NORTH GAWBER (Lidgett). Barnsley, Yorkshire. 12th. September, 1935.

The colliery was owned by Messrs. Fountain and Burnley, Limited and an explosion took place in the Nos. 3 and 4 South Districts of the mine about 2.45 p.m. on Thursday, 12th. September 1935 by which 19 men lost their lives. Mr. S. Lawrence was the manager and Mr. C. Weaver the undermanager. They visited the workings of the mine daily and there was a deputy for each district on each of the three shifts. In addition, there was an overman on each shift.

These three districts were about 1,600 yards from the shafts by way of the Main Haulage Plane which was also the main intake airway. The Lidgett Seam in these districts was about 2 feet 6 inches thick and dipped 1 in 11 to the North East. It was a gassy seam and firedamp soon collected if the ventilation was interrupted.

The coal was undercut by electrically driven machines during the afternoon shift, brought down by shots fired on the night shift and filled on to electrically driven conveyors during the day shift. The total number of men employed underground was 200 of the day shift, 120 on the afternoon shift and 80 on the night shift. The mine produced about 650 tons per day which were raised between 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Nos. 3 and 4 South District were ventilated by three splits taken off the main intake along Nos. 1, 2 and 4 South Levels. When measured in August, these splits contained 4,050, 3,960 and 4,340 cubic feet per minute respectively.

The officials and some of the workmen used Teale’s Protector Type flame safety lamps and other workmen used Ceag electric safety lamps. Shots were fired in the coal during the night shift by the deputies and shotfirers. If further shots were required in the coal during the day shift, they were fired by the shotfirer. Shots in the ripping of the levels were fired by deputies during the afternoon shift. Bellite No 1A was used in the rippings and Lodensite in the coal. Stone dusting of the roads was done during the night shift.

Signalling on the mechanical haulage roads was done by means of electric bells. Twenty per cent of the men on each shift were searched at the pit bottom.

Prior to the explosion, the work on the No.3 South face was filling the coal that had been undercut and brought down on the previous two shifts, on to the electrically driven conveyor. The coal was being delivered by the conveyor to an electrically drive gate loader, fixed near the face of the No.3 South Level and then into tubs.

The young men attending the loader and the moving of the empty and full tubs and those taking the loaded tubs to the passbye and bringing back empty ones from there to the loader were at their respective posts.

The deputy of the No.3 face, William Brant, was at the top end of that face. According to the evidence of Friend Clayton, the shotfirer visited the No.4 face about 12.20 p.m. and discussed with George Wroe and Jacob Fallis, both rippers in the Top Airway Gate whether a shot was required in the ripping of that gate. He told them that if hey could not get it down by hand then they could send for him to fire a shot. He then returned to No.3 face, where he fired a shot in the coal. Shots were rarely fired in the ripping of the No.4 Top Airway gate. Clayton, who had been the shotfirer in the district for only two weeks, and had fired one several days before but before this, no shots had been fired in the ripping for several months.

Between 1 and 1.30 p.m., according to Clayton, one of the rippers came from No.3 face, and they returned to the No.4 face Top Airway Gate where Clayton charged a hole which the two rippers had bored with four cartridges of Bellite No 1A which were handed to him loose by Jacob Fallis. The shot hole was four and a half feet deep, about two and a half feet from left-hand side of the gate, ten inches to a foot from the roof, level and running more or less parallel to the gate. Prior to charging the hole he examined it for breaks with a special break detector, the “Rothwell-Haigh”, but did not find any nor did not see any breaks in the roof but he said that there were breaks in the roof about 12 to 14 yards back from the gate.

He fired this shot about 1.40 p.m. and after spending a short time in the No.3 South Level, he went back to No.3 South Face where he fired two more shots in coal near the middle gate of the face. He made an examination after firing these two shots and found everything all right. About five minutes later he fired the second shot when a sudden rush of wind and dust came up the No.3 face from the low side.

