SWAITHE MAIN. Barnsley, Yorkshire. 6th. December, 1875.

The Swaithe Main pit was between Barnsley and Sheffield and owned by Messrs. Mitchell and Company and was one of the largest collieries in the country. The downcast, which was also the drawing shaft was thirteen feet six inches in diameter and sunk to a depth of 320 yards. The upcast shaft was twelve feet nine inches in diameter and sunk to a depth of 225 yards and was the furnace shaft. The distance between the two shafts was 68 yards. The colliery was connected by an inclined plane to the Edmunds Main Colliery and was the means by which seventy to eighty men were saved. The coal seam worked, was the Barnsley Nine Foot coal and was known to be exceptionally fiery. This particular pit had not known to be dangerous and the pit was worked by locked safety lamps.

At the Swaithe pit there were some 300 men and boys employed but on that Monday a large number of the workforce were not at work. Two hundred and forty men and boys went down the pit at the usual time and there was nothing to tell that the pit was likely to fire. In the explosion, 143 lives lost and it was the most disastrous explosion in the district since the Oaks explosion.

The explosion took place about nine forty and those on the pit bank heard a loud report and the usual rush of gas up the shaft but the disaster at first was not fully understood.

Exploring parties were quickly formed and consisted of John Mitchell, George Hall and Edward Williams and they found that the bottom nine feet of the conductors at the bottom of the shaft had been destroyed and the remainder of the descent had to be completed by an improvised ladder. They found the full force of the explosion in the south level in which everything connecting with the workings had been destroyed. Two hundred men were working down the incline from the Swaithe Main pit eastwards on what was known as the South level and the remainder worked in the incline which ran from the bottom of the Edmunds Main shaft a distance of about a mile to the surface but somewhat less underground.

When the explorers reached the bottom of the shaft they found a few of the men who had escaped the force of the blast they were in a maniacal condition and had become insane from the effects of the gas and terror. They had to be held down and pinioned when they were slung in blankets and out into the cage. The hanger-on was found in the pump hole into which the explosion had hurled him. He was badly injured and promptly sent to the surface. The exploring party had to retreat because of the afterdamp and one or two of the explorers were overcome and they decided to retreat to avoid further loss of life.

In the meantime, they found that 70 to 80 men had escaped up the Edmunds Main shaft and there was great rejoicing as a result.

There was a consultation at the surface between Mr. John Mitchell Jnr, Mr. Joseph Mitchell certificated manager, Mr. Miller Mr. Day, John Mitchell sen. and others. As they consulted the plans of the colliery they came to the conclusion that 120 men had been lost. During the day 16 men and boys were brought out of the pit alive.

In the evening the operations underground were underway and the body of James Allen the underground manager was found. Carpenters were set to work mending the conductors and the signal rope was also out of order by the explosion. As soon as the work was done one of the mining secretaries Mr. Casey but work had to proceed so cautiously that by 7.30 p.m., only three more bodies had been found.

The delay was to prove the safety of the north level before going on with the recovery of the dead. That this was necessary was proved by the fact that some of the early exploring parties had found that the coal was on fire about 300 yards from the pit bottom. However, the fire was speedily extinguished. This was a great worry to the rescuers since in the explosion at Edmunds Main in 1862 the coal took fire and the colliery had to be flooded.

On the engine plane, the explorers found two men alive and sent them out and further up they found two or three bodies. The parties separated and agreed to meet at a specified point but there were falls of roof and while they were considering what to do a note came for the Inspector and they went to the surface and reported. It appeared from a statement of a deputy that he went to the Edmunds Main shaft after the explosion. There were fifty colliers in that part of the pit and all but two escaped with their lives. He got as far as the two bodies in his efforts to help when he was overcome by the afterdamp and had to be assisted out of the pit.

