MOSSFIELD COLLIERY EXPLOSION 1889
Part One

Centenary Talk Addeley Green Workingman's Club
By John Lumsdon

This is the story of the Mossfield Colliery explosion that occurred 100 years ago. Centenaries prompt us to look back in time and this talk will reveal the tragic circumstances appertaining in the latter part of the 19th century to this area of Adderley Green and I felt that it should be recorded in some way, especially for the later generations in not forgetting the past history of mining.

I would like to start with a short introduction, say a little on the ventilation of the colliery, something on atmospheric pressure, ventilation regulations and gob fires, as they are all relevant to this disaster. I will not be too technical and I hope to put it in terms that non-miners can understand. Then I shall go on to some of the rescue operations, the effects of coal dust in explosions, the state of the roadways in the pit at the time, then the jurors and coroner's verdict. I shall say a little on the relationships between the management and subordinates and on the Burials and Relief Fund.

I am sure you will all appreciate that the coal industry has always been a potentially hazardous occupation and between the years of 1850 and 1900, 6,754 miners died in 135 explosions and on October 16th 1889, 64 miners at Mossfield Colliery became part of these statistics. But one must remember that each one of those who died in this tragic incident was a major disaster in itself to some one, - wife, mother, brother or sister, - and these miners, along with thousands of others died producing the coal on which the prosperity of this country was built, so it is a very precious heritage. The safety regulations that came about were through the spilt blood and broken bones of these miners of the past and with the possibility of the pits being privates they may be driven into being more cost effective than the provision of needs and safety and this would indeed be a sad direction to go.

Now what was happening in this period of time? Well, it was in 1889 that the manual unions were coming to the fore. These were following the guild and craft unions and were led by the likes of Tom Mann and John Burns and it was the year of the great dock strike when Ben Tillett successfully gained a minimum rate of 6d an hour and locally the Duke of Sutherland gave land as a site for the Longton Cottage Hospital in Belgrave Road. Prior to this Longton Cottage Hospital was in Lawley Street in Mount Pleasant and John Aynsley, who was Lord Mayor of Longton at the time, laid the memorial stone. The hospital was to provide 38 beds at a total cost including all the beds, fittings and operating theatre, of 6,000.

And in this period the demand for steel seemed limitless. The main center of British shipbuilding, on the Clyde, took up steel and in 1879 10% of the total tonnage launched was steel and in 1889 it was 97%, so cheap steel had struck the final blow to the old sailing ships.
On land, steel rails were proving to be more economical than iron and in locomotive works, engineering shops and constructural engineering works of all kinds steel was taken up very quickly. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 symbolizing this new age and the Forth Bridge was also built in that period and was first used in 1890. A massive steel structure of 55,000 tons and of course coal was used to produce the steel.
Here in the Potteries it took ten tons of coal to fire one ton of clay and on the coal export front a report in the Colliery Guardian in October 1889 stated that in the first nine months of 1887 exports stood at 23~ million tons and in the same period in 1888 it was 24~- million tons and in 1889 27~ million tons and if this trend it said, was to continue in the last quarter exports would reach 36~ million tons. Our largest foreign customers were France, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Norway, and Russia was taking nearly 2 million tons. That is about our total exports to the whole world today.

The Bambury and Cockshead seams at the Mossfield Colliery were contributing to these industrial demands. The Mossfield Colliery, or the Old-Sal as it was locally known, belonged to Messrs Hawley and Bridgwood Ltd whose postal address was Warfe Street in Longton. Mr J G Brakewell was Managing Director of the company and Mr James Potts was Manager of the pit. Potts was also Manager for two other pits belonging to the same owners, which were being reopened, and one of them I believe was Bentilee Colliery.

The colliery was situated in Adderley Green near Longton in the parish of Caverswall and it was worked by means of two shafts 15 yards apart each 10' 6" in diameter. The shafts were 440 yards deep to the hooking on places near the bottom. The Bowling Alley and Holly Lane seams had been worked but at the time of the explosion the Hardmine that was 250 yards deep, the Bambury 360 yards, and the Cockshead 414, were being worked at the time. These coal seams were inclined with a dip of about 1:3. The workings in the Hardmine were not connected with those in the Bambury and Cockshead except by the shafts and the Hardmine workings were not affected by the explosion.
Now the ventilation of the colliery was produced by a Waddell fan 30 feet in diameter, placed near the top of the upcast shaft and running at 50 revolutions per minute, and in the air measurement book on 2nd October 1889 it recorded 39,600 cubic feet per minute of air in the Bambury and Cockshead intake airway. The ventilation of the colliery was interfered with by the movement of the cages which occupied one third of the area of each shaft and during every alternate journey the cages moved rapidly against the air current in both shafts at the same time.

