Sheriff Pit Explosion 1872

Reserched By John Lumsdon

A terrible explosion of gas occurred on Saturday 21st December 1872 at the Sheriff pit near Silverdale, Newcastle, North Staffordshire, causing the instantaneous death of eight workmen and injuring eight more plus considerable damage to the workings in the mine. The pit is five hundred yards deep and thirty yards from the bottom is the Bullhurst seam, in which the explosion occurred.

The seam is connected to many others by various roadways in which upwards of 350 men are employed. The Bullurst has been standing since June and had only been visited a few days ago for the purpose of being kept ‘clean’ and well ventilated. The Butties, John Edwards, and John Bainbridge and others visited the pit on Saturday to ascertain that it was safe to work therein.

In the Bullhurst seam a level had been driven, and dips were in the course of being driven. The eight deceased were engaged in this part of the pit, five in the dips and three in clearing the levels and attending to the ventilation. About 350 others were engaged in other workings. Whilst these people were following their daily occupation shortly before 8 am a severe gas explosion occurred. The effects were felt throughout the workings, creating terror amongst the men, many of whom rushed to the pit shaft, whilst others fortunately for their own safety, remained were they were till they would proceed without fear of the after-damp, there being separate ventilation for each seam.

The effects of the explosion were most disastrous, especially in the vicinity of the occurrence, eight poor fellows losing their lives in an instance, whilst the workings were much damaged. The shock was felt over a considerable area of the surface and much rubbish, it was said, was belched forth out of the top of the shaft.

As soon as the smoke and sulphur had cleared away, the workmen began to be raised to the pit bank and an exploration party was organized. Mr, Lucas, the manager, Mr. T.S Wilkinson, assistant manager and underground bailiff John Downing, led it. It was ascertained that the seat of the mischief was the Bullhurst seam.

There was remarkable diligence in endeavouring to rescue workmen or to find the bodies of the dead. As already stated, there is separate ventilation to each seam and all except the eight working in the Bullhurst were safe as long as they remained where they were. But many were naturally frightened and running from one seam to another they came in contact with the after-damp. In one of the cruts they were nearly falling victims to their own fright. As it was eight were injured. Three doctors on the surface gave treatment to the injured and those suffering from choke-damp.

By the afternoon four of the bodies were recovered and later in the day two more. The rescuers worked incessantly during Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night removing 170 loads of earth and the other two men were recovered. Gradually, as the full extent of the injuries and loss of life became known the excitement subsided but many returned to their cottages with saddened hearts.

A painful incident occurred owing to the appearance of Hall who was the first to be brought to the surface, he was so dreadfully burnt about the face hands and body, that he could not be recognised and his body was taken to the home of John Edwards, the belief being that it was the body of Amos Edwards. Soon afterwards, however the corps of Amos Edwards was conveyed home and was identified by friends. His friends then identified Hall by the bunions on his feet.

The names of the deceased are;

John Bainbridge age 49 married 3 children

John Edwards age 54 married 3 children

Amos Edwards age 19 single son of John

John Hall age 30 married no family

James Brown age 48 married 5 children

John Nicholas age 35 married 3 children

Thomas Mullineux age 20 single

Wm. Powis age51 married 2 children

The following were injured;

Wm. Bradbury , Thos Gough, Wm. Thomas, Thos. Whalley, Henry Maddock, Thos Clarke, James Donnelly, and Wm. Ashton.

An inquiry was opened before Mr. J. Booth, coroner, at the Sneyd Arms on Monday evening, as to the cause of the eight deaths; Mr. T. Wynne, Government Inspector of Mines, who had been down the pit, attended it. The Coroner said he intended to take evidence of the explosion and the identities of the bodies.

Joseph Keene, the lamp-man, after giving evidence as to the persons to whom the lamps had been given out said he delivered keys to butties. Mr. Welch said he had heard since the explosion, that before the explosion other men besides butties went down the pit with keys.

One of the witnesses, John Moore said, after the explosion he went to the pit bank and then with other explorers descended to the Bullhurst seam. He found the body of John Edwards, a Butty and near him lay the bottom of a gauze lamp No.53 and about a yard from it was the top of it. Two or three yards from the body were two other glass lamps Nos 264 and 286 one of which had the glass broken, the other being unlocked at the top. The three lamps were all in the heading. He went on to describe the state of the place and finding other bodies.

Another explorer, Thomas Wilson, said how he found the body of John Hall, who had been lodging at his house for a long time, he was much knocked about his head and face. He was badly burned, “in a manner roasted”.

James Jennings said he worked near to where the explosion took place and in answer to Mr. C.J. Welch, solicitor, who attended on behalf of the friends and deceased, said, sometimes the air was slack and he complained to the butties. On the day before the explosion he complained of there being gas. He also said he did not intend to work in the pit again, because did not think it was a safe pit to work in. Mr. Wynne, HMI of Mines, having being sworn, read the following report: Having been informed of this accident, I went down the pit on Monday morning 23rd of December and on going to the west side of the Bullhurst seam I found at every step, traces of a very severe explosion. Every stopping having been blown out, many props being displaced, indeed everything on that side of the mine bore witness to the severity of the blast, and it could have hardly been expected that anyone working there could escape death. The force of the blast is still further shown by the damage done to the air crossing on the opposite side to the large opening at the bottom of the shaft. It has been proved that an open lamp was found in the upper level at the far end and at that point the gas may have been fired. But if so the whole side of the work must have been in an explosive state, as that was the first intake air and I believe that was the case, the air-pipes and timber bearing such unmistakeable traces of fire and violent concussion.

I will now give my opinion as to the cause of this sad calamity. In July last I attended inquiries as to the cause of death in two instances when the accidents were contributed to blasting powder, but which I thought was more likely to be firedamp, and in my inspection of the mine I was satisfied that it was so.

When I came out of the pit I saw Mr. Lucas and Mr. Undall together in the office and pointed out to them, that in my opinion it was impossible to work the three seams with the air at their command without an explosion and proposed that the upper seam should be closed. But Mr. Lucas replied that as the Bullhurst was nearly driven out to the far end he would rather shut that up which was eventually agreed to, and to make sure that no one should interfere with this arrangement the level was to be bricked up, and if opened again then the east side should be bricked up, but that I should be consulted before this was done.

So far from abiding by this arrangement, three brows have been driven 80 yards each on the west side, and I am not surprised that this catastrophe took place, as the course pursued led directly to it and is the natural consequence of such temerity. Mr. Wynne added that if the same course were again followed there would inevitably be another explosion. He was sorry Mr, Greenwell, the colliery viewer and he, differed so much.

The jury deliberated from two o clock till seven at night without agreeing. The Coroner not having the power to discharge them- bound them over to appear before the judge at the next assizes at Stafford.