MALTBY MAIN. Maltby, Yorkshire. 28th. July, 1923.
The colliery was in South Yorkshire, about a mile to the east of the village of Maltby. There were two shafts which were sunk to the Barnsley bed which was the only seam that was worked at a depth of 820 yards fro the surface. Both shafts were 20 feet in diameter and the output of the colliery prior to the disaster was between 14,500 and 16,000 tons per week. Coal was wound at one shaft, the downcast No.1 and the upcast No.2 Pit Bottom was in the process of being equipped for coal winding.
The section of the Barnsley Bed, in the District where the explosion occurred, was a roof of bind, inferior coal and dirt about 1 foot 5 inches thick, the seam which was the section that was worked, 1 foot 3 inches of Top Softs, about 6 inches of dirt, 1 foot 5 inches of Top Brights, 2 feet 7 inches of Hards, 4 inches of Bottom Brights and 4 inches of coal and dirt, making the total section that was worked about 6 feet 4 inches. The floor had 1 inch of parting dirt and 2 feet 6 inches of inferior coal and dirt bands. The seam was a gassy one and inclined to give to sudden eruptions of gas. At the time the seam was not considered to be liable to spontaneous combustion and only four gob fires had occurred since the coal was first reached in 1911.
The general direction of the dip of the seam was to the east at about 1 in 20. The workings were divided into eight districts, the Low East, The Middle East Left District, The Middle East Right, South East, South West, West, North West and Top East Districts. The coal was worked on an advancing longwall system with the distance between the gate roads usually of 40 yards. Packs were built on either side of the gate roads to 3 yards wide with the crossgates packs 4 yards wide. Eighty-five percent of the coal was won by hand, the remainder worked by compressed air-driven coal cutting machines. No shots whatever were allowed to be fired in the mine,
The haulage was of the endless, main and main tail systems. The East and West Main Endless Ropes were driven by electrical haulage engines, situated close to the intake pit bottom. The remaining haulage engines were compressed air driven main and tail and main rope engines and 19 ponies worked in mine.
The ventilating current was produced by a Capel fan, 12 feet 6 inches in diameter, running at 177 r.p.m. The fan was driven by a steam engine with an electrically driven stand-by fan. the quantity of air entering the mine recorded on the 13th. July, 1923 was 114,271 cubic feet per minute going into the Main Intake, 82,464 cubic feet to the split intake, 116,056 in the Main Return and 91,272 in split return. There was no record of the quantity of air that was actually finding its way at the time of the explosion into the area affected.
No naked lights were allowed in the mine and there were 2,223 Oldham Electric Lamps and 250 “Marsic” double gauze oil lamps made by Messrs. John Davis and Son Limited, of Derby. All the lamps were fitted with magnetic locks. An electric lamp was issued to each workman and in the normal course of working each stall, they were supplied with a flame lamp. the station for re-lighting flame lamps was at the surface.
The colliery was under the control of the Managing Director, Mr. W.B.M. Jackson with Mr. B.H. Pickering as manager and Mr. M. Gabbitas, undermanager. There were two overmen on each shift, one on the West side and the other on the East, who held Second Class Certificates. In addition, there were 35 deputies.
Before the explosion, there were 2,689 men employed, 2,214 underground and 475 on the surface. The day shift from Monday to Saturday descended between 6.25 to 7 a.m. and ascended between 2 to 2.30 p.m., the Saturday day shift descended between 5.25 and 6 a.m., the afternoon shift descended between 2 and 2.30 p.m.. and ascended between 9.30 an 10 p.m. and the night shift descended between 9.45 and 10 p.m. The deputies were also organised into three shifts, the day shift worked from 6.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m., the afternoon shift from 2.30 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. and the night shift from, 10.30 p.m. to 6.30 a.m. There were 122 workmen below ground on the morning of the 28th. July employed in building stoppings and related work.
In the normal course of work, the morning shift deputy descended at 6.30 a.m. and allotted work to his men at the pit bottom when he descended. He made the inspection prior to the start of the afternoon shift between 12.15 and 2.15 p.m. and after the inspection, set the afternoon men to their places in co-operation with the afternoon deputy which descended at 2.30 p.m. The afternoon deputy made his inspection of the district before the start of work on the night shift between 8 and 10 p.m. and then allotted the night shift men their duties.