Sometimes water needed to be drawn up from the sump by the cages and water was drawn from the downcast shaft. The cage was lowered into the sump with a receptacle in it and the other cage in the upcast shaft of course rose above ground level and opened a door and the ventilation was almost suspended for a short time, so it is not a very satisfactory state of affairs regarding ventilation even if everything else was in order.

Atmospheric pressure plays an important factor in determining the level of ventilation in any mine where gas is prevalent. A reduction in the pressure could result in the abnormal emission of gas from the coal seams and workings where it would normally be held back by the pressure of air and this could be counteracted by increasing the fan speed to produce a greater current and increase ventilation to dilute and diffuse the gas. For this reason, a thermometer and barometer are required to be sited above ground near the entrance of the mine and a hydrometer for moisture reading underground in both the main intake and return areas. All these instruments are to be read daily and recorded in a book that is provided and these sensible requirements were designed to ensure that adequate ventilation was provided throughout the workings and that it was duly recorded. At the time of the inquiry the Inspector of Mines was unable to obtain any authentic observations of the metrological condition existing at the time of the explosion. Either it had not been read or it was not entered in the book.

He was furnished with a barometer chart that had been recorded 30 miles away and it showed that a drop in pressure had commenced about 16 hours before the explosion took place. The decrease in pressure was accompanied by an increase in temperature and these are conditions unfavorable to the ventilation of mines and would have an adverse effect on the influence of the purity of the atmosphere in the workings.

Now the Coal Mines Act 1887, General Regulation 49, Rule 1, under the heading of Ventilation of Mines states "An adequate amount of ventilation shall be constantly produced in every mine to dilute and render harmless noxious gases to such an extent that the working places of the shafts, levels, stables and workings of the mine and traveling roads shall be in a fit state for working and passing therein". That is a short precise piece of legislation and it makes the Act clear and specific and we should bear that in mind for later.

Regarding gob fires, - the Cockshead seam is subject to gob fires. The gob, by the way, is an area that has been left void after the coal has been extracted and fires are caused by spontaneous combustion, that is, a build up of heat. Considerable portions of the workings had been sealed off at different times on account of gob fires breaking out. The reason they are sealed off is to prevent air getting into the fire, as there will be no fire without oxygen.

Signs that a gob fire was going to break out had been observed a short time before the explosion and had formed an important feature in the inquiry and may have been the cause of the explosion so I will give you some particulars of these fires. The first one was stopped off in January 1887. It had been observed that the gob was heating up for a while before that and it was in January, owing to a strike of the colliers, the place had not been examined for a few days and on the morning of 21st January the fireman found steam and smoke issuing from it.
Efforts were made to isolate the fire by means of stopping but before this could be done conditions became so dangerous that Mr. Potts the Manager, and expert advisers including Mr. N Atkinson (H M Inspector of Mines) decided to abandon the attempt and the men were withdrawn at 11.30 p.m. on 21st January. It was a pity that the same had not been done in 1889 or we would not be discussing the matter today. After the men had been withdrawn the downcast shaft was sealed off to prevent air circulating the mine. It took two months and the loss of 16,000 tons of coal before work was resumed again. This loss in production may have had a bearing on what happened in 1889 because there appeared to be a reluctance to lose production. Gob heatings numbers 2 and 3 were stopped off in June and July and in the case of gob fire number 4 it began to heat up in about the middle of June 1889.

The men were suffering sickness, vomiting, and severe headaches in that part of the mine, and these are signs and symptoms of a gob fire besides the gob stink and William Fletcher, the Under Manager, warned Mr. Potts of this great danger but nothing was done about it. On 25th August it was giving out steam and heat and stoppings were then put on at a place marked on the colliery plan as F.