Mr. Robert Miller, who lived at Strafford Colliery, Dodworth, and he gave a factual and moving account of the rescue work that went on at the mine immediately after the explosion. He had not been down this pit before and went down with Mr. James Wilson, of the Oaks Colliery, and Joseph Sheldon, a deputy at Swaithe Main together with fifteen or sixteen men. When they got within eight feet from the bottom of the shaft, they found it made up of debris and water was falling down. There were corves and broken conductors and the occupants of the cage had to scramble over a man’s shoulder to get out of the cage. The first thing that they saw was a young man, named Crossland. When they touched him he said, “You are killing me”.  He appeared to the rescuers to be much bruised but not burned.

The party examined the returns and the separation doors appeared to have been blown down. They followed a smell of fire to the north return but after going about twenty yards, they returned to the pit bottom. After returning, they went down the engine plane to the end of the slant level and found a man alive. His name was Brown, of Stairfoot, but was unconscious and unable to move and he died later. They then divided themselves into three parties under the command of Robert Miller, Mr.Wilson and James Sheldon. The next day Miller saw Sheldon’s body after coming out of the pit.

Wilson’s and Miller’s parties went to Brigg’s siding and Sheldon went to explore the slant as far as he could get because he knew the place. They found a lot of bodies in Brigg’s siding and about twenty yards from the bodies, a human foot was picked up. They then went down the engine plane and found four more bodies. After going on a little way, they heard a human voice. The party listened and distinctly heard a man screaming. They hurried on and found a man named Pickering who was not conscious and jammed against a post. He was sent out of the pit but later died from his injuries. Mr. Wilson along with Schofield, the deputy, and two or three men, went through the drift but they found that there was a fall of roof about halfway along. Three men went to the No.3 district and Miller went along to the No.4 level in the No.3 district and up the drift to the level. They passed several dead horses and several bodies. When they reached the No.4 level, they met Wilson’s party and Wilson agreed to go down the engine plane, Brigg’s siding and the boundary board and Miller to go along the No.4 level until they met again at the boundary board.

One of Miller’s party was taken ill and had to be sent out of the pit and they found a heavy fall of stone from the roof in the No.4 level. Also in the No. 4 level, they found a body which was naked and badly burned. Just beyond there were two bodies of boys who were burned as were all the other bodies that were found in this part if the pit. They then went to the engine plane where they met a man with a fire extinguisher who said that Wilson had discovered a fire. He examined the returns and then went to the surface after being below ground for two hours. Shortly after three o’clock, he had a conference with Mr. Wardell, the Inspector, and Mr. Mitchell, the owner of the colliery and others. In the meantime, Wilson’s party came out of the pit.

Miller went down the pit again about noon on the following day and was placed in charge of the operations since Mr. Mitchell had been taken ill. He went to the pit-bottom to see the situation below for himself and on his advice and instructions, men were sent to repair the damage and to search for the bodies. He went, with a party, along the No.4 drift and on his way, he found a broken lamp hanging on a prop but there was no fall of roof nearby and no fire marks on the prop. The bodies were twenty yards away from this place and there was afterdamp present. In the first No.4 level they found a man, who was badly burnt, and there was evidence that shot had been fired in this place but it had only partly blown down the coal. The party were satisfied that after the shot had been fired, a corve was filled, indicating that the shot had not fired the gas and the man’s lamp was found covered with coal and not broken. Mr. Beaumont, one of the party was taken ill form the conditions that were in the pit and he was taken out by Mr. Miller.

On the following day, he was down the pit again but this time he was giving orders at the bottom of the shaft to supervise the work that was going on in the pit. Two men, Thompson and Pearson, brought a can of powder to him that they had found in Eyre’s place in the No 4 level. They had found two bodies near the gate and a heavy fall of the roof close to them. They got over the fall and found another beyond it which was almost connected to it. They got over this and found that the edge of a corve had been driven into the fall and a body faced forward driven in after the corve and another a little further on which had been blown from the goaf. His face had been driven against a rail and had been completely smashed in.

When they reached the other side of the falls, they found several props lying about and the bodies of several wood-takers. They came to the conclusion that these men had been taking wood at the time of the explosion and that was why the falls were so heavy. The bodies of the two wood-takers were found twenty yards from the goaf and on making their way to the pit bottom they came to the conclusion that the blast had come out of the goaf, as if that had been the centre, and then gone in all directions. The assumption was that the gas had been liberated by the wood-takers, taking down the roof.

