South 9A return the roadway was also blocked by water. The inspection proved that South 9B district was completely sealed off.

T. Wright, the acting Area Director and his senior officials were soon at the colliery and they were quickly joined by A. Harley, H.M. Senior District Inspector of Mines and Quarries and a member of his staff. Shortly afterwards  N, Siddal of the National Coal Board’s Member for Mining arrived. After an assessment of the situation, it was decided to install pumps in the 1 in 6 drift to lower the water level and regain access to the district. It was also decided to install a submersible pump in the Silkstone shaft at Wrenthorpe as it was apparent that the water would drain to this point. Other methods of rescue were discussed and a decision was made to bore from the surface to contact South 9B tail gate. The borehole was intended to be about 6 inches in diameter when it reached the roadway was commenced at 11.15 p.m. about 21 hours after the inrush had occurred. This considerable operation which involved the dismantling, transporting and re-building of a large drilling rig, was carried out with great speed.

In the meantime, a surface visit had been made to the Old Low Laithes Colliery where it was found that the Bye Pit was exposed and water could be heard falling from it. Before mid-day, it was reported that the Engine pit and Bull Pit were exposed and that water could also be heard falling down them. There was little doubt that there was a direct relationship between the inrush into the Lofthouse workings and this water pouring down the old shafts. A decision was made to fill and seal them. Hardcore, baled straw and clay were used to get a watertight seal near the bottom and the filling from the surface was completed by hardcore. This would require great care to avoid further loss of life was finished by 11.30 p.m. on 23rd. March as was the filling on of a large depression between the Engine Pit and the Bull Pit. after the filling had been commenced, the Bye Pit was plumbed and found to be 54 feet deep to the top of the filling. It was later calculated that the depth of the shaft was approximately 660 feet.

Late in the afternoon of the 21st. March, the pumping of water at Lofthouse was making very little progress and it was decided that the mines rescue team from Hednesford, Staffordshire, the members of which were trained frogmen, should make a trial dive for 25 yards. That evening the men went in but they found the water too fouled an opaque and so full of material that it was too dangerous to dive. On 23rd, March, after the level of the sludge had been lowered, frogmen were then used in the 1 in 6 drift, near the entrance to the air crossing while they were trying to locate the slit between the intake and the return, conditions were too dangerous and the attempts were abandoned.

Although several pumps coupled in various pipe ranges were in use but difficulties arose and progress was slow due to the high proportion of solid material that was coming through the pumps. On 24th. March, work began on a small “piggy-back” roadway over the arches at the foot of the 1 in 6 drift to try to gain access to the slot and to the tailgate over the wooden doors. When this was done on 26th. March work was suspended on the surface borehole. At 10.20 a.m. on 26th. March, the Lofthouse colliery No.,2 rescue team started from the 1 in 6 drift to inspect the South 9B tailgate. Passing through the “piggy-back” roadway, the team dropped into about 4 feet of sludge and water, which persisted for about 30 yards, after which it was possible to travel up the tailgate without hindrance. At five yards beyond the No. 20 methane drainage hole, there was a slit and rubble which reached to about 3 feet 6 inches from the roof. The team crawled on top of this for a further 44 yards to a point 1,067 yards from the air crossing where further progress became impossible. Air samples were taken by the team at 160 yards and 760 yards inbye of the air crossing. The first sample was found to contain 6 percent firedamp, 13 per cent oxygen and 4 per cent carbon dioxide and would not have supported life. J. Coxon, the Area Chief Scientist, said although the samples were small but they were accurate.

At 12.45 p.m. Glasshouhghton Colliery rescue team attempted to explore the intake road beyond the slit but they found water and sludge to within a few feet of the top of the arches at the slit junction, and after a few yards the underlying sludge became very soft. The team sighted a body about 7 yards inbye before they withdrew. Later that day R. Williams, H.M. Inspector of Mines and Quarries, recovered the body which was identified as Charles Cotton.

At 10 a.m. on 28th. March, A. Rollinson, an assistant superintendent of the Rescue Station at Doncaster, made an assessment of the possibility of exploring along the intake gate inbye the slit junction. Although the water level was within 14 inches of the roof at the outbye end. He found that the condition inbye improved. At 11.33 a.m. the Ledston Luck Colliery rescue team carried out an exploration and after some difficulty at the transfer point, travelled 490 yards beyond. Very high methane content was found in the air samples that they brought back. Later the Savile Colliery rescue team made an inspection along the same route and found that the road was blocked with debris about 917 yards inbye to the South 9C development heading. No survivors were found on any of these explorations and after consideration of the air sample results and the reports of the team captains it was agreed by all that there was no further hopes of finding anyone left alive.

