Broadfield Explosion 27th June 1843

Researched By John Lumsdon

It was recorded this week, a very lamentable accident at Broadfield colliery at Fenton.
The event was an explosion of firedamp causing the loss of nine lives that has cast deep gloom over the neighbourhood in North Staffordshire. Several of the unfortunate men have left wives and children, who have in a moment being bereft of almost all their earthly hope and dependence.

The accident took place on Monday afternoon at a pit called Greenfield at Broadfield colliery Fenton. Unhappily, as in many other cases of similar description, the catastrophe appears to have been caused through the men imprudently working with naked candles, instead of safety lamps, with which they were provided.

It seems that on the day in question about 27 individuals had been working in various parts of the pit, some of whom, at the time of the explosion were about to ascend the shaft. Seven of the deceased colliers had been working in one locality of the mine, and five of them having finished their day’s work were proceeding towards the shaft, when the explosion took place at a spot about 500 yards from the bottom of the shaft. Of these seven individuals not one of them is left to tell the tale as to how the calamity occurred.

The probability however, is that it arose in the following manner:
Two of the seven colliers alluded to, not having finished their work, one of them James Dawson, it is conjectured, went to another part of the mine to fetch some tools and powder, with a naked candle in his hand and was returning when he met the five who had done their work. One of the five was James Smith, an overman in the works who was regarded by his employers as a careful man. Who likewise possessed some skill in mining operations. Smith, in order, it is believed, to enable them to work the following day, had closed the trap door in what is technically called “a wall” (which is a place where the coals have bee extracted) in order to clear it from the inflammable gas known to have collected in it. The gas being thus forced out of “the wall” into the road would most likely meet the man Dawson with his lighted candle and consequently produce the explosion.

Six persons were killed on the spot, some of them being much burnt, particularly poor Smith, whose body was frightfully mangled. The seventh individual who was at work in the extremity of the mine, was William Shone who was not injured by the explosion and was endeavouring to make his escape, but without success, being suffocated by the afterdamp.

The loss of these seven lives unhappily did not terminate the calamity. Two other men, Samuel Thornton and Alfred Tomkinson who had been working in the mine, also perished from the effects of the afterdamp, in their truly commendable and praiseworthy endeavours to save the lives of their companions.

The accident as stated before, occurred about six o’clock in the evening and not withstanding the greatest exertions were used, the whole of the bodies were not got out until nearly eleven o’clock in consequence of the state of the mine. Several other individuals, by inhaling the noxious vapour when searching for the bodies, had very narrow escapes, being brought up in a complete state of stupor.

The pit was considered by the men to be safe, and in fact, seven of the unfortunate individuals, if not the whole had been working with naked candles during the day.

The following are the names of the sufferers;
James Smith, Fenton, age 36 wife and two children.
James Dawson, Fenton, age 38 wife and four children, this poor man’s wife only confined to her last child on Saturday.
Jacob Tipton, Fenton, age 11.
Samuel Thornton, Fenton, age 36 wife and seven children.
Alfred Tomkinson, Fenton, age 18 unmarried.
Peter Bolderstone, Longton, age 36 widower 3 children.
William Shone, Longton, age 22 married no children.
William Barker, Longton, age 23 married no children.
Moses Heath, Fenton, age 16.

The Inquest

The inquest was held was held on Wednesday morning at the Canning Inn Fenton before W. Harding Esq, and a respectable jury, of whom Mr. Thomas Green was the Foreman.

The first witness examined was Elijah Mountford, collier, Fenton who stated that he worked at the Greenfield pit at the Broadfield colliery, Fenton and between 5 and 6 o clock in the afternoon on Monday last, he had descended the shaft of the pit for the purpose of going to work. He had been down the pit but a few minutes and was proceeding to his work with a lad, when the explosion took place. He was about 200 yards from where it occurred and was blown down and bruised upon the head and body by the concussion. Having with difficulty, made his way back, he obtained a candle and in company with a man named Samuel Heath, returned to see if the could any of the sufferers.

In about half an hour the found, Moses Heath, a boy who lay on his back and on taking a hold of the head, they saw he was dead, and remarked they had better look after those that might be living.
Having proceeded about 20 yards they next found Peter Bolderstone, who laid full length on his back and he was very much bruised, he was quite dead.
The body of Jacob Tipton was next found and afterwards the bodies of William Baker and James Smith.
Baker was very much burnt, and naked, having no article of clothing on his person whatsoever excepting a piece of stocking on one leg, what few articles of dress he had on, being consumed by the fire. Smith lay on his face and was and was dreadfully injured.

Other colliers now had joined them they went about 30 or 40 yards further, but being taken ill in consequence of the burnt sulphur, he was obliged to be carried out with others who were similarly affected. Two of the deceased men, Samuel Thornton and Alfred Tomkinson were two of those who were with him when searching for the bodies. When he was taken ill these two appeared to be well. He told them that if he did not get away he should fall; he did not recollect anything until he was brought up out of the pit. A number of questions were put to the witness, by several gentlemen of the jury, with the view of ascertaining if the pit was worked in such a manner as to afford every protection to the men and nothing to the contrary was elicited.

