LUNDHILL. Barnsley, Yorkshire. 19th. February, 1857.
The colliery was between the villages of Wombwell and Elescar, five miles south-east of Barnsley. They were owned by Messrs. Simpson, Stewart, Taylor and Galand and at the time they were the deepest in South Yorkshire.
Mr. Henry Holt of Wakefield was appointed Chief Viewer of the colliery and Mr. Joseph Coe was the resident overviewer. For several months these men directed operations at the colliery and limited coal had been got form the Wathwood Seam 46 yards deep and 4 feet thick and the Abdy seam 75 yards deep and 3 feet thick but these seams had now been abandoned.
There were three shafts; No.1 was the pumping and downcast shaft and was 77 yards deep and 10 feet diameter, sunk to the Abdy seam. No.2 was the downcast and coal drawing, 217 yards deep and 11 feet 4 inches in diameter. No.3 was the upcast and furnace shaft, 215 yards deep and sunk to the Barnsley seam. The gaseous character of this coal seam was known when an explosion killed six men when the shaft was being sunk.
At midday, twenty two of the workers came up the pit for their dinner but the majority stayed down for their meal. When the explosion occurred, the corves which were at rest were blown into the headgear and flames reached twenty yards above the pit shaft illuminating the surrounding countryside. The cage went high into the air and there was a very loud report. The rope and the chain of the cage in the drawing shaft were thrown up into the headgears and became entangled with the pulleys and it took a long time before this could be put right and the cage lowered down the shaft.
About three hours after the blast Messrs. Joseph Coe, William Porter Maddison, Robert Charles Webster, John Warhurst, William Beevors, William Utley and others attempted to descend the drawing shaft but their process was held up by the obstructions in the shaft. They made great efforts to get through and when they eventually succeeded they found twenty survivors at the bottom of the shaft scorched and injured. They sent them up the pit and began their exploration of the mine.
They found the most dreadful havoc around them. The dead and horses lay in confused heaps, overturned corves shattered doors and broken timber. Fallen roof stones and the furnace arches were in ruins. They went about 400 yards in all directions too look for survivors but that was in vain. They had passed a score of corpses but there was no sign of life. The coal near the upcast shaft had been ignited and masses of burning coal tumbled down from the sides. The stables were also in flames. The presence of gas showed in their lamps and another explosion seemed to be imminent. The furnace might collapse and the wooden framing of the pit might catch fire and cut off their escape, so they decided to retreat. The smoke and the afterdamp were too strong.
At 7.30 p.m. the men came up the pit when an impressive and spectacle took place. A cloud of flame rose 100 feet from the furnace pit while clouds of blazing embers and sparks rose from the pit higher and higher dispelling the darkness and shed a lurid light on the faces of the men, women and children who were waiting at the pit head. There were an estimated ten to fifteen thousand people around the pit at that time. The explorers had got out of the pit just in time. A telephone message was sent to the Sheffield Fire Brigade and some engines arrived and the fire blazed for about four hours.
Many mangers of local collieries offered their assistance and at a meeting with the management of the colliery, they decided that if they were not to loose the pit altogether, they should cap the two downcast shafts as soon as possible but leave the upcast shaft open. This proved successful and the flames above ground abated before midnight but dense clouds of smoke still came from the open upcast shaft.
Some tales emerged in the press reports of the time. A man named Joseph Simmons was found in the mine and was put in a chair ready to go up the shaft. He struggled, broke away from the men and ran to the workings. He was caught a second time but he had great strength and in his delirium due to the gas he had inhaled, he ran into the workings. His body had not been recovered at the time of the report.
The following morning the Inspector met with Mr. John Thomas Woodhouse of Derby, Mr. Henry Holt of Wakefield and several viewers of the Lundhill colliery. A plan was approved for the next day by Messrs. Nicholas Wood and George Elliot, mining engineers of Durham, who had been called in to help. At Her Majesty’s Inspector, Mr. Morton’s suggestion the proprietors of the colliery delegated four chief viewers with the responsibility to re-open the mine and to recover the bodies of the victims. They were authorised at the owners expense to engage such assistants as they saw fit in the circumstances. Accordingly Messrs. N. Wood, G. Elliot, J.T. Woodhouse and H. Holt undertook direction and brought in Messrs. W.P. Maddison, C.R. Webster, J. Brown, R.R. Maddison, Edward Potter, A. Palmer, Thomas Cooper, Joseph Coe and Richard Pease to assist them to carry out their instructions. On the day after the explosion the mouth of the furnace pit was closed with the exception of an aperture eight inches across the middle, from which came smoke and watery vapour and carbonic acid gas mixed with air from the downcast shafts which were not quite tight.
At 4 p.m. the same day the temperature of the furnace pit, twenty feet below the surface was 1050C and had fallen to 850C in 24 hours. Nevertheless it was still too dangerous to open the shafts as it would still be hot enough to cause another explosion.