Evidence of what was being done on the No.4 face shortly before the explosion was given by John Thomas Walley, a coal cutting machine man, who was with his crew, his brother George Arthur Walley, Clifford Walker and Richard Hurrell. They went down pit between 1.45 and 2 p.m. and passed the time of day with two colliers, Jack Howard and Ernest Senior, in the ravelling road at a point about 10 to 15 minutes walk from No.4 South Top Airway Gate at which they arrived at about 2.35 p.m. Walley left his three mates in the airway gate where there two panmen, Thomas Roberts and Leo Bunting who worked with Jacob Fallis, the ripper. They were putting away ripping dirt that had been brought down by shot in airway gate and sending it to face where George Wroe, having broken the pans, was casting it into the goaf.

In the centre of the airway gate, there was a tub and a half of ripping dirt to be shifted when Walley passed into the face of that gate. The top side of the gate had been right up to the face but on the low side of the gate, the side was hanging over the breaking-off bar. In his opinion, this was likely to fall but he did not think that, even if it had fallen on the tubs at the centre of the gate, that it would have stopped the ventilation.

On the left-hand side of the gate, going inbye, there was a pack which had been built four yards from the coal face. On the right-hand side was the old settling gate which had fallen for the most part and in which, old timber could be seen.

The coal cutting machine was stabled in the middle gate and Walley, having to fit it with new packs, went down the face to that gate passing first Joe Washington and then George Wroe. He saw no one else but there were two lights about 19 yards further down the face.

Of his three mates, he said two, Clifford Walker and Richard Hurrell, would attend to the timber and his brother George Arthur Walley, would see that the electricity was switched off at the switch box in the airway gate from the conveyor motor. Then having taken the pummel off the motor, he would take that and the cable up to the top of the face and then bring it down the new track to the coal cutting machine; there was only one cable.

On arriving at the middle gate Walley found that his hammer was missing. He went back a few yards along the gate to borrow one from the four rippers, Clement Gladstone Moores, Gladstone Ledger, Ernest Stephenson and Patrick Harrison who were stripping off their clothes ready for work. These rippers had came inbye a short way along the No.3 South Level and then through the manhole door in the slit leading to the No.4 middle gate and then along the gate to 50 yards from their working place in the ripping of that gate.

Walley got his hammer and returned to the machine. He then examined the switch handle, looked to see that the clutch was out, saw that the pummel casing was clear and no dirt in it and knelt down to start changing the picks with Patrick Harrison, who had come outbye, watching him. He had changed only one pick when there was a blast which came down the face. He was blown over the machine and the whole place became filled with dense smoke and dust but he did not see any flame. He heard Harrison groaning and Moores shouting they were to lie down. Moores also asked where Harrison was and Walley answered that he was there but he could not find him. Moores came and got Harrison and they, with Ledger and Stephenson, made their way out of the middle gate and eventually came through the manhole door into No.3 South Level. That door was shut when they got to it and there was brattice sheet fastened on the door frame.

Walley said that the explosion occurred not more than 10 to 15 minutes after he left the airway gate. He felt no slackening of the ventilation and Harrison said there was plenty of air and he saw no flash or spark.

About 16 yards on the low side of the No.4 middle gate, John Williams was boring a shot hole and another borer, Amos Dransfield, was 40 yards further down the face. Two panshifters, James Nixon and George Betton Whewall were also at work on this face. Williams was killed and Whewall so badly injured that he died in hospital the same day but Dransfield gave evidence that he was looking down the face towards No.4 South level when a big gush of hot air came behind him and lifted him about three yards down the face. He also stated that there was nothing wrong with the ventilation before the explosion.

Just before the explosion four youths, James Crowe, Robert Chatterton, Sydney Hunter and George Bowen, were at work at the inner end of the No.3 South Level. Crowe and Chatterton were at the loader, Hunter was 10 yards further outbye and Bowen three yards on the inbye side of the haulage return wheel. Another youth, William Boydell, was in the No.3 face about three yards up above the end of the level.