Extensive stone dusting was carried out at the colliery and for some time prior to the date of the explosion, 24 tubs of stone dust per week had been found sufficient to keep the roadways in compliance with the requirements of the regulations a to the precautions against coal dust. the stone dust used consisted of Dinnington bind, ground in a stone crusher at the surface.
In 1921-2 there had been two fires and heatings in the West and North West Districts. These were dealt with either by digging out the heated material or the erection of stoppings. On the 26th April 1922, there was trouble from a gob fire in the Low East District. The gob stink was reported in the 60’s airway and to deal with it dirt packs were built at the entrance to 60’s stall and at the end of the airway leading to 21’s level. When this had been done, the manager thought that the trouble had been contained.
Meanwhile, owing to this occurrence, certain alterations were made to the ventilation. The long ventilating current which passed along the faces of the Middle East, Low East and Top East Districts was shortened and instead of passing on to the Top East District, it was short-circuited down 60’s cross gate into 29’s slant and back to the upcast pit bottom. This alteration, agreed by the agent and the manager required the Top East District being ventilated by a separate volume of air entering from 7’s by the North East intake and passing along the faces into 21’s were, with the air passing out of the Low East, it travelled to the upcast shaft.
On the 7th May, even with the previous efforts, gob stink was discovered about 80 yards further outbye at 52’s on the one side and on the other at 102’s near the end of 21’s level. Further packing was carried out and 102’s was “gobbed up solid”. In 52’s airway 8 feet of sand was placed between two 14 inch brick walls.
After this, there were no disturbing reports were made until the 16th or 17th May, when the manager received a report that smoke had been found coming from the left-hand bank in 60’s at 1 a.m. He went to the pit straight away and gave instructions for a dirt and sand pack to be put on the left side of 60’s to dam back the smoke. He superintended the work for 5 hours but became ill from the effects of the noxious smoke and fumes along with an overman, Nathan Gill and both had to be given assistance to get out of the mine. As a result of this, the manager was not able to return to work until 23rd. May. In the meantime, additional packing was done and the place sealed off under the superintendence of the agent, Mr. Pickering. While this work was in progress it was arranged for the air to be coursed or short-circuited along old 25’s gate and from there into 60’s cross gate.
On Sunday, 20th May, smoke was again discovered coming from the left-hand pack side opposite the East Gate in 60’s cross gate. Some more sand was rammed into this place which stopped the smoke for the time being. At this time there was 2% firedamp present and it had increased to 3.5% by the time the agent left the mine at 4 p.m. It was later recognised that all the work that had been done had not finally extinguished the fire and Mr. Jackson, the General Manager, and Mr. Joseph Humble, the Consulting Engineer, were sent for. This was at 6.30 p.m. and after 4 hours’ discussion, it was decided that nothing could be done until they could go down the mine the following morning.
Accordingly, an inspection was made on Monday 21st. May by Mr Jackson, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Humble and others, who descended the pit about 10.30 a.m. On arriving at 60’s cross gate they found evidence of a certain amount of heat on the left-hand side of the pack of 60’s cross gate. The firedamp had reduced to just under 2% but the god stink was still evident in 21’s right-hand bank. After this inspection, a conference was held and it was considered that if the packs and stoppings were thoroughly and strongly made, that would be enough to stifle the fire.
A further conference attended by the Miners’ Representatives, was held on the 22nd May when the general situation was discussed. Another underground inspection was made. Smoke was gain issuing at the same place in 60’s cross gate and men were trying to stem it off by ramming sand into the crevices. This operation proved difficult for as the sand dried quickly it dribbled out. Some heat had also been located during the night at a right-hand gate pack in the same cross gate. Sand had also been applied there. It was the agent’s opinion that the work of stowing up the cross gate should proceed with all possible speed. The men engaged in this operation were working in relays. the air was very warm and the percentage of firedamp present was 2%.
On the 23rd May, the manager returned to duty and an inspection was made by him accompanied by the Alderman E. Dunn and Mr. Hugh Ross, the Miners’ Representatives. They found the blocking up of the old cross gate in 21’s completed and it looked like a satisfactory job. In the 21’s bank, they found the sand packing making good progress. As there was still evidence of gob stink just outbye of 102’s, it was arranged to raise up 21’s road to bury the packs and also, if possible, to bury a break out from which gob stink was issuing. 60’s crossgate was then inspected. It was found that the road had been stowed up to 25’s gate and it was arranged to stow as much of 25’s face gate as possible. The conditions were considered to be favourable and this work was continued during the 24th to the 27th May.
