White Barn Colliery 1874

Researched By John Lumsdon

On 8th April 1874 an explosion of gas occurred at the White Barn colliery, near Silverdale, North Staffordshire, by which one man was killed and six were seriously injured. The colliery had been standing for a while and the work for the week had just been commenced..

About six o'clock, a quantity of gas, which, had accumulated in the mine exploded, with terrific force.

Colliery managers from nearby pits hurried to the scene of the accident to render assistance, and measures were adopted with all possible speed to re-adjust the disarranged ventilation of the mine, and to rescue the men who where at work in it..

For some time, however, no idea could be formed of the character, or extent of the catastrophe. In a short time five colliers were brought up, badly burned and bruised, after which some hours elapsed before the mine could be fully explored. .

About eleven o' clock the body of a collier, who had been killed, by the force of the explosion, was recovered, and subsequently another man, affected to a considerable extent by the afterdamp, was brought up. .

The workings of the mine were much damaged, masses of roof having been dislodged by the force of the explosion. The cause of the explosion was not known at the time, but the inquest, touching on the death of the deceased man, (who leaves a wife and family), will throw some light on this sad affair. The inquiry touching the death of George Harrop who was killed by an explosion, and Henry Edwards, who has since died from the injuries he received, was held at Newcastle, Staffs, before Mr. J. Knight, coroner. .

It appeared from the evidence of Thomas Edwards, brother of one of the deceased. He said when the men got down the pit, which had been standing five days; they had a consultation as to whether they should begin work under the terms of altered wages, as proposed. They resolved not to work, and started up the workings to fetch their tools. They had naked candles. .

The explosion occurred directly after, and they were blown down and struck about the head and neck with the flying pieces of stone. Harop was shortly got out dead with the rest of the injured. .

The men said there was a presence of gas in the pit, but never in great quantities. It was customary for James Stanyer, one of the butties, to examine the pit before the men descended to work..

William Buckley, engineman, said that on the morning of the explosion he lowered Stanyer about five o'clock. He was the first to descend. William Pepper, collier, said that when descended with Stanyer the latter left him and went along the pit workings. .

Mr. James Steel, mining engineer, from an adjoining colliery, said he went down the White Barn colliery soon after the explosion, and assisted in rescuing the men. The shaft was in bad order, so that water could not be drawn sufficiently out of the sump. Thus the water “roofed,” preventing the passage of air, and causing the accumulation of gas. The shaft was not safe at the present time. .

James Stanyer, butty, who had charge of the pit on the morning of the explosion said he examined the pit on going down at five o'clock and saw no gas. He never heard of any stoppage of air in consequence of the bad state of the downcast shaft. .

Mr. Wynne, H.M. Inspector of Mines, said that on the 9th April he went down the pit to where the place of the explosion occurred. He found it had been a rather sharp one, though the effects were not very severe. There must have been a large accumulation of gas. He made enquiries as to the probable cause of the explosion and he had not the slightest doubt it was, as had been described, caused by a stoppage of air on the east side of the pit. He must say there had been great neglect on the part of Mr. Blakie, or his manager, that the sump should have been allowed to foul to the extent of seven feet out of nine feet. .

That being the case it was not a matter of surprise that the side of the pit fell in. There were no guides, or anything to keep the ringe in the proper place, and he had no doubt that many times when the ringe went up it would bump with terrible effects upon the pit sides. He considered that there was no excuse for not cleaning the sump out..

(I think the ringe means the cage.) There were no guides to keep the cage central, it would swing, hit the shaft sides and dislodge material, filling the sump up..

As to the immediate cause of the explosion, it was from the stoppage of the lower level, by which the air was conveyed to that side of the workings. Taking the evidence of Mr. Lucas, that must clearly have been so..

Notwithstanding the evidence upon oath of Mr. Stanyer, that he examined the place where the explosion took place on the morning of its occurrence, he did not think he examined it. He did not think it was possible he could have done so, for there was no sign of gas suddenly escaping from new cutting, or anything of that sort to cause the explosion..

If the place were free from gas and safe at 5.30 it would have been safe at 10.30 if nothing had been done in it. He was bound to say there had been neglect on the part of the Charter Master. Mr. Wynne said that he believed when Stanyer went with his lamp he was higher up the pit, and not at all into the place where the explosion took place. .

The coroner summed up, the jury considered James Stanyer liable to censure for not seeing that the sump was properly cleaned out and for not having properly examined the workings on the morning of the explosion..

The news of one more colliery explosion proves the precarious character of the miners’ calling. Just as all the world seems intent upon beating the miner down in the price that he asks for his labour, the dreadful voice of death tells the whole country that not only dose the miner work underground in an atmosphere injurious to health, amid dangers from falling roofs, that so often maim and kill, but scores and hundreds of men may lose their lives in the twinkling of an eye through the flash of the death-giving fiery gas..

We have always contended that the great danger of the work ought to be considered in the remuneration given. We refer to this point now, because there are many people who will pity the widows and orphans left through the explosion, who would grudge the miner receiving some remuneration on account of the risks he runs in order that he might be better able to provide something for the support of a bereaved family in case such an accident happened. .

Scarcely a conference of miners assembles that is not darkened by intelligence of an accident which forcibly proves to all intelligent miners how absolutely requisite combination is in their case, if only to promote the better and safer working of mines..

Mr. Halliday well observed that an ignorance of the nature of gases and inexperience in mining frequently led to the loss of life and property, and that practical miners could not be blamed if they refused to risk their lives in mines where such men were allowed to work. .

We also heartily agree with his remarks that no fireman ought to receive an appointment without having passed some examination as to knowledge of gases, and the principles of ventilation. But no amount of knowledge will compensate for the gross carelessness, which is sometimes displayed by colliery officials. .

One explosion, at the White Barn colliery was altogether the result of negligence, for though the jury returned the anomalous verdict of “Accidental Death,” yet the strong censure passed upon the man who had charge of the pit, through his not having had the workings properly examined on the morning of the explosion, shows, that the occurrence might have been prevented if proper precautions had been taken..

But the miners must be determined first to claim by united voice and action this public support or it will be very tardily given. It is fortunate that the miners have now two able spokesmen in the House to call public attention to these important questions of life and death. The accident also enforces another lesson, viz; that no body of miners ought to be without a widow, orphans, and accident fund and that those who depend on them may not have to trust to public charity. .

On every ton of coal sent to bank there ought to be paid a small sum to form a national fund to be applied to relieving and maintaining the afflicted wives and children of the slaughtered colliers, and to those who would object to this on account of the cost, we say:.

Then to sum up the whole,
Paid as the price of coal,
Add to the gloomy roll,
What the life lost is;
Think that each miner’s fate
Leaves a home desolate,
Then you may estimate,
How much the cost is.