THORNE. Doncaster, Yorkshire. 15th. March, 1926.

The mine was 11 miles to the north east of Doncaster and was the property of Messrs. Pease and Partners Limited. Developments were started in 1909 and on the 22nd February 1926 sinking operations were completed on the No.2 shaft which was 21 feet in diameter and sunk to 964 yards to the Barnsley seam. At 863 yards there was an inset at the Kent’s Thick or Haigh Hazel seam in which there was a connection to the No.1 shaft. At the time of the accident, there was water in the No.2 shaft to a depth of 11 feet. The cement lining of the shaft had been completed and the sinking scaffold was last in use at 919 yards to remove some temporary steel sheet which was lining the inside of the shaft.

The position of the scaffold at the time of the accident, which was caused by the breaking of the capstan engine which sent the scaffold and its supporting ropes to the bottom of the shaft, was not known exactly but it was last seen by Knox, an engineer and Carter, the foreman sinker at 10 a.m. on the day of the accident 919 yards from the surface. The chargeman, Thornley had been directed by Carter that the next work to be done from the scaffold was at a point about 15 yards below the Hazel inset and the scaffold was moving to this position when the accident occurred. If the distances that the scaffold moved as estimated by the engine driver, Ingram the scaffold was about 74 yards above the bottom of the shaft when it fell.

The scaffold weighed 6 tons and was supported by two lock coil ropes and a double drum capstan engine fixed 74 feet 6 inches from the shaft. The ropes led off the top sides of the drums at an angle of thirty-eight degrees to the horizontal and passed over pulleys fixed at a height of 60 feet 6 inches from ground level. The ropes were made by Messrs. Latch and Batchelor and were bought in February and put into use on the 24th July 1910. They were each of 1,035 yards long and five and a half inches in circumference. They weighed 10 tons 5 cwt and had a breaking strain of 172 tons.

The capstan was manufactured by the Uskside Engineering Company of Newport, Monmouth and was erected at the same time. It was designed to lift 25 tons on each drum or 50 tons on one drum. The drums each weight 9 tons and were driven by worms which, in turn, were driven by spur gearing from a twin high-pressure reversible steam engine with 14-inch cylinders fitted with slide valves. The drums were mounted axially in line and were fitted with band brakes at the outside ends. The worms operated underneath the inside ends which had ratchets where pawls could engage under certain circumstances. The pawls pivoted on pins fixed on the shaft side of the capstan and at a level well below the drum axles. When raising the scaffold the pawls were held into their work by weighted levers and would engage in the event of the drum moving in the reverse direction. When lowering the scaffold the pawls were held free from their engaging positions by raising the weighted levers. To effect this, wore rope attachments were provided. The rope passed under the drums and ended in metal handles on the driver’s side of the capstan. The handles could be put in two positions over fixed vertical iron pins corresponding to “lowering” and “raising” operations.

Steam was supplied at a pressure of 150 lbs. per square inch and was controlled by a stop valve and throttle which, along with the reversing lever were used to control the engine when operating the capstan. The reversing lever was approximately in the vertical position with a catch pin fitted which could be lifted by a small spring-controlled lever on the handle or it would engage in one of three slots on a metal sector. The slots corresponded to the “raise”, “neutral” and “lower” positions on the lever.

The left-hand drum from the driver’s position was known as the north drum and the other the south drum. When operating the engine the driver faced the south drum and the shaft, with his right hand on the throttle and his left hand on the reversing lever. To put the engine in motion, the reversing lever would be first paced in the desired position before steam was admitted through the throttle valve. To stop the engine, the lever would be centred and the throttle closed. The stop valve was closed only when the engine had to stop for a considerable time.

At the time of the accident, there were approximately two-thirds of one complete rope lap on each drum and the ropes were coiling towards the inside cheeks of the drum. In order to ensure that the coils of the first lay fitting closely, 2-inch metal pipes, held by six men, three per drum were used as guides.

