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Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. 26th July, 1934.

The Disaster

Bilsthorpe Colliery - Shane Phillips

The last inspection was made by the day shift deputy, Joseph William Sutton between 1.20 and 3.10 p.m. when he left the district and went to the pit bottom. He did not report any firedamp. On 26th July the afternoon shift of 66 men descended to the North-West No.6 district at 2.30 p.m. and met Bertram Meakin, a deputy, at the pit bottom where they tried their lamps and searched some of the men. Meakin had spoken to Sutton on the telephone, found that all was well and sent the men forwards and afterwards followed them inbye. The two men met and had a short conversation.

On arriving at the loader gate, Meakin stood on a scaffold and tested for gas and found it clear as was the face. He saw that the waste on the left bank had broken down and it was not safe for him to go beyond the timber. From the left bank he went down the airway to the loader gate where he fired a back ripping shot about eighty yards from the face for William Storer and continued up the loader gate to the face. Later he fired another ripping shot in the left airway.

Arthur Caudwell was the contractor in charge of the face work and as responsible for moving the conveyors, packing and drawing the wastes. He arrived at the face about 3.15 p.m. and he examined the face with the flame lamp that he carried as well as an electric light. He returned to his men at the gate end and saw the deputy test for gas at 4.15 p.m. Caudwell and Meakin went together down the right bank and there they parted, the deputy going to see some men in the return and Caudwell going back to the loader gate.

As he went back Caudwell heard two shots fired and when he was about thirty yards from the loader gate he was stopped by T. Crowder who warned him that a third shot was to be fired in the gate ripping but as this was still being charged by Caudwell, he could go forward. He went passed the gate and passed William Wright, William Burrows and others some thirty yards from the gate and Enoch Reeves, Walter Hardy, T. Worsop and others at various points farther along the left bank. Reeves had drawn off the first waste at about 4.30 p.m. to 5.0 p.m. and Caudwell observed that some of the Coombe coal had fallen and the waste was open to about thirty feet back from the face but beyond that it had fallen.

When he was about fifty yards from the loader gate, Caudwell heard the third shot and ‘saw a yellow flame and red hot sparks up the face, and a second later they came down the bank.’ He told the men near him to drop to the ground and as he lay there several men rushed past him. He said - "The flame and sparks passed over me and they seemed to hang to the roof." After the flame had died out and most of the men had left the face, Caudwell saw a light along the bank and on going to investigate he found George Stewart lying below the second pack. He was burned and he helped him to the bottom of the gate.

Some of the clothes that were hanging in the bank were collected and used to cover some of the men who had been badly burned. Caudwell went along the bank as far as the first waste and he saw some clothes smouldering on the floor which had been on a chock. He saw - "All the first waste lit up and I saw a yellow flame in the top, and immediately afterwards noticed a blue flame burning near the roof". He gathered what clothes he could, returned to the bottom airway, took the men out and sent them to the shaft bottom having first checked that all the men were accounted for. All the survivors from the left bank agreed that the flame travelled along the face from the loader gate and appeared to come from the first waste shortly after the shot was fired.

The deputy, Bertram Meakin, was returning along the face to the loader gate and was about 70 yards away when he saw - "A red light which appeared to fill the whole of the face," near the loader gate. He heard men shouting and hurried to the gate. He had gone thirty yards when -
“Something like escaping wind and compressed air came towards me. I saw no flame but I was burned on my arms and face and bowled over. My safety lamp was extinguished, but my electric light was burning. I picked it up and returned to the bank, got the men together and took them outbye via the return airway and Nos.3 and 4 district.’

Harry Wilkinson was on the right bank and saw two flames, the first did not travel along the bank but the second did. It just reached him and singed his nose and hair.

William Henry Bradshaw, a deputy on the afternoon shift in the Nos.1 and 2 headings at the pit bottom, reached the No.6 about 5.30 p.m. where he met Meakin who told him he had fired a shot in the bottom gate and handed over the shot firing battery and cable to him so that he could fire three shots in the ripping at the loader gate where the holes had already been drilled. Bradshaw went off to fire the shots. Before firing the shots, Bradshaw made a careful examination for gas at the ripping lip and at the back of the gate and then along each bank as far as the first waste on each side. He examined the lip standing on a plank and no trace of gas was found. He then examined the holes and charged with eight ounces of Polar Samsonite No.3 with a No.6 L.T. detonator. Before charging Woodcock posted an man at each bank to prevent anyone approaching and he remained in the gate to assist the shotfirer. When the shots had been fired successfully he made another thorough examination. The place had been stone dusted by the chargeman ripper, Arthur Woodcock.

Bradshaw made a similar examination before firing the third shot on the left side which he charged with fourteen ounces of explosive and stemmed the hole with clay. He retired 30 to 40 yards down the gate with Woodcock and fired the shot. William Bradshaw described the events that followed.

“I uncoupled my battery and had taken two steps towards the lip when I saw a light on the gate which was flickering and was near the face towards the left side. I think it was gas ignited. A few seconds afterwards there was an explosion and a flash which appeared to come from the left had side of the lip. I shouted for everyone to clear out. The flame seemed to come out along the gate, so I threw myself down on the right side of the belt, Woodcock doing the same behind me. Neither of us was burned.’

Bradshaw then went to the gate where William Storer was working and told him to telephone the men at the pit bottom telling them that there had been an explosion and asking them to cut off the electricity. He also requested them to send some men to meet the party that was coming out and to get some rescue men. He returned up the loader gate to the face and found that all the men had gone out. Despite some smoke in the left bank he was able to go along and he observed a light in the waste which he thought was gas burning in a roof break. There was also some timber burning on the floor which was covered by a fall of Coombe coal. They met up with Caudwell who said all the men from the left side were out of the pit.

Meanwhile Francis Wheatcroft, the overman who was on the South-West haulage road, had been informed of the explosion, sent for F. Pemberton who was a trained rescue man who was working nearby and some canaries. He instructed the men at the pit top to call the Rescue Brigade, the Manager and the Undermanager and set off along the North West No.6 haulage road. After about fifty yards he met Bradshaw, Woodcock, Caudwell and Smith who told him where the explosion had taken place and on reaching the face he found that it was not possible to go down the left bank because of smoke and fumes. Other deputies arrived and reported that all was well in the rest of the mine.

The eighteen men who were injured all walked from the mine. The manager had called for medical assistance which was given to the men at the surface and the more seriously burnt were sent to hospital. Six subsequently died from their injuries.


Pit Terminology - Glossary


Page 3
The Inquest