It was suggested that carbon dioxide gas could be put down the shaft to put out the flames but it was thought that if this was done most of the gas would go up the upcast shaft and this idea was abandoned. The solution that was adopted was to send a strong jet of steam was forced down the downcast shaft to put out the fire. But it was realised that the safest way was to put it out with water. The springs at the pumping pit gave 200 gallons per minute and they were allowed to run from the Adby seam into the Barnsley workings and a additional 100 gallons per minute were obtained from diverting a nearby brook into the drawing shaft.
It was decided to keep the pits closed until the water had reached the roof of the mine at the bottom of the furnace shaft. During these operations, a careful record was kept of the temperatures in the shafts. The air temperature in the furnace shaft gradually and steadily decreased. On 21st. February the temperature was 800C, 770C on the 23rd, 750C on the 24th, 720C on the 25th, and at the bottom it was ascertained to be 810C on the 24th February but on but 27th it rose to 910C and on the 28th. to 1000C and the water at the bottom by 830C while that at the top was 450C. By March 3rd the water temperature had increased to 850C and by March 5th to 870C.
It was essential that all underground material should be extinguished and it was decided that water should be allowed to reach the roof of the Barnsley Seam at a point not less that ninety yards from the furnace. It was thought that the water would rise twenty yards in the furnace pit and a reading of that depth was reached, the extraction of water would commence and carry on day and night. Preparations were made for the day when the water reached this level and the water reached the top of the furnace arches. The tops of the shafts would be uncovered and the drawing pit bratticed. The framing and conductors would have to be repaired in the shaft. Doors would be put in the connecting drifts between the downcast and the upcast shafts in the Wathwood and the Adby seams, safety lamps being used while this work was done and three tubs, each of 500 gallons were made of strong iron sheet to lift the water.
Observations were taken as to the depth of the water and the temperature at the bottom of the furnace shaft. On March 5th, the temperature was 87 degrees C and then lessened to 61 degrees C on the 24th. and then increased to 66 degrees C when the water was at about sixty feet and then became constant.
The water drawing operating were stared and carried on for a month until the pit was drained. It was thought that during the drainage, emissions of gas would occur so the burning of naked lights round the shaft was prohibited and only locked safety lamps were used at the top of the shafts. The benefit of this decision became apparent on the 4th April when a large volume of inflammable gas was liberated from the mine and fired harmlessly at the lamps on the surface. The gas continued to be emitted all though the next day. The water in the pit which had been lowering at two feet a day stood at forty feet deep on the 4th April. In twelve hours it fell fifteen feet and in twenty four hours it had gone down more than thirty one feet. The temperature of the top of the water was 66 degrees centigrade on the 24th March and had fallen to 61 degrees centigrade on the 5th April.
As the water fell below the furnace arches gas was given off in the upcast shafts and the temperature of the gas at the top was found to be only 63 degrees centigrade. The temperature at the bottom of the furnace pit 100 degrees centigrade on the 28th February and on the 8th April, 63 degrees centigrade. The temperature of the water fell from 83 degrees centigrade to 61 degrees centigrade over the same period. On the 17th April the water was only three feet deep in the downcast and a current of air passed freely between the up and downcast shafts and continued for two or three days. The temperature decreased to 57 degrees Centigrade and the first examination of the mine was made. They made their way twenty yards north, south to a great fall of roof near the furnace pit and west to the stables which and crumble in. They found no signs of combustion.
The ventilation was produced by two fans, which were lent by Earl Fitzwilliam, were fixed above the upcast shaft and a waterfall as an auxiliary step was sent down the downcast shaft. Each fan was driven by a steam engine with twelve inch cylinders driven by steam from the colliery boilers, driven by straps at 200 r.p.m. and produced 15 to 16,000 cubic feet of air per minute and with the waterfall 23 to 24,000 cubic feet per minute.
On the 17th April it was resolved to commence the search and recover the bodies which were found to be nauseous, odious and hazardous. These were words that described the work as well. The work was arranged by forming companies or relays of practical miners. Each company consisted of twelve people who each worked for four hours with two experienced deputies and at least one of the assistant viewers superintended the work of each company. Only Stevenson safety lamps were used in the work.
The dead colliers and horses that were lying at the pit bottom were quickly removed. The putrid stench was unbearable and neutralising and deodorising agents had to be used, tar and chloride of lime and McDougalls Disinfection Powder, the latter being the most efficacious. Dr. Stenhouse’s Charcoal Respirators for the mouth and Mackintosh gloves were used and a medical advisor was always on the spot. There were special sanitary arrangements for handling the dead, shrouding and the final interment of the dead. The Mines Inspector acknowledge the held and advice given by the Inspector of Burial Grounds, Mr Holland.
Falls of roof made the progress difficult. Embers were re-lit as the ventilation air came in and there was a lookout posted for unquenched spots. The southern part of the mine was found to be the most open and this was ventilated first before the men went in. Ventilation was by means of wooden stoppings which was eventually followed by brick ones. By the 30th April they reached the coalface at the South Level. They then went west and then east to the upcast pit.
