Sheriff Pit Explosion 1870


Reserched By John Lumsdon

William Sneyd, in 1853 built the church of St. Luke and from then on this village became a separate parish and took the name Silverdale, probably from the large number of silver birch trees in the area. Its growth into a prosperous village was based on two main foundations.

First, it had great mineral resources. Silverdale stood at a point where seams of Clay, Ironstone and Coal were all there waiting to be mined.

Secondly, it was on the fringe of an area of a changing and expanding Pottery industry, so up sprang Brickworks, Furnaces, Foundries and Coalmines, to provide the factory buildings, machinery, and fuel for the Pottery industry. Turning what had been a mainly farming community into a miniature industrial complex.

But regarding the mining aspect, the physical character of mine workings meant there were many hazards for the miners, the principle one being gas and I should like to relate to a gas explosion at the Sheriff pit in Silverdale.

On 7th July 1870 an explosion occurred here, which killed 19 men. The pit was situated near the blast furnace about half a mile from the village. The shaft was 300 yards deep and 177 men were employed. The shifts worked were days and nights and the pit was owned by Stanier Co. The manager was Mr. Lucas.

On that fateful day 30 men were at work in various parts of the 8 Feet workings, George Wainwright, the butty, made his examination before the start of the shift and again at 9 a.m. Thomas Poole, another butty examined at 11 a.m. All was well and work was in full swing.

Then about 1.30 p.m. an explosion took place. There were some men and boys in the 10 feet workings and others in another seam about 800 yards off who heard a dull rebervaration and soon the place was filled with smoke and dust. All of these men, boys and pit ponies escaped.

The 8 Feet workings where the explosion took place were about 600 yards from the pit bottom and all the men there perished, with the exception of a man named Eardley who was furthest away from the blast. Luckily a roof beam fell behind him and saved him being buried. He was terribly frightened and suffered from the effects of gas, but rescuers got him out.

Two others, Bagguley and Lockett, had been engaged in repairing the return airway and although they missed the blast they were gassed with the effects of the explosion. It is probable that the rest of the men met instantaneous death, being exposed to the double effects of the exploding gas and flying debris.

The workings were reported to be very much shattered and roadways blocked up with dirt and stones dislodged by the explosion. The uninjured men in the rest of the pit were got out with all possible speed and prompt steps taken to explore the workings and see if any men could be rescued. Mr. R. Goodall, a surgeon, was sent for to tend the injured and Mr. Lucas, the manager, got to the pit with all possible speed and with others exerted themselves to procure every means of affording assistance.

A party of explorers were soon organised, but the first examination showed there was small hope of any men being brought out alive. It was necessary to excavate a passage through the blocked road. Then the rescuers came across 3 miners Poole, Wainwright and Madders. Poole and Wainright were dead and Madders died soon after. At the inquest it reported he was very much mangled and cut about and wished them to kill him because he was in so much agony.

Poole and Wainwright were wrapped in sheets and conveyed in carts to their houses near halmerend. It was also reported Poole bled freely from all parts of his body and a new Strong pair of boots he was wearing, the soles of which were ripped from his feet by the effects of the explosion.

By the time they worked to get these three men out they were exausted and had to return to the surface, one man having to be carried out, overcome by afterdamp. After a brief interval the explorers returned to work and remained in the pit all night working their way through the obstructions searching for the dead. Under various portions of the dirt were seen parts of human bodies, bruised and blackened. As they went on one of the rescuers, at great risk of his own life, crawled through an aperture and saw the ghastly remains of about half a dozen poor fellows.

The work continued through the night till the roadway was cleared, another 12 bodies being recovered. Earlier an order had been given to a messenger to go to the North Staffs Infirmary to have beds prepared, but alas that order was countermanded and instead of beds being required instructions were given for 20 coffins, at least 19 of which would be required.

At one o clock on Friday the 12 bodies were brought to the surface and placed in the engine house. They formed such a group of mangled corpses as would make any stout hearted man shudder. Yet there were those on bank who expressed a desire to see the dead men, but were wisely kept back.

The other 4 missing bodies could not be found and it was supposed they were underneath the debris. The work of clearance was continued unremittingly but the bodies had not been recovered that evening. On the pit bank a large crowd assembled and waited to see if there were any survivors. Not far distance were groups of women who gazed towards the shaft with sorrowful interest, though there was really nothing to see but the monotonous winding of the pit rope.

Eventually the remaining 4 bodies were recovered and at the inquest a miner named Dobson, it was stated, was found at the bottom of the dip. He was very much crushed and terribly disfigured; he had been a very steady young man and for a long while had been the supporter of his widowed mother and several of his young brothers and sisters.

At the close of the inquiry, after the summing up of the coroner, the jury consulted together for half an hour and found in their verdict, that the deceased were killed by an explosion of gas but how it was caused there was no evidence to show. They considered however, that the return airway was too small for the extent of the workings and recommended that it should be enlarged.

That is a true story of what took place in the North Staffs area in July of 1870 when men were going about their work for the benefit of their families to feed, cloth and house them. Then all that was dramatically snatched away at 1.30 p.m. July 7th 1870.

BACK to DISASTERS BACK to NAMES BACK to INDEX