On the 28th May, the manager found definite evidence of fire in the 60’s cross gate. The ground was hot on the left-hand side of that gate. On pulling put some bricks, he discovered the bottom coal, which was not worked, and an old wooden chock on fire. He dug out a tub load of bottoms, really ashes, and after removing some of the burning timber, quenched the material with water. He filled the hollow made by the removal of the ashes with sand, and as these operations seemed to stop the fire, for the time being, the work of gobbing up the roads continued. On the fire being found in the bottom coal, it was decided to dig a trench further outbye to stop the fire spreading in that direction. The trench was dug and filled up with sand behind an 18-inch brick wall. The digging of this trench, disclosed for the first time, that the bottom coal 2 feet 6 inches thick which was abnormal. When the trench was completed the management continued removing timber and allowed the roof to collapse and gobbing up the roads. This was hoped to arrest the fire.
These efforts continued throughout June and were still in progress on 2nd July when the fire was again discovered to have broken out in the right hand outbye side of 25’s old gate, close to the face. A worker, John Proctor and the overman, Nathan Gill, travelled a circuitous route to avoid smoke which they had discovered and reported to the overman, found “about a yard circle of fire burning around a clog” (chock). They applied buckets of stone dust to the fire and leaving this operation to be repeated by Proctor and another workman. Gill retired to change his clothes which had become wringing wet. During his absence, while one of the workmen was emptying a bucket of stone dust on to the fire, something went off or exploded with a report and the force of it blew him out of the hole. They carried on until there was another report and they then decided that the place was not safe. The hole was about 3 feet high and 2 feet wide and was a confined airway left in 25’s during gobbing operations and left until orders were given to gob it up completely.
During Gill’s absence a deputy, Sturdy, arrived, and after going to the fire soon came down again. On his return, Gill was surprised to find that, despite all that had been done, the fir had increased to 12 to 14 yards in length and the chocks on the left-hand side of 25’s gate were burning. These chocks were formed of old broken timber and had been put in to support the roof. Gill found that further applications of stone dust to be useless in checking the fire ordered the men to pack up the airway in 25’s in order to stop the air current to the fire. He sent at once for Mr. Butler, who arrived, quickly followed by Mr Pickering. This operation to close 25’s airway was continued and by the manager’s and agent’s orders, another pack on the opposite side of the fire was built in 60’s cross gate.
These packing operations included the packing of the 52’s gate side and continued for several days. Just when it was thought the work was successful, smoke started to come from a slip, 20 feet above the pack on the left-hand side. An unsuccessful attempt was made to seal the smoke by throwing sand into the opening. After this, stoppings were erected in 52’s gate and while this work was going on, an air pipe 18 inches to 28 inches in diameter was built in to allow ventilation for the men to work. Following this, another trench a yards wide was cut in the bottom coal up the centre of 52’s gate and filled with sand. At this point, the coal was found to be 2 feet 6 inches thick and when exposed in the trench, its temperature was found to be normal.
On the 13th July, the work was continuing and the manager reported a heavy weighting of the roof in 52’s. This weight fractured the air pipe in the stopping and smoke was again coming through the pipe in such quantities as to make work impossible. They did, however, succeed in stopping off the pipe. Trenching in the bottom coal was the continued and preparations were made for another stopping at the entrance of 52’s gate. While this was progressing a tremendous fall of roof occurred there.
Owing to the foulness of the air some of the men became unconscious, the manager among them, and had to be helped out into fresh air. These men were obviously suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and work was suspended at 60’s cross gate, the men withdrawn and the cross gate fenced off.
As the agent considered it “of exceedingly great importance” that 60’s cross gate should be stopped off outbye of 52’s junction. Stoppings were erected there by men wearing rescue apparatus and this operation was completed at 4 a.m. on Monday 16th. July and sealed that side of the fire area. Meanwhile, on the 14th and 15th July, further attempts were made to seal the area more securely in the intake side and a dry brick stopping was commenced at 44’s gate. When the stopping was nearly completed a tremendous leakage of air was discovered going over the top into the gob fire area. Nathan Gill, the overman, who was in charge of the work, at once built up this opening and arranged for dirt and sand packs to be placed against the stopping.
