Minnie Pit 1915

Researched by John Lumsdon

An explosion having serious consequences occurred at five thirty on Sunday night 17th January 1915 at the Minnie pit in the village of Halmerend, with the loss of nine lives.
The pit belongs to the Midland Coal, Coke, and Iron Co. Ltd in North Staffordshire.
At the time of the accident, there were fortunately only 27 men at work in the pit.
All of them belonging to the engineer’s staff and they were engaged in repair work.
 The names of those killed are:

John White		age 49		Colliery engineer
Alfred Bostock	age 43		Assistant engineer
Frederick Cheadle	age 53		Rope man
James Nevitt		age 36 Picture of James Nevitt
Ralph Proctor		age 55
Joseph Bates		age 23
John Daniels		age 40		Pumpman
Frank Brindley	age 54		Assistant pump man
Arthur Shufflebottom	age 16
The explosion took place shortly after five o clock on Sunday night.
A party of 27 men, all belonging to the engineer’s staff, went down the Minni pit at two o clock in the afternoon, for the purpose of repairing the shaft of a haulage engine in the Seven Feet Bambury dip.
This engine also worked the Bullhurst district, in which the explosion is believed to have originated.
The shaft of the engine broke on Wednesday and since then; the men engaged in the Bullhurst district have, as a consequence, being absent from work.

The party was divided into two groups, one under Mr. John White, the colliery engineer, who were working at the engine: and the other under the direction of Mr. Thomas Smith, the foreman, who were rope splicing in the dip.
All appears to have gone well until about five thirty in the evening, when an explosion took place with the fatal results as stated.

When those on the bank learnt of the explosion, messengers were speedily dispatched to colliery officials, who were quickly on the scene.
Rescue parties were at once organised and there was no lack of volunteers.
Mr. W. Barker, colliery manager, descended accompanied by Joseph Smith,
C.H. Weaver, under manager and Ralph Lawton from the Burley pit.
This party succeeded in penetrating the affected workings, close on 2,000 yards from the shaft bottom, without self-contained breathing apparatus.
But the company’s rescue brigades with breathing apparatus, from Apedale and Podmore Hall collieries were speedily organised and they joined in the rescue operations, which were carried out with all speed.

As the injured men were brought out, they were taken to their homes in motorcars and ambulances. The bodies of the dead, the last whom were brought up at six o clock on Monday morning, were also taken to their respective homes.

The news of the disaster had spread throughout the district, and the service at Halmerend Wesleyan Church was stopped, the congregation hurrying to the scene of the disaster to render assistance or make inquiries for relatives.
Relatives of the men who were known to be in the working party in the pit, kept a sorrowful vigil and there were some sorrowful scenes as the dead and injured were brought to the surface.

Ernest Hankey, who was suffering from shock, said he was working in the dip.
They had nearly put in one spicing and were proceeding with other work, when, what he described as a gust of wind took us off our feet and blew out our lamps.
We did not know anything else, except someone called out for us to keep on the floor in order to avoid the poisonous gases; we could hardly breath for sulphur.
Afterwards we got an electric lamp and we all crawled to the top or the dip.
He said it was an awful experience I shall never forget as long as I live.

It is always difficult in accidents of this kind to glean from those who have escaped what actually took place.
The appearance, point to an explosion of some violence, though the survivors who have been questioned on the matter say they did not remember any report, but liken the occurrence to a sudden rush of wind.
There must have been a severe concussing however, is obvious from the fact that three of the bodies recovered were terribly mutilated.
So far as the enquiries have gone at this time, most of the men comprising the party were able to make their escape to the shaft bottom (which is a mile away) and safety.
There was some heroic conduct by the colliery employees before the Mines Rescue Brigades arrived, particularly Ernest Jones, foreman, and Isaac Button the fireman, these men were engaged in their ordinary work at the shaft bottom and they were the first to hear of the occurrence.

On the arrival of the Mines Rescue Brigades, attention of course was directed to the nine bodies, which were immediately brought to the surface in the early hours of the morning.
Then the brigades turned to investigating the cause of the explosion, as far as it was practicable to explore in a hasty sort of way.
No indication was found of a fire, and the origin of the occurrence remains shrouded in mystery.
There appears to have been no particular indication of after damp, such as would have been expected after an explosion of this kind, and the manner in which the majority of the repairing party escaped proves that atmospheric conditions could not have been as bad as is usually the case after an explosion.
Indeed, in this connection, it is significant that one member of the party, named Edward Hunt made his escape by the return air-way without suffering any ill effects but those of shock.
Had the explosion occurred later 50 datallers would have been involved, but on an ordinary week on night shift 200 men would have been in the pit.

At the Greasly Arms on Wednesday 20th January Mr. H.W. Adams, Coroner opened the inquest on the victims.
The arrangements were to take only formal evidence of identification.
All the various representatives were present and a brief description of what had happened was given.
The jury then went round to view the bodies, then evidence of identification was taken as relatives and friends made their rounds.
The inquest was then adjourned.

The inquest resumed Thursday 28 January at the Primitive Methodist School, Halmerend.
The Coroner recalled what had happened on 17th January.
Dr. Thomas gave medical testimony as to the injuries and cause of death of the deceased.,P. William Barber, colliery agent, for the company produced plans showing the scene of the accident.
Four men were killed in the engine house, three just outside and two at the bottom of the upcast shaft who were attending the pumping engine.
Questions were asked if the seam gave off gas fairly freely, the answer was yes, the lower Bullhurst is well known to be a gassy seam.

There were many more questions including gob fires and answers.
Then the jury considered for a while and returned a verdict, agreeing with the medical evidence as to the cause of death to the men, but adding that there was no evidence to show what caused the explosion.

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