But no amount of sealing off, isolating and bricking up were of any use whilst the mine was badly ventilated. Roof falls had been allowed to remain un-repaired which affected the air circulation and far too much brattice cloth had been used to turn the air to new faces. The continuous movement of the haulage to and fro had frayed the brattice cloth and almost rendered it useless. Consequently the airflow was erratic and fostered an increase of firedamp.
On 12th September the men were alarmed by an explosion in drift number 24. No-one was injured, just the report of an explosion and in a short space of time another shock was felt so William Fletcher notified the manager and it was decided to put on fresh stoppings and these were put in a different location, marked H on the plan. Whilst these stoppings were in the course of erection altogether eight or nine such explosions took place. Again no one was injured and these explosions were probably due to the access of air to the gob fire owing to the crushing of the extremely thin pillars of coal separating these two workings.

The Mines Inspector, Mr. Atkinson, in his report states that "It was very imprudent to rely on such a fragile barrier in the case of a gob fire". These stoppings that had been put on at H had the effect of cutting off the ventilation in drift number 2 and consequently it filled with gas. A new roadway had been driven to renew the ventilation there but was incomplete and that drift remained full of gas at the time of the explosion. Signs of gob fire number 5 were first noted by the men working in number 5 drift on 14th October 1889, two days before the explosion. There was the characteristic smell and the men complained and Arthur Fletcher, the nightshift fireman, reported this to his father William, the Under Manager, the next morning.

William Fletcher went to the place about 8.00 a.m. on 15th, and he satisfied himself that there was gobstink and he listened to the complaints of the men. He then went to the surface and informed Mr. Potts the Manager that a gob fire was breaking out in number 5 drift. The plans of the workings were laid out on the colliery desk and Mr. Potts said that the next day he would put stoppings in place where he marked on the plan and these places were selected as being the points nearest to the gob fire where it would be possible to erect air tight stoppings. But the Manager did not go down the pit despite the fact that the Coal Mines Act 1886 states quite clearly in Rule 24 that a Manager must go down into the pit and see for himself and not rely on hearsay. Arthur Fletcher the nightshift deputy, aged 26, was more vehement than his father and he maintained that all the men should be withdrawn from the pit immediately.
He said, "We are sitting on a time bomb with a dangerously short fuse", and over his father's head he demanded an interview with Mr. Potts. The manager replied that because of a previous engagement he would not be home until midnight. "Then I'll be waiting for you when you come home at midnight" replied Arthur. Potts, realising that he was up against a determined young man and despite the fact that he had this engagement, he went to the pit top at 9.00 p.m. as Arthur was about to enter the cage, but as Arthur was in charge of both the Bambury and Cockshead workings he had to be in the pit before the nightshift came on at 9.30 p.m. to examine the districts to see that they were fit for the men to go to work in, so there was no time to discuss at length the grim situation and they agreed to meet at midnight.

After making his rounds underground Fletcher advised the men to keep clear of the danger spot until he returned from his meeting with the manager whose residence was only a few minutes walk from the pit top.
Now whatever passed between these two officials we shall never know. We have only Mr. Potts' version, which incidentally the inquiry found contradictory and unsatisfactory. Arthur Fletcher's account died with him a few hours later. Though it was common knowledge that he wanted all the men withdrawn from the pit.

This had been done in August 1888 until the situation was rectified and moreover Fletcher resented the manager's refusal to go into the pit, into the Cockshead to make a personal inspection of the danger zone as the Coal Mines Act 1887 demanded. After the meeting with the manager, Fletcher hurried back into the pit as he was the only official on duty that night because of the absence of the Bambury fireman and he was therefore obliged to examine both the Bambury district and the Cockshead before the day shift came on at 7.00 a.m., and he had to make this pre-shift examination. Moreover, he had the critical operation in connection with the gob fire, which was very demanding for a young man, especially when the lives of more than 100 miners depended upon the mood of this wretched gob fire. All that is needed for an explosion is between 5% and 15% of methane in air and a source of ignition and here we had all the ingredients for an explosion.

When Fletcher, after he had seen the manager went down the pit and got out of the cage at the pit bottom his brother-in-law, William Bracegirdle who was the hooker, asked, "How did you get on with Potts, Arthur?" "No-how." was his sharp reply, "All he thinks about is coal production." These were significant words especially as one knows nothing of his conversation with the manager. News of the midnight meeting with the manager had already circulated underground and naturally the men were anxious to glean some information on what had transpired.