In evidence, Crow said that just before the explosion he was at the loader looking outbye along the No.3 South Level. He could not see the lights of the two pony drivers, Hubert Kelly and Claud Ackroyd and those of Albert Smith, corporal, Robert Brant, James Senior and Thomas Poyser, colliers, all of whom were 30 to 40 yards outbye from him. Brant, Senior and Poyser, had been filling on the No.3 face, and having finished their work and were on their way outbye.

Suddenly Crowe saw a flash at the top of the innermost slit connecting No.3 South level with the settling gate and he was thrown down. Immediately after that, the smoke came towards him. There was no noise but plenty of dust. Kelly was shouting so he went towards him and found him at the top of the settling gate where Walter Riley, a collier, and Ackroyd were. The clothes of all three men were on fire. He suggested that they go outbye along the level but their path was barred because of the dense smoke. They then turned inbye and on reaching the loader Crowe shouted to the borer, Tom Smith, who was working on the face at the low side of the level to get help with the burned lads. He saw Smith cross the face of the level and go up the face and heard him shout, repeating Crowe’s call for help but he never saw him again.

They then went up the No.3 face. Crowe said, “Kelly and Riley went in front with Hunter and Chatterton and I told Ackroyd to cling on me at the back and I went up the face.”

The air was thick until they reached the middle gate. Above that, it was clear. They got assistance at the middle gate from Friend Clayton helped them to the top of the face. When Crowe was at the top of the settling gate immediately after the explosion, he heard Albert Ibberson, a collier, shouting, “Save me. My head is burning.”

George Bowen, who worked tramming between the passbye and the loader, gave evidence that he was about three yards inbye of the haulage wheel and near to Kelly and Ackroyd at the time of the explosion. Kelly was at the top of the settling gate and Riley came running out of that gate. At the time of the explosion, Bowen was looking inbye when there was gust of wind followed by a reek from behind him which knocked him down. He got up and rushed inbye towards the loader. Then he, Robert Chatterton, Jim Crowe and Sydney Hunter went outbye along the level towards the top of the settling gate. He saw Riley, who came running out of the settling gate and Kelly at the haulage return wheel but he did not see Ackroyd. They tried to go outbye along the level but were beaten back because of smoke, so they went up the face and out by No.1 South Level. He lost his light in the explosion.

Sydney Hunter was about five tub lengths from the loader, which was running as was the conveyor. The haulage was not running but it had been up to a minute before the explosion. he was looking towards the face when he was suddenly knocked down on his face as if something had hit him in the back. The level became filled with smoke. He went towards the haulage return wheel and saw Kelly, Ackroyd and Riley and helped them up the face to the middle gate.

At the time of the blast, William Boydell was on the No.3 South face about three yards up the level throwing bars up the face. He saw a burning flame lamp hung on a bar. He felt a gust of wind which blew him up the face and about a minute later there was smoke. He turned around and went towards the haulage wheel but could not see anything. He heard Crowe shouting to switch off the pans, so he went back to the face but found they were off. He found an electric lamp under the loader and went up the face where he saw Friend Clayton who told him some lads had been hurt and he had better go and help them. Boydell then went along the middle gate and then outbye. Above the middle gate, the air was quite clear but below it was all smoke.

Sir Henry Walker in his report said:

I have given the evidence of these youths more fully perhaps than is strictly necessary. To have done less would have been to do less than justice to their indomitable spirit.

The two pony boys, Claud Ackroyd and Hubert Kelly and the collier, Walter Riley died from their inures in hospital and Albert Smith, corporal, Robert Brant, James Senior, Thomas Poyser, Albert Ibberson, all colliers, and Tom Smith, borer, lost their lives in the explosion. Smith seemed to have lost his life looking for Ibberson who was working at the face of the settling gate and so lower down than Smith. Crowe had seen Smith and heard him repeat his for help. After that, no one saw Smith but his body was found later unburned and uninjured in the settling gate close to that of Ibberson. Both had been poisoned by afterdamp. The other men on the No.3 South face were unharmed.

