WHARNCLIFFE WOODMORE. Nos.1, 2 and 3. Barnsley, Yorkshire. 6th. August, 1936.

The Colliery was about 2 miles to the north-west of Barnsley and was joined to the North Gawber (Lidgett) Colliery where there was an explosion in September 1935. Both collieries were under the same control and the explosion occurred in the Lidgett Seam which was about two feet four inches thick and was reached by drifts from the Haigh Moor Seam which was 34 yards above. The Haigh Moor was 280 yards from the surface. The explosion was in the North East section. The districts in this section were developed from the North East bord which was driven to the full dip of the seam which was 1 in 11. The distance from the haulage engine house at the top of the North East bird to the face at the bottom was 1,600 yards at the time of the disaster.

The coal in the four districts, 18’s, 9’s, 2’s of Blackett’s and 1’s was undercut by machines and filled onto conveyors which delivered on to loaders at the inbye ends of 18’s, 9’s and 1’s levels and the middle of the Blackett face. All the machinery was electrically driven as was the haulage which was by an endless rope on the North East bord and along 18’s, 9’s and 1’s levels by main and tail rope. With the exception of 18’s level, all mechanical haulage roads were intake roadways and all were traversed by the explosion with the exception of 18’s.

Richard parry was in charge of stone dusting the roads and the manager stated that during the first seven months of the year, 201 tons of limestone dust had been sent into the pit. In the Lidgett Seam, 3.6 lbs. per ton of output were used. The attendant at the haulage gear at the top of the North East bord was the only man brought out alive and he died five days later in hospital but within 48 hours of the explosion, the whole of the workings had been explored and evidence gathered as to the cause of the explosion.

Those who died were:

  • Walter Smith.
  • John Bullingham.
  • Arthur Bird.
  • Alexander Thompson.
  • George Thompson.
  • Cecil Chapman.
  • Irvin Foster.
  • John Fletcher, deputy.
  • Harold Row.
  • Joseph William Abbott.
  • John Jackson.
  • Joseph Thomas Smith.
  • Victor Clarkson.
  • Samuel Brown.
  • James Green.
  • J.W. Poole.
  • Richard Brook Grimshaw.
  • A. Haigh.
  • James Robert Muller, overman.
  • Henry Birkhead.
  • Herbert Hall, dataller.
  • Enoch Houlson, assistant bricklayer.
  • George Farmery.
  • William Brekley.
  • William Alfred Tompkins.
  • Harry Hatfield.
  • Charles Edward Ismay.
  • John David Jones.
  • Joseph Edward Hope, deputy.
  • John Roscoe.
  • Ernest Dalby.
  • Frank Hadfield.
  • Lewis Boyd.
  • George Wilson.
  • Benjamin Hodgson.
  • William Henry Senior.
  • Archie White.
  • H Travis.
  • Arthur Bateman.
  • Henry Lee.
  • Owen Owens, machineman.
  • William Proctor.
  • Charles Parkin.
  • Jonn Donnelly.
  • William Alfred Ellis.
  • John Waugh.
  • Walter Allott.
  • Samuel Kirk.
  • Henry Wright.
  • John Brown.
  • Richard Wright, ripper.
  • Frederick Cooper, ripper.
  • Horace Hepworth.
  • Ernest Scargill.
  • Walter Duerden.
  • Charles Bailey.
  • William Whiteley.

The inquiry into the explosion took place in the Town Hall, Barnsley and occupied six days. All interested parties were represented and the Report was presented to captain harry Crookshank, M.P., Secretary for Mines. In the judgement of Sir Henry Walker, the crucial parts of the evidence were that the two doors separating the intake airway which was known as 1’s level from the main return airway were found undamaged and wide open. The shots were not fired on 1’s face during the night shift of 5th-6th August and the commutator cover of the motor of the loader near the inbye end of 1’s level was found on the floor and the cover of the starting switch of this motor was found to be loose. As to why the doors were opened, Sir Henry thought two men were clearing 1’s top return airway. To do this they had to take empty tubs from 1’s level, push them through the doors, fill them with rubbish in 1’s top airway and then push them back to 1’s level. The doors would have been a hindrance to them and they spragged each of them wide open by putting a prick between the rail and the door. The Report comments that “there was some demure on the part of the representatives of the Yorkshire Mineworkers’ Association in accepting this evidence” but Sir Henry thought it was conclusive. How long the doors had been opened could not be ascertained. There was evidence from Redman that sometime between 11.30 p.m. and midnight on Wednesday, they were closed.

The effect of these doors being opened would have been that most of the ventilation reaching 1’s level would pass straight into the main return and little, if any, would go to 1’s face. It was intended to fire shots of 1’s face on the night of the 5th-6th August. Abut twenty shotholes had been drilled in the face ready for charging and firing and Farmery was to fire them but for some reason, this had not been done before the explosion occurred. After the blast, the lamp, shot firing battery, cable, stemmer and explosives canister were found on the inbye end of the 1’s low side return airway.

Reasons for Farmery not firing the shots, but no one knew for certain. The deputy in 1’s district, William Henry Ashton, made his inspection between 8 and 10 p.m. on the 5th. August and he had found no gas. He also found the ventilation good and the roof and sides safe, but he had reported a fall. The clearance of this fall would have been Farmery’s first job when he came to work.

At the inquiry, evidence was then taken concerning the loader motor. The electrician had been instructed to make a general overhaul of the electrical apparatus in 1’s district which meant that he would remove the covers and examine the commutator and the starter of each unit. His instructions were that before he removed the covers at the loader motor he would see that the gate end switch was out and the cable between it and the starting switch was disconnected and that he would not run the motors with these covers off. After the explosion, the starter switch was found in the off position and the gate end switch had been cut off at the surface. Mr. Thomas Storrs, the chief electrician said he had been present on many occasions when the motors had been opened up and this was the first instance in which he had found a cover off a motor when the cable was connected. Mr. G. Cook, Senior Inspector was present when the body of the loader was found between the loader and the left side of the gate pack, close to the commutator. This was on the other side from the switch but it was possible for him to reach the switch. The evidence seemed to point to the explosion being caused by a spark from the switch or the commutator of the loader motor but there was no absolute proof.

There was common agreement that the explosion spread to all districts of the North East section, travelling into the face in each case by way of the haulage road and outbye as far as the North level by way of the main haulage road. In spreading along roads over which coal had been hauled, the explosion resembled those which had occurred in mines before stone dusting became compulsory on the 1st January 1921.

Richard Parry was in charge of the dusting working the mine and he gave evidence to the court of the system of sampling that was used. The manager said that in the first seven months of the year, 201 tons of limestone dust had been sent into the pit. In the Lidgett Seam 3.6lbs per ton of output had been used. After the explosion, Mr. Cook found that a number of patches of stone dust had been undisturbed.


Report of the causes and circumstances attending the Explosion which occurred at Wharncliffe Woodmore Nos. 1, 2 and 3 Colliery, Yorkshire, on 6th August 1936. By Sir Henry Walker, C.B.E., LL.d. H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 7th August 1936, p.266, 3rd October, p.819, 6th November, p.880, 20th November, p.962

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

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