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Explosion At Minnie Pit, Halmer End, Newcastle Under Lyme, 1915 - Page 1

John Lumsdon             Coal Dust Explosions, 9 Killed

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The Minnie Pit was located in the small village of Halmer End, Newcastle under Lyme and was opened in 1881. It was named after Minnie Craig, the daughter of one of the owners, a Mr. W.Y. Craig.

An explosion having serious consequences occurred at five thirty on Sunday night 17th January 1915 at the Minnie Pit in the village of Halmerend, with the loss of nine lives. The pit belonged to the Midland Coal, Coke, and Iron Co. Ltd in North Staffordshire. At the time of the accident, there were fortunately only 27 men at work in the pit. All of them belonging to the engineer's staff and they were engaged in repair work.

The names of those killed were:

  • John White, age 49, Colliery engineer
  • Alfred Bostock, age 43, Assistant engineer
  • Frederick Cheadle, age 53, Rope man
  • James Nevitt, age 36
  • Ralph Proctor, age 55
  • Joseph Bates, age 23
  • John Daniels, age 40, Pumpman
  • Frank Brindley, age 54, Assistant pump man
  • Arthur Shufflebottom, age 16

The explosion took place shortly after five o'clock on Sunday night. A party of 27 men, all belonging to the engineer's staff, went down the Minni Pit at two o'clock in the afternoon, for the purpose of repairing the shaft of a haulage engine in the Seven Feet Bambury dip. This engine also worked the Bullhurst district, in which the explosion is believed to have originated.

The shaft of the engine broke on the previous Wednesday and since then; the men engaged in the Bullhurst district had, as a consequence, been absent from work.

The party was divided into two groups, one under Mr. John White, the colliery engineer, were working at the engine: and the other, under the direction of Mr. Thomas Smith, the foreman, were rope splicing in the dip. All appears to have gone well until about five thirty in the evening, when an explosion took place with the fatal results as stated.

When those on the bank learnt of the explosion, messengers were speedily dispatched to colliery officials, who were quickly on the scene. Rescue parties were at once organised and there was no lack of volunteers. Mr. W. Barker, colliery manager, descended, accompanied by Joseph Smith, C.H. Weaver, under manager, and Ralph Lawton, from the Burley pit. This party succeeded in penetrating the affected workings, close on 2,000 yards from the shaft bottom, without self-contained breathing apparatus. But the company's rescue brigades with breathing apparatus, from Apedale and Podmore Hall collieries were speedily organised and they joined in the rescue operations, which were carried out with all speed.

As the injured men were brought out, they were taken to their homes in motorcars and ambulances. The bodies of the dead, the last whom were brought up at six o'clock on Monday morning, were also taken to their respective homes.

The news of the disaster had spread throughout the district, and the service at Halmerend Wesleyan Church was stopped, the congregation hurrying to the scene of the disaster to render assistance or make inquiries for relatives.
Relatives of the men who were known to be in the working party in the pit, kept a sorrowful vigil and there were some sorrowful scenes as the dead and injured were brought to the surface.

Ernest Hankey, who was suffering from shock, said he was working in the dip. They had nearly put in one splicing and were proceeding with other work, when, what he described as a gust of wind took us off our feet and blew out our lamps. We did not know anything else, except someone called out for us to keep on the floor in order to avoid the poisonous gases; we could hardly breathe for sulphur. Afterwards we got an electric lamp and we all crawled to the top or the dip. He said "it was an awful experience I shall never forget as long as I live."