The area of the goaf was about twelve acres and the force of the explosion was apparent around the goaf, with all the doors blown in one direction, except in Brigg’s siding. From there, the blast had gone with terrific force, killing all the men and boys and horses in its path and tearing down brattice and air-sheets. Judging from the evidence, there had been two explosions, both of great force, which had made a circuit of the pit.

On Thursday when they had been down the pit they had tried to get into the far returns where Sheldon had died. They passed the place where he had been overcome and died and got back to the pit bottom. The last time he had visited the pit, was last Tuesday with the Inspector.

A great number of surgeons were on the spot but their services were of little avail for the greater part of the day nor were the temporary hospital of little use. A large police force was present and did a good job in keeping the great crowds of people back from the pit head. On Tuesday the exploring parties found 34 bodies and one of them showed signs of life but he died an hour after being brought to the surface. The work of bringing the bodies took the whole of Wednesday and Thursday nights. By Wednesday 90 had been recovered. In many cases the identification was difficult. The death toll was rising all the time and by Wednesday afternoon had risen to 101 but the total number of deaths had not then been ascertained.

In Sorrowful Remembrance of the men and boys who fell victims to the Terrible Explosion on the 6th.December 1875 at the Swaithe Main Colliery Near Barnsley.

From Swaithe:

  • James Allen aged 32 years. Married with four children.
  • George Banks aged 38 years Married with nine children.
  • Thomas Beevors aged 47 years. Married with one child.
  • James Denton aged 32 years. A married man.
  • John Gilbert aged 20 years. Married with one child.
  • John Goodall aged 48 years. A married man.
  • Charles Goodman aged 19 years.
  • Charles Harrison aged 13 years.
  • Henry Jaques aged 27 years. Married with two children.
  • Thomas Scorah aged 31 years a married man with a child.
  • John Semley aged 17 years.
  • Joseph Sheldon aged 43 years a married man with three children.
  • George Sykes aged 25 years a married man with two children.
  • Henry Charles Vine aged 20 years a single man.
  • John Waterworth aged 30 years a married man with five children.

From Barnsley:

  • Frank Allen aged 18 years.
  • William Allen aged 19 years a single man.
  • Henry Ackers aged 25 years. A married man with two children.
  • James Blackburn aged 45 years. A married man.
  • William Bray aged 24 years a married man with three children.
  • John Brown aged 36 years. A married man with five children.
  • William Buckley aged 33 years a married man with a child.
  • J. Calvert aged 27 years a married man with two children.
  • William Carr aged 40 years a married man with five children.
  • Alfred Crackles aged 24 years married with two children.
  • J. Dolan aged 29 years married with three children.
  • Arthur Dunk aged 20 years a married man with one child.
  • George Evans aged 17 years. Unmarried.
  • William Goodliff aged 22 years. A married man.
  • Thomas Lund aged 24 years a single man.
  • Henry Malin aged 22 years. A married man.
  • Thomas Markey aged 25 years a married man.
  • Henry Marsden aged 25 years. Married with one child.
  • Robert McNaught aged 40 years a single man.
  • James Muldoon aged 31 years married with three children.
  • William Oates aged 45 years a married man with five children.
  • George Philipson aged 30 years a single man.
  • John Pickering aged 23 years married with one child.
  • T. Rider aged 16 years.
  • A. Rock aged 23 years single.
  • J. Sedgwick aged 31 years married with four children.
  • Henry Stott aged 17 years. Unmarried.
  • James Temperley aged 34 years married with five children.
  • Walter Whitham aged 19 years unmarried.
  • John Wood aged 19 years unmarried.

From Hoyle Mill:

  • Henry Grant aged 55 years married with six children.

From Cliff Bridge:

  • William ??? aged 43 years married with six children.