When the great falls of roof on the North side had been cleared or by-passed, the North workings were reached on the 8th May and two weeks later they reached the bottom of the upcast shaft. By the 22nd May one hundred bodies had been recovered and by the end of July all the dead had been got out of the fated mine and from under the falls. The amount of work that had been done was prodigious, ripping, stowing, packing, timbering and bratticing. Firedamp was encountered at every step so often that it put out the Stevenson’s lamps and the afterdamp was very strong. Due to the state of the dead there was also an unpleasant atmosphere.
The damage to the pit was very great. Balks of broken timber, substantial brick arches and stopping demolished, thick pack walls torn down and distorted and strong iron rails torn up. Human bodies had been dismembered and heads and limbs were lying about. One man was found transfixed to his pick, several were found as though sitting at their dinner and were victims of the afterdamp.
The Inspector Mr. Morton made an inspection of the colliery to try to discover the seat of the explosion. Some tokens were found hanging on a string even though the place had been on fire.
Those who lost their lives were:
- John Stevenson aged 25 years.
- William Dyson aged 17 years.
- Joseph Childs aged 23 years.
- William Childs aged 19 years.
- James Barrow aged 29 years.
- George Moss aged 17 years.
- Richard Marsden aged 24 years.
- From Gawber:
- Joseph Lumb aged 33 years.
- John Lumb aged 11 years.
- Thomas Kitchen aged 28 years.
- Philip Dart aged 30 years.
- John Haley aged 22 years.
- Andrew Musgreave aged 33 years.
- Samuel Thorp aged 16 years.
- George Farmer aged 24 years.
- Thomas Kellett aged 39 years.
- William Kellett aged 10 years.
- Joseph Blackburn aged 11 years.
From Monk Bretton:
- William Mitchell aged 61 years.
- George Law aged 29 years.
- John Phillips aged 19 years.
- John Denton aged 39 years.
- Thomas Denton aged 18 years.
- John Russell aged 27 years.
- Stuart Russell aged 17 years.
- George Gill aged 49 years.
- Stephen Turner aged 31 years.
- John Scott aged 25 years.
- John Hodgson aged 31 years.
- Thomas Turner aged 17 years.
- Josiah Whitney aged 24 years.
- David Howarth aged 39 years.
- John Ward aged 24 years.
- Henry Brooker aged 22 years.
- John Booker aged 16 years.
- William Horsfield aged 32 years.
- William Moore aged 23 years.
- E. Knowles aged 30 years.
- Thomas Gee aged 27 years.
- George Gee aged 25 years.
- John Dawson aged 10 years.
- Arthur Dawson aged 13 years.
- Thomas Naylor or Levett aged 22 years.
- Edward Trainer aged 23 years.
- Michael Baine aged 22 years.
- Samuel Roebuck aged 24 years.
- George Thompson aged 37 years.
- Henry Wilson aged 18 years.
- William White aged 25 years.
- Abram Wildsmith aged 18 years.
- Richard Smith aged 25 years.
- George Mason aged 33 years.
- James Litchfield aged 26 years.
- Thomas Litchfield aged 22years.
- William Litchfield aged 11 years.
- Richard Dunstan aged 33 years.
- Thomas Farmer aged 26 years.
- William Candlett aged 18 years.
- Dennis Bush aged 22 years.
- Joseph Allenson aged 23 years.
- Thomas Faulks aged 29 years.
- John Cutt sen. aged 40 years.
- John Cutt jnr. aged 17 years.
- William Cutt aged 19 years.
- George Cutt aged 16 years.
- Ezra Illingworth aged 25 years.
- William Illingworth aged 32 years.
- John Illingworth aged 10 years.
- Thomas Hilton aged 24 years.
- Joseph Crossland aged 32 years.
- Joseph Simmons aged 26 years.
- Edward Simmons aged 11 years.
- Richard Wilkinson aged 35 years.
- Thomas Wilkinson aged 33 years.
- James Wilkinson aged 22 years.
- Henry Barraclough aged 26 years.
- Charles Barraclough aged 22 years.
- Joseph Smith aged 53 years.
- James Smith aged 23 years.
- John Smith aged 19 years.
- John Smith aged 51 years.
- James Smith aged 22 years.
- Robert Howarth aged 25 years.
- Benjamin Batty aged 22 years.
- Joseph Goohall aged 24 years.
- George F. Shepherd.
- George Scholer aged 32 years.
- John Malkin aged 22 years.
- Barney Bailey aged 40 years.
- George Bailey aged 14 years.
- Edward Walker aged 27 years.
- James Walker aged 22 years.
- William Hutchinson aged 20 years.
- Charles Lutrick aged 20 years.
- Peter McAllister aged 26 years.
- Joseph Abbott aged 40 years.
- Samuel Abbott aged 10 years.
- Richard Kellett sen. aged 3 3years.
- Thomas Kellett aged 17 years.
- Richard Kellett jnr. aged 13 years.
- Samuel Hunt aged 32 years.
- James Hunt aged 27 years.
- Edward Garbutt aged 36 years.
- Witham Garbutt aged 17 years.
- John Garbutt aged 1 1years.
