THORNHILL. Dewsbury, Yorkshire. 4th. July, 1893.

The pit formed a part of the Thornhill Colliery and was the property of Mr. T.E. Ingham who lived at Blake Hall, near Mirfield. The Combs pit was worked by a downcast shaft called the “Drawing Pit” which was driven through the New Hards Seam and the Wheatley Seam to a bed of coal known as the Blocking Bed. The distance from the surface to the New Hards was about 115 yards, from the New Hards to the Wheatley, 265 yards and from the Wheatley to the Blocking Bed, 25 yards. The ventilation was produced by a Guibal fan, 30 feet in diameter at the top of the Ingram Pit. It ran at 48 r.p.m at a water gauge of 1.70 inches.

There was another pit known as the Water Pit which was driven from the surface to the New Hards Seam. A short distance from the bottom of this shaft there was a staple pit driven through the Wheatley Seam to the Blocking Bed. The only seam that had been worked over the few years before the explosion was the Wheatley Seam and it was in this seam that the explosion occurred claiming one hundred and thirty-nine lives.

At the time of the explosion, the Combs Pit was being worked by a single shift. The men went down at 6 a.m. and returned to the surface at 2 p.m. each day. On the day of the explosion, there were 146 people in the mine including the undermanager and two deputies and fifty-seven boys. The explosion took place a few minutes after midday during the men’s dinner hour. The men in Combs pit used safety lamps but there were five or six paraffin lamps burning during each shift in porches leading to the Wheatley workings. Naked lamps were also used at various lamp stations in the pit.

On the 4th May the manager Jesse Taylor had retired and William Scott took his place. On the evidence, Mr. Scott did not know of the existence of the fault or the fact that gas came from it. The explosion ignited some wood on the landing or staging and the conductors from the Wheatley Seam to the Blocking bed, 25 yards below. In the opinion of Mr. Wardell, all the lives were lost by suffocation. Nine men got out of the pit alive on the evening of the day after the explosion. Three of these died and one was well enough to be called as a witness at the inquiry. He was Joseph Mallinson. On the 4th July, he was working with ten or eleven others in Smith’s ending for about two hours after the explosion not knowing that something had happened. On making for the pit he met “a white mist” which extinguished all their lights. All the men seemed to have returned to Smith’s ending and six were brought out alive 30 hours after the explosion. Mallinson said that he never lost consciousness but amused himself riding backwards and forwards on a tram until he was rescued. Ten bodies were found in Smith’s ending.

The Thornhill Parish Magazine gave an account of the disaster:

We will tell the sad tale as correctly as we can, and quite simply, without attempting to stir again the agonies of those awful days. Just after noon on Tuesday those who were near the Combs Pit were aware of an unusual sound below, which was followed by the issue of smoke and flame from the pit mouth. James Scargill had just gone down in the cage to work. The signal to the pit bottom was at once rung, but no answer came. A message was sent instantly to Mr. Scott, the manager. Before his arrival, a fresh burst of smoke and foul air from the pit mouth brought decisive proof of the terrible explosion.

Already the news of an accident had begun to spread and people in agonies of alarm were running to the place. Upon his arrival, Mr. Scott and three others entered the cage and were lowered, but were quickly drawn up again having almost immediately encountered the fumes of afterdamp. A second attempt to descend was quickly made and a lower depth was reached, but a second time the party were obliged to give the order to pull up again, and as they came up to the top they were overtaken by an immense cloud of smoke. The lookers-on now being numerous shrieked in terror. The brave men, baffled in their attempts to descend the shaft by the pumping shaft, and succeeded in reaching the pit only to discover that an explosion had undoubtedly taken place and a fire was raging not far off. Almost immediately the lifeless bodies of James Scargill, Samuel Croft, Rowland Garthfitt and Walter Field were found and at once brought to the surface.

By this time fears had become almost certainties and it was realised that the lives of all in the pit were fears in serious danger. The hope that some of the miners might find their way out of the pit at the Ings end was destroyed when the news was brought that firedamp was issuing from the opening there. Further attempts to penetrate the mine were all fruitless and about three o’clock were for a time suspended. Messages meantime had been sent to the mining engineers in the neighbourhood who began to arrive in the course of the afternoon. Several times these gentlemen accompanied one of our men descended the pit, but they found it was full of suffocating fumes attempts to explore were abandoned. The mouth of the pit was closed and water was turned into the old bed below the present workings to extinguish the fire.

