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The terrific report of an explosion was heard by the inhabitants of Chesterton and the district around Apedale, which was followed by a shock, and rumbling noises, much resembling an earthquake. Indeed it was said that the earth for some considerable distance from the pit was shaken violently for some seconds.

The people of Chesterton ran in all directions, inquiring of their neighbours what had caused such a report.

The real cause was soon to be known all over the locality.

Burley Pit was part of Apedale colliery (c.. 1850 and 1926).
This photograph was taken by Thomas Warham.

Then hundreds of people men, women and children flocked to the scene of the catastrophe many of them relatives of the unfortunate men who had gone to work that morning.

The scene at the colliery was awful in the extreme. Ninety men were in the workings at that time. A short time elapsed and all the men with the exception of thirty were got up the shaft. By 5 pm. the sad news of the disaster had become pretty well known in the neighbourhood and hundreds of people had assembled at the pithead, all anxious to see what could be seen and to ascertain what could be done for the missing men.

Thirty men who had descended the pit with no thought of any unusual danger, were beyond human reach and the question was, had they been burnt to death or suffocated, or were they concealed and anxiously waiting to be rescued.

It was found that to get to any of the others in the workings, exploration was necessary, but the explosion had caused quantities of coal and debris to fall, timbers had been blown out, wagons had been overturned and roadways were blocked up, making it impossible to penetrate to where the missing men were. There were indications that the pit was on fire, and the men had to be burnt or suffocated.

A horse was found dead and terribly burnt. Two of the men were found seriously injured and brought to the surface. Another five were found and brought to the surface before 9 pm. their names being: -

  • Caleb Walley
  • John Walley (his son)
  • Joseph Baggalay
  • William Bostock a boy.

Gangs of rescuers were organised to see what was the fate of the remaining men. Captain Edward Heathcote of Apedale Hall and Mr. R. Wood of Bignall End and two Justices of the Peace were present and other managers were in attendance to render assistance or give advice.

The pit is 488 yards deep and is a fiery one. The disaster is supposed to have been caused by a blasting shot igniting a quantity of accumulated gas.

Great gloom covered the village of Apedale; the mouth of the pit had a pitiful appearance late in the evening. Wives were there, and fathers and sons all waiting hopefully to see the cage come to the surface with relatives. The opinion was that there could not be anyone alive in the pit, but the relatives maintained a hope that their loved ones might still emerge from the pit and appear in the land of the living.

Prominent amongst many other dangers, there was a large body of gas confined in the workings, the tapping of which required very great care owing to the pressure under which it was confined. Also the probability of smouldering fires being present in the workings, and the danger of them being fanned into a flame by the current of air which was being used for the purpose of clearing the workings of noxious gases.

The pithead presented a very busy scene during the night, some thousands of people anxiously waiting for news then a sixth disfigured corpse was brought up at tea time Wednesday.

One of the other workings a year or two ago had been the scene of an explosion and these workings had been sealed off and on a subsequent attempt to open it up again, fire was discovered to be still raging - evidence of the fiery nature of the mine.

The place where the missing men were working was 150 yards from the pit bottom and falls of coal and debris would have to be removed before they could be reached. It was estimated this could take about two or three weeks and there was no hope of them being brought out alive. The five men whose bodies were recovered were working close to the furnace at the pit bottom.

Pit Terminology - Glossary

John Lumsdon