- Benjamin Beevers aged 23 years.
- Elijah Beevers aged 18 years.
- Elijah Crompton aged 19 years.
- Joseph Backwood aged 23 years.
- Robert Fletcher aged 55 years.
- Alfred Windle aged 30 years.
- John Halliday aged 20 years.
- William Monks aged 32 years.
- John Hobson.
- Israel Hobson aged 20 years.
- Levi Jackson aged 44 years.
- Samuel Schofield aged 25 years.
- Matthew Broadhead aged 25 years.
- Richard Corbridge aged 27 years.
- James Burthard aged 21 years.
- Matthew Cowen aged 15 years.
- Thomas Uttley aged 20 years.
- John Harper aged 20 years.
- Thomas Horne aged 24 years.
- A, Nicholson aged 17 years.
- One not named.
- John Carr aged 14 years.
- James Oldham aged 24 years.
- Stephen Depledge aged 13 years.
- James Ives aged 19 years.
- Joseph Smith aged 22 years.
- William Smith aged 27 years.
- William Greenwood aged 24 years.
- Abraham Nettleton aged 41 years.
- Henry Hawcroft aged 22 years.
- Joseph Margison aged 38 years.
- Joseph Harrison aged 18 years.
- John Beevers aged 20 years.
- John Grimshaw aged 32 years.
- Joseph Grimshaw aged 42 years.
- John Thompson aged 30 years.
- H. Mellor aged 22 years.
- Samuel Parkinson aged 21 years.
- Luke Hartley aged 20 years.
- George Moore aged 50 years.
- Robert Moore aged 43 years.
- James Coates aged 34 years.
- Charles Coates aged 29 years.
- Edward Pollard aged 50 years.
- James Pollard aged 49 years.
- Robert Pullan aged 20 years.
- Charles Kellett aged 28 years.
- Joseph Kellett aged 19 years.
- Charles Walker aged 24 years.
From West Milton:
- Thomas Nortcliffe aged 17 years.
- George Nortcliffe aged 15 years.
- William Thompson aged 19 years.
- Benjamin Guest aged 17 years.
- John Frost aged 32 years.
- George Dawson aged 26 years.
- Amos James aged 30 years.
- John Cooper aged 11 years.
- George Townsend aged 19 years.
- Robert Burland aged 20 years.
- George Tattersall aged 29 years.
- James Tattersall aged 19 years.
- George Law aged 39 years.
- Sampson Law aged 21 years.
- Thomas Drury aged 32 years.
- James Drury aged 10 years.
- Thomas Logan aged 37 years.
- Thomas Gray aged 22 years.
- William Mangham aged 25 years.
- Charles Milner aged 22 years.
- George Tunnacliffe sen.
- George Tunnacliffe aged 20 years.
- William Webb aged 22 years.
- Daniel Chisholm aged 27 years.
- Abraham Turner aged 21 years.
- George Foster aged 16 years.
- William Pickles aged 29 years.
- George Mangham aged 24 years.
- John Wilkinson aged 22 years.
- George Dyson aged 19 years.
- George Maugham aged 24 years.
- George Offenden aged 25 years.
- N. M’Laughlin aged 23 years.
From Worsbro’ Dale:
- John Rooke aged 26 years.
- Benjamin Johnson aged 31 years.
- William Thomas.
The last body that was recovered from the mine was that of Matthew Broadhead, this was on the 16th July 1857. In some cases whole families had gone. The Kellett family lost seven sons and of the two hundred and twenty people in the mine only twenty four were rescued leaving a final death toll of one hundred and eighty nine. One hundred and forty nine of the victims were buried in four mass graves at Darefield Church and a monument marks the spot.
The disaster left ninety widows and two hundred and twenty orphaned children. The Relief Fund realised almost £10,676 with the Lundhill Coal Company donating £500. The estimated loss to the owners of the colliery was £20,000. By the end of March 1860, forty six of the widows had remarried.
The County Coroner, Mr. Badger, of Rotherham and the jury of respectable and intelligent men assembled on eleven different days and also heard the evidence from sixty witnesses over a period of three months.
There was a summary of the events at the inquest in the Mines Inspector’s Report which was taken form the shorthand notes of the proceedings that were taken for the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey. From this account, a detailed description of the events in the mine before and after the explosion can be gleaned.
William Corbridge, a deputy at the colliery, said he had worked at the colliery for three years and on the day of the explosion, which he said took place about twenty minutes to half past noon on the 19th February. He was one of the lucky ones to get out of the pit with nineteen others and they reached the surface between 4 and 5 p.m. He was having his dinner with five others at the explosion near the bottom of the drawing pit. He had been putting brattices in the north levels. These brattices were as close to the face as possible which was in accordance with the rules but some were more that twenty feet from the face.
John Warhurst, another deputy at the colliery was at home when the explosion occurred and immediately went to the pit. He found the cage blown up into the pulley wheels and stuck there. The rope was cut and put on the other side of the shaft as soon as possible but it was 4 p.m. before anyone could get down the pit. John Warhurst, Mr. Coe and William Beevors were the first to go into the pit. They found sheeting boards blown loose on the side of the shaft. These they removed and brought them to the surface.