By the 16th July, when 7 yards of packing and brick walls had been put in 44’s gate and some 10 yards along the face side, an explosion of firedamp took place in the region built off and blew off the upper part of each of the stoppings. The men at the packs withdraw at once and reported the occurrence to overman Gill. At 10 p.m. the same night Gill visited the stopping and finding “the place was absolute clear, fit for anyone to work in”, he set the men to work to build a brick stopping to strengthen everything that had already been put in but finding that he had not sufficient material, he went to the pit bottom to order some more. When he was there a telephone message reported that there had been another explosion while he was away. After realising the seriousness of the situation he left the mine to consult with the manager. as the result of the second explosion, all the men were withdrawn from the mine in the early hours of the 17th July by order of the agent and manager. This meant that coal getting was discontinued at the colliery and after this, all operations were directed solely for fighting the fire.
No work was resumed until midnight on the 22nd of July. Gill duly talked over the seriousness of the situation with the manager and said that the best thing that they could do was to flood the mine to put out the fire. The manager agreed and by arrangement, Gill went down the mine on the morning of 17th July under orders to get down what pipes he could on to the seat of the for this purpose. Meanwhile, the mangers orders to carry on with the flooding of the mine were countermanded as a result of a conference of mining engineers.
On 18th July, during explorations following the withdrawal of the men, definite indications of at third explosion were found in the face outbye of the stoppings in 44’s. Later the effects of a fourth explosion were felt at 21’s level by a party of explorers, including the undermanager, Mr. Gabbitas, who, on their way out of the pit, saw the doors in the slit at the end of that level opened by a reversal of the air current. This place was about 700 yards from the site of the stoppings built in 60’s crossgate and 44’s gate and face, but, having regard to these subsequent explosions, this plan was not carried out.
On 18th July, it was arranged to reduce the water gauge by slowing the face. The gauge was accordingly reduced from 4.5 to 2.5 at 4.30 p.m. and later down to 1.5. On the 20th and 21st, July underground inspections were made by Mr. Jackson, the Managing Director and other officials. After consultation, it was decided to put a regulator in 9’s back bord so that the speed of the ventilating fan could be increased without sending more air to the fire and at the same time sending an increased amount of air to the North West District where a considerable quantity of firedamp had been detected. A suggestion made by Mr. W.H. Chambers to put inert gas into the area of the fire was adopted and the gas was to be forced through pipes in one of the stoppings.
On the 22nd July after an inspection of the East side and the North West District by the miners’ representatives and the colliery officials along with H.M. Inspectors of Mines a conference was held and it was agreed that the men should go down the pit, or be asked to go down immediately the conference had finished. It was estimated that 50 men would be required to carry on the work.
Mr. Herbert Smith, of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association, held a meeting of the men the following day at which they were told about the conditions prevailing and in order to obtain the number of required the following notice was circulated among the men.
We have today examined the Maltby Man Colliery and have arranged after careful examination to advise at once getting ready to stop off the affected area, namely the Low East and 53’s Slant and we ask you to attend tonight at 12 midnight as we are satisfied you will work in as little dangers as possible.
At midnight on the 22nd July within a very short time of the notice, 46 men, apart from the officials had turned up to work and their number gradually increased up to and including Saturday morning the day of the disaster when there 122 workers employed in building the stoppings and related work.
For the guidance of the officials the following instructions were issued to them by Mr. Basil H. Pickering, the agent of the colliery:
A decision has now been arrived at in regard to the procedure to be adopted to deal with the gob fire and the following information if for the guidance of all concerned.
In general principle, it has been decided to isolate the area from the face end of 53’s cross gate to the top of old 7’s by the erection of stoppings, and then to pump inert gas into the area with the object of quenching the fire that is burning.
A gas engine would be installed at the pit top and the inert gas will be conducted down No.2 shaft, along the East Plane.