From Worsbro’dale:

  • Henry Wm. Bailey aged 20 years a single man.
  • William Bamforth aged 20 years a single man.
  • Gad Barden aged 43 years married with five children.
  • Benjamin Bennett aged 29 years married with three children.
  • Pharaoh Bostock aged 14 years.
  • Alfred Bower aged 14 years.
  • Edward Bower aged 12 years.
  • Isaac Bullock aged 29 years a single man.
  • Edward Geo. Carr aged 24 years married with one child.
  • Thomas Coxon aged 18 years.
  • Thomas Carrersal aged 24 years married with no children.
  • Joshua Eyre aged 22 years married with one child.
  • William Earnshaw aged 32 years married with three children.
  • John Gibson aged 14 years.
  • Alfred Gilbert aged 21 years married with three children.
  • Edwin Glover aged 19 years.
  • William Greenbank aged 27 years married.
  • George Halmshaw aged 14 years.
  • Albert Harrison aged 14 years.
  • Jura Herod (Pole) aged 29 years married with one child.
  • William Hudson aged 30 years married with no family.
  • Paul Kendal aged 49 years married with six children.
  • Paul Kendal aged 15 years.
  • Wm. Geo, Kendal aged 17 years.
  • Thomas Kilburn aged 29 years married with one child.
  • Fred Kilburn aged 29 years married with one child.
  • Andreas Konnuck (Pole) aged 33 years married with three children.
  • Israel Lambert aged 19 years Unmarried.
  • Thomas Lancashire aged 24 years married with no family.
  • William Laughton aged 17 years
  • Thomas Maltby aged 24 years married with one child.
  • Charles Morton aged 20 a single man.
  • Joseph Morton aged 20 yeas a single man.
  • Joseph Noble aged 38 years married with three children.
  • Arthur Netherwood aged 18 years a single man.
  • John Nicholson aged 17 years a single man.
  • John Edward Philips aged 18 years.
  • Edward Semeley aged 17 years.
  • Amos Semley aged 14 years.
  • George Slater aged 20 years a single man.
  • Richard Slater aged 20 years a single man.
  • Richard Smith aged 29 years married with three children.
  • John Thomas Smith aged 17 years.
  • William Smith aged 30 years married with eight children.
  • John Stowroski (Pole) aged 44 years married with four children.
  • Thomas Watson aged 16 years
  • Joseph Watson aged 18 years.
  • Robert Wilkinson aged 20 years
  • Joseph Winder aged 21 years unmarried,
  • Thomas Woodhead aged 29 years a single man.

From Hoyland Nether:

  • John Bailey aged 25 years married with two children.
  • Samuel Hague aged 35 years married with two children.

From Worsboro’ Common:

  • George Armitage aged 52 years married with five children.
  • James Barraclough aged 30 years married with four children.
  • Henry Bell aged 16 years.
  • Henry Cawthorn aged 22 years a single man.
  • Charles Henry Cullumbine aged 16 years.
  • Leonard Galloway aged 16 years.
  • James Green aged 43 years a single man.
  • Joseph Harrison aged 19 a married man.
  • John Heppinstall aged 46 years married with one child.
  • Thomas Lockward aged 50 years married with four children.
  • Walter Lockwood aged 16 years
  • James McCulloch aged 17 years.
  • Jos. Mowbery Robinson aged 19 years.
  • William Charles Tyas aged 20 years a single man.
  • William Walter aged 16 years.
  • John Waller aged 14 years.
  • George Wildsmith aged 19 years a single man.

From Stairfoot:

  • J. Benson aged 14 years.

William Brown aged 19 years.

  • A. James Hancock aged 34 years married with four children.
  • John Jenkins aged 26 years married with two children.
  • Samuel Schofield aged 35 years married with four children.
  • William Walker aged 29 years a married man.

From Measbro’ Dyke:

  • John Christian aged 32 years married.
  • Thomas Foster aged 29 years married with two children.
  • Partlett aged 19 years married with one child.

From Blacker Hill:

  • Joseph Dodson aged 32 years married with two children.
  • George Fawcett aged 29 years married with four children.
  • Franter aged 23 single.
  • Edward Jenkins aged 21 years a single man.
  • William Jenkins aged 25 years married with two children.
  • Fred J. Moore aged 26 years married with three children.

