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During the night of 28th February / 1st March a fall about 20 yards long occurred on the east side of the dip on the development face. The next morning an inspection of the face was made by Mr. Haslam, the undermanager, whilst the air measurements were taken by Mr. K. Middleton, the ventilation officer. It was found that the quantity of air passing on the left of the face had reduced slightly from the measurement taken the previous week and with the possibility that the face could become further blocked to raise the screen fastened on two wooden frames in the connection between Nos. 1 and 2 intakes about 20 yards back from but parallel with the face. The openings of both these frames had an area of 18 square feet.

Until the 5th March the Plodder district was supervised by one deputy on each shift but with the growth of the district, in particular the need for a flank face to be started as soon as possible, it was desirable for extra supervision to be provided. On the 6th March, the day of the disaster, an extra deputy J.E. Houghton was appointed on the day shift. He took charge of the dip development face; the two intakes and the Haigh Yard level while H. Dickenson, who was formerly in charge of the whole of the Plodder, concentrated towards Gibfield.

On the morning of the day of the explosion, eight men were employed on the east side of the dip development face, preparing to take a coal buttock past the fall. The deputy in charge, Houghton, found no gas when he tested at the face rippings and in the general body of the air. The two brattice sheets in the connection between the two intakes were in the raised position but only a slight current of air was passing and only a small amount was flowing past the fall on the face. Houghton made his pre-shift inspection between 1 and 2 p.m. No one had been working at the Pikrose haulage at the highest point of the No.2 intake during his shift and although he visited the place he did not test for gas. After telephoning a satisfactory report on the condition of the district to the pit bottom, Houghton went to the coal face to supervise the moving of a coal cutter and remained there for about an hour.

The afternoon shift was admitted by deputy V. Robinson. Five men, P. Socha, J. Howcroft, E. Nutter,
T. Dzundza and W. Beckett were sent to work at the ripping, 10 yards up the No.2 drift where the air crossing was being enlarged. Normally only three of the men worked there but the place where Dzundza and Beckett were usually employed was not available on that shift. Other men whom Robinson passed in were two bricklayers, E. Williams and R. Sutton who were to work in the Haigh Yard level. F. Woodward was to operate the Pikrose haulage at the top of the No.2 drift which was used by the rippers to lower dirt, they were to fill a short distance down the drift. Since the haulage which Woodward was to operate was situated more than 300 feet from the nearest coal face, it was not a requirement of the Coal and Other Mines (Ventilation) Regulations, 1956 that a firedamp detector should be placed there.

Several sets of men who had started work at 10 a.m. had not completed their shift when the afternoon men arrived. While he was going to the pit bottom, after finishing work at the face, Houghton met Robinson at the foot of the No.2 intake. Together they examined the lip of the ripping where Socha and his men were at work and found no gas. They parted at the foot of the drift Houghton making his way to the pit bottom and Robinson went to the No. 2 drift to the Pikrose haulier. Since Woodward was to work there during the shift, he made several tests for gas and found the place clear.

Woodward was not there and Robinson came down the drift and went inbye along the Haigh Yard level, taking a look at the men employed there. While he was near the foot of No.1 drift he was called to the telephone and at about 3.30 p.m. was speaking to Houghton about a routine matter when Woodward came up that he wanted the electrician because there was a fault which he had found on the Pikrose panel. When he put the switch in there was a buzzing sound and the smell of burning. Houghton, at the pit bottom overheard the conversation but told Robinson that Woodward had already telephoned him from the phone 30 yards outbye the foot of No. 2 drift and added that he had just examined the lamps of two electricians, L. Inman and K. Tryner who had descended the shaft for a routine examination and he had told them of Woodward’s message. As there was some doubt as to the cause of the trouble in the panel two mechanics W. Pearson and T. Morris who happened to be at the pit bottom also decided to go to the Pikrose though they in fact paid a short visit to the haulage on the Haigh Yard level before following the electricians and Woodward.

