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A lamentable accident occurred on Saturday 29th January 1859 at Bycars Colliery, Burslem, North Staffordshire, and belonging to John Wedgwood Esq. When four persons met with violent and untimely deaths, and two others were seriously injured. The accident arose through an explosion of firedamp and it is believed, was traceable to the loose management of the safety lamps and in particular to the defective state of them. It seems that there was an accumulation of gas in an old working in the north side of the mine, and that two men named Isaac Tavern and John Brereton were engaged on Saturday morning in putting in a stopping to improve the ventilation. About five other persons were working on the side of the mine and everything had gone well up till about noon, when there was an instantaneous explosion of fire-damp and the utmost consternation was produced throughout the workings.

A man named Daniel Rigby was working 160 yards from the shaft bottom, which was about 200 yards deep and perhaps 70 yards from the spot where the gas was believed to have exploded and he was blown over by the force of the explosion but fortunately managed to escape to the shaft bottom comparatively uninjured. Rigby and others endeavoured to get to their companions, but it was not until after several ineffectual attempts (arising from the strong choke-damp) had been made. At about 3.30 pm. the extent of the catastrophe was discovered. Four individuals were found lying on their faces more or less scorched and quite dead, and two others, Joseph Howle and Ralph Malpas, were severely burnt but were alive and were moved out of the pit, as were their dead companions.

The persons killed were: -

John Leigh

age 52

John Brereton

age 21

Edward Hawthorne

age 14
Isaac Tavern age 40.

The two other men, who were living, were married and one of them (Howle) who was in advancing years was now suffering from the effects of the explosion by which he had unfortunately been injured.

All the men had, what should have been "safety lamps" but such was the loose way in which Francis Amos, the butty, had been proved to have discharged his duty with regard to locking them and seeing that they were in proper repair, not only were the lamps, when found, all unlocked but by far the greater number of them were out of order. It was conjected, from experiments made by Joseph Dickinson Esq. One of the Government Inspector of Mines, who inspected the workings on Monday, that from a defect at the bottom of the gauze of the lamp of the deceased lad Hawthorne, the inflammable gas, which was driven by the stopping from the old workings, had come in contact with the flame in his lamp, and hence the explosion.

On Tuesday morning an inquest on the bodies was held at the Red Lion Inn, Burslem, before Mr. Harding, Coroner, with the jury and all the appropriate officials were present. The inquiry, as will be see from the adjoining evidence, was a minute and searching one. The only person living and uninjured who could give any account of the accident was Daniel Rigby, Who said
"I am a miner and work at the Bycars colliery where John Leigh and the other three deceased persons were employed."

The Red Lion Inn, Burslem, today

He went to work on Saturday morning about five o'clock and found some men had gone down the pit before him.
When he went down he met Francis Amos the butty, who told him to go and see if the pit was alright, as he was the fireman appointed by Amos 12 months ago. He examined part of the workings and was satisfied all was clear.

He said he was getting coal, and was about 70 yards from Leigh, Hawthorne, and Malpas, all the men had lamps with them. It was about twelve o'clock when the explosion took place:

"it blew me over, and I then made my way to the pit bottom for safety. The place where I was working was about 160 yards from the shaft. I gave information to the 'hooker on' and told him to tell all the men whom he might see, what had happened. I then made my way back again towards the place where the accident had occurred. I got about 160 yards but could not proceed further on account of the after damp. Isaac Fielding and Richard Humphries also joined us and in about 15 minutes we made another effort to get to the men but could not succeed. After more attempts we got to them about half past three. I found Leigh, Hawthorne, Tavern and Brereton, all dead. The two injured men Howle and Malpas were further in the workings. I found three lamps some distance from the men."


John Lumsdon