LUNDHILL. Barnsley, Yorkshire. 22nd June 1854.

A shaft was being sunk to the Barnsley thick coal and the sinkers had got almost to a coal bed, with which the bottom of the pit communicated by means of a small borehole to let off the water. Firedamp had been seen to come from the borehole on frequent occasions from the works in the upper coal bed. On the 22nd August, the gas came out in such force and abundance that it caused an explosion which claimed the lives of six sinkers.

For two or three days before, the underground air passages and the sinking operations had been stopped by a problem with water and, as firedamp was known to be present, more than the usual degree of caution in regard to ventilation and lights were used when the work recommenced. The mining agent, Mr. Pease and the contractor, Mr. Jebson, were absent from their duties and no examination of the sinking pit was made on the morning of the accident. The workmen were left with no directions and took down lighted candles and the firedamp exploded with terrific force.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • James Batty aged 32 years. banksman.
  • William Davis aged 50 years, married.
  • Matthew Thompson aged 50 years
  • Thomas Jackson aged 48 years.
  • Noah Ely, aged 52 years.

There were two inquests, one on five of men and another on one who died later from his injuries. At the inquest, the court heard that the owners of the colliery had purchased a ventilating engine and air pipes for the express purpose of ventilating the sinking shaft but the agent and the contractor had not used them. Safety lamps had also been provided but the managers did not enforce their use. Mt. Morton, the Inspector commented:

Nothing was wanted for safety but prudent foresight and diligence of the part of the superintendents whose business it was to see that the materials on the spot were judicially employed, and at the right time.

At the first inquest the jury decided that the deceased were “Accidentally Killed” adding:

We acquit the owners of culpability but we are of the opinion that John Jebson, the contractor, ought to have men in whom he can place a little confidence, and to the use of the means of ventilation which has been placed at his disposal by the proprietors. Of one of the deceased, Noah Heeley, had exercised more caution, the accident might not have occurred.

Mr. Morton commented:

A few days afterwards the sixth man died and the second inquest was held at which the jurors exonerated the owners and agents from blame but it was obvious, during the interval between the two inquests, that what the Inspector called “unwonted and extraordinary exertions” were made by the management to shield themselves from an unfavourable verdict. Mr. Sergeant Wilkins was brought down to defend them and he was assisted by another barrister and an attorney and an imposing array of engineering witnesses were retained to give evidence, who saw the works in an altered and much-improved state.

 The labourers who had survived the blast had been tampered with and were reluctant to answer any questions which seemed to inculcate the overlookers. The jury was selected by the village constable from the immediate vicinity of the colliery and from a class not likely to act independently or to give umbrage to the proprietors. Under such circumstances, it was mot surprising that the second verdict was not unlike the first.

 One of the unfortunate victims said, on being brought out of the pit, “we shall have air-pipes put in now,” and it is almost certain that, if the blowing engine had been employed, and the air pipes fixed in the shaft by the agent and the contractor, as they were intended to be by the owners, or, on the morning of the accident the pit had been examined with a safety lamp before the miners descended, this dreadful calamity would have been avoided.


Mines Inspectors’ Report, 1854. Mr. Charles Morton.
Lodge’s Almanac, 1915.

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

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