It was now 2.00 a.m. Wednesday October 16th 1889 and work was in full swing from the surface to the coal faces. On the surface it was cold, damp and misty, the air blending with the odors drifting from the colliery. The village of Adderley Green was fast asleep. The clock chimed ~ hour, it was now 3.45 a.m. and all was well. Five minutes later the colliery erupted with a loud boom, the most dreaded of all sounds in any mining village. The explosive blast shook every house in Adderley Green and the boom, accompanied by the blaring of the colliery hooter was heard far and wide.
Shocked and dazed villagers roused from their sleep scrambled out of bed, grabbed whatever warm clothing was available and poured out into the street.
"The Old-Sal's gone up" was the awful cry that was going round the village and from all directions people came running towards the colliery, anxiety on every face. Smoke, soot and dust were now spiraling upwards from the upcast shaft to form a black acrid canopy over the stricken pit. The manager was quickly on the scene but there was little he could do immediately until other officials arrived. But he had to contact the owners, local collieries, hospitals and police, but contact with the survivors, if any, must be achieved at all costs.
Fortunately, the downcast shaft was not severely damaged so the Hardmine men could be drawn up immediately as their section of the colliery was independent of the Bambury and Cockshead. The speedy arrival of other officials enabled Potts to organise rescue brigades. The Hardmine men were now up on the surface safe and sound and they volunteered to go back into the pit to look for survivors. With the help of George Nixon the Surface Overman, Potts chose twenty volunteers to accompany him on his dangerous mission below ground.

They found the pit bottom coated with black oily dust, a relic of the explosion, which made their eyes, smart, clogged their nostrils and made their throats feel very dry. Huddled in a manhole they found a haulage hand by the name of George Timmis. He was frightened but uninjured. Nearby lay William Bracegirdle the hooker, Arthur Fletcher's brother-in-law, who had been blown across the pit bottom by the blast. Meanwhile the explorers found that the separation doors between the two shafts were smashed, roof supports leading to the Bambury crut were down, tubs of stone were jammed into the roof, regulating doors in the Bambury return area were blown inwards and near the end of the Bambury horse level, a winch which was used for hauling tubs out had been blown away like an autumn leaf and was lying nearby and broken. A great force would have been required to move this winch but it would also have been spragged down. More ventilation doors and regulators were destroyed and it was evident that all these must be repaired to force the air current to follow according to plan.

Rescue operations would otherwise be impossible; neither would there be any survivors in the workings, as they would be suffocated. At the entrance to the Cockshead seam an air crossing had been severely damaged but the explorers had neither the time nor the equipment to do much repair work. They had ventured in the mine as far as they dared go, some of them described it as hot as hell and reeking with chokedamp (gas), so it was wiser to gather up the actual survivors (and there were 12 in number) in this section and these were the lucky ones.

Jess Smith had been severely burnt, he was 25 yards from the shaft bottom along with his pit pony but he fully recovered later in Longton hospital. On the way out the weary men sat down to rest and empty their water bottles down their burning throats and Mr Potts sat slightly apart from the rest of the men his head cupped between his hands. It was evident that the shock of losing his pit with so many precious lives weighed him down very heavily. He raised his head and said "Six years ago I was appointed manager of this colliery and I was the envy of every manager in the city, I wonder if they would envy me today?"

On reaching the pit bottom they were greeted by a team that had been exploring the Bambury seam and they managed to bring out one survivor, that was George Hewitt of Sandford Hill. His mates as Zulu knew him. Hewitt and his mates had been erecting a new ventilation door between the two air currents when the explosive blast blew this heavy door on top of him, a fact that saved his life but which killed his companions. So, gassed, shocked and badly bruised, Hewitt after a while managed to wriggle free and in the darkness crawled towards the pit bottom. Fortunately the rescuers heard his cries for help and rushed to his assistance. As the explorers staggered wearily out of the cage a number of fathers and mothers broke the cordon at the pit top and rushed towards them but a sad shake of Potts' head told them that there was little hope.

After that other teams went in and bodies began to be brought out and in the adjacent lamp cabin, which was now being used as a mortuary, bodies were laid side by side on fresh straw waiting to be identified and claimed by the relatives. Day wore on into night but the crowd still remained and miners from other collieries were now standing by. Newspapermen were out also in force to glean all the information they could and a religious service was then held near the mouth of the shaft. Mothers, Fathers, wives, friends, neighbours, spectators and sightseers all stood bareheaded, silent, tearful while the clergyman slowly and solemnly recited the appropriate prayers and bible readings. It was a very moving sight to say the least.

