VICTORIA. Stanley Pit. Wakefield, Yorkshire. 4th. March 1879.

The colliery was owned by Robert Hudson and Company Limited. The Silkstone Pit was first sunk in 1840 to the Haigh Moor Seam and this was later deepened to the Silkstone Seam. The manager of all Hudson’s Collieries was Mr. John Olroyd Greaves. The two shafts were 11 feet in diameter and 475 yards deep. A drift, 50 yards long, connected the furnace with the upcast shaft and the return air did not pass over the furnace. There was about 75,250 cubic feet per minute entering the mine of which 53,000 cubic feet went along the west bord. The affected area of the pit was confined to the west of the shaft.  During the day there were usually about 230 men in the mine but on the day of the explosion, there were few at work because there was a slump in the coal trade at the time. There were between 50 and 60 men in the pit at the time of the explosion but only 21 on the west side.

Thomas Richard Arundel was the underground viewer at the Victoria Colliery and he also had charge of the Haigh Moor Pit. He went down the Silkstone Pit to make an examination only if he had time but usually made a weekly examination. He went down the pit with Ezra Hampshire between 6 and 7 a.m. on the Monday morning before the explosion and examined all the workings on the west bord. No gas was found and the ventilation was satisfactory.

After the explosion, Arundel reached the pit about 11 p.m. on the Tuesday and found that a jenny pulley had been blown towards the shaft and a corve along the main road. There were also traces of afterdamp.

John Sugden, the underviewer of the Lofthouse Station Colliery went down the pit for the first time on the day of the explosion with Thomas Walls and others. They went along the west bord where they found the bodies of Leek and Waller. The ventilation was in good order and doors and sheets had been erected but there were still traces of afterdamp in the main way. The roof had fallen and they had to return. The party saw Hampshire who was exhausted and Sugden went back to the fall and gave orders that it should be cleared and the bodies recovered.

He then went from the intake to the return to search for Colly’s body who was found in the slit opposite the stables. Sugden took the lamp from his hand. It was a “paddy lamp”. He saw a stopping had been blown out and there were bricks and horse gear until the way until he found the body. He returned and found the body of a boy in the slit and further up the body of a man lying on his face. He then saw the body of a man lying on his back with his head towards the workings and found two safety lamps in the return and another lamp. It appeared that the men had put them down as they ran from the workings.

Further on he found the body of Joseph Salt lying with his face towards the south. He then went to the No.9 heading and found the bodies of Perks, Atkinson and William Hartley, the deputy. They also found a Stevenson lamp which was in good order. He thought that the explosion had been caused by a boy taking in an open lamp which was against the rules.

Matthew Hall, the certificated manager of the Lofthouse Station Collieries, went down the pit immediately after the explosion and he was of the same opinion as Sugden as to the source of the explosion. dust, a quarter of an inch thick was found in the timbers and Mr. Hampshire found a rent in the floor near No.27 which was about ten inches long and six inches wide. It was thought that a sudden outburst of gas was the cause of this rent.

Bartholomew Hudson, a deputy at the Silkstone Pit worked on the day shift. His district was the No.1 drift of the south workings. He saw the Report Book on Monday 3rd. and the last entries were in the hands of William Hartley and James Hopton. Written in the book was:

March, 3. 2 p.m. I have examined the south end workings above the straight south ending and have found then in working order. Free from gas.
D. Hudson.

John Hopton, night deputy, went down the Silkstone Pit at 12 on Sunday 2nd. and came out at 5 a.m. He examined the whole of the south workings but did not go into the west bord as it was not his duty. He was at the pit bank about 9 a.m. and saw Leek and Brook in the lamproom. Brook was reading a note to Leek about the work that had to be done that night and he heard that Leek had to go down the west bord to lay some cross slips.

James Burkinshaw had worked in the Silkstone Pit for six weeks and was with a party that explored after the explosion. He was with the party that found Leek and there was a “flaming lamp” with no oil in it at Leek’s feet.

Those who lost their lives:

  • W. Hartley aged 56 years, deputy,
  • James Leek aged 35 years, dataller,
  • Luke Walker aged 47 years, dataller,
  • Charles Firth aged 40 years, dataller,
  • William Colley aged 55 years, horsekeeper.

The colliers:

  • Charles Wild aged 38 years,
  • George Bolland aged 42 years,
  • William Grice aged 37 years,
  • Israel Hartley aged 25 years,
  • Luke Walker aged 30 years,
  • R. Atkinson aged 30 years,
  • E. Blackburn aged 30 years,
  • James Salt aged 34 years,
  • A. Wild aged 32 years,
  • William Jones aged 24 years
  • D. Noble aged 33 years.

The drivers:

  • William Musgrave aged 17 years,
  • John Perks aged 16 years,
  • Thomas Farrar aged 14 years,
  • James Dolan aged 12 years and
  • John Dolan aged 14 years.

The inquest was held before Mr. Thomas Taylor, Coroner, at the Court House at Wakefield. All interested parties were represented and evidence taken from men who had worked at the mine and had inspected the explosion area. The Coroner summed up. It seemed that Hampshire had directed Leek the day before to put in some plates at the spot where on the day of the explosion the air was dead. He told the jury that it was their duty to say whether negligence had been shown or not. If there was a sudden outburst then nobody could reasonably be blamed.

The jury retired and after five minutes they returned to deliver the following verdict:

The jury is unanimous of the opinion that the twenty-two persons whose bodies have been viewed have come to their deaths by an accidental explosion of firedamp in the Silkstone Pit, and that such explosion originated at the naked light in 43 extensions of the west bord and they also are of the opinion that there was some degree of laxity in carrying out the Rules.

In his report, Mr. Wardell commented:

It is a matter of earnest consideration whether or not any person was legally liable for a violation of the Act but I did not see my way to advise that a prosecution should be undertaken. at first sight, it may seem an unsatisfactory result of the inquiry when it was considered that so many lives were lost, and that evidence undoubtedly displayed some want of care in the colliery management yet, as no actual breach of the rules of the statute on the part of the manager could definitely be proved, a charge which in all probability could not have been legally substantiated would have worked much harm in the district.


Mines Inspector Report, 1879.
Colliery Guardian, 14th. March, p.428, 21st. March, p.455

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

Return to previous page