Beevors and Warhurst went to the bottom of the shaft and found a number of men lying there who they got to the surface as soon as possible. He went to the furnace pit and saw a large fire above the furnace and a man lying on a heap of burning coal. He dragged the man off the coal. He proceeded towards the furnace broadgate and had to return when gas was firing in his lamp. He found another body on the level and two on the south level. He went another 60 or 70 yards and then went to the surface.
He reported to Mr. Coe what he had seen. Messrs. Coe, Maddison, Webster, Utley and John Warhurst then descended the pit again and went to the south level as far as the second or third bordgate were they found five more bodies. Two hundred and fifty yards further gas fired in their lamps and they were afraid to proceed so they returned to the surface for more men and went down again.
On returning, Mr. Coe and Mr. Webster gave him orders to remove the bodies that had been found and then to join them on the north side. Warhurst went with Benjamin Hoyland to the south level as far as the fourth broadgate. Forty yards further on gas showed in their lamps. The bodies that were found were taken to the pit bottom and left there and Mr. Warhurst them followed Coe and Webster up the north side where a further six bodies were found.
They were frightened that the burning furnace pit would fall in and they did hot have time to remove the bodies. He found Mr. Coe and reported that he had seen the burning furnace arches falling and masses of burning coal falling down the sides of the drift leading to the furnace. They party could not get to the stables as they were a mass of flames and could only get forty yards down the bordgates when they were driven back by gas. When he left the pit at 7.30 p.m., he had no doubt that there was no one alive left in the mine.
As a deputy he had examined the mine at 3 a.m. on the morning of the explosion and found, “not a working place where gas would fire in the safety lamp and the goaves seemed clear.” On the preceding night William Lodge had complained to him that the brattices were a long way from the face on the south side. They were 20 to 30 yards away and ought to have been four yards away according to Rule 23. Mr. Warhurst did not see any danger in this as there was thought to be little gas in the headings and Rule 23 was strictly adhered to in the bordgate as the coal there did make gas. William Lodge was working with a candle and Warhurst offered him a lamp but he declined.
Mr. William Porter Maddison, was the viewer at the Wombwell Main colliery gave his account of the disaster:
About twenty minutes to one o’clock on the afternoon after the explosion I arrived at the Lundhill pit, and found that the men had just completed fastening the broken chain on the headgear they were also reversing the rope and adjusting it on the drum. Every exertion was made and no time was lost, and the rope was got to work about a quarter to three. Mr. Coe and two of his men went down the shaft, but their descent was much impeded by pieces of loose timber, which were removed and after some time they reached the bottom. Shortly after Mr. Coe returned to the surface and then I and Mr. Webster went down the pit together. We had great difficulty on keeping out lights in, because of the current of air: we had to scramble over a heap of broken slides and stays, and proceeded along the south-horse level about fifteen yards we saw an opening to the upcast pit, where there had been two doors, not a vestige of which remained. A fire was raging furiously, the arching of the furnace was in ruins, and fire was also coming down the furnace broadgate towards the pit. We went further along the south-horse level, and turned up the next opening westward, in the hope of getting round the other side of the fire, but soon the flames stopped us. On the rise we found the corner of a solid pillar of coal on fire, but it was afterwards put out. Altogether we got 70 yards to the rise of the horse level at this point. Mr. Coe tried to go further up, but he was stopped by want of air. We then returned to the horse level and travelled southward, turning up several of the west bordgates as far as we could until the gas fired in the safety-lamps.
We went to the south, a distance of about 350 yards, found three dead bodies and were again stopped by gas firing in our lamps. We then returned to the downcast pit, scrambled over debris, went to the north levels, and a few yards from the pit bottom we saw a dead horse and a train load of corves, on the top of which he had been blow by the explosion. We turned to the broadgate leading the stables, and found two horses lying dead. The stables were on fire, more particularly on the side next to the hay cribs and the edges of the coal were also on fire. We then went along the north-horse level, turned up No.1 broadgate, found the stables on fire there also, and a large body of smoke backing along the north level, which led us to suppose that there was fire still further up. Proceeding on the horse-level we found several dead men we went up No.2 boadgate about 40 yards, until we could go no further because of the firedamp returned to the horse-level, examining the stoppings as we went northward, some of which were blown out.
Went up No.3 boadgate about 40 yards, where gas fired in the safety lamps proceeding along the north horse-level to within 40 yards of the face at the entrance to No.4 boadgate we found a dead boy, burnt and blackened then went into the water-level and brought out the dead body of another man. Just at this time John Warhurst came to tell us that if we did not at once return to the shaft, our means of escape would be lost but we did not leave the levels and boadgate, even then, until we had examined every place that was approachable, or in which it was possible for any person to be alive. We examined several places on the dip-side but we found no one dead or living. Those who had been working there had got out.
