WALTON. Wakefield, Yorkshire. 22nd. April, 1959.

The Walton Colliery was formerly known as the Sharlston West and was near Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It was a safety lamp mine that employed 1,285 men underground and 298 on the surface with a daily output of 2,200 tons from the Top Haigh Moor, the Low Haigh Moor, the Kent Thick and the Birkwood or Lidgett Seams, about half the output came from the Top Haigh Moor seam. The colliery was owned by the National Coal Board and was in the No.7 (Wakefield) Area of the Board’s North East Division. The manager was Mr. G.S. Senior and there were two undermanagers. Mr. H.H. Gregg had responsibility for the underground working in the Top Haigh Moor where the explosion occurred. The Group Manager was Mr. T. Dodd and the Area General Manager, Mr. H. Saul.

The 10 East District lay in the Top Haigh Moor Seam on the east side of the South West Haulage Road connecting to the No. 2 shaft to the Haw Park shaft. The explosion took place in the 5’s Unit. At the colliery, the Top Haigh Moor Seam was worked in the 10 East District. The two coals were separated by a band of hard fireclay about 7 feet thick and the Top Haigh Moor seam was overlain with a thick bed of strong sandstone. The accident occurred about 460 yards from the surface. Faults had been encountered in the 10 East District in 1955 and further developments had driven two roads, 22 yards apart, through the faulted area to develop a longwall face, 40 yards long which was known as the 10 East 1’s. This was advanced to the boundary and stopped on the 23rd. July 1958 leaving solid coal on each side. Two faces were then worked, one to the north and one to the south. The first of these was the 10 East 2’s was stopped at faults on February, 1959 and at the time of the accident the old loader gate was being continued through the faults as a stone drift which was known as the 2’s Drift. This drift was intended to form part of a new return airway from the 10 East District.

Coal to the south of the 10 East Trunk Conveyor Road was intended to be worked by a double until longwall face about 280 yards long which was to advance to the south. In the general plan of operations a face, the second to be worked from 1’s Development, was taken some 20 yards wide for a distance of about 40 yards to the south. The western side of the new development was then worked as a face 40 yards wide which advanced for about 100 yards to the west to connect with a heading known as 5’s New Loader Gate, which was being at the same time to the south from a point further outbye on 10 East Trunk Conveyor Road. The face was then to be continued westwards so that eventually a double unit face about 280 yards long would be advanced to the south after 2’s Drift had afforded a new return airway for the district.

At the time of the explosion the 40 yards face, 5’s Unit, had advanced about 97 yards. A small further advance, which would have been made in a few days but for the disaster, would have brought it to the position where it could have been stopped to await for the connection of the New Loader Gate. At the north end of the working face, the roof had been ripped to form a road supported by steel arch girders 12 feet wide and 8 feet high. This road was known as the 5’s Intake Gate and it was intended to become the return airway for the western until of the 280 yards face when it was finally developed. It was connected to 10 East Trunk Conveyor Road by means of 5’s Intake Slit, which was a passage some 37 feet long that had originally been made about 6 feet wide and the height of the seam.

At the left end of the 40 yards face, a passageway of seam height and 12 feet wide was being left so that it could eventually become the left side of the main longwall face to the south. This passage was known as the 5’s Ribside and was formed by the coal and a pack about 12 feet wide. At the outbye end of this pack, there was a gap about 9 yards long which had been left as an access to the waste. This had not been closed but in which thin slabs of stone had fallen from time to time. A bottom loading belt conveyor on 5’s Belt Return Gate. This conveyor discharged on the 10 East Trunk Conveyor at the same transfer point as the stone loading conveyor from 2’s Drift.

In the planned system of ventilation air entered 10 East District from the South West Haulage Road, partly along the 10 East Main Haulage Road and partly from a second source to and from the 5’s Unit. This course was on conventional lines, but because of the heavy leakage losses beyond the loading point, only a small proportion of the 12-16,000 cubic feet of air per minute available there reached the face of the 5’s Unit. A few days before the accident, a direct connection had been made by means of a scour driven through the waste between 5’s intake and 5’s Return but sheets had been erected in it to prevent a short circuit of the ventilation there.