On the No.4 South Level, Benjamin Sanderson, the afternoon shift deputy, went down the pit about 1.55 p.m. and sent his men off to work. Walley and his party to cut the face, Clem Moores and his mates to rip the middle gate, Tommy Roberts and Leo Bunting to pan the top end, Jim Nixon and George Betton Whewall to pan the bottom end; three rippers in the No.4 South Level and two in the No.4 settling gate at the low end of the face.

On his way inbye he met the day shift deputy, Davis Townsend, at No.3 South level way-end and after conferring with him, he went inbye. He was approaching the ripping edge in No.4 South Level when there was a sudden gust of wind and bits of coal hit him on the face and hands that made him stumble backwards. His lamp was not extinguished and he sent a man to tell the manager and overman that something had happened. Putting his handkerchief over his mouth and face and set off up the face. He tested for firedamp but found none but did not test on the face because of the smoke.

Nixon came out of the face and passed him in the “dint” of the level where he met Whewall near the low side of the No.4 middle gate. Whewall had been badly injured so he got the men who were left in No.4 South Level to come in and take him down on that hat level. Someone above the middle gate called out and he tried to get back up the face but had to retreat from the black smoke at the top end. He then made his way put of the middle gate to the No. 3 South Level and along that level to the outbye end where he told some men who were there to go into the No.4 south level to attend to Whewall and that they would need a stretcher.

Everyone in the two districts was going about their usual work and nothing out of the ordinary happened except the firing of the shot in No.4 Top Airway Gate by Friend Clayton.

When he had dispatched the men from the No.3 South level to No. 4 South level to attend to Whewall, Sanderson went inbye along. He was followed shortly after by William Brant, the deputy from the No.3 South District, who had come from the top of No.3 South face by way of the No. 3 South Level way-end by way of No. 2 South Level and the Main Engine Plane. Brant got as far as the hauling engine house but then returned to the way-end. He then went inbye again accompanied by John Thomas Walley, Clem Moores, Gladstone Ledger, Walter and Alex Street and followed by the haulage engineman, Albert Truelove. About 200 yards along the level they found Sanderson and he and they moved off inbye. They came across the body of Thomas Poyse, about 30 yards on the entrance on the outbye side of the entrance to the No.4 Top Airway Gate. Brant then went back to the way-end, and there asked George Williams, afternoon shift overman to help with Whewall. Brant had been affected by the afterdamp and was later sent to the hospital where he recovered.

Truelove went outbye for a stretcher and Williams went inbye with Sanderson and the men already mentioned and moved forward to the entrance to the No.4 Top Airway Gate. Sanderson, Moores and others went into this gate as far as the bend, where they found the body of Jacob Fallis. The air was very foul and they returned to the level where they met the day shift overman, George William Poxon and the undermanager, Cyril Weaver. The bodies of Robert Brant and James Senior were then reached and a little later that of Albert Smith was found.

The undermanager, overman and Poxon were concerned with the pony drivers and youths who worked at the loader but was unaware that they had already gone out so they persisted with their attempts and found two dead ponies. The afterdamp was having an effect on these men and Williams, Poxon and David Townsend, had to be taken out of the mine. Brant, Poxon and Townsend were so seriously affected that they had to be taken to hospital.

The manager, S. Laurence, had come in and a Rescue Brigade arrived at the pit about 4.30 p.m. and went to No. 4 Top Airway Gate. A fall blocked the airway at the face and the brigade started to remove this under the direction of their captain, William Mansfield. As soon as the fall was moved, the air started to pass down the face and the atmosphere became good enough to allow a person not wearing breathing apparatus down the face. The bodies of Jacob Fallis, Leo Bunting and Thomas Roberts, George Wroe, Joseph S. Washington, Richard Hurrell, Clifford C. Walker, George Arthur Walley and John Williams were found and recovered. The bodies found in the level were recovered by a second Rescue Brigade.