From Platts Common:

  • Samuel Green aged 27 years married with four children.
  • Charles Hall aged 24 years a single man.
  • Charles ??? aged 26 years married with three children.

From Jump:

  • Levi Thickett aged 18 years.

From Wombwell:

  • William Nettleship aged 23 years married with two children.
  • William Rodgers aged 32 years married with one child.
  • Fred Holt Waldie aged 21 years married with one child.

From Darfield:

  • Thomas William Senior aged 17 years.

At the adjourned inquest into the deaths at the colliery Barnsley Court House Mr. T. Taylor, Coroner. The proceedings were attended by Mr. Lake, Q.C. attended to watch proceedings on behalf of the Home Office, Mr. Melor Q.C. appeared on behalf of Mr. Mitchell, certificated manager of the colliery. Mr. Shaw watched the inquiry on behalf of the mine owners, Mr Hopwood Q.C., M.P. appeared for the South Yorkshire Association and Mr. Parker and Mr. Rhodes watched the inquest on behalf of the relatives of the underviewers and deputies that had perished in the disaster. There is no record that the widows and orphans were represented at the inquest. A number of the owners of the collieries and mining engineers watched the proceedings with interest and the back seats held a sprinkling of colliers. Most of those present thought that the explosion had been caused by the firing of a shot. A canister containing less than a couple of pounds of powder and a roll of fuse was found in the slant drift level. In this part of the colliery, the effects of the explosion were most severe.

Joseph Bennett, a deputy at the colliery, said on the morning of the explosion, Sheldon and other deputies had reported the pit all right and shortly after these men were killed. There had been gas in the pit for six weeks and the fact had been reported daily. He was in the pit on the morning of the explosion and a shot had been fired in Eyre’s working place by one of the miners and soon afterwards he was in the jenny he noticed a rush of wind and the afterdamp which was so bad that he had to crawl on his hands and knees. He eventually escaped through the Edmunds Main shaft although he was nearly suffocated. Gas had ignited on the south drift level a year ago from a shot but since then no shot had been fired in the district until the men had been withdrawn. Other evidence was given to show that the explosion did not occur until three-quarters of an hour after the shot had been fired and it was the witness impression that the shot had done no harm.

The men were allowed to take the powder into the pit for blasting purposes but not more than 1lb. and he had never heard of miners having 5lbs. of powder in their possession although drifters were allowed to use as much as was required in their judgement. John Godfrey, an underground labourer, was in the pit in the morning of the explosion when his lamp was blown out by the wind and he tried to make his way to the bottom of the pit but the engine plane was filled with afterdamp and he had to go back along the travelling road and reached the shaft with great difficulty.

The inquest was adjourned and at that time 120 had been recovered. One of the first mining engineers to arrive on the scene was Mr. J. Hunter who had been the manager of the Seaham Collieries and was now manager of the Worsborough Park Collieries and was with Mr. Miller of the Strafford Main Colliery one of the first party of explorers.

Evidence was heard from the men who had worked in the mine and this gave some indication of the state of the colliery and the work practices that were used. One witness was Robert Schofield who was the afternoon deputy on the day before the explosion. He was accompanied by Bostock to the slant drift level where the latter said he had found a canister of gunpowder. The canister was well corked and secured and it was found before the debris was removed but the could not say whether the canister was battered at all. He believed the men had been working at the face of the coal at the time of the explosion. No men were working in the No.8 far gate at the time of the explosion, as far as he could remember.

Johnathan Bostock, a day labourer, was the next witness to be called. He had found a breakfast box with Ackers’ name on it and the canister with fuse and powder in it. He found no traces of a shot being fired. John White, a collier was down the pit at the time of the explosion but he did not hear it. He was told that the pit was on fire. He went down the slant and clambered over falls that had occurred there. He escaped through the Edmunds Main shaft. George Coleclough, a coal getter, said that there was nothing wrong with the pit on the Saturday night. Allen, the underviewer, had spoken to him about blowing the coal down because it was harder than the rest. Allen had said, “You must have a shot or two whilst you get through the worst of it.”

