Minnie Pit Explosion 1918
Research by John Lumsdon

The mining history team invite anyone who can make a written contribution to this tragic incident. to please do so before it is lost forever and not recorded.

The sinking of the Minnie Pit commenced three hundred yards from the North Staffordshire Railway Company Station at Halmerend in April 1883, to a depth of about 1,200 feet.
An explosion occurred in February 1898 without loss of life, although numbers of pit ponies were killed.
Then on a Sunday in 1915 when only twenty-seven men were at work, tragedy struck with an explosion killing nine men with others severely injured.

On Saturday January 12th, 1918 at 9.45 a.m. the Minnie Pit became the scene of Staffordshire’s worst mining disaster.
On that fateful Saturday, Mr. Smith, the Manager, in his office was informed that the haulage lads were at No.1 shaft bottom and wanted to come up the pit.
A sudden gust of wind against the normal air current and small pieces of coal, dirt and dust had been projected out bye.
They thought that something was wrong and were apprehensive and wanted to get out.
At the same time dust and smoke was issuing from the fan chimney of the up cast shaft.
This was being caused by the ventilation air current carrying the smoke and dust from the explosion point.
Disaster had struck with so much loss of lives; one hundred and fifty four men and boys that day and one rescue brigades-man two days later, whilst engaged in exploration work.

One hundred and forty four met their deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning, that’s a gas produced by the explosion, and eleven from the violence as well as carbon monoxide.
The cause of the deaths was an explosion of methane gas, propagated to the areas of the Bullhurst and Banbury seams by coal dust.
When an explosion takes place not connected with coal dust, there is a violent blast and flame, and this is confined to a certain area.
But, as was the case at the Minnie, the roof, sides and floor of the roadways were covered in coal dust.
So the blast preceded the flame, kicked up the dust and whilst suspended in the air, was ignited by the following flame.

Other parts of the mine that were wet or damp did not suffer the effects of the explosion, but where roads were dry and dusty the explosion traversed these areas.
The burning of coal dust uses up the oxygen in the atmosphere and incomplete combustion produces the deadly gas carbon monoxide, from which the vast majority of the miners died.

There was not sufficient evidence to show what caused the flame to ignite the methane gas in the first place, but the Inspector’s opinion was that it was either a defective safety lamp, or sparks produced by falling bull-dog stone in the goaf (the area where the coal has been extracted from.)

The enquiry and hearing of evidence was opened at Stoke Town Hall on December 3rd, 1919, nearly two years after the explosion.
The reasons for the delay were that ventilation doors had been blown down, air crossings destroyed and falls blocked the roadways; it was a gassy pit and liable to spontaneous combustion.
The mine owners did not wish to proceed with the exploration, they were of the opinion that it was dangerous to do so, and believed that there was a serious risk of a further explosion and loss of life.

The Miners’ Federation, and the North Staffordshire Miners’ Association, along with the Inspector of Mines, thought that it could be done safely and urged that the bodies remaining in the mine should be recovered and the cause of the explosion ascertained.

The owners eventually agreed to carry out the work.
By January 16th, 1918 the North Staffordshire Colliery Owner’s Association realised that the exploration of the workings devastated by the explosion was going to be a long and anxious matter and would need to be done by rescue brigades, wearing self-contained breathing apparatus.
A consultative committee was formed with the representatives of all interested parties, to plan the long and arduous recovery work.
The seam was opened up step by step until the last body was brought out on August 19th, 1919 about nineteen months after the explosion.

As with other accidents, lessons were learnt and further regulations were issued for the treatment of coal dust; the point was made that Government experts should look at ways of making coal dust inert.
Now a day’s systematic stone dusting is carried out, samples are taken and analysed to see that it is 75% stone dust, so as to prevent a coal dust explosion.

There are two cases of outstanding bravery recorded.
One was Frank Halfpenny who, when the explosion occurred, was five hundred yards from No. 1 shaft bottom.
He said there was a noise then a reversing of the air current, followed by dust and smoke.
He lay down till the air current resumed its natural course.
Then he travelled a distance of eight hundred yards surrounded in smoke to a telephone, to give a report to the surface of the state of affairs below ground.
On the way he lifted two unconscious lads from the gutter; one ultimately recovered.

The other case was James Machin, leader of the rescue brigade, for his work when Hugh Doorbar lost his life due to a combination of faults on two valves on his breathing apparatus whilst exploring in an irrespirable atmosphere.

The Miners’ Union met, expressing great regret at the sad disaster, and sincere sympathy with the widows and children and all sufferers in the lamentable explosion.
A fund was organized for the purpose of rendering weekly assistance to the widows, children and dependants of the miners who had been killed.
Each workman subscribed 10/- per head and boys 5/- at the rate of 6d and 3d per week respectively.
A committee composed of representatives of miners and public contributors administered this assistance fund.
Mr Sam Finney, the North Staffordshire Miners’ Secretary, also met the mayors of Newcastle and Stoke regarding the appeal for subscriptions to the fund.
The Manager of Stoke Hippodrome arranged collections from his patrons.
The North Staffordshire Choral Society held a concert, and Bycars’ munitions workers also gave assistance.

This money, of course, is very welcome in times of need, but all the money in the world can’t compensate for this tragedy with so much loss of life.