One reporter declared that never in his life had he seen such a poignant scene.
By 10.30 p.m., Mr. Potts the colliery manager had chosen fresh team leaders and they on their part had picked young tough reliable experienced miners. In addition, the teams were backed up by Mr. N Atkinson, H M Inspector of Mines, Mr. Richardson the manager of nearby Adderley Green colliery and Mr. R Holmes, manager of Parkhall colliery.
Before descending the shaft the explorers were briefed, split into teams and fortified with a hot meal then they lined up in front of the waiting cage. Though brave and looking calm and serene as they entered the cage to the good wishes of the spectators, each one of the explorers was under no illusion, death was a probability but many more men and boys were still below ground although hope for the survivors was now being dimmed. To bring them up alive out of that foul smelling inferno would require a miracle but miners and their families have always demanded that the bodies of their kith and kin be brought out of the pit whenever possible.
The funerals gave the victims their rightful due and helped to resolve the shock of the bereaved. All night long the rescue teams worked desperately to find the victims but progress was painfully slow in that unwholesome atmosphere.
The task of propping up the roof and clearing a passage through piles of debris was backbreaking work. Sealing off affected areas where gob fires were suspected and repairing damaged separation doors with brattice cloth all delayed the rescuers, the magnitude of the explosion was inconceivable.
Normally an explosive force bursts in all directions of the compass, blows a hole in the floor, shoots to the sky, left right and center.

But underground it goes for the least line of resistance and cuts a swarth of devastation along the drifts and roadways, like a bullet out of a rifle barrel. A blast had blown up the Cockshead main drift and into the Bambury workings leaving death and destruction in its wake. Large sections of the roadways had collapsed, chocks, packs, ventilation doors and brick stoppings were all holed allowing the air to escape into the gobs and take a short cut back to the surface leaving other parts of the mine without air. And massive cracking of the roof support had brought the roof crashing down in clouds of dust. Worst of all was the fate of those employed along the levels whose work took them directly along the path of the blast.

The scenes were dreadful. Men, boys and horses had been blown aside like puppets and lay strewn around. The body of George Salt who was head horse keeper, 42 years of age was found badly burned and further on four more bodies had to be eased from under their pit ponies, and the blood and pit dirt wiped from their faces. They were pony drivers, George Steele 14 years of age, Sam Sherwin 13 years of age, James Bailey 18 years of age, and John Williams, 16. They were laid on stretchers with clean sacks covering their faces. An ex-soldier in the rescue team said it was like a battlefield.

The team came across an air crossing near the top of the Cockshead main dip and found that the separation door had been severely holed by the blast and therefore the downcast clean air had been drawn back to the surface, along with the return air current to the upcast shaft. This is what is known as a short circuit of the ventilation so the doors had to be patched up temporarily with brattice cloth to force the current to flow normally and this enabled the rescuers to venture further in by where they came across the mutilated body of George Bradshaw, 18 years of age.

He could only be identified by his lamp number. The same applied in number 2 main gate which was severely damaged and where the body of Charles Sherwin, 21 years of age, was found. His brother was already lying in the lamp cabin. He also had another brother who was to be recovered later in the Bambury seam. Elsewhere there was the body of William Lawton 18 years of age then Albert Edwards 20, George Edwards 42, and Josiah Edwards 57. These three, father, son and uncle had died together. Other sections of the Cockshead had a similar sad story to tell, as more bodies were recovered, all dead in the prime of life. The bodies of Arthur Fletcher the fireman and four of his comrades were never recovered and their remains lie there to this very day and will never be recovered.

Meanwhile on the surface wives, parents, relatives and friends went into the lamp cabin cum mortuary to identify the bodies. Young wives and mothers-to-be, tears streaming down their cheeks, were helped by the older more mature women and in a shed nearby articles of clothing such as clogs, scarves and caps and other items such as watches, knives and other personal effects were on display with the pathetic appeal ''Please identify and add a name''. ''That's my brother's knife" murmured one lad whose initials were on the knife, "This cap belongs to my husband" sobbed the wife who had 6 young children. "These clogs are my Fred's" said another, and the personal effects belonging to brothers George and John, 14 and 16 year olds, were identified by their parents Mr. and Mrs. Steele.

The scene in that shed was very sad and depressing and the same could be said at the pithead where spectators standing near the shaft strained to catch a glimpse of the cage at the surface hoping that some one would be brought out alive.

