WHARNCLIFFE CARLTON. Barnsley, Yorkshire. 18th. October, 1883.

The colliery was owned by Messrs R. Craik and Company and was worked by them in connection with the East Gawber Colliery to which it was connected underground. The colliery was about a mile and half from Barnsley close to the Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company’s main line. There were four shafts at the two collieries, two downcast and one upcast and one pumping shaft. The Wharncliffe Carlton Colliery had only a downcast shaft 13 feet 6 inches in diameter and the return air was carried by the connecting passage referred to and was drawn up the upcast shaft which was the same diameter and at the East Gawber Colliery about a mile and half away. The downcast shaft was 160 yards deep and the upcast 155 yards deep.

The workings at the Wharncliffe Carlton Colliery were divided into what was known as the “Rise” and “Dip” districts and it was in the latter which the explosion took place and to which the damage and the loss of seventeen lives were contained. The coal was won from the Barnsley Seam which was nine feet thick on average and dipped slightly from east to west. The mine was worked on the longwall system, and as a rule, all the coal was extracted but in some places, near faults, pillars were left to support the roof. Faults occurred frequently and in one place was a throw of 30 yards, called the St. Helens throw, had been met and passed. The main intake through this fault was by a stone drift, 130 yards long, driven through the stone at an angle to the seam to the north of the fault. The return air passed through the fault by a vertical staple pit, 30 yards long. The “Dip” district was sub-divided into Gilliot’s level, the “Jump” district and the “Low South” district which lay to the south of the main intake and extended almost east-west and those known as No. 1 and No.2 slants lying to the north of the main intake.

The main intake was used as an engine plane for drawing coal from the workings in these districts to the pit bottom. The area of coal that had been worked south of the St. Helens fault was 31 acres. In addition to this, there were about six acres of “straight work” or of roadways. The “Rise” workings were smaller in extent and work had only recently commenced in that district. The coal face was about 80 yards long at the time of the explosion.

Joseph Mitchell, was the civil and mining engineer and consulting engineers at the Wharncliffe Carlton and East Gawber Collieries, John Slack was the manager of the two collieries, Herbert Fisher the underviewer, John Dearnley, the overman and Herbert Burrows, George Micklethwaite and Albert Button, the deputies. The mine was worked on a double shift system but only a small number of men went down in the second or afternoon shift and at night, a shift of stonemen went down to repair the roads and to arrange the props. The average number of men in the different shifts was 140 in the first or day shift, 36 in the afternoon and 20 to 25 at night and some of these in each case, would go to the “Rise” workings.

John Slack had been the certificated manager at the colliery for 15 months and he and his deputies understood their duties except for George Micklethwaite. Mr. Arnold Morley commented:

He did not in his examination favour the impression of being a fit person to hold a responsible position in a colliery. He appeared uneducated and incapable of giving clear of definite information on any of the questions upon which he was examined and although it would be obviously unwise to form a definite judgement, from his demeanour and appearance in the witness box, as to his capacity for the practical underground work required from a deputy in a coal mine, I think Messrs. Craik would do well to consider whether he does possess of his post, but especially whether he would be competent to deal with any of those extraordinary occurrences to which the fiery mines are invariably liable and which constitute the greatest danger of their management. I am afraid too little attention is sometimes paid to these considerations in the selection of officers to whom the supervision of the underground work is mainly entrusted, and who have especially the important duty of examining the various places where danger may be expected from gas.

There were distinct systems of ventilation for the “Dip” and “Rise” district. The air was separated at the bottom of the Wharncliffe Carlton downcast shaft and carried by separate returns to the upcast at East Gawber Colliery where there was a Guibal fan, 40 feet in diameter which revolved at an average speed of 38 to 39 r.p.m. The main ventilation current for the “Dip” passed down the main engine plane, through the stone drift and on to No.1 and No.2 slants, then round the longwall face to the main return And the Staple pit and so to the upcast shaft.

There were several splits off this main current the main one going to Gilliot’s level and Denton’s level, which was ventilated by one main split passing down Gilliot’s level and some smaller scales of air which were allowed to pass off the engine plain to keep the workings to the south-west of that district free from gas, and the “Jump” and “Low South” districts, also to the south of the main intake. The return from Gilliot’s level was carried by an undercast under the engine plane and joined the main return close to the Staple pit.

The main intake and return passages, exclusive of the systems in the three southern districts were respectively 2,200 and 2,000 yards long and there were also 660 yards of air passing Gilliot’s district. The main intake was about 6 feet 6 inches high and 8 feet wide and the No.1 and No.2 slants, and the gate roads leading to the coal face were 5 feet 6 inches high and 7 feet 6 inches wide. The average size of the return airways was between 36 and 40 square feet and the Staple pit through which the return air went was 9 feet long by 4 feet wide.

The last reports of the ventilation were on the 13th October 1883 when 19,480 cubic feet were in the Intake the main engine plane and “Dip” workings. It then divided into 7,000 cubic feet to the Detons district and 12,480 cubic feet to the remaining workings. The rise side intake took 5,040 cubic feet which gave a total intake of 2,520 cubic feet of air per minute.

