At 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday 5th January 1876 the village of Talke, North Staffordshire was again thrown into a state of consternation by another terrible colliery accident. This time the scene of the disaster is little removed from the old spot, the pits at Bignal End, the property of the representatives of the late John Wedgwood, called the Jammage Pits, and is adjacent to the colliery belonging to the same proprietors in which the terrible explosion occurred on Christmas eve 1874 by which 17 lives were lost; the two being in fact connected by an underground road-way.
Five human beings were suddenly launched into eternity out of sixteen in the pit at the time. 101 are employed at the colliery, which is quite a new one, coal having being found about twelve months ago. The Jammage pits are worked by two shafts. One, ten feet, and the other 13 feet in diameter, both being about 170 yards deep. .
At the time of the accident the five men killed, were working in the fiery Seven-Feet seam, the remainder working in the Eight-Feet seam. Suddenly an explosion took place, which completely devastated the Seven-Feet seam, and killed the men at work there. Fortunately, those working in the Eight-Feet were all got out safe. One horse was killed. .
The cage hanging at the mouth of the pit was blown over the head-sticks, and dashed to pieces, as were also the plates covering the pit’s mouth. .
Eighty-six men had been at work during the day, but fortunately they were divided into turns, or the loss would have been more terrible still. The bottom of the shaft was smashed in, and a breach made right to the furnaces. .
An exploration party of fourteen descended about seven-o-clock, and soon recovered the dead bodies of the five men. They described the destruction of property as fearful. The cause of the explosion is supposed to be a shot fired against the instructions of the fireman, William Sharples, who was in the Eight-Feet at the time of the accident. .
The names of the men killed are, • John Daniels, age 26 of Red St. was married, no children. • Daniel Darlington, age 22 of Chapel St. Audley, was married with one child. • Alexander Macpherson, Broad Meadow, Chesterton, single. • Patrick Oadam, age 37 Tunstall, widower, one child. • Michael Rowley, age 27 Audley St. Tunstall, married with three children. The body of Da.
niels was conveyed to the house of his father-in-law the Wheat Sheaf Inn, Red St . The bodies of the other men were conveyed to the houses where they had previously been living. All the bodies except that of Daniels, were badly burnt. .
The inquest on the bodies was opened before Mr. Booth, coroner, at the Crown Inn, Red St. on Friday 7 th at noon . The jury having been sworn, the coroner explained that he merely intended that day to take evidence as to the identification of the bodies. The jury then went to view the body of Jon Daniel, which was lying at the Wheat Sheaf Inn. .
Michael Wood, Butty at the Jammage pit, was the only witness called. He said that about half passed four on Wednesday afternoon he heard of the explosion, and at once went to the pit. There were afterdamp and smoke coming up the down-cast shaft, the air having been reversed. The cage had been blown over the guide plates and lay on the plates at the pit mouth. Mr Gater, Mr. Benett and Wood went down an old pit and made their way to the back of the place where the explosion had happened. That was about half an hour after the explosion, and ventilation had been restored. .
Strict systems of supplying the men with Davy lamps were carried out at the pits, and shots, were not allowed to be fired, only under instructions from the fireman, if at all. Hundreds crowded on the pit bank as soon as the terrible news had spread. .
On Wednesday 19th January, Mr. Booth, coroner resumed the inquiry respecting the death of five men who were killed in the explosion in Jammage colliery, near Chesterton, North Staffordshire, on the 5th January. Mr Wynne, Government Inspector and Mr. Gilroy, Assistant Inspector, were present. Mr. Ackril watched the inquiry on behalf of the owners of the colliery. .
Michael Wood, Butty, who was examined at the opening of the inquest, was recalled and in reply to Mr. Wynne, said he had never heard of a shot being fired by anyone other than a Butty or Fireman. He fired a shot in the place where Macphearson (one of the deceased) worked on the morning of the 5th and two shots were fired afterwards. .
He did not know who fired them. Barry was the fireman on duty from seven to two and Sharples was the fireman from two o'clock. If properly fired, these two shots were fired by one of these men. .
A shot was fired in Darlington’s place ( Darlington was another of the deceased) but the witness did not know who did it. Mr. Wynne examined the witness at some length as to the arrangements, ventilation, area and condition of the workings, which had been laid out under the direction of himself and the manager. Plans were also produced. .
The pit was examined in the morning, the airway was clear, every part of the pit was clear and the current of air good and that would keep Darlington’s place clear. Every part of the pit was clear of any symptoms of gas. .
Shots were fired by “touch” from the lamp and there were cases where the top of the lamp taken off for this purpose. It was not strictly forbidden to take off the lamp for firing. .
Two of the deceased had keys with them. It was stated, when the tops of the lamp were removed for firing, it was done by a proper person, and after a proper examination. .
John Thomson, the Butty, said he went down the pit at 5.30am on the morning in question. Jones, the night fireman who was waiting to go off duty, said the pit was all right. The witness did not examine the mine, but between eight and nine he went to the part of the pit where the explosion occurred to fire a shot in Daniel Proctor’s place. He examined every part of the workings, and found them all perfectly safe. There was no trace of gas whatever. That was the only place where he new of a shot being fired that morning, except in Macphearson’s workings. The rule of the mine was for the powder to be taken down in cartridges, in tin cases, and for the fireman to see the shot-holes properly charged, and fire the shot himself. .
Thomson had never heard of the rule being broken. It was the duty of the fireman to examine the workings, and see that they were free from gas. The Banbury seam had been open about eight or nine months, and he had been through the workings every day but had never found gas. Questioned by Mr. Wynne, Thomson replied that he had never known a collier fire shots except with the express permission of the fireman. .
Thomson was also examined by the Inspector, Mr. Wynne, as to the ventilation and arrangements of the mine. .
