Talke O Th Hill 1873

Reserched By John Lumsdon

On Thursday 18th February, was the scene of a frightful accident, between one and two o clock. The pit had been at work as usual, and it was understood had been free from gasses by the fireman. A number of men and boys were at work when the explosion took place. A number of officials from neighbouring pits assisted in the exploration of the pit. The news of the accident, as a matter of course spread quickly through the village and throughout North Staffordshire and the pit bank steadily crowded with anxious relatives and friends. It was supposed that the cause of the accident had been the firing of a shot in the Eight Feet seam. All the workmen in there were killed.

Many volunteers went down to explore the workings, but the state of the mine was such that they were brought back after a while almost exhausted by the foul air they had breathed. Dr. Greatrex, Dr.Bruce and Mr. Stephenson were in attendance to administer restoratives. The effect of the explosion was felt in other parts of the pit, but none of the men were seriously injured. The loss of life was at first, estimated to be about forty, but glad that it turned out to be not half that number. It was difficult for the brave rescuers of the victims to explore the mine, on account of brattice having being blown down and the roadways being obstructed with debris. Also on account of the workings being so full of afterdamp. A large quantity of coal dust in the pit had been set on fire and it was not extinguished until the following morning.

The efforts to remove the bodies were continued all night and on the Wednesday morning thirteen were brought up. Their bodies were conveyed to the Swann Inn and placed in the room upstairs, which, was carefully guarded by the police, from curiosity mongers. Those whose relatives were working in the pit in question on that fatal day and who had not heard of them were permitted to enter the room for the sake of identifying the bodies.

The bodies presented a ghastly spectacle, and so disfigured, that in one or two instances persons who had not heard of their relatives that were in the pit at the time of the explosion, were dubious as to whether the bodies were those of their missing friends. The cloths, of the men being no criterion, as they were burnt, and rendered unrecognisable. One of the bodies was so severely bruised as though it had been blown against the side of the road way and another when found in the pit was in a slightly stooping posture, with his hands placed in front of his face, as though he had put them up for the sake of warding off the fire, which has severely burnt him and he was quite stiff when found, his hair being singed off his head.

On Wednesday the scene presented in the village of Talk-o’-th’-Hill was very melancholy, and the excitement was intense. The inquest was opened on Thursday morning at the Swann Inn, before Mr, Booth, Coroner on the following bodies:

John Birchnough age 36 married 3 children James Hackney age 16 single John Stamper age 27 single Benjimin Booth age 21 single Thomas Breeze age married 3 children David Winkle age 16 single Thomas Booth age 41 married 4 children John Shannon age 19 single Henry Crocott age 27 married Thomas Harrison age 14 single John Baynham age 30 married 4 children Francis Birch age 17 single Samual Kenny age 16 single Thomas Grocott age 20 married 1 child Robert Walker age 16 single William Lowndes age 20 William Jones age 28 single Richard Sherwin age 13 single

The Coroner opened the inquiry with a few remarks, he said he understood the explosion took place about two o clock in the afternoon of Tuesday and at present he had very little information as to how the explosion took place. The colliery in question, he was informed was the same one in which an explosion took place some six years ago, by which 91 poor men met their deaths. He had proposed to go into the case that day but Mr. Wynne the Government Inspector of the district, who was to have been present, was in London. He wished the inquest adjourned on that account. Mr. Wynne could go through the mine, and he would then be able to give some opinion as regards the occurrence .The Coroner then took evidence as to identification of the bodies only, and he adjourn the inquiry.

The adjourned inquiry was held on the 17th March and witnesses said that the mine was well ventilated and free from gas. Mr. Wynne the Government Inspector gave the following result of his inspection:

The explosion took place on the 18th February about two o clock in the afternoon and as no one is left to tell the tale, we must trust to what we see of its effects to arrive at the proximate cause. There is a down cast shaft eleven feet in diameter and about sixty yards to the west an upcast of eleven in diameter the depth of each being 350 yards. The air is taken along a cut of about 300 yards then along the level in the Eight Feet seam for 250 yards, which is as far as the levels are driven. About half way along the level an upbrow has been driven 200 yards, which I am told had 9,450 cubic feet of air passing up it and then back to the upcast shaft. What air that did not leak or pass through Kenyon’s door, went to the upper part of the brow, but on its way was forced about 40 yards into a pair of levels both bratticed and thence past Stamper’s place to Grocott and Booth.

On the 17th Stamper had made a small hole into the upper level which, later was opened out and allowed the whole of the air to pass that way instead of its old course of 70 yards further round. There had been a heavy fall in Grocott’s drift and it has been suggested that the gas came down with the fall and was fired at his lamp after the fall. But everything I saw goes to negative this idea, as the force of the explosion came towards the drift and from it as may by clearly seen in Booth’s drift. I therefore think the fall was the effect and cause of the explosion.

The first impression seems to have been that a shot in Grocott’s place had fired the gas, but I felt certain that was not the case as it was near the floor and Breeze, the fireman, and Grocott were found about 100 yards away. But 25yards further in Baynham had been cutting down roof in this road to increase the hight from four and a half feet to eight feet and had completed about eleven yards. On closely examining the roof coal, I found a shot hole had been drilled nearly close to the roof, forty inches deep. It had been charged and blown out. The coal had not been cut, nor in any way prepared for blasting, therefore the shot could hardly be expected to do otherwise than blow out, the coal being thirty two inches thick above the road, solid on both sides. Baynham seems to have gone inwards for safety, and Breeze having to pass Grocott took him, with him to where they were afterwards found.

After mature consideration I am of the opinion that Stamper having opened out his place, nearly the whole of the little air at command went that way: gas accumulated in Baynham’s roof and was fired by his shot, and I believe that most of the places above were more or less foul, or the effects would not have been so severe in all of those workings.

The Coroner in summing up observed that they had good evidence as to the state of the mine, when the explosion occurred and with the exception of two days this year, when a little gas was visible, was free from gas. Reports were made every morning on the pit and they had every reason to rely on them as accurate. He could not understand why such a fearful explosion should have happened when the pit was reported to be free from gas shortly before. It must have been a great influx of gas. It was totally impossible for him to get to the bottom of this matter. The men who could have given an account of this accident were all dead, and it was a question for the jury how the explosion occurred and where. It seemed a matter of great importance to him that the jury should ascertain as nearly as possible the shot where the explosion occurred. Some said the explosion occurred in Beynham’s, and it was by Breeze firing the shot caused it. In justice to Breeze, however, the Coroner would draw the attention of the jury to his being a steady and careful man. The jury after careful deliberation of about three quarters of an hour returned a verdict to the effect that they were of the opinion that the cause of the explosion was owing to Beynham and Grocott having fired shots and they recommended that more efficient firemen be employed for the future.