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Mines Rescue Service

Life-Saving Apparatus


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John Lumsdon
5 August 2009
Trials of Life-Saving Appliances Atherton - 1908

Mines Rescue Apparatus

For the last 800 years in Britain, coal has been systematically worked for profit, at a huge cost in human lives and suffering, but for only one tenth of that time there has been an organisation, to help those victims, in the form of a Mines Rescue Service.

I had the loan of a story from a full time rescue man who worked in Lancashire and he got it from the author, Les Hampson, dated Jan 2002. Les worked for the NCB for 40years and for the last 37 years, was involved with the Mines Rescue Service.

First as a voluntary part time rescue man, then full time at Boothstown Rescue Station as a member of the permanent rescue corps. Later he became a Breathing Apparatus Instructor, then an Assistant Superintendent and finally he was promoted to Station Superintendent.

At the end of his very interesting 93 page story there was a news paper cutting which I have copied, as it was in 1908, two years before the 1911 Act that created the Mines Rescue service.

John Lumsdon.


Manchester Guardian Monday April 6th 1908

The trials of life-saving appliances at the new rescue station at Atherton by the Lancashire and Cheshire Coal Association were ended on Saturday. It was the third day of the experiments and the attendance of colliery managers, mining engineers, and coal proprietors were larger than either of the previous days. Mr. Ratcliffe Ellis, a member of the Royal Commission on Mines, was present. The experiments have aroused a good deal of interest among mine workers.

Twenty seven colliery companies are partners in this plan of providing and equipping a place in which men can be trained in the use of life saving apparatus; so that if through any cause a mine is charged with noxious fumes they may with full confidence go to the rescue of their comrades, and stay the calamity in its beginning.

It is hoped that before long all the coal companies in this district will be united in the work. The committee invited makers of the life-saving apparatus to submit their inventions to a test. Six firms accepted the invitation. Two sorts of appliances were tested on Thursday, two on Friday and the remaining two on Saturday.

Mr. Charles Pilkington, of the Clifton and Kearsley is chairman of the committee, and with him as colleagues in the conduct of the experiments were Captain Harte-Davis and Mr, J. Wallwork, of Lord Ellesmere’s Bridgewater collieries; Mr. J. S. Burrows, of Fletcher, Burrows and Co’s Collieries, Atherton; Mr. Lionel E. Pilkington of Richard Evans and Co’s Haydock Colliery; Mr. T. Stone, of J and R. Stone, the Park Colliery Garswood; Mr. John Dean, of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company; Mr. John Knowles of Pearson and Knowles; H.H. Bolton, of the Rishton Collieries; Mr. W. Pickup, of the Rishton Collieries, Blackburn; Mr. Henery Hall and Mr. John Gerard. H.M.I. of Mines; and Dr Arnold J. Green, of Wigan. Mr. Arthur Ellis was secretary to the Committee.

The Men and the Work

The first to undergo the test were four men from the Altofts colliery, owned by Mr. W.E. Garforth. Mr. Garforth is an enthusiast in this matter. He has invented and improved an apparatus which allows a man to carry the weight being distributed over head, shoulders and back a store of compressed oxygen. The total weight of the apparatus is 37lbs which is not so much as by 10lbs or 12 lbs as that which a fully equipped soldier on the march has to carry.

The general principle of this and of three other appliances that were tested is to have a store of compressed oxygen with caustic soda as an absorbent of the carbonic acid that is produced. In two others appliances the principles were quite different. A supply of liquid air was carried in one case and of compressed air in the other.

In all the tests the men were required to do certain work in the gallery, filled with sulphur fumes and stay there two hours. Professor Harold Dixson, of the Manchester University, attended on Friday and Saturday to test the air in the gallery and in the appliances when the men had completed their task.

The rule was that four men should form a team. In some cases, however, the team had only two in it. There were four doctors, one for each member of a full team. Doctor Green (Wigan) was in charge of the department, and with him were Dr. Marsh (Atherton) , Dr. Mair ( Manchester University) and Dr. Jackson ( St. Helens). The men were subjected to a medical examination before putting on the apparatus, with a view to undergo the test.

When the men had passed this examination they had to walk up and down the full length of the station. This done, the pulse and rate of respiration were again noted, and if all was well they were allowed to enter the gallery. At the end of the trial they were once more medically examined, special attention being paid to the pulse and rate of respiration.

Speaking generally, it was found that the men were no more affected by their experience than they would have been after the same amount of hard work under ordinary conditions. The impression of the onlookers was that if the mechanical part of the arrangement was perfect, each of the systems would work.

When the mask did not fit the mouth and nostrils perfectly there was trouble, but when the arrangement did not fail, the men had no difficulty in doing their allotted work.

Of course it would not do for men to be breathing compressed oxygen for a couple of hours or so three or four times a week. In such a case there would be symptoms of oxygen intoxication, but no harm, the doctors say, can arise from the occasional use of any apparatus of the kind exhibited at these trials.

Following the trial of the Weg apparatus, in which the men did three fourths of their work in the allotted time there was a test of Messrs Simonds and Cos liquid air appliance. Unfortunately, the mouthpieces in two instances did not fit properly, and the wearers left the gallery after being in a few minutes. They returned to the gallery, but once again one of the masks became loose, and the man signalled to his mate that he wanted to go out. Both men came out and did not go back

The men work in couples, and there is a strong sense of comradeship between mates. In this particular case, when one man said he was “jiggered” the other man sprang to his help. “He was my mate”, with a significant emphasis on the word, he said afterwards, “and I was not going to leave him.”

All four entered the gallery at 3.25. At 3.52 two of the men came out, and at 4.15 the third man withdrew. The forth man went on until 4.19 but the committee did not like him to stay in alone, so he came out. He had shown, however, that the apparatus fulfilled its purpose if the mouthpiece was right.

Draeger’s and Fleuss’s appliances were tested on Friday, they both rely on stored up oxygen for success.

Effect of the Tests

On Saturday morning a German apparatus called the Shamrock was tried. There are two types of the appliance. In one case a helmet is used; in the other the nose of the wearer is plugged and he breaths only by the mouth. “The purified air, rich in oxygen,, is introduced directly into the mouth of the wearer,” the makers say, “while the exhaled breath is sucked off at that point so that no exhaled air can be inhaled again.”

The men remained in the gallery for two hours. In the afternoon a test was applied to the Valor apparatus, belonging to the Valor Company Ltd, of Aston Cross, Birmingham. In this case compressed air is used by the wearers of the apparatus. Four men put on the masks and entered the gallery, but they did not remain there long. There was some leakage in one or two cases, and the men came out of the gallery. Presently two out of the four re-entered the gallery, and walked up and down the passages as easily as they would in the outer air.

      Breathing Device
Early Draeger Prototype
Oxygen Breathing Device.
This they did for about ten minutes and then came out, the forth man could have stayed longer, but the committee did not wish him to be in the gallery by himself for more than a short period.

Speaking at the luncheon, Mr. Charles Pilkinton expressed regret that the wholly unfounded rumour had been spread to the effect that one of the men engaged in the test had taken 25 minutes to recover. In no case had there been any trouble; not one had needed to be brought round.

Dr. Green confirmed this denial. As chief of the medical staff, he was glad to say that none of the men had required medical treatment in the least degree. The man who told his mate he was “jiggered” used a colloquial expresstion meaning that he thought he had better retire. No medical importance was attached to it. As a matter of fact, Dr. Green said, “I examined him, and found his condition perfectly satisfactory.”

Glossary of Pit Terms


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