The coal on the 5’s Unit was undercut by an electrically driven coal cutting machine, blasted and hand loaded on to the face conveyor. Coal was filled on the morning and afternoon shifts. The Intake gate ripping was advanced on the afternoon and night shifts and the stone pack on the Ribside was advanced on the night shift with stone from the Intake ripping. There had been difficulty in achieving the management’s objective of obtaining two cuts in every 24 hours and in order to maintain work in the break of 12.30 to 1.30 p.m. between the day and the afternoon shifts, two coal cutting machine men and an overman worked a supplementary shift from 8 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.

On the afternoon shift of the 21st. April 1959, the day before the disaster, coal had been prepared for filling and the 5’s Intake Gate ripping was advanced. On the night shift some of the colliers were employed in squaring out the right-hand corner of the face and the rippers for the Intake Gate, having no work to do there, spent the shift at the new connection where about 12 shots were fired in the stone to enlarge the holing.

On the day of the explosion, the morning shift filled loose coal left by the afternoon shift and from the shots fired in each corner of the face. Three men spent the whole of their shift transporting stone in a small tub from the new connection to the intake roadhead where it was put into the roadside pack. At about 10 a.m., the coal cutting machine operators of the supplementary shift, W. Hudson and W. Wardle, arrived and began to turn the machine round at the corner of the face. During this operation, the machine stuck and displaced the tension end of the Ribside conveyor so that it had to be stopped. The driving head of the face conveyor was advanced into its new track and the tension end of the Ribside conveyor moved, but the coal cutting machine could still not be worked because it’s jib had then become fast in the undercut. A shot was fired over the jib between 11 and 11.30 a.m., to try to release it. This was successful and the machine was turned, jibbed in and made to cut for about 10 feet to a stump of coal which required to be filled off. The tension end of the Ribside conveyor was placed in its proper position, both conveyors were re-started and the coal cutting machine trailing cable was disconnected and re-threaded into the new cutter track. No electrical trouble was experienced with the face equipment during the day shift.

By 12.30 p.m. the day shift had left the face with the exception of two conveyor men J. Rothery and C.E. Ray who remained to assist the men on the supplementary shift. On his way out, the day shift deputy, F. Canham saw J. Williams, a drifter employed on 2’s Drift, eating his snap at 2’s Transfer Point. He asked Williams to keep an eye on the two conveyors until the afternoon shift arrived. So by 12.30 p.m. five men were in the 5’s Unit, L.E. Coe, the overman, W. Hudson, W. Wardle, J. Rothery and C.E. Ray. J. Williams was just outside. There was no eye witness to the say what happened during the next half hour as five of the men were killed in the explosion. Williams escaped with minor injuries ut he could remember little of what happened.

At about 1 p.m., the lights went out at 10 East Loading Point, the conveyor stopped and three men working there felt a rush of air and dust from inbye. One of them T. Furlong, telephoned to the top of the 10 East Haulage Road asking for the deputies to be sent back. He also phoned the overman. H. Cunningham, telling him that he thought there had been an explosion. Furlong then opened the switch controlling the supply of the power inbye of the Loading Point and with his workmates, went inbye but returned after making an unsuccessful attempt to enter 5’s Unit.

Canham and another day shift deputy, H. Towler, had reached the top of the 10 East Main Haulage Road when Furlong telephoned and they went back to the district. On their way, they met Williams making his way out. All he could tell them was that he had been bowled over and he thought there had been an explosion. Tower isolated the gate-end switches near the 2’s Transfer Pint and they, along with Canham, they tried to get beyond the end of that Slit because of the fouled air. Two afternoon shift deputies, J. Wilsher and J. Bedford also attempted to go up the Intake Gate but Wilsher’s lamp went out after he had travelled about 15 yards.

