Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire. 12th November, 1932
Coal was got on the day and the night shifts and wound during the day and afternoon shifts. The average daily output was about 800 tons.
The Garswood Hall No. 9 Colliery was one of a group of Collieries owned by the Garswood Hall Collieries Company Limited, of which Mr. James H. Edmondson was the Managing Director. Mr. William Sword was the Consulting Engineer and Mr. H.J.
Whitehead, the Agent. The Colliery was situated off Edge Green Lane in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire and was also known as the Edge Green Colliery. Mr. J. Latham was the Manager and Mr. Peter Bullough the undermanager of the No.9 Colliery, which had three shafts, the No.9, the downcast and coal-drawing shaft, the No.2, which was the upcast shaft and the No.3, which was close to the No.2, but at the time of the explosion was not in use.
The seams being worked at the Colliery were the Ravin and the the Orrell Four Foot which was called the Arley mine. The Arley was reached from the Ravin by two tunnels driven through an upthrow fault to the east with a throw of some 80 to 90 yards. The strata dip to the south east at the rate of 1 in 5Å. The working day was divided into three shifts, day, afternoon and night with about two hundred and two people being employed on the day shift, one hundred and five on the afternoon shift, and one hundred and sixteen on the night shift.
The colliery was abandoned after the explosion and the shaft filled, but even as this was going on it exploded again, injuring no one but throwing the cage into the headgear.
The repair work was done on the afternoon shift. Supervision of the workforce underground was exercised occasionally by the Agent and on a daily basis by the manager and the undermanager. They had a staff of eleven firemen, four on the day shift, three on the afternoon shift, and four on the night shift. On the day and night shifts, there was a fireman in each of these districts. On the afternoon shift, one fireman supervised the No.5 Brow and No.2 Brow districts, but there was no work in the No.2 Brow district during that shift. The Colliery did not employ any overmen or other officials between the undermanager and the firemen. An inspection was made by each fireman towards the end of his shift and this inspection constituted the inspection within two hours of the commencement of work in the succeeding shift. Reports of these inspections were duly entered in the prescribed report book kept in the office at the pit brow.
The workings are divided into four districts, three of which were on the North Side, No.5 Brow, and No.2 Brow" all of which were in the Ravin seam and the other district was the "Orrell Four Foot", in the seam known by that name as well as by the name Arley. The station for all the districts was at the bottom of the No.9 pit and this was where the Report books were kept.
The ventilation of the mine was by means of a "Walker" fan situated near the top of the No.2 shaft, which caused a total quantity of 28,500 cubic feet of air per minute to pass through the workings. Of this total quantity, 10,500 cubic feet ventilated the “North Side" district and the remainder passed along the South Level to ventilate the Orrell Four Foot, the No.5 Brow and No.2 Brow districts. The North Side was not affected by the explosion.
Travelling inbye along the South Level, the No.2 Brow was reached first, then the No.5 Brow and finally the South Brow, which lead directly into the workings in the Orrell Four Foot Seam, beyond the upthrow fault already mentioned. On No. 2 Brow, between Nos.2 and 3 Levels, there were two wooden doors to prevent the air passing down that brow. The air current, less the amount that leaked through these doors, continued along the South Level to the No.5 Brow where 6,800 cubic feet per minute turned down that brow, leaving the remainder to pass on and down the South Brow into the Orrell Four Foot. This split of 6,800 cubic feet, travelled down No.5 Brow as far as No.10 Level where it’s progress downbrow was barred by two wooden doors placed across the brow.
One was just above the No.11 Level and the other just above the No.12 Level. Entrance to the No.11 Level was blocked by a brick stopping, but the entrance to the No.10. Level was not blocked. This split of fresh air returned into that level and was guided along it to No.8 Brow by brick stoppings built across No.6 and No.7 Brows. Following that part of the air current which, having passed beyond the top of No.5 Brow turned down the South Brow, it was found that, after being coursed round the workings in the Orrell Four Foot seam, it returned upbrow and eventually arrived at the No.5 Brow district where, at the junction of the No.8 Brow with No.10 Level, it rejoined the split which has reached this point by way of the No.5 Brow and the No.10 Level. The quantity of air in the last mentioned split, measured on the 25th October was 6,060 cubic feet per minute. There was a current of air slightly over 12,000 cubic feet per minute which, after ventilating the workings in the No.5 Brow district, passed on to, and around, the workings in the No.2 Brow district, and then, after joining the return air from the North district, by way of a long main return airway to the upcast shaft which was the No.2 shaft.
This scheme of ventilation was in operation at the date of the explosion, but before the 5th September, the two doors in the No.5 Brow had been near the top of that brow and no fresh air, other than that which leaked through the doors, was passing down the brow. It was a scheme which appeared to have been sufficient so long as the working of the Ravin Seam was confined to the getting of coal in "stret" places only, but when the boundary had been reached and the taking out of the pillars, formed by driving of the "stret" places, became necessary, then it’s sufficiency became doubtful, especially as the goaf to be laid down was to the dip of the district.
The first sign of this, so far as could be ascertained from the firemen’s report books or any of the witnesses at the inquiry, was the detection of firedamp, towards the end of the shift on 1st. September, in the working place of a collier, William Edwards. According to the evidence given by Mr. Edwards, he had just found this firedamp when the fireman, William Marsh, came into the place and Marsh, after making a test, withdrew him from it.
In his report book in reference to the inspection made by Marsh, he reported, under the heading ‘Noxious or Inflammable gases’ -"None, except a three per cent cap in W. Edwards’ place in No.8 splitting. Place fenced off". A similar report was made daily by each of the three firemen inspecting in the No.5 Brow district until the report at the end of the morning shift on 9th September William Marsh reported:- "Edwards’ place clear, all fences removed". A second sign of doubt as to the sufficiency of the ventilation scheme occurred in the report of the inspection made on the same day, the 1st September, of the No.2 Brow district, between the hours of 8 and 10.30 p.m. by the fireman of the district, Frank Clough. That report in reference to the finding of noxious or inflammable gases read:- "A show of 2 per cent. cap of gas coming from the No. 5 panel brow."
On the 1st. September, the manager was on holiday. He returned to work on 5th September and after consulting with the agent and the undermanager, he set about trying to try to improve the ventilation on the No.5 Brow district. As things were, he found his greatest difficulty was to concentrate the ventilating current on the edge of the goaf and the working places, and to keep it from escaping through the stret places driven in the first working. His first step was to take away the doors situated across No.5 Brow near the top, and to hang brattice sheets across that brow just below the entrance to No.10 Level, so fresh air was free to go down the No.5 Brow and into the panel side of the No.5 district by way of the No.10 Level, where it joined the air current which had been round the workings in the Orrell Four Foot.
The brattice sheets below the entrance to No.10 Level, however, allowed too much of the fresh air coming down the No.5 Brow to escape directly down that brow, so two wooden doors were erected and the brattice sheets allowed to remain. Brick stoppings were erected in Nos.6 and 7 Brows between Nos.10 and 11 Levels and across the entrance to No.11 Level off No.5 Brow.