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BRADFORD COLLIERY - 1953 - Page 4

The roof of the engine house blew off, a serious fire gutted the winding drum

2,200 MEN TRAPPED IN DEATH PIT

Bill Ramsdale


In the late summer of 1953 I took a few days holiday and on one of the days I was in Manchester and I picked up the local paper which carried the following banner headline:

"2,200 MEN TRAPPED IN DEATH PIT"

I called at the pit and heard the story. No.1 pit had been winding coal all morning and at 2.00 p.m. was due to change over to winding men for a couple of hours, and was then to go back to winding coal for the remainder of the afternoon shift.

The engine house was about 100ft. high and the engine winder sat level with the drum shaft about 70ft from the ground. Beneath the drum and below ground level there was a brick-lined pit filled with the detritus of half a century's working – grease, oil, tar,etc. which had been flung from the winding rope over the years.

Just before 2 p.m. the engine winder noticed smoke coming up from the drum well. He decided he would finish his wind, put the brakes on, and go and investigate!. He didn't have time, because moments later there were heavy flames roaring round the drum, and the engine winder was just able to make his escape along the main steam pipe through a hole in the wall.

A few minutes later the roof of the engine house blew off, and a few minutes after that, a serious fire in the engine house had gutted the winding drum, and both winding ropes, causing the 2 cages together with the winding ropes to crash the 1,000 yards to the bottom of the shaft. In their plunge they took with them 10 guide rods and all of the cables, including signal and telephone cables. Only one of the smaller power cables survived, and this provided light at the pit bottom.

There was no means of communication between the surface and the 2,000 men underground.

However, Manchester Fire Brigade arrived and put out the fire, somebody descended the No.2 shaft with the news, food and drinking water was arranged and arrangements were made to bring out the men 7 at a time, using the emergency arrangements previously described. It is a matter of simple arithmetic to establish how long this operation took. Successive cage loads of "rescued" miners were greeted at the pit top by the Press and relieved wives (shawls had long gone out of fashion in Manchester by the mid 50's). I don't think anyone sustained a scratch during the whole operation. The pit was completely out of commission for 3 weeks whilst repairs took place, and then coal production resumed again.

This type of mechanical upheaval was not uncommon at Bradford, although this one was probably on a grander scale.

There is one more incident regarding this winding engine which I would like to mention. I have previously described it as a pair of double-acting steam engines with a combined rating of 1,000 h.p., they were vertical engines which were unusual in Lancashire, certainly I had never seen any before myself. The engine was about 80ft. high and the piston rod disappeared into the engine cylinder at ground level.

I don't know what the length of the piston stroke was, but the cylinders were 40" in diameter. No-one could ever remember seeing the inside of the cylinders, and it would be safe to assume that the last inspection would be when the engines were built in 1900.

One day the driver opened his throttle to let some steam in to turn the engine, the steam went straight out to atmosphere but nothing else happened and the engine never moved. The original pistons had had three rings, and now there were two rings, one large one small. Two of the grooves of the piston had merged into one with the passage of years, and the rings had vanished. The piston was removed and put into a lathe, the two damaged grooves were turned into a wide slot, and a new ring fitted. The engine was re-assembled and worked well for the remaining 2 years of its life.

By the end of 1955 the reconstruction and development work was coming to an end, and I myself was getting a bit restive. In the spring of 1956 I was offered the job of Unit Electrical Engineer at the Colliery. I was formally appointed on 1 st March 1956 and I remained in this job for about 5 years. I had a staff of about 50 men, mostly electricians, many of whom were extremely capable and in general I recall, pretty loyal.

Every now and then a few of them would get fed up working at the pit, and a few had shops, at least their wives/parents had. They would find a job for a time in one of the many industries which abounded in East Manchester about that time, but they usually came back.

One of the coal faces being exploited was very high quality coal, and involved taking out a block of coal each day 200yds long, 2yds. high, and one and a half yards deep. The space from which the coal has been extracted is known as the "waste" or "gob", and one of the conditions imposed for permission to extract coal under Manchester was that this "waste" had to be filled solid with rubble or other suitable material to prevent subsidence.

To this end all colliery spoil or any other suitable material was crushed together with water and blown into the "waste" using high volumes of compressed air, where the whole mass would congeal like concrete. This operation was known as "stowing" and the amount of abrasive wear on the "stowing" pipes beggared belief.

Three large centrifugal air compressors, each driven by a 2,000h.p. synchronous induction motor at 6,000volts were installed on the surface. The amount of electric power consumed by these machines was by far the greatest factor in the total electric power used at Bradford Colliery. The 3 compressors together with the 2 motor generator sets for the winders were all housed in an imposing brick building together with a number of large transformers and associated switch gear.


Lauren Murphy - I have been running Bradford Pit memorial project for around two years now, a project which aims to remember Bradford Colliery Manchester and the people that worked there. I have recently been employed full time by Laing O'Rourke construction to work full time on the project in the aim to create a monument in dedication to the miners on the former pit's site: Sportcity Etihad stadium.