Robinson then went inbye up No.1 drift and Houghton went out of the mine. Just before 4 p.m.
F. Wolstenholme, an oncost man working near the No.1 pit bottom, felt a strong blast of air which appeared to come from the direction of the Plodder district. The blast was followed almost at once by a cloud of dust.

Wolstenholme went inbye and found five men, Socha, Howcroft, Nutter, Dzundza and Beckett, who had been working near the foot of the No.2 drift and one of the bricklayers, E. Williams. All these men were badly burned and they were making their way to the pit bottom. A little further on he met the second bricklayer R. Sutton who was guiding a man who was badly burned, the mechanic, W. Pearson.

At the time the fumes were so thick that Wolstenholme could get only as far as the top of the St George’s clip brow so he got to the telephone and informed the undermanager, Mr. Haslam, that something had happened in the Plodder district and that help was needed at once. Later Wolstenholme managed to get in as far as the foot of the No.2 intake where he found some timber, clothing and brattice cloth on fire.

He tackled the fired with fire extinguishers. Other workers from the pit bottom joined Wolstenholme and a short time afterwards men from the No.1 intake in charge of deputy Robinson arrived. Most of the party went out to the pit bottom but a few stayed to help deal with the burning material until the arrival of the undermanager a little later.

R. Sutton, a bricklayer was working 15 top 20 yards outbye of the foot of the No.1 intake when the explosion occurred. He was blown over and burned slightly on the right cheek and forehead but he was able to get out thorough the dust and smoke. Just as he was passing the foot of the No.2 intake he heard cries for help and turned to find Pearson badly burnt groping his way about. Sutton took charge of Pearson and led him to the pit bottom where he met the rest of the burnt men.

A number of oncost men had been working at the foot of No.1 intake. They were blown over and enveloped in dust when the blast occurred. One of them, R. Littler, managed to ring the surface to say that he thought an explosion had occurred between there and the pit bottom. After a short examination of the Haigh Yard level when a lot of smoke and dust had been seen, it was decided to go inbye up the No.1 intake with a view to escape by the Gibfield colliery as it was feared that there was a fire on the Chanters side. At the junction of No.1 intake and the crosscuts the party met the men from the dip face under H. Ashton and soon afterwards were joined by deputy Robinson and the workmen from the flank face. After a telephone conversation between the men and the manager at the surface the 21 men formed a crocodile and on the manager’s advice, set off back to the Chanters pit bottom by way of No.1 intake. The atmosphere was thick with smoke and dust until they got to the foot of the No.2 drift, where they came across the men who were dealing with the burning material.

Deputy Robinson had just charged two holes in the roof ripping in Gibfield Stret when he felt the rush of air created by the explosion. He thought a three inch compressed air pipe had broken and proceeded to fire the shots. The air became thicker with dust and from a nearby leak in the compressed air Robinson saw that it was not caused by a pipe breaking. He got all his men to make their way to the junction of the connecting road and the No.1 intake where H. Ashton and his men were. After a conversation with the manager by telephone, the party of 21 made their way safely down No.1 intake and along the Haigh Yard level to the foot of No.2 intake.

Soon afterwards, Haslam, undermanager, arrived down the pit and it was understood at that time that only Woodward was missing. It was thought possible that he might have escaped towards the face on the inbye side of the haulage so Mr. Haslam and deputy, Houghton, went up the No.1 intake, along the connection and back up No.2 intake for about 20 yards. They could get no further on account of the smoke and fumes and did not find Woodward. When they returned, they found that Mr. Hiller, the manager, and a rescue team had just arrived.

While Mr. Haslam was in the district he opened two doors between No.1 intake and the return to try to get rid of the smoke. It was realised that other men besides Woodward were missing. A rescue team wearing
self-contained breathing apparatus went up No.2 intake and located one body, that of Inman, the electrician. Further visits were made up the drift and by 6 40 p.m. four bodies had been brought out. T. Morris was hard to find since he was lying in that part of the road behind a brick wall where the conveyor had originally ran and it was a part that was not usually used for travelling. Inman’s body was five yards inbye of the Pikrose panel and those of Tryner and Woodward were about five yards further inbye.


Pit Terminology - Glossary


Page 3
The Inquiry