Then began a night of sickening suspense. Nothing could be done. Poor women who had been standing near the pit for hours during the afternoon retired home, while some could not be induced to leave the place. All hope of saving any alive from the pit seemed to have been given up. The crowds of strangers who had been assembling in hundreds and thousands during the afternoon began to melt away leaving the few behind whose painful interest in the fate of the imprisoned miners would not let them go. Among the earliest to arrive in the afternoon was Archdeacon Brooke and he and Mr. Wheelhouse spent any hours at the pit amongst the agonised wives and mothers who were assembled there. The Rector was in London. a telegram was dispatched to him summoning him back at once. He received it about 6 o’clock and started home by the next train arriving at Thornhill at about five o’clock on the following morning.

The mining engineers and Mr. Scott were in consultation and decided that it was impossible to resume the exploration for the present but at 11 o’clock after the ventilation of the pit had been restored a party of explorers descended. Among the men were some sub-inspectors of Mines, some mining engineers including Mr. John Nevin, Mr. T.R. Maddison, Mr. H. Child, Mr. Scott and others. The explorers found the pit free of firedamp and made arrangements for a thorough examination. They spent some hours in their work and returned to the top at about three o’clock. They had found eighty-six bodies including Amos Hawksworth and three others who had been seen the evening before. They were in groups, some of them looking as of calmly asleep, some on their knees, one with a piece of chalk in his hand, with which he had written on a corve a message to his wife. The men and boys seem to have come back from the workings when they were aware of something amiss and met the fatal fumes which suffocated them.

A second party of explorers followed at about half-past three to complete the examination of the pit and it was not long after this that with the news that thrilled the hearts of the crowds around the pit as soon as the purport was known. A man had been found still breathing. The doctor descended with restoratives and all with anxious expectation. Everything was made ready for the reception of any who might be brought alive to the pit top and medical men were to hand to render service.

Soon, Henry Wraithmell, of Thornhill Edge, was brought up alive, the John Mallison of Middlestown, then John Garthfitt, of Thornhill Edge and afterwards Friend Senior, of Thornhill Squire Shires, of Middlestown, Richard Wood, and Willie Lightowler of Thornhill and John Heywood of Middlestown. This was the whole number brought out alive from the pit out of the hundred and forty-six who went down to their work on Tuesday morning.

Of the nine above mentioned Joshua Ashton died two hours later and John Heywood, though most assiduously and carefully nursed, died on Thursday night. The others received every care and attention and are now doing well. Mr. Ingham had arrived at the pit early in the afternoon and superintended the proceedings we have described. A message of sympathy and enquiry from Her Majesty the Queen, which was received from the Home Secretary, was posted up in a prominent place.

There was nothing to hinder the removal of the dead from the pit, but the sad task was deferred till nightfall, and the Parochial Hall was fitted up for the reception of the bodies. All night through, the dead being brought on stretchers to the Hall and prepared for identification and burial. We pass hastily over this stage of the story. All was done with as much care and reverence as so difficult and arduous a task permitted, and nothing could exceed the self-devotion which many whose hearts were aching with sorrow exhibited in their untiring labours.

A crowd besieged the entrance to the Parochial Hall throughout the following day, and some we are told failed to get admission to see the remains of their dead. But it will be understood that such mistakes were almost inevitable at a time when it was necessary to exclude as far as possible all but those who had a good reason for being admitted. We may say here that the self-restraint and consideration shown by all the sorrowing mourners was very remarkable when there was so much to try their patience and fortitude. The tedious protraction of the inquest which kept many waiting for hours, and the natural desire to have their own dead restored to them for a short time before internment must have told heavily on them, but in spite of it all the showed wonderful forbearance.

Those who lost their lives were:

Buried at Thornhill on the 6th July:

  • James Scargill aged 50 years of Thornhill,
  • Rowland Blakeley Garthwaitt aged 22 years of Thornhill Edge.

Buried at Thornhill on the 7th July:

  • Walter Field aged 15 years of Thornhill.
  • Arthur Oates aged 18 years, of Millbank.
  • Fred Oates aged 15 years of Millbank.
  • Samuel Croft aged 28 years of Thornhill.
  • Herbert Asquith aged 32 years, of Thornhill.
  • William Henry Swallow aged 25 years of Thornhill.
  • Lambert Thornes aged 15 years of Thornhill.
  • Walter Hardcastle aged 24 years of Thornhill.
  • William Goldthorpe aged 70 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Herbert Wraithmell aged 18 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Willie Wraithmell aged 13 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • William Hampshire aged 36 years of Thornhill.
  • Charles Brook aged 33 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Edward Mort aged 36 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • George Chapman aged 18 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Alexander Andrews aged 15 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • James Sheard aged 54 years of Breastfield.