The undermanager H.H. Gregg, had been with Cunningham when Furlong telephoned and these two men went inbye, Gregg having first informed the surface electricians that there had been a power failure in 10 East District at about 1.10 p.m.. On reaching the top of the 10 East Main Haulage Road, Gregg learned that Williams had been injured and concluded that there had been an explosion in 2’s Drift where Williams normally worked. He telephoned the manager at 1.25 p.m. and asked for ambulances and stretcher parties to be made available. When he reached the 5’s Intake Slit, Gregg saw that the belt had been blown of the Trunk Conveyor for about 50 yards and there was every sign that an explosion had occurred in the 5’s Unit. He sent a message to this effect to the surface and the Wakefield Rescue Station was called out to give assistance. The Rescue Station received the call at 2.p.m. and a team left at once for the colliery.

Gregg and others then entered the 5’s Return Gate and travelled along it to the ripping lip without difficulty but when they were attempting to go under the lip, his flame safety lamp went out and he had to withdraw. Gregg started to restore the brattice sheets in 10 East Trunk Conveyor Road and in the new connection. He then made another attempt, with others, to get into the 5’s Unit through the Intake gate. This attempt failed because of fouled air.

By 2.50 p.m. a fresh air base had been established at the entrance to the 5’s Intake and from there Rescue men wearing breathing apparatus explored the Unit via 5’s Intake and quickly found the bodies of four men. On trying to travel down the Ribside, they met a fall and returned to the fresh air base. they inspected the 5’s Return Gate and found a fifth body. All the bodies were recovered and their clothing was searched for prohibited articles by a Police officer on their arrival at the Wakefield City Mortuary and no contraband was found.

At about 7.50 p.m., a series of “bumps” was heard and it was thought that there had been further explosions. The news was sent to the surface and after a conference, it was decided to withdraw to the fresh air base near the 10 East Loading Point. at about 10.50 it was decided to seal off the 5’s Unit to limit the spread of any further explosion. The construction of stoppings was started and the air was sampled in the return while the work was going on at hourly intervals. Since these samples contained steadily decreasing quantities of explosion products, the seals were not completed. On the afternoon of 24th April, there seemed no risk of any further explosion and the area was inspected by two of H.M. Inspectors, W.M. Crumpsty and T.W. English and officials of the N.C.B. The inspection showed that there was no risk of another explosion and the stoppings were removed.

The men who lost their lives were:

  • Lawrence Coe aged 38 years, overman
  • William Hudson aged 46 years, machine man
  • Jack Rothery aged 54 years, belt maintenance man
  • Charles Ray aged 53 years, belt maintenance man
  • Wilfred Wardle aged 38 years, machine man


  • Jack Williams aged 43 years, drifter was injured

The inquiry into the disaster was opened by T.A. Rogers, C.B.E., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines and Quarries at the Town Hall in Wakefield on the 29th June 1959 and sat until 3rd July and then again from the 4th to the 12th August. All parties were represented and the report was presented to the Right Honourable Lord Mills, K.B.E., Minister of Fuel and Power and the 11th. September 1959.

A full and detailed inspection of the explosion area was made after the event and there was no indication of great violence in the 5’s Unit. Charles Ray’s body was found at the Return Gate Ripping and was the only one who suffered violent injuries. The other four men died from carbon monoxide poisoning and the inhalation of coal dust speeded the deaths of Wilfred Wardle and Lawrence Coe. All the dead had been burnt but in no case would this alone have been fatal.

Physical damage to the mine was confined to the roof supports and the conveyor belts in the 5’s Unit. Outbye the intake Slit there were few signs of violence. Charred metal and signs of coking suggested that the flame had traversed all parts of the 5’s Unit and the evidence pointed to the explosion occurring at the area of standing props at the end of the 5’s face and the Ribside.