George Simmons, the lamp-man, produced a canister and a fuse that he had taken to the magazine. The powder in the canister was courser than that supplied at the colliery and he was not aware that a man could take any quantity of powder into the pit without being questioned. Charles Radley, a collier, said that he could not take the powder into the pit as he liked.

An account of the state of the pit after the explosion was given to the inquiry by George Beardsley, a deputy, who was in charge of the No.1 district nearest the Edmunds Main workings at the time of the explosion. He did not hear the explosion and knew of it until 10 a.m. When he was told by a hurrier named Walton. He was on the Swaithe levels at the time and he went with Walton, two hundred yards down the brow until they could go no further because of the afterdamp. They returned to the north level and told Walton to fetch the men and boys from the north levels.

After sending them up the Edmunds Main shaft, he returned to the border jenny and found the afterdamp had got to one hundred yards higher than it was before. He then went back to two separation doors which divided the workings of the two collieries and opened them, in the hope that air could come from the Edmunds Main pit to the boundary jenny. This was successful and it took about ten to fifteen minutes for the air to clear. He got to the foot of the level where he saw White and Pearce, a hanger-on, and sent them out through the Edmunds Main shaft. He then went down the level and found the afterdamp so strong that he had to get water to revive himself. He tried to improve the ventilation further and found the body of John Waterworth, a deputy, lying on his face two hundred yards below the double doors. He was lying on his face and appeared to have been suffocated as if he had been trying to get to the boundary board. A few yards further on he found the body of Henry Cawthorne who also appeared to have been suffocated.

He went on to the jenny and found a horse, which had almost been blown to pieces and two stoppings had been blown out but they did not interfere with the passage of the air. Later he found the body of Thomas Bullock who was lying ten yards from the horse. Near the bottom of the jenny, they found the body of George Sykes, the horse-driver, but the afterdamp was so thick that they could not see if he had been burned or not. He did not bring out any of the bodies.

The following day about 10 a.m., he went down with William Ward of the Manvers Main Colliery round the workings where they did not find any bodies but on going through the boundary doors they found the bodies of two brothers named Allen but he could not tell if they were burned beaus they were all covered with dust. They then went to the bottom of the return airway and then out of the pit. At 6 p.m. he went down again with William Ward and others, with the object to fetch out the bodies. The following afternoon he went down again. At the inquiry, he was questioned a by Mr. Mellor. He said he had been a deputy at the colliery for four years and he had known James Allen for seven years and four of those he had been a deputy and was a good competent man.

He was questioned further about a conversation in June 1874, on the subject of shotfiring in the No.4 district. He related the story of the discussions. Allan and Jaques and other deputies were present and it was decided that no shots were to be fired until after 2 p.m. Allan, Farnshaw and Jaques were present and all were now dead, killed in the explosion. To his knowledge, Allan had never made any alteration to the rule and before any alteration was made, it was customary for the deputies to meet Mr. John Mitchell was also present at the first meeting.

While exploring the pit, Beardsall found Parfitt’s body in his working place in Briggs siding and the number of his “motty”  was 23 but he could not account for his motives being found in the chock or he had no business there. There had been falls in the No.8 gate and the No 5 dip board but the first-mentioned was the heaviest. Parfitt and Bailey were also found killed in their working places.

Evidence was then taken for the purchasing of powder at an ironmongers in Sheffield and the difference in quality to that used in the pit and the entries in the powder book of the colliery which should detail all the powder and fuse employed in the mine.

William Midgely the deputy at the Swaithe Main Colliery stated that he was in duty in the pit up to 6 a.m. on the morning of the explosion. When he left everything was in good order. At 5 a.m. He signed the night report book with an entry as follows, “All the working places, travelling roads and air courses have been carefully examined by me”,  but he omitted to say that he had been found in the North No.4 working place. On the Tuesday after the explosion, he went down the pit with others to put up some sheeting to divide the intake air from the return air. In the afternoon, he assisted in getting John Nettleship out of the pit he was found at the bottom of the No.5 board on the slant level and was quite conscious. The first thing that he said when he was found was “Now Billy lad, I am dry”.  He was given tea and a little brandy but he could not stand or raise his arms and they had to carry him from the pit. It had been stated that Nettleship had said, “That will be the last shot fired in the pit”.

