VICTORIA, Bruntcliffe. Leeds, Yorkshire. 1st. May, 1882.

The colliery was the property of J. Haigh and Sons and Michael Harle was the manager. The pits worked by the Company were the Middleton Main, the Little Pit and the Stone Coal Pit and it was in the Middleton Main Pit which worked the Middleton Main Seam that the explosion took place. The shaft was 180 yards deep and the seam consisted of 2 feet 6 inches of top coal, three inches of dirt, four inches of coal, three inches of dirt and 15 inches of bottom coal. It was worked by holing the four inches of coal, putting shots in the 2 feet 6 inch top coal and wedging the bottom coal.

The pit had been worked for about 30 years and there had been no loss of life from an explosion. It was worked day and night and there were 70 to 80 people on the day shift and about 35 at night. The night shift went down at 8.30 p.m. On the night of the 1st May, and in the ordinary course of events would have ascended at 6 the next morning.

There were two explosions one about 10 minutes to midnight and the second about 2 a.m. They occurred in Stringer’s Bord which was a district out of the south endings. Five colliers and boy and a deputy were engaged in the district. They had eight safety lamps with them, six Davy lamps and two Clanny lamps. Moss, the deputy had a lamp key with him. The other people at working in the pit at the time were in the west side and were not affected by the explosions.

Stringer’s bord was an entirely separate district and the air into it came directly from the shaft, along the south endings which was a distance of about three-quarters of a mile. Measurements had been made a day or two before and recorded in the book as 12,000 cubic feet per minute. Thomas Gamble, a deputy in charge of this district, examined it on Monday afternoon thoroughly as he was going to fire a shot that afternoon. He also examined the goaf and failed to find any trace of gas.

The shot was fired about 2 o’clock in the bunk on the south side of the bord. No shot was fired on the north side that afternoon. N. Render, a shot lighter, went down to relieve Gamble and saw Frank Moss, the deputy, at 8.30 at the pit bottom. There was no communication between them to say that anything was wrong or in any way unsafe. Render went to the west bords where he remained until the explosion when he felt the blast. He had a boy with him and together they made their way to the bottom of the pit and met afterdamp on their way. The furnaceman said that the doors of the furnace had been shaken violently but there was nothing else to show what had taken place. Render ascended the shaft and raised Mr. Laing, the manager, Mr. Haigh one of the proprietors, Gamble the deputy and others. These men descended to find out what had happened and to try to save lives if possible.

The men on the north side of the pit were got out and they had not been aware that anything had happened. Having found that the explosion was on the south endings, the party turned their attention to that part of the mine and went towards Stringer’s bord making temporary repairs to the ventilation as they went. There was a large amount of afterdamp present and the explorers experienced considerable difficulty and risk in making progress.

The first body was found in the intake bord and close by there were two others and the body of a horse. A little further on there were two tubs, one full one empty. The full tub was still on the rails but the empty one had been blown off the rails. The body of the hurrier was found just beyond the tub. Beyond the slit in the intake bord there were two more bodies, one of them, Moss the deputy. His lamp was found close by and along with all the others found they were extinguished.

The party then went through the slit into the return bord where the seventh body was found. Mr. Laing went forward to the face to satisfy himself that there was no fire. All the bodies showed that they had died from the effects of afterdamp and they were not badly burnt. Arrangements were made to take them out of the pit and they were put into corves. It was then that the second explosion took place.

All their lamps went out except Mr. Laing’s. He and the other men succeeded in running the 300 to 400 yards in the direction of the shaft. They were exhausted and almost suffocated by the gas, and it was questionable if they could have got out alive if it was not for the efforts of another exploring party that had just come down the pit accompanied by a doctor. The first party was sent to the surface and Mr. Laing went down again with managers of other pits that had arrived.

It was the advice to postpone rescue operations as there was no one left alive underground and nothing more was done for a few hours. At 8 o’clock operations started again and the scene of the explosion approached with great caution. The ventilation was found to be moderate and the afterdamp had almost disappeared. Seven bodies were recovered and sent to the surface. They were them burnt as a result of the second explosion. It was thought that the corves were between the explorers and the second blast and this saved them.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • F. Moss aged 57 years, deputy.
  • James Brooke aged 19, hurrier.

The colliers:

  • C. Purcer aged 57 years.
  • G. Bray aged 39 years.
  • W. Brooke aged 28 years.
  • J. Cain aged 34 years.
  • E. Makinson, age not recorded.

At the inquiry into the accident, Mr. Waddell commented that the ventilation was good and all the lamps that were recovered were intact. No matches or any naked light was found and the shots were fired by a heated wire passed through the gauze. He concluded that:

It is possible some gas may have existed in the goaf which had not been reported, or that a blower was given off concurrently with the firing of a shot.


The Mines Inspector Report, 1882.

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

Return to previous page