But one could tell by the size of the bloodstained blanketed stretcher that the figure whose face was covered was little more than a boy. But what of the others? Well, by this time the gallant rescue team had come to the end of their tether and they were obliged to withdraw. Conditions were such that gas was seeping out of the old drifts. Number 2 drift was still full of gas and in number 5 drift the gas was down to 25 yards of the upper level. The return roadway of drift number 3 had been hit by the blast and was impassible and even the new road nearby that had just been made was seriously obstructed by falls, with the roof weighted on, and more falls were expected.

The exploration extended over three months and was carried out under conditions of great danger and the last body to be retrieved from the Cockshead was that of Isaac Derricott aged 60. He was so badly mutilated and burnt that he had to be placed in a sack. Though he was the father of a large family at least they were old enough to fend for themselves. But poor Arthur Fletcher who had tried so hard to save the lives of those in his charge, only 26, an up and coming official, was denied the dignity of a decent burial along with four others aged from 19 to 27.
They were George Wilson, Spencer Whitehurst, Joe Bull and William Bull and the inquiry states very coldly "Five bodies still remain in the seam as it was considered imprudent to reopen that portion of the mine in which they probably lie."

There were 77 persons in the Bambury and Cockshead seams at the time of the explosion of which 64 were killed along with 16 pit ponies, leaving 13 survivors. The explosion had taken its toll on husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, leaving widows, and fatherless children. The effects of the explosion in the Bambury seam and the consequent deaths there of 37 persons were caused by coal dust.

In an underground explosion the blast preceding the flame kicks up the dust from the roof, floor and sides and while it is suspended in the air it is ignited by the following flame and this carries on as long as there is dust to supply it. Burning of the coal dust uses up the oxygen in the atmosphere and the incomplete combustion produces a deadly carbon monoxide from which the 37 miners died.

A miner trapped deep in the earth having escaped the violence of the blast must suffer torment. As a survivor of the Minnie Pit explosion in 1918 where 155 men and boys were killed, a chap called Wilson Taylor of Halmerend said, "You know you are dying as positively as you can feel the lifeblood seeping through the darkness. You try to call out for help but the chokedamp burns your gullet. Somewhere on the surface your mother or your wife is sobbing for you and refuses to be comforted. You also weep, desperate in the belief that you will never see them or daylight again." Now at the last moment Taylor was rescued by a chap called Tom Brockley, also of Halmerend, and Taylor's weeping mother was standing at the pit top when her unconscious son was brought up. He remained unconscious for four days but did eventually recover.

Now the Bambury men must have experienced a similar pain and torment. In his report on the colliery disaster Mr. Atkinson, H M Inspector of Mines stated "I attribute the extension of the explosion into the Bambury seam and the consequent death of the 37 persons there entirely to coal dust"

Now explosions are traditionally regarded as the most serious hazard faced by miners and traditionally firedamp is blamed, but in fact, with rare exceptions, violent explosions have been caused by the combination with coal dust. So I think we should look at some of the historical facts on coal dust explosions and see if there were any lessons for learning because after all explosions, disasters, people say this should have been done and that should have been done and the answer always is well, it's alright looking back in hindsight. But let us just look back to see if there are any lessons to be learned.

At the beginning of the 19th century, coal dust was slowly being realised and there was reference to the explodablity of coal dust in several reports including that of the celebrated North of England viewer by the name of Buddle on the Wallsend explosion of 1803 and that of the Reverend John Hodgson describing the Felling explosion of 1812 where 92 men and boys were killed, the boys being 7 and 8 years of age. And more emphatic and detailed is the description of Lyall and Farriday on the Haskell explosions of 1844. These were scientists of their day and they stated, "In considering the extent of the fire at the moment of the explosion it is not be to supposed that firedamp was the only fuel,- the coal dust, swept by the rush of flame and wind from the roof, floor and walls of the workings would instantly take fire and burn if there was enough oxygen in the air present to support its combustion". Dickinson, in his report of the Ince colliery explosion of 1854 stated, "As the workings were very dry they would be aggravated by coal dust raised by the blast". Another interesting reference was made by two colliery managers at the inquest following the Winstay explosion of 1873 when they said in their evidence that coal dust would be ignited by firing a shot, and incidentally investigations were also going on in Europe with the same conclusions. In 1875 Galway commenced experimental work on the explosability of coal dust. First he demonstrated that mixtures of firedamp and air containing less than 1% of firedamp became inflammable when charged with fine coal dust.

Continued in Part two

The author wishes to thank Tom Byrne for permission to draw upon his writings on the Mossfield disaster.
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