The next witness, Samuel Heath, collier, of Fenton said that he had been working on the day of the accident with the deceased, W. Baker, J. Smith, J. Dawson, and W. Shone, near the spot where the explosion took place. The explosion occurred shortly after he had left them. The witness was going at the moment in the direction of the pit bottom for the purpose of being drawn up. The deceased above named were all in the part of the mine he had just left and they, with himself, had been working with naked candles during the day. After the explosion he met with Elijar Mountford, the last witness and went with him to search for the bodies of the sufferers and was with him when four of them were found.

The witness had commenced working in the pit on the 1st April and continued to work in it from that time to the present. There had been two explosions during that time. The first explosion was a month after he went there, in which William Shepard and James Gordon were burnt. The other occurred some time afterwards when a man named James Beton was burnt, they all recovered. These two explosions occurred 200 to 300 yards from the place where the last accident happened. Working with naked candles caused the first but he did not know what caused the second.

All the men had a sufficient supply of safety lamps, but they are not used, when they think there is no danger. The witness, with the other men had all safety lamps on Monday morning and they were used to examine if there was any sulphur in the pit and afterwards naked candles were used. He brought a candle with him along the part where the accident took place, when he was leaving work. He found the trap door in the wall open and left it so. The Body of William Shone was found near this door. The deceased did not appear to be in anywhere bruised but seemed to have died from suffocation. This unfortunate individual was at work when the explosion took place at the end of the mine and it was supposed, fell from the effects of the afterdamp, when endeavouring to make his escape and was suffocated.

Another witness, James Boughey, collier of Longton, stated that he worked at the Broadfield colliery, but not in the pit where the accident took place. He assisted getting some men out of the pit who were killed on Monday last. The body of William Shone was found nearly at the far end of the works lying on his face. A number of lamps were lying about the pit and one or two where Shone was found, but they were not lighted. On coming back 30 or 40 yards, he discovered James Dawson lying on his face. There was a lamp near to his hand. About 30 or 40 yards further the bodies of Samuel Thornton, and James Smith were discovered; they were all dead. The witness worked in the same pit two years ago but no accidents occurred in that time. He worked in an adjoining pit, and he with the other men are provided with safety lamps, but they did not use them, because they thought there was no sulphur. About 8 or 9 months ago there was an accident in the pit, when one man was burnt.

On the conclusion of this and the proceeding witness’s evidence, the jury expressed their opinion strongly in the reckless infatuation of the colliers by using candles when safety lamps are provided.

William Bradshaw, collier of Fenton and who worked in one of the pits at the Broadfield colliery said, on Monday evening, at about half past six he was going to assist in getting out the bodies of the unfortunate men. He deposed of finding the body of Alfred Tomkinson, who lay on his face with his hands underneath him. The body was then warm.

Mr. Aaron Barton, agent to the Broadfield colliery company, was next called, and produced a plan of the works where the unfortunate calamity had occurred, which he very intelligently explained to the jury. Mr. Barton said that between12 and 1 o’clock on Monday morning he was in the No.1 Ash pit, where the deceased were working. He saw James Smith, Jacob Tipton, William Baker, Moses Heath and Peter Bolderstone at work. The witness went down to see what state the works were in, and found them in a safe state, and he saw no reason to apprehend any danger.

He was in the works for about an hour and a half and the trap door in “the wall,” alluded to, was then open. He should suppose that Smith, who was an overman or butty in the pit, closed this door. He was of the opinion that the explosion must have taken place by the escape of firedamp by the door being shut, which is used for ventilating the works, the firedamp had came in contact with a naked candle, and so exploded. He should suppose (as there was nothing but reasonable probability to guide him) that the candle was in the hands of James Dawson, who had been to fetch some tools from another part of the mine and was returning to his work when he met with the other deceased and the explosion took place in consequence of the escape of gas from “the wall” by the closing of the door. Some tools were lying by the side of Dawson. He believed that one moments reflection on the part of the men in putting the candle out (carried it is supposed by Dawson) if they had known the door was shut, would have averted the calamity.

Mr. Barton afterwards explained to the jury that the pit had upwards of 14,000 gallons of fresh air supplied to it every minute, and there was never more than 30 men in the works at one time, so he considered the quantity of air was an abundant supply.

Mr. W. Dawes, surgeon, from Longton, said he was at the pit when the bodies of Tomkinson and Thornton were brought out. They had no marks of violence on them and his opinion was that they had died from suffocation.

No other evidence being adduced and the coroner having directed the attention of the jury to the leading features of the distressing case, they immediately returned a verdict of “accidental death” finding that James Smith, James Dawson, Jacob Tipton, Peter Bolderstone, William baker and Moses Heath were killed by the explosion of firedamp; and that Samuel Thorston, Alfred Tomkinson and William Shone, died from the effects of the afterdamp being suffocated by it. The inquiry lasted between three and four hours.