We returned to the shaft and counted eight dead bodies on the way and tried to enter the stables again but we could not. The flames were then raging so furiously that it was impossible for us to go near for more that 100 yards the solid coal and timber &c. were a sheet of flame and it was fearful to contemplate the increase of the fire during the time we had been in the pit. In the first instance we might have gone up in the fire, but afterwards we dare not go within many yards of it. Again we went to the bottom of the upcast shaft and found the flames there burning at white heat. We did not leave the pit until we believed beyond doubt that there could not be a living person in it excepting ourselves.
About half past seven we ascended the pit and consulted with Robert Charles Webster, Joseph Coe, William Uttley, John Hoyland, William Duckworth, James Cookson, Benjamin Hoyland, John James and Elis Woodcock, all of whom had been down the pit. The unanimous opinion was that there could be no living person down the pit that it would be dangerous and unsafe for any man to descend the pit for any purpose whatever and that the only remedy, seeing that the fire was now so strong, was instantly to close the downcast shafts and they were closed accordingly, leaving the furnace pit open. At 7.40 p.m. the flames rose upward 100 feet above the top of the furnace pit, and sparks rose at least 300 feet into the air. The closing of the pit was completed at 10 o’clock. No person objected to the closing of the pits.
Mr. Robert Charles Webster was the manager the Hoyland and Elsecar Colliery accompanied by Mr. Maddison and others went into the pit on the afternoon of the explosion. He agreed with the decision to close the pit and thought that there was great danger of the sides of the furnace pit caving in which would put the mine out of action for months. The closing was the best way to save the pit. Mr Nicholas Wood, Mr. George Elliot, Mr. John Thomas Woodhouse, Mr. Henry Holt and Mr. Morton, the Government Inspector all approved of the closing of the shaft.
William Lodge, a miner, gave his account of the events on the night before the explosion. When he went to work in the north level he saw a chalked notice “to be careful, careful”. He was working with a candle and there seemed to be very little air so he sent for the deputy John Warhurst and expressed his misgivings to him. Warhurst tested for gas with his lamp and found none. He asked Warhurst for bratticing but he replied that there was shortage. He had never told Mr. Coe that the Special Rules were being broken. He said on the night before the explosion, he was working with a safety lamp when a hurrier came in with a lighted candle. This was against Rule 21 but it was something that was regularly done.
Joseph Swift, another miner was working with a candle on the night before the explosion and he had seen no gas but there had been some falls previously which had not been accompanied by gas. George Burrows, John Thompson, David Rowlings, James Flint, Samuel Low, and John Robinson, all miners worked with candles the night before the explosion and saw no danger from gas.
Edward Simmoms, a miner, was down the pit when the explosion occurred. He was working in a broadgate on the dip side of the pit about 140 yards from the pit bottom. He ran for the shaft and met the afterdamp which nearly choked him. He lay down until fresh air came again and he was rescued. He said he had no idea how the explosion occurred.
William Hubbershaw, was working on the low side of the north horse level about two hundred yards from the shaft at the time of the blast. Three others were working with him, one of whom ran away was lost but the two others and he remained in their place for several hours. The air became hotter and hotter and they feared for their lives. They decided to go together to the pit bottom and had to hold onto each other as they made their way past several dead bodies. At the bottom of the pit they found other survivors but William lost conciseness and did not remember being brought up the shaft.
John Dunston, a miner, gave evidence that for sometime before the disaster the airway from the No.4 broadgate to his bank had fallen in. He had tried to pass over this fall and for some weeks had crawled over it. In the weeks before the explosion he cold not get over the top of this fall. He thought that if it had been open properly, air would have been brought to his working place. As it was very little air was coming in. He worked with a candle and had not complained about the situation to Mr. Coe.
Thomas Dallison, a miner, spoke of the fall in the airway that had been impassable for weeks but he said that a new air road had been made. He worked with candles and saw no danger from gas.
William Beevers, a deputy at the colliery, was on the night shift before the disaster and made his statutory inspection of the mine. He saw nothing wrong and encountered no gas. He told the inquiry, “I thought it was as safe a pit as ever I travelled in”.
George Goodison, the furnaceman, left the furnace at 5 a.m. on the morning of the explosion. He had kept a good fire burning all through the night and everything seemed normal to him. The furnace was attended both day and night and the furnacemen did nothing else in the mine. On that night, the flames in the furnace did not look as if gas from the mine was burning in the return air. It was usual for thirty or so men and boys to come to the furnace for their dinners about noon and fewer at supper time. They stayed half an hour while they ate their meals. Mr. Goodison often told the doorkeepers to go back to their doors but there were occasions when deputies came and stayed with the doorkeepers at the furnace. He thought it was wrong for the boys to leave their doors.
John Long, a miner, came out of the pit at 10 p.m. said that there were forty four yards from one slit to another and he did not like working with so large a distance between slits and would have preferred a slit every twenty yards. He worked with candles but he used a lamp when there was gas coming from ÔblowersÕ which he saw from time to time but not immediately before the explosion.
Joseph Scholey, a miner, said he worked in good air with candles. It was his opinion that the gas had lodged higher up and a great fall of roof might have brought this down at any time.
