WHELDALE. Castleford, Yorkshire. 8th. December, 1891.

Wheldale Colliery was the property of the Wheldale Coal Company and five men lost their lives when there was a fire in the engine plane.

Flames were seen where the east and west bord intersected the engine plane at right angles. About 460 yards from the shaft there was a cabin at the corner of this junction where the boys were in the habit of sheltering from the air current. Glass paraffin lamps were hung at the junction but the mine was worked by safety lamps but certain stations in the main intakes, open lights were allowed and no naked lights could be taken beyond these stations.

At 4.30 p.m., a boy named Starbuck, who worked at the wheel on the engine plane below the junction and who had a safety lamp observed fire in the cabin. He warned two other boys at once who were nearby and went to tell the deputy who, unfortunately, was at the bottom of the shaft 500 yards away at the time. He came at once and tried to put out the fire with tubs of water but it had become too large to deal with in this way.

The seam was dry and dusty and there was a lot of timber and brattice cloth near the cabin. Goodall, the deputy, finding that the attempts to extinguish the fire were useless and knowing that there were 20 men in the workings below this point, most courageously and without a moment’s hesitation, crept below the flames and went on to warn the workmen of the danger. All the men were told but it seemed that some of them did not realise the peril that they were in which increased with every moment’s delay. All but the five men reached safety by travelling the return airway with the deputy. The five men seemed to have travelled up the engine plane and met the fire and smoke and fumes which became denser and denser the near they got to the fire. They were overcome and suffocated.

All the victims were listed as colliers.

G Goodwin aged 32 years,
Joe Milner aged 36 years,
John Milner aged 31 years,
W. Tilley aged 22 years and
W. Oakley aged 30 years.

Every effort was made to get the fire under control and to recover the bodies of the five men. The manager Mr. J.E. Mammatt, the undermanager, Mr. W. Arundel, backed at every point by the chairman of the Company, Mr. M. Olroyd, M.P., along with the workmen did everything that was humanly possible. The efforts in the recovery work were helped by Mr. Wardell who testified to the heroic efforts that were made.

The fire was raging like a terrible furnace and no one could say if gas was accumulation. It was realised that any sudden derangement of the ventilation, caused for example by a fall, might precipitate an explosion at any time. Nevertheless, the men worked on in the danger and the terribly hot conditions. After several days there was no progress and it was decided to flood the district which was in a dip and could be done without flooding the rest of the mine.

Pipes were laid and the tubbing in the shaft was tapped and the water turned on. When the work of opening the mine was going on the remains of the five men were found close together and within a short distance of the junction. This confirmed that they had tried to escape down the intake.

The reason the fire started could not be found. A boy named Gelder was near the cabin a short time before the fire was discovered. He had been out of the pit to get a water bottle and had returned with a flaming lamp which he took out with him. It was shortly after this that Starbuck noticed the flames and it appeared from the evidence that Gelder was the last past the place with a naked lamp.

The evidence was most exhaustive and the Coroner, Major Arundel and the jury came to the verdict that:

That the deceased lost their lives in the Silkstone Pit of the Wheldale Colliery on the 8th December but there was no evidence to show how the fire originated, and that no blame was attached to anyone.

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

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