The victims of the disaster were (recovered 26th March 1973)

  • Charles Cotton aged 49 years, faceworker

And those who were not found:

  • Frederick William Armitage aged 41 years, faceworker,
  • Colin Barnaby aged 36 years, faceworker,
  • Frank Billingham aged 48 years, faceworker,
  • Sydney Brown aged 36 years, faceworker,
  • Edward Finnegan aged 40 years, deputy,
  • Alan Haigh aged 30 years, faceworker.

Work was then directed to recover the district and despite the arduous periods of duty and the disappointments which followed the valiant efforts of the rescue workers, they persevered in conditions of extreme difficulty and discomfort. On the 19th, April, all interested parties inspected the district. Mr. Mapplebeck spoke of the violence of the inrush and said that the water was still seeping through the debris which blocked both roadways at the time of the inspection. He pointed out that the artificially low level of the surface water table and referred to the possibility that the natural restoration of the water in the strata and old workings would put pressure on the debris which blocked the South 9B face and the inbye end of the main gate and tailgate. The opening up of the Bye, Engine and Bull Pits to the surface would cause water to flow down these shafts and from the fact that old shaft lining had been found in the district after the disaster, there was little doubt that there was a physical connection between the old shafts and the old workings in the Flockton Thin seam and the district. When everything was considered it was realised that the recovery of the bodies would necessitate the clearing of the debris from the gates and face and would invite the possibility of a further inrush. It was decided that the risk was too great.

The inquiry into the causes and circumstances attending the inrush which occurred at the Lofthouse Colliery, Yorkshire on 21st. March 1973, was conducted by J.W. Calder, C.B., O.B.E., B.Sc., C.Eng., F.I.Min.E., H.M. Inspector of Mines and Quarries, at No. 1 Crown Court, Wakefield on 30th, May 1973 and lasted for eight days. the report was presented to The Right Honourable Peter Walker, M.B.E., M.P., Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 30th. August 1973. All interested parties were represented.

The Inspector said that many of the possibilities of an inrush could have been foreseen. There was water in South 9B district, water was found in the shotholes, there was a smell in the 9B district, there had been subsidence at the Bull Pit in September 1972 and the plans and records were available. The inquiry concluded that-

i) the disaster was caused by an inrush of water from old workings in the Flockton Thin seam into the South 9B face at a point between 30 and 70 yards from the main gate roadhead

ii) the old uncharted workings probably originated from the Bye Pit, now known to have been sunk to the Flockton Thin seam, and the Engine Pit of the long-abandoned Old Low Laithes Colliery

iii) the magnitude and the violence of the inrush were due to the shafts and associated wastes in the Gawthorpe and Haigh Moor seams being waterlogged over a considerable area

iv) the victims whose bodies were not recovered were probably killed instantly

v) important decisions relating to the safe working of the mine were taken at the planning stage by surveyors and were accepted by the manager and the Section 1 appointees who did not call for and examine the supporting information

vi) the implications of the environmental changes which took place in the district in the weeks immediately prior to the inrush were not fully appreciated.


The inquiry recommended that

i) in planning for the extraction of an area of coal all the available evidence should be listed and attached to the layout plan. Minutes should be taken of all discussions and the final decisions should be recorded and should be taken by a senior mining engineer carrying appropriate responsibilities under Section 1 of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954

ii) when an area of coal under consideration includes old shafts or workings prior to 1900, the utmost care should be taken during the preliminary investigation to ascertain their position and extent. In the absence of positive information, the coal should not be worked

iii) approaches to the Institute of Geological Sciences relating to areas of coal which are intended to be worked should be accompanied by a written request for information so that the full facilities of the Institute can be utilised

iv) The National Coal Board and the Institute of Geological Sciences should set up a small working party to consider the feasibility of preparing a catalogue of old geological field notebooks and other documents to ensure that these sources of information are not overlooked

v) a national appeal should be launched by the Department of Trade and Industry for old mining plans held in private hands to be made available for copying

vi) the development of equipment capable of handling fluids with a high solids content should be pursued.


The report of the causes and the circumstances attending the inrush which occurred at the Lofthouse Colliery, Yorkshire, on the 21st. March 1973 by J.W. Calder, C.B., O.B.E., B.Sc., C.Eng., F.I.Min.E.,  H.M. Inspector of Mines and Quarries.

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

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