George Ramsden, a miner, had noticed gas in several places and one some occasions it had fired at his candle and he had told the deputies. He also criticised the fact that the slits were forty yards apart especially when they were short of brattice.
Abraham Levitt, a packer, was sitting near the pit bottom at the time of the explosion with five other people and was building a pack wall in the No.4 north goaf on the day before the explosion. He worked with a candle or a safety lamp. Mr. Coe had said that all packers were to use safety lamps but the oil was so bad that they would not burn and they were not locked. As a result they were often unscrewed. He know they were disobeying Rules 18, 20 and 21 but Mr. Coe and the deputies had seen them doing this and they did not intervene knowing that the oil burnt badly. He observed that Mr. Coe would employ “farm-servants”, or any sort of men if he could get them cheaper. Levitt was at the furnace about twenty to thirty minutes before the blast and saw twenty to thirty men and boys dining there. He found the air current very strong and the mine was in a safe condition.
George Hartley cleaned and trimmed the safety lamps but he never locked them as was required by Rule 1. The lamps did not have shields and wire prickers and he had never had any complaints about the oil.
Samuel Abbot thought that the pit was not properly ventilated. He worked on the No.2 and No.4 broadgate on the north side. He thought that there should be double, not single doors at the broadgate ends which was against Rule 24 and, he thought, unsafe. He had seen gas in all the broadgate faces and had heard a hissing noise as it came out of the coal.
George Blackburn worked on the south side of the No.3 broadgate and had heard a rumbling and a crashing as if the roof was falling from a great height. This made him fearful for gas but he never saw any. He thought that the ventilation of the goaves was defective and dangerous in fact they were not ventilated at all. He knew that at Thorpe’s Gawber Pits near Barnsley, the goaves were in thick coal and ventilated. He thought holes should have been left in the pack at Lundhill so that air could pass through them.
Henry Holt, a miner, came out of the pit at noon on the day of the disaster. He reported the ventilation as usual but at his work in a slit there was very little air at the face which was thirty two yards out of the airway. There was no brattice to take the air to the face and he worked with candles. He thought that the explosion was caused be a fall of roof liberating gas. He added that he thought that there ought not be any candles in use in working the thick coal of the Barnsley seam.
At the inquest there were certain allegations have been published that due diligence not exerted after the explosion to extricate the sufferers. Several of the witnesses were supposed to be the complaints but they were not examined on the subject at the inquiry. The result was that such implications remained not proved.
There were several experts who gave evidence at the inquest. Mr. Rowland Childe, a mineral surveyor at Wakefield who was assistant to Mr. Henry Holt, a mining engineer made a survey of the plan of the Lundhill Colliery on 1st January 1857 on behalf of the lessees. At that time upwards of twelve acres of thick coal had been extracted. They are included all the boadgate, levels, goaves and slits. He thought that the mine was in good order and in a very good working condition. It appeared well conducted and well ordered and the ventilation seemed efficient.
Mr. Benjamin Sellars, a mineral surveyor of Netherhaugh near Rotherham made a survey of the colliery for the lessors on the 5th February 1857 when nearly fourteen acres of coal had been worked. He made no special study of the ventilation of the mine but he thought the ventilation as good as any of the pits in the district.
Joseph Coe, the under-viewer of the Lundhill Colliery had held the post only from the beginning of the year. Before that he was the principle viewer at the colliery and became under-viewer when Mr. Henry Holt was appointed to the post. His duty was to manager the working department and the ventilation of the mine and the deputies were under his control.
On the day before the explosion, he found nothing wrong with the pit and the fall in the No.4 district had a two foot space over the top and a strong passage of air. He thought this was satisfactory. At the faces he stated that the brattice was 20 to 30 yards from the face and there was a little gas coming from the coal that would ignite at a candle.
Mr. Coe gave the court a full and detailed account of the working of the mine before the explosion and it appears that he was perfectly honest in his evidence. Many of the facts that he gave the inquiry reflected on his own competence and he made no attempt to hide the facts. He said the pack wall builders were appointed by him and he considered them competent. He thought it was safe for them to work with naked lights. The packers had to provide their own candles and often screwed the top off the lamps, which were not locked, rather than go to the expense.
He said that there were fifty fixed doors in the mine and they were all single doors and he was aware that according to Rule 24 they should have been double doors and if a door was left open at the lower end of the broadgate, the workings of the far side would not be ventilated. The method by which the coal was worked, required a great number of doors and he had no cause to complain about the work done by the door-keepers. Mr. Coe said that he was unaware that the Rules had been broken.
There were two hundred and ninety or so people employed underground at the colliery with seventy working on the night shift and two hundred and twenty on the day shift. Five to six hundred tons of coal was raised in twenty four hours and the pit worked six days a week.
With regard to his duties on the ventilation of the colliery, he saw no danger in the amount of gas that the mine produced and according to General Rule 1. There was a strong steady air flow through the mine and he said that he had never seen a better ventilated mine in his life. Steady and careful men were employed as furnace keepers and they were not allowed to leave their place of work during their shift.
