On Saturday afternoon at the Swan Inn, Madeley, Mr. J. Booth, coroner, opened an inquest on the bodies of the 4 men killed at the Leycett colliery on the previous Thursday. Mr. T. Wynne, government inspector of mines, and Mr. Cross, the manager of the colliery were present at the enquiry.
Wm. Leather, underlooker at the Independent (No 1 pit) in which the explosion occurred, was the first witness. He said he went down the pit about five minutes past six o’clock. When he got there he met Thomas Bagnall, the fireman and asked him if all the places were free from gas. Bagnall said they were. He then went to the cabin at the bottom of the pit. All at once there was much smoke and the lights were blown out. He went up to the pit bank but returned in the next cage. He went along the south side of the workings and met John Crooks and asked him whatever has been done. Crooks who was badly burnt and appeared as if he were senseless said, “I fired a shot and it was the shot that did it.” Mr. Leather asked him if there was any gas in the mine, and he said he did not know what it was.
The witness then found George Longmore in the No. 7 south level about 20 yards from the main dip. He lay with his face in some water, quite dead. He then found George Bowers on the north side No. 2 level in the dip. He was not burnt, but quite dead. They were removed out of the pit and taken home.
Mr. Leather went through the workings on Wednesday afternoon to see how the men were going on, he saw good ventilation and examined the pit for gas and found none.
On being questioned by Mr. Wynne, John Ellis said he went to work at two o’ clock on Wednesday afternoon and stayed till ten. One or two new pipes had been put in since the explosion but he could not say how many. The explosion had crushed several pipes. The witness was asked if he reported to Mr. Thompson that he was aware that the “Jack hole” was not being driven with all speed. He replied that a man, who should have worked there, was off work. Daniel Salt was on the night before the explosion to attend to the “Jack hole” but he could not stop, Salt said he would not work there. Then Mr. Wynne said, “Then it was not forced on with all possible speed”. The witness went on to say in answer to further questions, that it was not usual for each man to fire his own shot, except where he worked with naked candles, and where the men worked with lamps, they were not allowed to fire shot at all.
The day shift fireman (Wm. Scott) went on duty as the night fireman (Bagnall) was going off. If Bagnall had examined that part of the workings where the explosion occurred, he must have seen there was a hole drilled for firing a shot. It was not Bagnall’s duty to fire the shot. The man who worked at night got the hole ready, but he had no powder left. Crooks went into the pit, saw the hole, charged it with powder and fired it without obtaining a light from the fireman. Crooks must have unfastened his lamp, or got a light somewhere else.
The witness was asked whether he was not aware that it had been customary for men to fire their own shots. He gave evasive answers, and was cautioned by the coroner. He said the men were not allowed to fire shots where they worked with lamps. They worked with candles where it was safe to do so. They had naked lights in the Ten feet on Wednesday. They must not work where there is gas. Mr. Wynne asked, who was there to decide whether Crooks should or should not fire the shot. Witness replied no one; he had not patience to wait till the fireman came to him, as he ought to have done according to the rule. The witness upon being pressed further, admitted that nearly all the men worked with naked lights and he could not give an instance in which a man working with a naked light, sent for a fireman before firing a shot.
The witness had been connected with mining for 30 years. He did not know of a case in which a man had been allowed to fire a shot, the first thing in the morning without the fireman being consulted, until the day fireman had been in the workings. A day man could not tell whether he was to work with a lamp, a candle, or whether he was to work at all.
Edward Thomson, the ground bailiff, proved finding the bodies of Mason and Johnson. Mason was not quite dead when found, but died as he was being brought out of the pit. Johnson was not burnt at all. He had one broken leg, and his head and face were cut.
Thomas Bagnall, night fireman, said he went to work on Wednesday evening about half past five. He examined all the lamps that were to be used on the night shift and found them right. He went through the works and tried No. 2 level where the explosion occurred, as well as other places and found no gas. He examined the workings again later in the morning of Thursday with the same results.
George Viggars went in No. 2 level about 3 o’clock with blazing candles. The rule was, if the ventilation was all right and no gas was found in the pit, to give men candles. He had been at the pit nearly 3 weeks and had never seen any gas there. Replying to a question put by Mr. Wynne, the witness said, if Crooks had told him he was going to fire a shot, he would have gone with him. He knew the hole was drilled before he left. He told Crooks that the mine was safe. In answer to Cross the witness said, If he thought the pit was short of air, he put up more pipes.
The coroner said he proposed to adjourn the inquiry so that some of the injured men might be produced to give evidence, and it was desirable that Crooks should be present.
After the inquest on Saturday, George Allman died and on Sunday John Heywood and Thomas Robert also died. George Heywood, the father of John said his son was very much burnt about the body and head. Mr. Godall, surgeon, said when he attended John, he said before he got his jacket off, the explosion occurred and he was blown down the Jack hole. The coroner said he understood Crooks was lightly to die, Andrew Wilkinson and George Guest were in a critical state.