About 8am on Monday 26th September 1836 a dreadful explosion of firedamp took place in a pit belonging to John Wedgwood, Esq. at Bignall Hill, in the parish of Audley, North Staffordshire.
The loss of life far exceeds that of any similar event, which has occurred in the past within our recollection. Several of the men who had come to work in the pit, were, shortly after the explosion brought out of it, lifeless, and in a shockingly mangled state. Others so much bruised and scorched, that they only survived a few hours. It is our painful task to state that 11 individuals have been thus suddenly been deprived of their existence.
The neighbourhood soon became acquainted with the awful event, and the scene on the bank of the colliery was heart rendering. The wives, children and relatives of the unfortunate men who worked in the pit soon assembled to ascertain the fate of those who had only a few minutes previously left their peaceful homes.
The cries and lamentations of the widows, children and relatives, were most distressing.
The pitmen from the neighbouring collieries having become acquainted with the melancholy accident, immediately made for the scene of destruction, where they showed the greatest courage, by descending the works at the risk of their own lives in the hope of extricating the sufferers.
During Monday twelve of the men were got out, two of whom are now living, one however is not expected to survive. One body still remained in the pit, and although every exertion was made up to 11am on Wednesday, then it was brought out in a lifeless and mangled state.
Mr. William Harding, Esq. The coroner for the district, issued his precepts for a jury to attend at twelve o clock on the 28th September at the Boughey Arms Inn, Audley, where several witnesses attended. The result of their examination was, that between seven and eight o'clock on the morning of the 26th, about twenty of the colliers had entered the pit, and commenced their work.
A man named Sim, (witness) was the last who descended the pit, his son, a boy about 10 years old, was with him. He had not been in the pit more than five minutes when he heard an explosion.
Mr. John Dean, ground bailiff, to Mr Wedgwood, was at the mouth of the pit when the explosion took place, immediately attempted, by all the means in his power, to render every possible assistance. But in consequence of the foulness of the atmosphere in the pit, some time elapsed before any of the bodies could be discovered.
It also appeared in evidence that this pit had been at work a number of years and that the colliers considered it well ventilated and perfectly safe until Friday last, but on that day symptoms of firedamp were perceptible.
On the following morning these symptoms totally disappeared and the works were considered by the men, in good working condition, and work was continued up to the usual hour that day.
On Sunday the pit was visited by some of the colliers , who went down at two different periods for the purpose of feeding the their horses, when no foul air was perceptible. A witness stated that the method of working this pit was according to the general manner of working collieries and that every thing required for the use of it was readily granted them.
There was no evidence to show how this fatal accident occurred, but it is supposed the unfortunate man who was last found was the cause of it in consequences of his body being discovered far in advance of the rest, the workings extending to a great length, and there being a large gap or void at the extremity, owing to the removal of the pillars.
The evidence appeared quite satisfactory to the Jury and the Coroner, and a verdict of accidental death was returned in each of the cases.