Baddesley Pit Explosion - Atherstone, Warwickshire.
The colliery was in the estate of the late W.S. Dugdale and was a few miles from Atherstone and the property of the owners of Merevale Hall. An explosion of gas caused the loss of twenty three lives and nine others died from suffocation including the owner Mr. Stratford Dugdale. The explosion was serious and unusual and what took place from the time of discovering the underground fire and to the sealing of the shafts was of great mining interest at the time.
- The colliery consisted of two shafts, No.1 and No.2 both of 7 feet in diameter and 840 yards deep.
- There was also another shaft known as the ventilating shaft or fan drift and all the three shafts were connected by a drift.
- There was a pumping pit called the Speedwell Pit which was 771 feet deep and 8 feet in diameter and the pumping engine there was capable of pumping over a million gallons per week.
- At the bottom of the No.1 shaft there was a double roadway going towards Hurley and this led to the deep workings.
- Communication between the two roadways was by short passages at the end of which there were folding doors with the exception of the one nearest the shafts.
- The roadways to the deep workings were steep and were 1 in 3 at one place.
- The workings were about 1,000 yards at the deep from the bottom of the shaft and an engine was placed near the shaft bottom which was used for raising coal from the deep to the upper levels.
- Along the bottom level a small quantity of water had found its way from the coal workings to the bottom of the incline and up to a short time before the disaster the water was drawn up from this point in tubs and thence to the pumping engine.
- These tubs were made of wood and they leaked along the incline causing considerable damage to the floor which lifted.
To stop this some other way of raising the water had to be found. A self contained engine boiler was place in the return airway at the extreme deep of the workings which supplied steam to work a small engine to pump the water up the incline. The boiler was set on its end and the roof cut away so that the smoke, steam and flame passed down the top of the airway. The airway was driven in the solid but there was coal on either side. It was supposed that this coal was set on fire from the boiler. The boiler was installed with the full consent of Mr. Gillett, the colliery engineer, and he was given instructions by the manager to insulate the boiler with bricks but this was not done.
A Lot Of Smoke
On the morning of 1st May Mr. Day, one of the deputies going to work descended the upcast shaft and met his father Charles, at the bottom he told his father that there was smoke in the shaft and he did not know where it was coming from. Charles Day immediately went up the shaft to see for himself and found a lot of smoke and had great difficulty in the shaft with noxious fumes and a considerable quantity of smoke which left him exhausted when he reached the surface.
Day sent for George Parker the manager and asked him to follow him into the mine when he arrived. Day went into the workings but he could not get down the incline because of the large amounts of smoke which was so dense that he could go only a few yards. Parker with some other men had descended and arrived just as Day was coming back. They made several attempts to penetrate the smoke but found that it was impossible.
Matters were now so serious that the owner Mr. Dugdale and the agent Mr. Podmore were sent for and it was decided that the assistance of Mr. Smallman, a mining
Engineer, be sort, he lived quite close to the colliery. Smallman, after making himself familiar with the underground layout of the colliery, devised schemes to drive the smoke from the mine and hoped that they would be able to get into the first communication between the intake and the return and reach the seat of the fire. All efforts were driven back by the smoke and fumes and several men were overcome. Fresh volunteers were called for and they also met with no success. This was the final effort to reach the nine men who were known to be in the workings.
The call for volunteers was readily answered and, as requested, Mr. Smallman and Mr. Pogmore and his son were amongst them and many of the workmen. Very soon after Mr. Dugdale descended, although he did not know anything about mine procedures, but thought that his presence would aid the confidence of the men and lead them to greater efforts to save their fellow workmen. He went down the shaft and reached the place where the explorers were at work. The new arrivals brought fresh materials with them and Mr. Smallman started to put his plans to recover the mine into operation. They started about 6 p.m. and worked until 8.30 a.m. when the air suddenly became motionless. There was a loud report like a roar of thunder and flames which burnt Messrs. Dugdale, Podmore and son, Parker and others and killed twenty three men. Of the 18 men in the advance party only one survived and he made his way to the shaft and ascended with others who were injured and went to the engine house.
Mr. Evans received a telegram at his house but he was away from home and Mr. Stokes his assistant was sent for and did not get to the colliery until 9 a.m. where he found Smallman lying very badly burnt in the engine house. He did not recognise him until he spoke. He told the Assistant Inspector what had happened and that there were men in the mine but it would be dangerous to go in as there might be another explosion any time.
Without hesitation Mr. Stokes asked for volunteers and accompanied by Mr. Samuel Spruce, a mining engineer of great experience, and Messrs. Marsh, Mottram, Charles Day and William Morris, they went down the pit and groped their way in the dark along the level of the engine plane which they found filled with noxious fumes and smoke from the roof to a small distance from the floor. On hearing a voice they rushed into the smoke and brought out Mr. Dugdale who was in a very weak state. They wrapped him in blankets and brought him to the surface.
Other descents were made by William Pickering, Joseph Chetwynd, Mr. Stokes, Mr. Marsh and Mr. Mottram and they succeed in bringing out Rowland Till and John Collins alive but they died later and the final death toll was twenty three.
When Mr. Evans arrived at the colliery he found smoke coming up the shafts indicating to him that there was fire raging underground. He held a consultation with Mr. Gillett of Derby, the mining engineer at the colliery and decided that further attempts at rescue would be foolhardy and reckless. After another consultation the following day it was decided that there could be no one left alive in the pit and that the only way of extinguishing the fire and saving the colliery was to seal the shafts. This was successfully done during that day.
From that time until the end of November the pit remained sealed and when the covering was removed the mine was explored and the bodies recovered. The Waddell fan had not been damaged and the colliery was well ventilated which made the relighting of the furnace unnecessary.
Mr Samuel Spruce, having no personal acquaintance with the workings of the colliery, being far advanced in life, and knowing so well the imminent danger incurred by anyone entering the mine displayed an act of conspicuous bravery, which her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen later recognised by conferring on him the decoration of "The Albert Medal of the Second Class".