Men had been seen smoking on the bank, but not in the pit. There was an order against smoking in the pits. The men were required to leave their pipes and matches on the bank when descending the pit. .
A witness thought there was a shot fired improperly in Darlington ’s place. It had been found that a bratticing sheet had been removed from a thurling, and that would account for the accumulation of gas. He did not know how it had been removed; it may have been blown away. The accumulation of gas formed in two hours. .
John Sharples, fireman, said he went down the pit at two o’ clock on the day in question. He saw Berry, the fireman, at the pit bottom, and he told him all was right. He did not go into the Seven Feet workings. If a man in the Seven Feet wanted to fire a shot while he was in the Eight Feet it was his duty to send for him (Sharples). He explained that the sheet in the thurling already referred to, was a temporary stopping, and if it were left open it would cut off the air from the working. He had never seen gas on the north side of the pit. He admitted there had been shots fired without his consent, although he never detected any man doing it. .
Matches were found on one of the deceased, and two had keys. They had no right to have either keys or matches. .
Edward Berry, fireman, said he went down the pit about five thirty on the morning of the 5th and Jones, the night-fireman, told him all was right, except up near Daniel’s place where it was a little warm. He went there, and put some pipes in. In his report book he entered that all was safe, but he did not go into Darlington ’s place. It was left for the men to send for the fireman if any gas was found. A man could not go over all the workings every day; he had too much to do. If there was any gas, they sent for the fireman. Three men were told off for the purpose of firing shots. .
On being questioned by Mr. Wynne, Inspector, Berry replied; when he could not get all round the workings, he entered in the book all the same that they were safe. It was usual to do this. He could not go over the pit every day, he had too much to do and he had told the other firemen so. .
On the morning of the 5th he was sent for to fire a shot in the Seven Feet, but he said he could not go, and the shot was fired, he supposed, by one of the men told off for that purpose. .
In reply to Mr. Gilroy, Assistant Inspector, Berry said he new the special and general rules required the pit to be examined every morning before the men began their work. .
The coroner said there is no evidence that it was examined once a month according to your statement, although it is entered in the book for every day. .
Mr. Berry continued to be examined and he gave his evidence in a very confused manner, and once or twice showed considerable impatience to be released. .
Edward Jones, fireman said he went to work at 10 pm on the 4th and examined the whole of the mine during the night. He found a little gas in Daniel’s place, five or six inches thick and four or five feet in length. He told Berry to take some sheeting to the place. He found very little gas in the pit. It was the practice for the night fireman to thoroughly examine the mine. .
John Griffiths, collier, said he worked in Daniel’s place, and left work on the 5th at twelve-o-clock. Only one shot had been fired in that part of the mine that morning, and Wood fired it. He saw no sign of gas that day. He bored a hole in some coal for Darlington before he left work, and that would be fired about the time of the explosion. .
Enoch Gater, manager of the Jammage colliery, said he went down the pit shortly after the explosion, and helped to recover the bodies. He was all over the mine the previous day, and found it in good condition. There was a little gas in the Eight Feet seam, but that was all. No complaints had ever been made of the state of the air-roads being too small. Berry had never complained of not being able to go over the mine every day. Every measure was adopted to ensure good ventilation. .
On being questioned by Mr. Wynne, Inspector, he said he had given permission to three men to fire shots after the fireman had examined the working. They were steady men who had been working at the mine for some time, and he considered them competent. He had never heard of any other men firing shots. .
In reply to numerous questions by Mr Wynne, Inspector, Gater said he considered the ventilation of the pit sufficient. .
Police sergeant Stanton produced the property found on the bodies of the deceased. It included a tobacco pouch and a lamp stud found on Darlington ; two lamp studs found on Macphearson; a lamp key and tobacco box found on Odam; a tobacco box and lamp key and match, found on Rowney; and a tobacco box and touch paper, found on Daniels. .
Mr S.B. Gilroy, Assistant Inspector, said he visited the mine on the 7th; and found an accumulation of slack in the place where Macphearson’s body was found, and very strong traces of fire in the level. .
There were marks of a shot in Darlington ’s thurling, and similar indications in Macphearson’s place of a shot having been fired. The traces of a fire in Darlington ’s Dip were very severe. The effect of lifting the cloth at the bottom of Darlington ’s Dip would be to cut the air off, and the accumulation of slack already referred to had a similar effect. There was a sufficient accumulation of gas in the bottom level to account for the effects described. .
Hardly any damage had been done beyond the immediate neighbourhood of the place of the explosion. The cause of the mischief was the firing of a shot in Darlington ’s place. The quantity of gas was at first so small that Darlington would not notice it unless on a very close examination. .
Conclusion Mr J. Wynne, Government Inspector, said he was clearly of opinion that the explosion took place in Darlington’s working. He did not think there could be any doubt about it.
He feared there was gas in the far end of the workings for some time before the explosion, probably for twenty-four hours. It appeared that Darlington’s place had been lately cut through, and that would account for the sharpness of the explosion of perhaps not a large quantity of gas. He had no doubt that the explosion had taken place in Darlington’s working and was caused by the firing of a shot. Mr Wynne pointed out some defects in the ventilation of the pit, and expressed a hope that they would be remedied.
After very long deliberation, the jury found a verdict of “Accidental death”, caused by the explosion of an accumulation of gas in the north end of the workings, such accumulation being occasioned by the opening of a stopping, and the gas being fired by a shot in Darlington ’s place.
They were of the opinion that where lamps were used, gunpowder should be entirely prohibited, and that the use of lamps as a precaution was of no avail where the firing of shots was allowed. They were also of the opinion that the discipline of the pit had been very lax, and that in future no one but duly appointed firemen should be allowed to fire shots. The inquiry then terminated, having lasted from 10.30am to 5pm . .
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