Bickershaw, Plank Lane. Leigh, Lancashire. 7th January 1942.
Major Hart was the managing director of the Bickershaw Collieries, Ltd., which consisted of five pits. Household and industrial coal were produced from the various seams Fireclay and shale was also worked. Six men were killed and four injured, three detained in hospital, as the result of an explosion at the No 4 pit, Plank Lane Colliery, Leigh, shortly before midnight on Monday. The cause of the explosion was thought to have been a 'blowout' of gas near where the men were working. A survivor told how suspicions that all was not well arose amongst a party of men, and of his subsequent struggle to a place where the air was fresher.
The following official statement was issued by the Colliery Co:-
'The directors of Bickershaw Collieries, Ltd. greatly regret the unfortunate loss of several lives through an explosion. The deepest sympathy is extended to the relatives of those who have lost their lives.'
The accident which occurred in the Rise Unit, east side of No. 4 pit, just as the night shift men were taking over and quickly spread through the district. It was stated that it was probably due to an explosion of coaldust or: what is called a blowout of gas where the men were working. Only 90 men were down the pit at the time and were going to their places in small groups. These were quickly brought to the surface and members of the Lancashire Mines Rescue Station at Boothstown were summoned and recovered the bodies. The managing director of the colliery, Major E Hart, M.C., and the general manager, Mr. JH French both hurried to the pit when informed of the accident, and descended the mine.
A survivor, named Neville, interviewed by a the local paper, said that Monday was the first time he had been to work for a fortnight after sustaining a sprained back. He told how he, Bailey, Houghton, Kennedy, and two other men named Hagen and Eatock, were seated in the main haulage way, about 180 yards from the pit bottom, waiting for the haulage to start to enable them to take tubs to the workings. One of the men remarked about the atmosphere, and said, 'Jimmy, there's summat funny.' He replied that it was only dust, and might have been caused by a fall of dirt or something like that.
They remained talking for about five minutes, when Hagen said, 'It's summat worse than dust,' and so they all went to where the air was fresher. Neville said he stayed behind for a few minutes. 'I began to feel alarmed,' he said, 'and had a dry choking sensation in my throat. I groped round trying to find one of the cans containing tea, but I couldn't. It was very dark, and I said to myself, 'Jimmy, my lad you'd better get out yourself.' I found the haulage rope and began to grope my way along it to the pit bottom. I must have gone about 80 yards before I collapsed. I remember nothing more until I came to in the ambulance room at the top.'
Neville said he did not hear the sound of an explosion. He did not know that any of the men were in hospital, and when it was revealed to him that Kennedy and Houghton were detained in the infirmary he was surprised and said, 'They were two of my mates.
I am sorry to hear that'.
The victims were:-
- Thomas W. Monaghan aged 41 night manager, Sherwood House, Crankwood Road. Abram.
- John Dykes age 38, safety officer, 115, Plank Lane, Leigh.
- Ernest Huyton age 30 driller, 3 North Ave. off Crankwood Road. Abram
- Albert Brown aged 41 driller, 138, Plank Lane, Leigh
- John Bali aged 61, dataller, 15 Ellesmere Street, Hindley
- James Durkin aged 55, dataller, 38, Byrom Streets, Poolstock. Wigan.
- Thomas Rafferty aged 47, 17 Charles Street, Tyldesley,
- Thomas Kennedy aged 21, 52, Hulme Road, off Wigan Road, Leigh.
- William Houghton aged 22, 16, Closebrook Road, Pemberton, Wigan,
- James Neville aged 49, 34, Victoria Terrace, Bickershaw. Allowed to go home after treatment.
Thomas Monaghan left a widdow and 6 children.
John Dykes left a widow and three children.
Huyton a widow. Monday night was the first time he had been to work for three days. It was his birthday. Both John and Ernest were members of the Colliery Home Guard.
Mr. DR Grenfell. M.P., Secretary for Mines, sent the following telegram to the manager:-
'Deeply regret to hear the sad news of the loss of life and injuries caused at Bickershaw. Please convey my sympathy to the relatives of the deceased men and to the men who were injured as a result of the explosion.'
This was the second pit explosion within a week, the first in which fifty seven men lost their lives being at Sneyd Colliery, Burslem Staffordshire on New Year's Day.
In April, 1934, four men and a boy lost their lives through an explosion caused by shotfiring at No.3 pit of the Bickershaw Collieries. Two years earlier nineteen men lost their lives through a shaft accident at the same pit when on October 10th 1932, a cage hurtled to the bottom of the pit and the men were drowned.