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The colliery was at Atherton about 10 miles to the west of Manchester. The down cast shaft was No.1 and 14 feet in diameter. It was sunk in 1850 and deepened to the Arley seam at 600 yards in 1901. The upcast No.2 shaft was 16 feet in diameter and sunk to the Rams seam in 1876 and was finally deepened to the Arley in 1902. The mine had been extensively worked and most of the best seams had been extracted. At the time of the disaster the Five Quarters, Victoria, Haigh Yard and Plodder seams were being worked. The Haigh Yard and the Plodder were wound at No.1 shaft from 489 yards which was approximately the level of the Haigh Yard seam whilst the Five Quarters and Victoria were raised in a skip plant at No.2 shaft from 435 yards which was an intermediate level between the Victoria and Plodder seams. The average daily saleable output of the mine was 1,879 tons of which 75 tons came from the Plodder seam and it was in this seam that the explosion occurred. The total number of people working in the mine was 1,318 of whom 1,043 worked underground.

The National Coal Board owned the colliery and Mr. G.F. Hiller was the manager with two undermanagers,
Mr. J. Haslam for the No.1 pit workings and Mr. J. Charlton for the No.2 pit. Mr. J. Benjamin was the electrical manager of the mine. The colliery was in the No.2 Wigan Area of the North Western Division of the National Coal Board with Mr. H.E. Clegg as the Area General Manager, Mr. E. Small, M.B.E., the Area Production Manager, Mr. S. Hay the Deputy Area Production Manager (Operations), Mr. R. Talbot the Deputy Area Production manager (Planning) for the 1st March 1957 and Mr. E. Charlton as the Group Manager.

The Chanters colliery had worked for well over 100 years and along with the neighbouring colliery was nearing the end of it’s useful life and over the reorganisations that had taken place in the industry it was taking over the workings of neighbouring collieries. Whenever a connection is made between two collieries and parts of the ventilation are common to both, the mines cannot be deemed separate mines without the permission of the Inspector for the Division and following the making of a connection between Chanters and St. George’s collieries in 1941, a new instrument was drawn up by Mr. E.H. Frazer, Inspector of Mines on the 1st August 1941 under the Coal Mines Act, 1911, which consented to five mines, Nook, St. George’s, Gin, Chanters and Gibfield being divided into five parts and being worked separately despite that each part did not have a separate ventilation system. All these mines with the exception of Gin pit were in operation at the time of the accident and connected. Coal was not being drawn from St. George’s but it was used as one of the training pits in the No.1 (Manchester) Area.

There was no record of there having been an explosion in the mine previously and none of the seams that were being worked were particularly gassy, probably because the previous workings had drained off the gas. The Plodder seam gave off approximately 110 cubic feet of gas per ton of coal mined. Safety lamps and permitted explosives were used throughout the mine and for general lighting, Oldham-Wheat G.W. electric cap lamps were provided. Prestwich Patent Protector Type 6 relighter lamps were used by the deputies and senior officials and Protector MC 40 lamps issued as gas detectors to certain appointed workmen. Although automatic gas detectors were not required by regulation at the faces, about 20 Naylor Spiralarm Type M detectors were in use in the No.2 pit. The ventilation was provided by a fan at the No.2 pit which was an electrically driven double inlet Sirocco, 98 inches in diameter which ran at 231 revolutions per minute and produced just less than 200,000 cubic feet of air per minute in the fan drift at a water gauge of 4.1 inches.

The Plodder seam lies in the lower part of the productive coal measures and in the area of the Chanters Colliery it was worked to a thickness of 5 feet 1 inch which included two bands of dirt, one three inches thick and one four inches. It was the practice to leave about 7 inches of top coal. The roof was of medium strength shale and the floor a strong warrant or fireclay. The seam dipped at a gradient of 1 in 5 due south and the coal was not first class but found already market as locomotive fuel.

The seam was to be the last exploited at the colliery and serious development began in 1956 and a short heading had been driven and abandoned in 1928-9. This heading was 50 yards long had been reached by a cross measure drift started from a road in the Haigh Yard seam at a point 350 yards from and approximately level with the bottom of the No.1 downcast shaft. When this project was abandoned, a brick stopping was built across the bottom of the stone drift.

Early in 1956 it was decided to reopen the Plodder seam and the stopping was removed. Firedamp was encountered behind the stopping but it was cleared by the installation of a fan placed outbye at the foot of the drift with the appropriate tubing.

The stone drift was found to be in good condition but the heading in the seam was almost closed. It was cleaned up and a drivage to prepare a face 110 yards long to advance to the dip and another used as a return airway, which was known as the
Gibfield Stret, were started.