Mr. Charles Beevers. the manager of the Higham Colliery at Dodworth said he had no knowledge of the colliery before the 6th and he went down about 4 p.m. on that day. He was with the party that found Nettleship and he was badly burned. He rambled occasionally but was generally lucid and he was asked if he knew what had happened he did not say that he had seen a blaze and as to the cause he said, “You’ll see no more shooting here”.  He was then asked if there had been any shots near him, “No. But I know that there was some shooting going on”.  In his opinion, the force of the explosion was in the No.8 gate where there was a large fall of coal twenty yards long. He had gone down the pit the Tuesday after with the Inspector and found shot ready for firing with a fuse attached in the No.4 dip level and at the bottom of the level, he found a shot hole drilled. Corves had been broken and jenny wheels smashed and blown in the direction of the return air.

When they were exploring Brigg’s siding they found gas, firedamp where many props and supporting timbers had been smashed and the props were charged. From what he had seen he was of the opinion that there had been two explosions one in the No.5 and one in a pillar between Nos. 5 and 6.

At the resumption of the proceedings on Tuesday morning the first witness was a widow who identified the body of her late husband. At the inquest, Mr. Robert Miller was questioned about the possibility of drawing off the gas from the goaf but he said he could not see this being possible particularly if the gas had accumulated quickly and the twelve acres of goaf might contain 300,000 to 400,000 cubic feet of gas.

As to the cause of the ignition of the gas, it was thought that the concussing of the fall could have driven gas through the gauze of a lamp and caused the ignition of the gas. He was asked which type of lamp he thought was the safest and he recommended the Stevenson lamp for men and deputies and not the Davy lamp. He was also questioned about blasting in mines in the Barnsley and Silkstone beds and he thought it was imprudent to do so when men were in the pit.

Mr. James Wilson, the resident of the Oaks Colliery and lived at Stairfoot, knew the colliery before the explosion and in addition to the evidence given by the last witness he gave an account of the death of Sheldon. He saw him at the junction of the double three suffering from the effects of afterdamp and he appeared to be very excited. He said, “It is over hard my son is in the pit and I expect he is dead”.  A note came later for Sheldon saying that is son was at home but it arrived after his death. He thought that it was useless using locked lamps in a pit when shots were fired in the coal. It was like leaving a naked light in the pit. Shots had not been fired in the coal at the Oaks Colliery for nine years.

Joseph Bennett, of Calker Lane, Worsborough Dale, a deputy viewer at the colliery gave further evidence of the ventilation of the colliery. It was worked by lamps. Mr. W. Rayne, clerk to the colliery, produced the report books of the Deputies.

The Coroner made a lengthy summing up and the jury retired to consider their verdict and deliberated for about two hours. They returned and the foreman delivered the following verdict:

The jury find that Thomas Blackburn, James Allen and others came to their deaths at the Swaithe Main Colliery by an explosion or explosions of firedamp but how such explosion or explosions originated there is not sufficient evidence to show we are likewise of the opinion that according to the evidence the Swaithe Main Colliery of a fiery mine and that the general and special rules have not been rigidly carried out and that gunpowder has been recklessly used. The jury is also of the opinion that in all mines where safety lamps are used the use of gunpowder should not be allowed except in stone drifts, and there only when the miners are drawn out. The jury desires the coroner to forward this opinion to the Secretary of State. We also regret that the miners have not carried out General Rule 30, and think that this rule should be strictly adhered to.

The jury was then discharged and the proceedings concluded.


Mines Inspector Report, 1874. Mr. Wardell.
Barnsley Chronicle.
Colliery Guardian, 10th December, p.879, 17th December, p.919, 24th December, p.953, 14th January 1876, p.66, 18th February 1876, p.263, 3rd March 1876, p.349, 24th March 1876, p.458.

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

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