Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancashire. 12th November, 1932
The time within which the investigation of the area affected by the explosion could be made was cut short by a decision made by the Managing Director of the Company, Mr. J.H. Edmondson to erect stoppings at certain points. Mr. Edmondson made this decision solely on the grounds of safety.
At 7 a.m. on the morning following the explosion Mr. C.M. Coope, manager of the Lyme Colliery belonging to Messrs. Evans and Co. was in the No.5 Brow district and found a peculiar smell near a pack at the bottom of the No.7 Brow. To Mr. Thompson, the only thing this smell conveyed to him was "that there might be something left behind by the first or second explosion". It was not anything like as strong as the ‘gob stink’ which, in his experience, came from a heating in the Ravin Seam but it did suggest the possibility of spontaneous combustion. Mr. Coope did not express any opinion as to what it might mean. Mr. Thompson went to the surface about 8 p.m. and saw Mr. Whitehead and Mr. Sword, who had not been underground that morning. He reported the finding of the smell which he told them he thought "Was the parafinny smell that you get in the very early stages on any heating". He did not tell Mr. Whitehead and Sword that there was any heating. He did not think there was a heating but it was a sign that there might be something in the very early stages. He was, as he said ‘trying to be ultra-cautious if possible, knowing there had been two explosions in the district’.
Mr. Coope, on leaving the mine, conveyed his views to Mr. F.B. Lawson, the general manager of the Haydock Collieries of Messrs. Evans and Co. who had hurried to the scene of the disaster and had been underground on the day of the explosion. An investigation was there upon made on the spot by Mr. Whitehead, Sword, Bullough, McBride and Coatesworth and later in the day by Mr. Walker, Mr. Charlton and Mr. Stevenson, who was a past manager of the No.9 Garswood Hall Colliery. In no case did anyone consider the smell to indicate the presence of gob fire or of heating. Mr. Latham, the manager, did not associate the smell with a heating in the goaf but said that the idea of a possible heating having been put into his head by other people, made him very anxious, knowing as he did that there was a good deal of firedamp in the mine.
The opinions of Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Bullough, as men of great experience in this mine, carried much weight in reassuring Mr. Walker and he was also reassured by the favourable results of analyses of the mine air for carbon monoxide content taken on the day of the explosion and the following day by Mr. Ivor Gibson, Assistant Director of the Birmingham Research Laboratory and his assistant Dr. T.D. Jones.
When the explosion occurred, Mr Edmondson had been ill in bed for a week, but he came to the Colliery Office but was not able to go underground. Mr. Walker was present in the office on the following day of the explosion before his underground, when Mr. F.B.
Lawson, having had Mr. Coope’s message, first suggested that the smell might indicate a heating in the gob and that there was on this account further risk of another explosion with possible loss of life.
When Mr. Walker returned to the surface Mr. Edmondson had left the colliery so Mr. Walker was not able to advise him, personally. Mr. Walker was fully reassured of the position. Mr. Edmondson was ill, being so concerned lest any further disaster should occur had however given orders for the district to be sealed off.
It was unfortunate, that while the putting in of certain of the first stoppings was mutually agreed between Mr. Charlton and Mr. Edmondson, the final sealing off of the district was done without discussion between representatives of all who were interested.
During the examination of the explosion area after the event, a damaged flame safety lamp was found and this was carefully considered as a possible source of ignition. The results of the investigations made on the lamp that was found at the bottom of the No.9 Brow. The lamp was called, "Damaged Flame Lamp No.62". This damaged lamp was found on the evening of the day following the explosion when Messrs. Whittaker, a surveyor, Simmons, assistant surveyor and Messrs. Bloor and Roberts, H.M. Sub-Inspector of Mines were engaged in taking measurements of the district to make a plan showing the effects of the explosion. The lamp when found apparently minus it’s glass the gauzes being down in the oil vessel. When examined later in the Office of the
Colliery the gauzes were lifted and a piece of glass fell out. The lamp was examined at the Mines Department Testing Station, Sheffield by the Superintending Testing Officer Captain C.B. Charlton who submitted his findings to the Inquiry.
His report on the particular lamp came to the following conclusion -
“With the exception of lamp 62 all the other lamps, both flame and electric, were in good condition and as received were incapable of igniting firedamp. I could find no evidence that lamp 62 had been burning in an atmosphere contain firedamp.”
The electric bells and the signalling equipment in the mine also came under great scrutiny. Two electric signalling bells as described below were sent to Captain Platt for the purpose of ascertaining, in respect of either or both, whether the spark produced by breaking the external circuit and at the trembler contacts whilst the bell was ringing was capable of igniting firedamp.
A ‘1920’ bell by which the signals given on the No.8 Brow was indicated to the haulage engine driver at the high side of the No.12 Level and a ‘Wigan Gastite’ bell taken from the haulage engine on the north side of the No.5 Brow opposite to the entrance to the No.12 Level.The results of Captains Platt’s experiments were that the spark it produced did ignite an explosive mixture of firedamp and air. Captain Platt also made tests to find out whether the pushes installed in conjunction with the bells were flameproof. With the cover of the push removed, the spark produced at the make and brake contact, when the push was operated, ignited firedamp.
In a series of tests which Captain Platt made to determine whether the actual case of the switch was flameproof, he found that when it was completely assembled, as intended by the maker, an ignition of gas within the case would not pass flame to the outside atmosphere. If, however the small rubber gasket at the gland of the switch case and a small hexagon nut retaining the gasket on position wee removed then a flame from within the case could pass to and ignite gas (8.3 per cent firedamp) in the outer atmosphere. This occurred even if the line wire was in position through the gland. Ignitions were not however obtained every time and were as Captain Platt described them "Chancy".
All the possible causes of the explosion were examined. They were shotfiring, a fire due to spontaneous combustion, to which the Ravin Seam was subject, a match struck for someone smoking, sparks or heat due to falling rock, a damaged safety lamp and electricity.
Examining these possible causes, there was no evidence of any sort that a shot had been fired immediately prior to the explosion. The evidence given by Mr. Ivon Graham and of Dr. T.D. Jones eliminated any suspicion that a fire due to spontaneous combustion might have been the cause. There was a careful inspection of the area for matches or smoking material failed to reveal any signs of such articles and there was no evidence of a fall having occurred prior to the explosion and the roof was shale not rock.
Two falls were found on the No.12 Level after the explosion but as burned bodies were recovered from beneath each of them, it is evident that they occurred after the explosion. There remained a damaged safety lamp and means of ignition caused by electricity.
Mr. D. Coatesworth, H.M. Junior Inspector of Mines, expressed the opinion that the point of origin of the first explosion was in the No.12 Level, somewhere between Nos.7 and 8 Brows and considered that an explosive mixture of firedamp and air accumulated in that level because the ventilation current was more obstructed by the restrictions in the path that it was intended to follow than it was by the numerous brattice sheets placed across No.12 Level. He considered that this accumulation was ignited either at the bell-push or at the wires, while a signal was being given to move the haulage rope on No.12 Level.
He had heard evidence that there was no pushes in the mine which did not have covers and that it was extremely exceptional for pushes to be found without covers but he had also heard the evidence of Mr. Cowan who found pushes without covers and when in the north district subsequent to the explosion he had himself seen nine pushes four of which had no covers and the fifth otherwise defective.