During the development period the narrow places were ventilated by a fan placed on the Haigh Yard level outbye of the foot of the stone drift. Firedamp was never detected. The coal was conveyed along a system of conveyors to the foot of the drift, where it was loaded into tubs. When the drift had originally been driven, a brick wall had been built up the middle for ventilation purposes. The conveyor was laid in the right hand passage going up hill whilst a tub track for the taking in of supplies was laid up the left side. The haulage for the supplies was an electrically driven 10 h.p. Pikrose engine fixed in a recess at the side of the roadway on a short piece of level road at the top of the drift in the area where the Plodder seam had been exposed by the driving of the drift. The roads leading from the short level roadway had a dipping gradient in both the inbye and the outbye direction. The drum of the engine faced inbye but the placing of a pulley in the floor a few feet away enabled the haulage to be used both on the coal heading dipping towards the face and on the stone drift outbye.

The development programme was carried out without any serious difficulty and a ventilating circuit was established on 12th September 1956 when the Gibfield Stret made a connection with an existing roadway in an old district of the Plodder seam workings of the neighbouring Gibfield Colliery. After this connection had been made another drivage in the coal was started back towards the pit bottom from a point about halfway along the dip development face. This was to serve as a loader gate and as a second air intake. This heading joined up with the new stone drift, No.1, set off the Haigh Yard level about 120 yards inbye of the foot of the 1929 drift which was then called the No.2.

Towards the end of October the Plodder development face to the dip was started as a double face unit with two face belts delivering to a centre loading belt in the No.1 drift intake and the coal loaded into tubs at the foot of the drift. There was no urgency for the face to move quickly and the average advance of about 4 feet 6 inches per cut was made each week. Preparations for opening up the flank face to work towards Gibfield proceeded. Later the enlarging of the Gibfield Stret with a view of returning to the Chanters No.2 shaft was started. A start to this work was made in February 1957 with the ripping of the bottom 10 yards of No.2 drift in preparation for building an air crossing over the Haigh Yard level. The 10 h.p. Pikrose hauler at the high point of the No.2 intake had been in action only after the No.1 drift had been completed and this was used to deal with the dirt made at this ripping.

The Haigh Yard seam was worked at Chanters about 3,500 yards from the Chanter’s shafts and since the main haulage road and the return airway of the Haigh Yard workings passed quite close to the shafts of St. George’s Colliery, the opportunity was taken to use these shafts, both upcast and downcast to ventilate the Haigh Yard workings. The air for the Plodder district this came from St. George’s and Bedford downcast shafts and returned to the Gibfield upcast shaft. In the district itself intake air travelled up both Nos. 1 and 2 drifts, along the face advancing to the dip and returned up Gibfield Stret and the newly developed flank face into Gibfield No.1 East old district. Air measurements on 22nd February 1957 showed that 3,182 cubic feet of air per minute was entering the face at e left hand intake, 3,996 was entering the face at the left hand intake and 2,422 was leaking from the No.1 intake through the connection between it and the return. This amount of leakage was due to the fact that a gate belt was installed in the connection. Sampling at both ends of the airway showed that the dip face contained .1 per cent methane.

When the air reached the old Gibfield district, two paths were available to it. The first by the bottom of the Gibfield No.1 East district, on which a loosely built stopping which acted as a regulator was built. It was possible to travel through this stopping and close it and a board indicated that this was the dividing line between the Chanters and Gibfield. The second went by a length of old face and the middle road of the same district which could not be travelled. Following an inspection at Gibfield by officials on 22nd February it was decided to divert about 6,000 cubic feet by the installation of an 80-yard length of tubing from the loosely built stopping through some ventilation doors to 21’s intake. This was to try to lower the temperature in the 21’s district. The installation of the air tubes which were partly metal and partly canvas was completed on the 27th February. No attempt was made to force air through these pipes and a measurement of the air coming out of the pipes on 28th February showed 1,581 cubic feet of air per minute was passing through them into the 21’s intake.

The electrical apparatus in the Plodder district was supplied from a 150 KVA 2,000/600 volts transformer in the no.2 Plodder substation which was 340 yards from the No.1 pit bottom. On the occurrence of an earth fault, an earth leakage device was arranged to trip out the switch and lock it out mechanically with an indicator flag to show that it had operated. A paper covered, double wire armoured 600 volt feeder cable from the switch passed up No.1 drift to a flame-proof gate-end switch board in the connecting road between Nos. 1 and 2 drifts which controlled the conveying and cutting apparatus at the face. A similar cable was looped from busbars at this gate-end switch outbye to supply the switch controlling the 10 h.p. Pikrose haulage in No.2 drift.

This control switch and the haulage motor were both of the flame-proof type and were connected by armoured cables with bolted connectors at each end. The haulage unit and its control switch were about 90 yards from the section switch in No.2 Plodder substation.

Pit Terminology - Glossary


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The Inquiry