Before the explosion Mr. Coe thought that the construction of the furnace was good but, in the light of experience he changed his mind and expressed the opinion at the inquiry that it was unsafe to carry the return air through the furnace in Barnsley collieries, where the coal was likely to give off gas suddenly, he thought that the furnace should be fed with fresh air and the return air fed though a dumb drift.
With regard to the matter of men working with candles, which was considered safe at Lundhill, he also changed his mind and recommended that every mine in the Barnsley district should be worked with safety lamps.
Mr Coe had experience of the mines in the North of England, Staffordshire and other mines in Yorkshire and he was very critical of the method of working the coal at the colliery. He thought the gas came from the roof which was allowed to fall freely in the goaf and a thin layer of bituminous shale in the roof liberated much gas. In his opinion, this is where the gas came from.
Mr. Nicholas Wood, a mining engineer from Durham was sent for by the owners of the collier and made an examination the day after the explosion. When he got to the colliery Mr. George Elliot, mining engineer of Houghton-le-Spring, Durham, Mr. John Thomas Woodhouse, mining engineer of Derby, Mr. Henry Holt, mining engineer of Wakefield and Mr. Morton the Government Inspector of Mines for Yorkshire were already at the pit. The tops of the two downcast pits were closed and the top of the upcast pit almost closed. The engineers agreed that the best thing to do was seal the mine and that no one could be left alive underground.
The problem that they faced was to extinguish the fire and recover the bodies of the dead miners. The only way to do this was to flood the pit with water and quench the flames underground. The air temperature in the mine before the water was used was exceeding 150C and after the water had risen to sixty feet in the shaft the temperature had fallen to 63C. This was considered safe to pump out the water and recover the bodies from the mine. This work started on the 20th April.
The mining engineers made a detailed examination of the mine. Mr. Wood was very critical of the use of naked lights and the ventilation system at Lundhill. He pointed out that this was the third explosion in the Barnsley district that he had been asked to investigate and in all cases naked light contributed to the explosion. He also criticised the discipline in the mine as “lax and defective”. In particular he thought it unsafe to allow workmen the discretion to use lamps or candles and the door keepers were allowed to leave their post at meal times.
In examining the working the experts tried to determine the direction of the blast through the mine from the was in which stoppings and doors had been blown by the blast. As far as they could tell, the blast came from the north west part of the mine and went towards the south, up Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 boadgate on the south side. The evidence was not as clear on the north side. The fire had travelled a distance north and west of the shafts
As to the cause of ignition of the gas, there was little doubt. There were so many naked lights in the mine both candles and lamps that had been unscrewed, that if the gas came from a fall of roof, then the concussion would make the liberated gas come into contact with one of these flames and cause the explosion. Mr. Wood did not believe that the gas ignited at the furnace but was caused by gas being expelled from the goaves by a fall and ignited at a naked light.
He recommended that safety lamps be used and the method of working the coal must be improved. he concluded his evidence by saying:
Coal mining in Yorkshire is becoming more dangerous as the pits are sunk deeper and unless naked lights are excluded there will be frequent explosions. Whether miners object to safety lamps or not, it is absolutely needful that they be used in this district and the prejudice against lamps will soon be overcome. It is not necessary for trammers and drivers to carry safety lamps the practice in the North of England is to hang up safety lamps in the tramways for lighting purposes.
The Coroner, Mr. Badger summed up on the evidence given by the witnesses and the jury retired to consider the evidence. They returned the following verdict:
That the deceased were killed by an explosion of carburetted hydrogen gas at the Lundhill colliery, on the 19th February 1857 but there is no conclusive or sufficient evidence to show the immediate cause of the ignition. Therefore, the jury cannot come to the decision that it was criminally negligent, but accidental. They however, must condemn the laxity of discipline, and the non-observance of the special rules. The jury do not attach blame to the proprietors of the colliery, who were not cognisant of the loose discipline and misconduct of the under-viewer, deputies and workmen. The jury fully concur in the remarks of Messrs. Wood, Elliot and Woodhouse, that an improved system of ventilation and a better subdivision of air are requisite, and ought to be adopted, especially when working day and night. The jury further approve the suggestions made by those gentlemen in reference to the use of safety lamps and although the better education of workmen was not alluded to by the witnesses, yet the omission has been properly supplied in the able charge of the coroner and the jury cannot too forcibly recommend that every practicable effort should be out forth to raise the miners to a higher moral and mental standard. The jury also record their approval and admiration of the heroic conduct of Messrs. Webster, Maddison and others, in their arduous exertions to recover the unfortunate victims and, finally, the jury express their deep sympathy for the bereaved sufferers in this most disastrous accident.
The Lundhill Colliery Company changed the management of the mine immediately after the verdict. The valuable services of Mr. Nicholas Wood and his colleagues were withdrawn and the direction of the colliery went to Mr. John Brown, viewer of Barnsley.
The Colliery Guardian.
Mines Inspectors’ Report, 1857. Mr. Charles Morton.
Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.Return to previous page