Those who died were:

  • John Williams, borer,
  • Amos Dransfield, borer,
  • Thomas Smith, borer,
  • Claud Ackroyd, ponyboy,
  • Hubert Kelly, ponyboy,
  • Walter Riley, collier,
  • Albert Smith, corporal,
  • Robert Brant, collier,
  • James Senior, collier,
  • Thomas Poyser, collier,
  • Albert Ibberson, collier,
  • Jacob Fallis, panman,
  • Leo Bunting, panman,
  • Thomas Roberts, panman,
  • George Wroe, ripper,
  • Joseph S. Washington, machineman,
  • Richard Hurrell, machineman,
  • Clifford C. Walker, machineman,
  • George Arthur Walley, machineman.

The inquiry into the disaster was conducted by Sir Henry Walker, H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines at the Town Hall, Barnsley from the 22nd October to the 2nd November when all interested parties were represented.

Following the disaster, Mr. H. J. Humphrys, Divisional Inspector of mines was told by telephone at 4.30 p.m.. by Mr. S. Diggle, the agent. He went straight to the colliery after sending a copy of the Report, “Medical Treatment of Persons Burned in Colliery Explosions” to the Beckett Hospital, Barnsley. On arriving at the pit he immediately went below ground where he met Mr. Diggle and made a full inspection of the explosion area.

In the Report, a section under the title, “CAUSE OF THE EXPLOSION”, stated

Taking those witnesses who were asked their opinion as to what had caused the explosion in order in which they were called, the shotfirer Friend Clayton said that the had not the faintest idea what was the cause. Joseph Brook, deputy, said he had not formed any opinion. Mr. William Hibbert, representing the North Gawber Branch of he Yorkshire Mineworkers’ Association, who was present at the examination and test of the lamps, said he did not think they had been the cause. In regard to electricity having been the cause, Mr. Land, chief electrician at the North Gawber and Darton Collieries said that his examination of the electrical plant after the explosion, he was satisfied electricity had not been the cause. Mr. Cowan. Junior Electrical Inspector, said that, in spite of detailed examinations of the electrical plant, he found nothing to which the explosion could be attributed and Mr. Horsley, Chief Electrical Inspector, was satisfied that the explosion was not due to electricity. Mr. Stone, Sub-Inspector, said he had come to no definite conclusions about the cause.

The inquiry then looked at the firing of shots in the mine and Sir Henry stated:

Having inspected the area covered by the explosion and having heard the evidence, I am of the opinion that the shot fired by Friend Clayton in the No.4 South Top Airway Gate was the originating cause of the explosion. That opinion is not capable of proof but is based on experience and not on speculation.

 There can be no doubt that this shot should not have been fired. The conditions surrounding the ripping in that gate would be more difficult to keep up than take down. Three shots had been fired in this ripping in six months, and it is significant that two of them had been fired within seven days of the explosion by the same man, Friend Clayton, who had only been employed of the day shift, when the ripping was done, for a fortnight.

 In my opinion, to fire a shot so close to an abandoned unventilated road, the settling gate, was extremely foolish and not the action of a thoughtful pitman. It is only fair to add that Clayton’s judgement was no poorer than that of the manager and undermanager, who both said there was nothing to indicate to their minds that it would be risky to fire a shot.


Report on the causes and circumstances attending the Explosion at North Gawber (Lidgett) Colliery, Yorkshire on 12th September 1935. By Sir Henry Walker, C.B.E., LL.D. H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 13th September 1935, p.488, 27th September p.613, 25th October, p.781, 1st November, p.814, 8th November, p.857.

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

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