Mr. Pickering then gave details of the exact position of the stoppings that were to be built and haw they were to be constructed. He continued:
It is holed to start this work either Sunday night, the 22nd. July or Monday 23rd. July. At a time to be indicated later, men equipped with rescue apparatus will be sent into 21’s level, and will, firstly, draw the road off at the junction of 29’s slant with 21’s and will then step back and draw off this road at two or three points in order to cause as heavy falls as possible. After this had been done work on stopping “C” will be commenced, and it is hoped to ventilate this so that the work may be proceeded within the ordinary way, and without rescue apparatus being required.
It must be understood that these instructions must be rigidly adhered to as the whole success of the undertaking depends upon work being carried out in a systematic and thorough manner.
BASIL H. PICKERING.
On the morning of 28th July a fresh shift of 122 men in addition to the officials, descended the pit Between 6 and 6.30 a.m. While work at the stoppings was proceeding a violent explosion occurred near A1 and A2 stoppings. The explosion killed 27 men who were working in the vicinity and blocked the approaches so that only one body could be recovered, that of Original Renshaw which was found in 95’s crossgate about 130 yards from the East Main Plane.
Gallant and repeated efforts were made to reach the bodies of the remaining victims but owing to heavy falls of roof and the presence of noxious gases, that was impossible and it was recognised, in view of the conditions and the violence and burning to which Renshaw’s body was subjected, that no person could possibly be alive beyond the point at which it had been found. It was also thought that another explosion could tale place and it was considered foolish to stay in the area. In fact there were other explosions and a few days later it was mutually agreed by the owners, the Miners’ Representatives and H.M. Inspectors that the safest method do recovery was to seal off the East side of the by erecting very substantial stoppings in the main roadways.
These stoppings were safely built by the united efforts of the workers under the superintendence of the officials, Miners’ Representatives and H.M. Inspectors.
Those who died were:
- John Stoker aged 30 years, overman.
- George Perrins aged 37 years, deputy.
- Harry Norwood aged 30 years, deputy.
- Ernest Clixby aged 26 years, analyst.
- Richard Ernest Dunn aged 28 years, collier.
- John Henry Garratty aged 38 years, corporal.
- William Emberton aged 27 years, collier.
- George Hickling aged 47 years, ripper.
- John William Green aged 38 years, byeworker.
- Silvanus Turner aged 27 years, coller.
- George Brierley aged 34 years, collier.
- William Preece aged 24 years, collier.
- Aaron Daniels aged 46 years, collier.
- Bertie Bearshall aged 29 years, collier.
- Leonard Meredith aged 22 years, collier.
- Albert Smithson aged 28 years, collier.
- Joseph Best aged 19 years, filler.
- Richard John Brooks aged 24 years, collier.
- Joseph Spibey aged 29 years, collier.
- John Chandler Spilsbury aged 33 years, collier.
- Raymond Clinton Bourne aged 18 years, haulage hand.
- Harold Bourne aged 35 years, haulage hand.
- Benjamin Jones aged 26 years, collier.
- Alfred Leslie Fellows aged 15 years, haulage hand.
- Original Renshaw aged 48 years, roadlayer.
- Edward Mitchell aged 23 years, byeworker.
The inquest on the body of Original Renshaw was held before Mr. Frank Allen, H.M. Coroner fro the West Riding of Yorkshire. The jury returned the verdict that he had been killed by an explosion and that his death was accidental.
The inquiry into the disaster was held in the Town Hall, Sheffield by Sir Thomas Mottram, C.B.E., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines and was opened on Tuesday 18th September and lasted for seven days.
The evidence clearly showed that the disaster was caused by an explosion of firedamp ignited from the spontaneous combustion in the Low East district of the mine. It was known that there was gas in the mine while the work was going on to build the stoppings and it was not known whether the overman, Stoker, took any steps to withdraw the men as he was killed in the explosion.
As there were still 26 bodies in the pit and the workings had to be sealed off, the question of re-opening the workings to recover the bodies and the safest method to adopt when the time arrived for such operations were left to the consideration of the owners.
Sir Thomas concluded the report by acknowledging the bravery of the officials of the mine and the rescue brigades.
Report on the causes of and the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Maltby Main Colliery, Yorkshire on the 28th July 1923 by Sir Thomas Mottram, C.B.E., H.M Chief Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian 3rd August 1923, p.283, 277, 17th August, p.400, 21st September, p.720, 29th February 1924, p.545.
Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.Return to previous page