The known potential igniting agents were ruled out. No contraband was found on the men and the cap lamps were in good order. There was no shot firing going on at the time of the explosion and there was no heating at the face or of the machinery. A sample of the conveyor belting from the ribside conveyor was found to be anti-static and electrostatic sparing was ruled out as a source of ignition. Frictional sparking from the coal cutter picks was a possibility as the Top Haigh Moor seam contained streaks of pyrites but as such sparking was not produced in the undercut, this was also ruled out as a source.

The electrical equipment at in the 5’s Unit was in good condition with the exception of the gate and switch and a trailing cable which supplied the coal cutting machine. This cable was examined very carefully and showed signs of arcing at a damaged point. At the inquiry it was suggested that the damage to the cable could have been caused:

i) by an accidental blow from a hand pick

ii) by a broken wire in the coal cutter haulage rope or

iii) by a stone, possibly one projected by shot firing.

The Inspector thought that the last explanation the most plausible and concluded that the arcing from the damaged cable was the source of ignition.

As to the source of the firedamp, the Inspector concluded that the methane had not come from the sandstone floor and the only other source was the underlying Low Haigh Moor Seam and that the emission was likely to be the result for the fireclay forming suitable channels for the gas to travel upwards. Before the disaster one of the H.M. Inspectors, W.N.H. Carter, had found a break in the floor alongside the ribside and it was possible that there were similar breaks in the inaccessible waste. The Inquiry concluded that the emission of gas was a heavy seepage from the floor at the fault rather than a sudden outburst. The weak ventilation current was unable to dilute the gas. Dust could have been a factor in the explosion and measures against dust were not taken in working the coal.

The Inspector summarised the conclusions of the report as follows:

1) The accident was an explosion of firedamp, initiated at the left-hand corner of 5’s Face by an electric arc from a damaged trailing cable of a coal cutting machine. The explosion was propagated to some extent by coal dust.

2) The firedamp involved emanated from the Low Haigh Main Seam some 7 feet below and was emitted fairly rapidly, though not suddenly, from floor breaks mainly at a fault.

3) The ventilation of the 5’s Unit id not, by standards of good practice, a low a sufficient margin for safety. as a result of defects in short term planning and in execution, there were air leakages so great that the velocity of the air at the left-hand corner of the face was not sufficient to deal with any substantial increase in the usual make of firedamp.

4) In respect of both choice and maintenance of equipment, insufficient attention was given to precautions against coal dust in 5’s Unit.

The Inspector made the following recommendations at the end of his report:

1) The appropriate development plan for a colliery should show particulars of ventilation, including the means to be adopted for ventilating new workings at each stage of their development.

2) At all levels in the industry, there should be energetic efforts to overcome the difficulties which are resulting in workmen being reluctant to carry and use firedamp detectors.

3) Regulation 7 (5) of the Coal and Other Mines (Ventilation) Regulations, 1956, is technically defective and should be amended.


4) It should be made obligatory to provide stone dust barriers on coal conveyor roads underground.

5)  Coal cut by a machine should be cut “wet”.


6) A further attempt should be made to devise an electrical protection system that will be capable of eliminating or at least substantially reducing, the dangers of incendive arcing from a damaged trailing cable.

7) Local arrangements should be made between individual managements and H.M. Inspectors to ensure that notice of intention to introduce electricity is given at appropriate stages in the development of an electrical installation.


8) Undermanagers should be given legal responsibilities similar to those imposed on the manger by section 10 of the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954.


Report on the causes of and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Walton Colliery, Yorkshire on 22nd. April 1959 by T.A. Rogers, C.B.E., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines and Quarries.
Public Inquiry into the circumstances of an accident on 22nd. April 1959 at Walton Colliery, Yorkshire before T.A. Rogers C.B.E., Chief Inspector of Mines. National Union of Mineworkers (Yorkshire Area).
Colliery Guardian, 20th. August 1959, p.46, 29th. October, p.363, 5th. November, p.395.

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

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