LOWER ELSECAR (Hemingfield). Barnsley, Yorkshire. 22nd. December, 1852.

The colliery had worked the Barnsley coal which was over nine feet thick at a depth of 154 yards for about five years with no serious accidents and employed about 140 persons. It was owned by Earl Fitzwilliam. The ventilation to the mine was provided by a fan, eight feet in diameter and placed underground and driven by a steam engine at 170 r.p.m. The fan was the invention of Mr. Biram, Earl Fitzwilliam’s agent. The air was split into two currents, one going around the north of the mine and the other to the south in which district a pair of “bordgates” had been driven. These were far ahead of the working stalls and were being driven towards two new pits that were being sunk to improve the ventilation.

It was known to be a fiery mine and Davy lamps were used. Two “fire-triers” were appointed to inspect the pit in the morning and to overlook the operations during the day. At midday on the day of the accident the “triers” were not on duty and in their absence a boy propped open a trap-door upon which the ventilation of the west bordgate depended and it remained open for about half an hour. During this time, gas collected in the upper parts of the bordgates.

When the ventilation was restored and the door shut, the air collected the gas and it reached a point where a man was working with the top of his lamp unscrewed and the explosion occurred.

Those who died are:

  • Thomas Hurst, 33, leaving a wife and 4 children
  • Henry Addey, Elsecar, 17
  • Jonathan Walker, Stubbin, 47
  • Benjamin Fletcher, Wombwell, 28
  • Joseph Stenton, Jump, 32
  • George Mallender, Jump, 37
  • John Cooper, Jump, 17
  • William Dickinson, Kilroyd, 29
  • Joseph Rawson, Hoyland
  • Thomas Hutchinson, Broom Hill

The Injured:

  • George Lindley
  • Isaac Waller
  • John Wrigley Elsecar
  • William Hemsworth Broom Hill

The inquest was conducted by Mr. Badger, the coroner and from the evidence of the witnesses, the story of the explosion emerged as the witnesses gave their evidence Joseph Hodgson and William For were the “triers” at the colliery and the former told the court that they had made their inspections at 4 a.m. and found the pit safe to work in. Hodgson left the pit at 8.30 a.m. and Ford stayed down because one of them had to be in the pit but he left the pit at 11.30 a.m. and the explosion took place at 1.15 p.m.

When they returned they directed a stream of water down the engine pit to try to increase the ventilation and then descended to search for the men. Some were found uninjured in the north district which they got out of the pit. But on the south side, they found that the stoppings had been blown out. They replaced them with sheets and managed to get the air into the end of the mine and went forward.

They found no damage between the third and fourth bordgates but in the second and the other bordgates, ten doors were blown out and a number of stoppings. They did not see any of the bodies but on the following day they made a search for the lamps and found a lamp-bottom where Stenton’s body was found and the lamp to two yards away. John Hodgson thought that the boy, Lindley, left the door in the west bordgate open and the gas fired at Stenton’s naked lamp.

When he was questioned by Mr. Morton, the Inspector, it emerged that the colliers often took off the tops of their lamps but it was against what they had been told and the colliery had no fines for men that were caught doing this.

William Ford, the other “trier” had examined the north side when Hodgson was examining the south. He found it safe but found gas in the goaf between the first and second bords. He showed three men, Dickenson, Mallinder and Stenton, who were near it, to be careful. Later, a man named Swift told him that he had found the ventilation door open and shut it.

After the explosion, he went to an underground engine and tried to start the ventilation fan but the afterdamp drove them back. When he got into the south workings he found doors and stoppings blown out, including the door that had been propped open. Moulson was found alive and they found the bodies of Stenton, Dickinson, Mallinder, Fletcher, Walker and Hurst.

Mr. Morton then questioned him about the working of the colliery and was told that the mine was worked with lamps but they were often unscrewed and blasting in the mine was done with gunpowder that was fired by touch-paper and he had often seen gas fired by the shot but there had not been a fatality at the colliery for the previous five years.

John Swift, a hurrier and the man who found the door open and closed it said he found the door open immediately after dinner. He and another hurrier, Lindley had come through the door when they were going to dinner and he was first through and put at brick at the bottom, Lindley, who was following, should have removed the brick but did not.

John Bearshall, was a labourer and in the pit at the time of the explosion, said Ford and Hodgson had told the men not to remove the tops of their lamps. James Moulson, a collier was also in the pit at the time, felt the blast and was taken home unconscious from the afterdamp. Swift and Lindley took his coal away and it was Swift’s duty to open the door and Lindley’s to close it.

George Charles Hague was clerk to Mr. Biram, Earl Fitzwilliam’s colliery viewer, but had nothing to do with the underground management of the colliery, thought that the ventilation of the mine so good, the fan gave between 25,000 and 33,000 cubic feet of air per minute, that it could have been worked with candles but the colliers had strict orders to work with lamps.

The underground steward of the colliery, James Utley, said there were no printed rules at the colliery and he had nor seen any in other pits. Had he seen men working with a naked light, she would have sent them away immediately. The lamps were trimmed by a man, Denton, but there were no locks on them. There had been complaints that the oil was bad and the lamps would not burn. Mark Barber was on the north side at the time of the explosion told the inquiry that the oil in the lamps coked the wicks and they had to unscrew the lamps to clean the wicks as prickers were not provided.

Mr. Utley had duties both above and below ground and four working shafts to look after and had not been down since the previous Monday. He had prohibited blasting with the exception of the west bordgate on the grounds that it was dangerous. There was no barometer at the colliery.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines, Mr Charles Morton along with Messrs. Biram, Woodhouse and Jeffcock and others made an inspection of the mine after the explosion. He pointed out that it the ventilation had not been split as it was there would have been a much greater loss of life but was critical of the methods in operation in the mine particularly the lamp system and the fact that there were no written rules.

The colliery viewer, John Thomas Jeffcock thought that the lamp system could be better at the colliery and pointed out that printed rules were not common in the district. As far as he knew only the Oaks Colliery had them. Robert Charles Webster, a colliery viewer thought that the explosion was caused by the door being left open as did all the eminent mining men at the inquiry.

George Lindley was called and cautioned by the Coroner as to any statement he might make to the inquest. He stated:

I was tramming on the day of the accident I got my dinner in the pit, between twelve and one o’clock, and then the explosion took place. I am not guilty of what is laid to my charge, for I did not leave the door open. Swift propped it open and I do not know who came through after me.

Mr. Benjamin Biram had been Earl Fitzwillam’s mineral agent for about thirty years and he agreed with Mr, Morton and the others as to the cause of the explosion. With regard to the safety lamps, he said he had developed a lamp of his own that was safe, gave more light and was cheaper than other lamps but he felt he could not urge its use in pits that were under his control and left it to the workmen whether they used it or not. It would lock, had a shield to protect it against an air current, a mesh of Sir Humphrey Davy’s standard and gave four times more light than a standard lamp.

Mr. Badger, the coroner, gave a thorough summing up of the evidence and the jury brought in a verdict of “accidental death” and strongly recommended that the suggestions made by the Inspector to improve the working of the mine be carried out.


The Mines Inspectors Report, 1852.
Lodge’s Almanack, 1915.
The Report of the Select Committee on Accidents in Coal Mines, 1853.

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

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