The examination of the workings before the explosion was carried out in accordance with the regulations and had not found anything unusual or that pointed to any danger. Gas had been frequently encountered in different parts of the mine, especially in the main engine plane and at one point a blower had been encountered that was so large that fenced off for five to six weeks. In addition to blowers giving off gas at the face, cracks were frequently found in the floor from which large quantities of gas flowed. There were occasional falls from the roof in the travelling ways but these were not serious and the floor was composed of a hard substance which gave little trouble and did not require much timbering. The last report of gas being found in the deputy’s book was on 11th October in working place No.311 which was in the longwall face but it was cleared and reported free from gas the following day.

On the night of the explosion, 25 men had gone down the pit. Of these 20 including the deputy Albert Button was at work in the “Dip” district, four were working in the “Rise” workings and John Clover, the colliery horsekeeper was in the stables attending to the horses. Of the 20 men in the “Dip”, three were at work on the main engine plane, below the bottom of the stone drift, two in the “Jump” district, three were believed to be at work in the “Low South” district and the remainder near the longwall face in Nos. 1 and 2 slants. All of the 20 men in the “Dip” lost their lives and because of the necessity to flood the mine, only 17 bodies were recovered. The other three were believed to be at the far end of the engine plane in the “Low South” District.

Immediately after the explosion, steps were taken to restore the ventilation which had been damaged and to recover the bodies but it was not until the evening of 21st. October that the 17 bodies were recovered. At this time the “Low South” district had not been examined, partly because it was the furthest district from the shaft and partly because of a fall which blocked the road.

At about 8 p.m. on Sunday following the disaster, one of the exploring parties discovered a fire smouldering in the goaf in the face near the top of No.1 slant. The fire was immediately reported to the manager and to Mr. Wardell, the Inspector of Mines. Attempts were made to extinguish the fire and these continued until Monday afternoon when there was another explosion which slightly injured two or three men. After consultation, it was decided that the best way to deal with the fire was to flood that part of the mine and steps were taken immediately. Pumps took water from neighbouring steam and sent to the workings. It was decided that the pumping should continue until the water was level with the top of the Staple pit and the upper-end Stone Drift. It was estimated that this would take some weeks and that the re-opening of the pit and the pumping out of the water would take a longer period.

The men and boys who lost their lives were:

  • James Flatney aged 14 years.
  • George Mason aged 16 years.
  • George Phillips aged 19 years.
  • Frederick Holland aged 25 years.
  • Edward Weller aged 28 years.
  • Albert Button aged 32 years.
  • Charles Starkey aged 36 years.
  • William Goulding aged 40 years.
  • William Mason aged 40 years.
  • William Fisher aged 41 years.
  • John Hallam aged 41 years.
  • John Wright aged 46 years.
  • William Lawson aged 49 years.
  • Richard Garbutt aged 49 years.
  • Charles Phillips aged 54 years.
  • William Shaw aged 54 years.
  • Henry Fisher aged 54 years.
  • Thomas Wood aged 55 years.
  • Ellis Ambler aged 58 years.
  • George Egley aged 65 years.

The inquest on the seventeen bodies that had been recovered was opened by Mr. Thomas Taylor, Coroner for the district. Unfortunately, the remaining three bodies were still in the mine and there was no opportunity to examine the workings in which the explosion took place because of the flooding of the pit.

Arnold Lupton of Leeds was in the pit when the explosion occurred. He said that the blast was not great but it knocked him down but he soon recovered. He had lost his lamp but thought it too dangerous to go back to get it. There were several men who had survived but they had only three lamps between them and they had great difficulty getting over falls as they made their slow progress to the pit eye. When they got to the pit eye, the injured were taken up first and he realised that Mr. Nash was missing so he and another collier went to try to rescue him. They took a lamp and found Mr. Mash and Hedley suffering and helpless but they had not lost hope. Lupton told the court he was sure from Saturday morning that there was a fire in the colliery.

Four men who had been working of the “Rise” side of the pit came out alive and no damage was done in that district. At the time of the explosion, the horsekeeper was in the stables and was struck down but not seriously injured. None of the horses in the stables were killed. The force clearly came up the engine plane from some point in the “Dip” workings. All the witnesses at the inquiry the evidence of the part of the workings that had been examined indicated that the source of the blast must have been somewhere in the region of the longwall face.

A theory was put forward on behalf of the men that the explosion originated on the main engine plane and was caused by the firing of a shot near the Stone Drift. Cartridges and the Davy lamp which was used for shot firing had been taken down the pit by William Fisher which was the shotfirer at the pit. The Davy lamp was found close to his body at the foot of the Stone Drift and where he and two other men were at work but there was evidence that no shot had been fired.

After hearing the evidence, the jury brought in the following verdict:

That William Fisher and 16 others were killed by an explosion of gas on the night of the 18th October in the Wharncliffe Carlton Colliery but how the explosion was caused there is no evidence to show.

Mr. Morley concluded the report by saying:

I regret that this is one of the cases in which the inquiry had not led to any practical results but this is mainly owing to the necessity for the closing of the mine in consequence of the apprehended conflagration. It has, I think, conclusively proved that there are no grounds for believing that the catastrophe was in any way due to bad management or misconduct of any person connected with the colliery and I have therefore to report that, in my judgement, there is no occasion for instituting proceedings against anyone, either for an offence against the rules in relation to colliery management or for criminal responsibility wit reference to the loss of life resulting from the explosion.


Report by Arnold Morley, Esq., M.P., on the causes of and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at the Wharncliffe Carlton Colliery on 18th October 1883.
The Colliery Guardian, 26th October 1883, p.656, 29th February 1884, p.340.

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

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