Research by John Lumsdon

This accident occurred on Saturday 25th Nov. 1911 at 9.50 a.m. resulting in 6 men being killed, and 14 injured. The explosion happened in the workings of the Bullhurst Seam, and Mr. Redmayne, H. M. Chief Inspector of Mines was appointed to hold the investigation as to the cause. (Report Cd 6152)

Briefly, the seam is of a very undulating nature, varying within wide limits both in thickness and inclination. At the scene of the accident, its thickness was about 20 feet and its inclination about 1in 5. The seam yields gas freely, and is well known in the district as being peculiarly liable to gob fires. Two days prior to the accident a portion of a pillar of coal, which was being worked out, was found to be slightly warm. No gob stink was observed, and it was decided to build off the district and withdraw all the workmen from the pit except those who were required to build the stoppings and to convey the materials for them.

The stoppings had been practically completed, when an explosion took place with in the enclosed area, partially blowing out some of the stoppings. There were at the time 31 persons in all in the pit, 6 of whom were killed and 14 injured.

Four of the men injured had been burnt, but those who were killed had apparently been poisoned by carbon monoxide. The accident emphasises the very serious risks which attach to the working of a thick, dry, dusty and gassy seam, which is known to be liable to spontaneous combustion, and which is lying at a moderate inclination, and the necessity of laying out the workings and carrying on the whole operation in a carefully considered manner, so as to minimise these risks as far as this can be done. A haphazard method of working must, almost necessarily sooner or later result disastrously for both the mine owner and the workmen.

The inquest on the six men who were killed in the explosion at Jammage pit of the Bignal Hill colliery on the morning of Saturday November 25th 1911 was resumed before Mr. Hugh W Aadams at the Wesleyan school, Audley on Monday December 11th.

It may be remembered that the men were employed in building off a gob fire, when the explosion occurred. All the men were overcome by afterdamp and five of them were dead when the rescue party reached them, the other one died as soon as he reached the surface. The names of the dead are:

Frederick Leese, Harry Shaw, George Cork,

Enoch Edwards, Thomas Chadwick, Joseph Swingewood.

Amos Daniels,the manager, examined the whole of the goaf and found no heating and no gob stink he discussed the matter with Swingewood and they came to the conclusion that whatever heating there might be, was due to pressure and the best thing to do was to get the coal out as soon as possible. He saw Swingewood, the overman, again in the afternoon and Swingewood then reported that there was no change. Daniels arranged for Swingewood and James Boon, the under manager, to make another examination that night and after this they again reported that there was no change.

On the following morning he found the coal cooler, and concluded he had done the right thing. He noticed a very slight smell of gob stink, however, and in view of the pressure he decided to build the district off. This work was put in hand at once. Daniels was in the pit all night and when he went round the stoppings on Saturday morning he was satisfied with everything and was convinced they could build off the district without any difficulty or danger. At that time No 6 and No 3 were practically built off and though they had some difficulty at No 4 that was nearly built off too.

Amos Daniels, the manager, went home intending to get some sleep, but had only just got there when Robert Brough, a hooker on, came and told him something was wrong. Daniels went to the pit at once. On the bank he saw a man named Gater, who said, “We want some help”. Daniels asked what was the matter and Gater replied I’m afraid something has happened at the stoppings. Daniels sent for all the men who new the district, left instructions that rescue brigades were to be telephoned for and then went down the pit.

At the bottom he found Mr. Latham, the surveyor, in charge of two men, in a more or less unconscious condition, Daniels asked what was the matter, but Latham could only say “Have you got any doctors”. Daniels sent him up the shaft and went down the district again. Going down the main road he met two men who had been working at the stopping. They were resting at the side of the roadway obviously affected, but they said they could get out alone and Daniels went on. He met the under manager, and Amos Daniels, (his son) who was in charge of three men. They were more or less unconscious and delirious and Daniels could not make anything of what they said.

Daniels told the under manager and his son to get the men out of the pit and then to follow him. Daniels went on and reached the door, which was thrown wide open and there, he found seven men. One of them George Cork, was dead and the others were more or less delirious and unconscious. They were lying on the floor about 15 yards passed the open door.

At that point the air was some extent charged with after-damp. Daniels said he started to get the men on to the main road into the fresh air and whilst he was getting them out onto the level James Boon and Daniels’s son Amos joined them. They got the men in the tubs and sent them away.

He then went up to the other level to examine the return air and he found it was charged with after-damp. He came back outside the door, where he met William Swingewood. They went to look for the other men and in the cross, near the place where the stoppings were being built, they found John Robinson. He was unconscious but when Daniels shouted to him he roused somewhat.

Daniels and Swingewood got him out to the dip and handed him over to Boon and Amos, (Daniels’ son) they went back and found Frederick Leese lying dead in the road. Daniels attempted to get him out, but was suffering himself and had to give up. He looked in the intake airway and saw a number of men brought out. Swingewood told him that the stoppings on the topside were all intact and nobody had been in the pit since the accident.

The Coroner asked, what was the state of the stoppings you saw. Daniels replied the stopping at No 4 was blown clean out, but could not say exactly what happened to the other two. Afterdamp was issuing from them and I should say the tops must have been blown off. The Coroner said if the stopping of No 4 had been blown out there must have been an explosion. The witness agreed. It was then asked, how do you suggest the explosion took place? The reply was, the point of ignition must have been reached. There was just sufficient air in the enclosed area to allow an explosion.

On being cross-examined by Mr Johnson, HMI of Mines, Daniels, the manager, said he was informed about 7 o clock on Friday night that No 7 stopping was leaking. He and Swingewood went there and found a slight leakage, but it soon ceased. One of the men building the stopping said there had been three vibrations but Daniels said they would probably be roof falls in the goaf and not explosions. The Coroner said, they might have been explosions, the manager said they might have been, but we should have had some smell to indicate it.

The cross examination continued regarding the issue of firedamp. Mr. Moody, representing the relatives of the victims, asked, “was the gas issuing of Friday night of an explosive mixture” Daniels replied yes. “And the moment this gob reaches a point, you are certain to have an explosion” Daniels replied yes and added, that although Swingewood said there was a peculiar smell in the pit, I could not discern any. Mr. Moody said, in view of what happened afterwards do you think Swingewood was correct. Daniels replied, he may have been correct, but I could not smell anything.

Daniels said he perceived the gob stink about 7 o clock on Friday morning, but it was only very faint. Daniels was asked, did he stop all the coal getting work in the pit, he replied yes, “then you think there was considerable danger? Daniels replied, there always is in a situation like this. I stopped the Friday night shift from going on as a precaution.

Medical evidence

The Dr. reported there were no external injuries and in his opinion the cause of deaths was carbon monoxide poisoning.

On Monday December 18th a search party of workmen in the Eight Feet seam, some 6oo yards from the shaft, found 3 ponies alive, which were in the pit when the explosion took place, were promptly drawn to the surface. On Sunday 15 dead ponies were recovered.

The adjourned inquiry resumed on January 10th and after many more questions on all the aspects of the accident, the jury retured a verdict of “accidental death” adding that the practice adopted at the colliery was the usual one for North Staffordshire, that brick stoppings should have put in, and that the collieries where gob fires had occurred, rescue brigades should be there available at the colliery in case of emergency.

A great deal was said as to what was done, or what might have been done in this case prior to the disaster its self, and a considerable amount of evidence was given as to the methods of working coal mines in North Staffordshire and the comparative methods adopted elsewhere. The North Staffordshire coal field is specifically difficult to work. But it was agreed, the full inquiry that has been held, has been of great importance to all concerned.