Buried 8th July:

  • Isaac Lightowler aged 36 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Tom Dyson aged 33 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Willie Coates aged 12 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • James Joseph Steadman aged 24 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Joseph Nobel aged 44 years of Middlestown.
  • James Nobel aged 16 years of Middlestown.
  • David Ramsden aged 44 years of Partridge Row.
  • Thomas Stanley Hills aged 14 years of Overton.
  • Herbert Speight aged 28 years of Thornhill.
  • Aquila Brook aged 33 years of Lees Moor.
  • Charles Brook aged 14 years of Thornhill.
  • Robert Scargill aged 40 years of Thornhill.
  • Rufus Scargill aged 16 years of Thornhill.
  • Matthew Ramsden aged 59 years of Middlestown.
  • Alfred Alonzo Ramsden aged 17 years of Middlestown.
  • Benjamin Ramsden aged 31 years of Middlestown.
  • George Wilkinson aged 52 years of Thornhill.
  • William Stevenson aged 15 years of Middlestown.
  • Ernest Sheard aged 13 years of Thornhill.
  • Fransord Milnes aged 12 years of Partridge Row.
  • John William Smith aged 42 years of Batley Carr.
  • George Milnes aged 51 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Benjamin Milnes aged22 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • James Milnes aged 17 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • John Tindale aged 34 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • George Fenton aged 36 years of Thornhill.
  • Josiah Roberts aged 40 years of Thornhill.
  • Joseph Little aged 22 years of Thornhill.
  • Abraham Ramsden aged 39 years of Middletown.
  • Willie Ransden aged 16 years of Middlestown.
  • Richard Pickard aged 49 years of Lees Moor.
  • Thomas Watkins aged 15 years of Edge Top.
  • John Ellis aged 36 years of Edge Top.
  • William Ellis aged 60 years of Thornhill.
  • Thomas Ellis aged 321 years of Thornhill.
  • Sykes Lee aged 18 years of Thornhill.
  • Lewis Lee aged 26 years of Thornhill.
  • Sam Wood aged 40 years of Thornhill.
  • William Wood aged 12 years of Thornhill.
  • Joshua Ashton aged 23 years of Thornhill.
  • George Wood aged 39 years of Thornhill.
  • Joseph Wood aged 15 years of Thornhill.
  • John Croft aged 33 years of Thornhill.
  • Lot Senior aged 62 years of Thornhill.
  • John Fox aged 15 years of Middlestown.
  • Thomas Fox aged 13 years of Middlestown.
  • Joseph Scarfe aged 16 years of Lees Moor.
  • Joseph Coates aged 28 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • William Jackson aged 27 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Henry Burton (Halstead) aged 30 years of Lees Moor.
  • George Fisher aged 25 years of Lees Moor.
  • Harry Jessop aged 17 years of Edge Top.
  • Mark Smith aged 29 years of Thornhill.
  • Stephen Drake aged 40 years of Thornhill.
  • Henry Summerscales aged 59 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • James Hill aged 25 years of Lees Moor.
  • William Goldthorpe aged 41 years of Thornhill.
  • Charles Rusby aged 40 years of Middlestown.
  • Fred Rusby aged 17 years of Middlestown.
  • John William Beaumont aged 16 years of Middlestown.
  • Ephraim Beaumont aged 12 years of Middlestown.
  • Eli Frith aged 17 years of Thornhill.
  • George Frith aged 15 years of Thornhill.
  • John Longbottom aged 40 years of Thornhill Lees.
  • Smith Longbottom aged 15 years of Thornhill Lees.
  • Arthur Grimsdale aged 15 years of Middlestown.
  • William Cole aged 16 years of Middlestown.
  • George Wilcock aged 30 years of Lees Moor.
  • John Ashton aged 35 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Oliver Ashton aged 15 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • John Hardcastle aged 49 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Henry Halstead aged 57 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Walter Henry Oxley Wilcock aged 51 years of Thornhill.
  • Jonathan Hinchcliffe aged 46 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Harry Hinchcliffe aged 20 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • William Varley Wroe aged 42 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • John B. Netherwood aged 15 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Samuel Crossley aged 65 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • George Crossley aged 23 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Herbert Dunford aged 18 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Matthew Jessop aged 26 years of Smithy Brook.
  • Lot Scargill aged 28 years of Thornhill.
  • Edward Fearnley aged 55 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Edward Fearnley aged 16 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Henry Lightowler aged31 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Charles Firth aged 46 years of Thornhill Edge.
  • Alfred Firth aged 19 years of Thornhill Edge.