Six men were on the scaffold and the banksman gave an account of what happened. His son was one of those who lost their lives. He said:

I was on duty at the time of the accident and had started at 6 a.m. I had to transmit the scaffold moving signals. The scaffold had been raised just before 7 a.m. about the depth of a ring (2 feet) about 12.05 and 12.10 p.m. I got the signal “7” followed by a “5”. The scaffold was then lowered to allow the ropes to be properly re-coiled on the drum. Ingram, the capstan driver, told me that he had seen George Carter, the foreman sinker, about lowering the scaffold. I saw Thorley before he went down and arranged about the lowering. Ingram came and told me when I had lowered enough, and I signalled “4” to Thorley and got “4” back again and passed the signal to the driver. He raised again and stopped on his own account. The capstan stood two or three minutes and the started again. I was watching the ropes in the shaft which were raised two or three yards. The capstan stopped again for two or three minutes and the next time the engine started up it gave one cough of the exhaust, and the ropes went down. The ropes did not raise the last occasion but just eased a little. Both ropes seemed to go down together.

Albert Ingram, the engine driver,  gave his description of the occurrence:

The engine had always been satisfactory, and I was fully acquainted with it’s working. It had been frequently used. I started work at 6 a.m. and the scaffold had to be moved several times on the shift. Just prior to the accident I had lowered the scaffold some 12 yards in response to signals. I then raised it 40 yards and stopped to allow the guides for the ropes going on to the capstan drum to be adjusted. It was when I started away that the accident happened. The engine gave a jar, and then I saw the far drum lift. I reversed, the centred, and screwed up the brake on the near drum. The pawls were in. They had been put when lowering but had not been put in before raising commenced. I am sure I did not put steam in before raising commenced. To raise, the lever had to be put forward, to lower, backwards. The engine just seemed to stick. I had no signal to raise at the moment of the accident. The ropes were leading off the drums nearer the worm sides than the other.

Almost immediately after the accident the gent, Mr. Hoyle, went down the shaft to the level of the water but nothing could be seen. Apart from some marks on the side of the shaft below the point where the scaffold fell and no damage to the shaft had been done.

The water was removed and parts of the guide ropes in the shaft bottom had to be cut by oxy-acetylene burners before the bodies were recovered. He first was recovered on Wednesday and the last on Friday. One man was pinned by the scaffold and the others wee found above it but it had turned over completely. The shaft bottom was cleared by the 25th March. Only two loose rope ends were found and these were devoid of their outer layers.

The men who died were:

  • Edmund Thorley aged 33 years, 1st. chargeman,
  • John Hansbury aged 34 years, 2nd. chargeman,
  • John William Barley aged 51 years, sinker,
  • Charles H. Walton aged 33 years, sinker,
  • Ernest Clark aged 26 years, sinker and
  • John A. Reed aged 21 years, sinker.

The inquiry into the causes and circumstances attending the shaft accident which occurred at the No.2 shaft Thorne Colliery, Thorne, Yorkshire on the 15th March 1926 by Major H.M. Hudspeth, D.S.O., M, M.Sc., H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines and presented to Parliament on the 30th. March 1926.

After a detailed inspection of the capstan after the accident, evidence was presented to the Inspector. The capstan suffered the breaking of each of the inside drum shaft pedestal bearings in two places. The material was cast iron and the fractured surface showed no flaws. About the drums he said:

The drums were raised at their inside ends to such an extent that the north drum was quite clear of the worm, and the south drum almost so. The inside cheek of the north drum had been revolving on the pawl. The rim edge of the south drum worm wheel had scoured the worm. The inside cheeks of both drums had a piece broken out at the points where the pawls undoubtedly engaged. It is beyond dispute:

      1) that the pawls had engaged when the drums were moving in such a direction as corresponded with the lowering of the scaffold

      2) that the pawls had been forced inwards and under the drums

      3) that the inside ends of the drums were clear of the worms when the drum lifted four and a half inches necessary to force the pawls inwards.

The Inspector came to the conclusion that the pawls were so fitted that in the event of the engine-driven against them, the disaster would result. He recommended that pawls should not be fitted of worm-driven capstan engines unless they could be arranged so that they could avoid this. He added that the difficulty in doing this pawls should not be used.


The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Wath Main Colliery, Wath-on-Dearne, Yorkshire, on the 24th February 1930, by Sir Henry Walker, C.B.E., LL.D., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 30th April 1926, p.1021.

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

Return to previous page