Of the remaining twenty-nine, one, Mr. Hawksworth, was buried at Outwood, three in the Baptist Burial ground, six at Thornhill Lees, sixteen at Whitley, one at Dewsbury and two the following day at Flockton.

The “Thornhill Parish Magazine” again:

The first funerals were those of James Scargill and Rowland Garthfitt which took place on Thursday afternoon and these were followed by sixteen on Friday. The task of preparing the graves for so many was a serious one and we cannot speak too highly of the way this was carried out by our sexton with a large number of Mr. Ingham’s workmen and others engaged for the purpose.

The Churchyard was so densely crowded on the Friday afternoon that the work of grave digging became impossible. In view of the necessity of getting on with this work and of ensuring order and reverence in the Churchyard during the great number of funerals which would take place on Saturday, it was decided to allow only the funeral parties to enter the Churchyard the following day.

For more than eight hours on Saturday, the sad duty of solemnly and religiously committing the dead to their graves was performed. the Bishop of the diocese was present and took part in the services for a considerable time.

The expenses were borne by Mr. Ingham. By a quarter past eight, the burial service had been said for the last time and the bodies of one hundred and ten of those who perished in the explosion were consigned to their quiet resting places in our Churchyard. Of the remaining twenty-nine, one Mr. Hawksworth, was buried at Outwood, three in the Baptist Burial ground, six at Thornhill Lees, sixteen at Whiteley, one at Dewsbury and two the following day at Flockton.

The inquiry was held in the Local Board Offices, Thornhill on the 11th and 12th July. After an inspection of the pit after the explosion, it was thought that only a small quantity of gas had ignited near the landing in the downcast shaft at the Wheatley seam. The inquiry thought it very likely that the gas had been ignited by one of the naked lights hanging at the landing. as the shaft was driven through a fault gas did issue from it and Jesse Taylor, the former manager, had tried to use the gas by the insertion of a pipe for lighting the porches leading to the Wheatley seam in the downcast shaft.

About twelve months before the explosion, masons were called in to make apertures through the brick lining of the downcast shaft just under the landing in the shaft at the Wheatley seam. The masons worked with naked lights and one of these ignited the gas but with no fatal results or injury to anyone. It was thought that the gas had come from a feeder behind the brick walling of the shaft and had collected under and about the scaffold.

The door of the undermanager’s cabin, a few yards from the shaft was found closed after the explosion and the paint on the outside blistered by heat. There were three bodies in the cabin and an oil lamp on the wall had not had its glass broken.

After hearing he evidence, the jury delivered the following verdict:

We find that James Scargill and the 138 other persons whose bodies we have viewed were accidentally killed as the result of an explosion in Comb’s Pit of the 4th July 1883. The jury further desire to record their opinion that great praise is due to the gentlemen which formed the rescue parties for their action in this matter. They are also of the opinion that this pit ought not to be worked in future with naked lights at the bottom of the shaft.

Mr. Wardell concluded his report by saying:

We think it is important to draw attention to the fact that open lights were used at the mouthing of the Wheatley seam after the gas had made its appearance there on more than one occasion and it was one of these naked lights which brought about the explosion.

We are also of the opinion that so far as possible, all wooden fittings should be avoided in colliery shafts and that the maintenance of efficient appliances for extinguishing fires should be made compulsory in all mines.


The Mines Inspectors Report 1893.
The Thornhill Parish Magazine.
Reports to the Right Honourable H.H. Asquith, Q, M.P., Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State by Alex Young, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, and by Frank N. Wardell, Esq., and Henry Hall, Esq., Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Mines on the Explosion of gas at Combs Pit, Thornhill Collieries on the 4th. July 1893.
The Colliery Guardian. 7th July 1893, p.23, 14th July, p.167, 21st July, p. 111, 25th January 1900, p.162.

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

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