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From: Lauren N. Bowen
Sent: 10 June 2010
I am a medical researcher looking into mining explosions dated near the 1700s or before

To whom it may concern:

I am a medical researcher looking into mining explosions dated near the 1700s or before, and I am specifically interested in the stories of the explosions, especially dealing with injuries from the blast (or details of deaths without external signs of damage).
I saw that you had listed the 1708 explosion at Fatfield and I was wondering - do you have more details on it? Or could you help direct me to more resources that you might know of? Thank you!

Lauren N. Bowen
University of Florida College of Medicine

Bowen,Lauren N

FATFIELD. Chester-le-Street, Durham. 18th. August 1708.
The colliery was on the River Weir and an explosion occurred there at three o’clock in the morning. A sudden eruption of violent fire came from the mouths of the three pits with a noise like the firing of a cannon.

Sixty nine people lost their lives and two men and a woman were reported to have been blown from the bottom of the shaft to the surface and carried a considerable distance from the pit. According to one account, the girl was found ‘with her bowels hanging about her heels.’ The shaft was 342 feet deep. The engine that was used to draw the coal from the pit was blown aside by the blast and fish in a stream nearby were found to be floating, dead in the water.

A steam engine, built by William Brown, who was the engineer at Throckley Colliery, was installed in 1772. Firelamps were introduced to ventilate the pit in 1732. Dunn says that this was the first time that this method of ventilation was used.

After explaining the effects of ‘stythe’ or chokedamp and sulphur, which we now know as firedamp, the Philosophical Transactions go on to say:-
“To prevent both these inconveniences as the only remedy known here, the viewer of the work takes the best care he can to preserve a free current of air through all the works, and as the air goes down one pit it should ascend the other. But it happened in this colliery, there was a pit which stood in an eddy, where the air had not always free passage, and which in hot sultry weather was very much the subject of sulphur and it then being the middle of August, and some damage apprehended from the closeness of the heat of the season, the men were with the greatest care and caution withdrawing from their work in that pit and turned into another but an overman, some days after this change, and upon the notion of his own, being induced, as is supposed, by a fresh, cool, frosty breeze of wind, which blew on that unlucky morning, and which always clears the works of all sulphur, had gone too near this pit and had met the sulphur just as it was purging and dispersing itself, upon which the sulphur immediately took fire at his candle, which proved the destruction of himself and so many men and caused the greatest fire ever known in these parts.”

From the account it was clear that the Flatfield Pits were ventilated by natural circulation of air and were subject to any changes in weather conditions.


Annals of Coal Mining and the Coal Trade by Robert L. Galloway. Published in 1898

The information on this page was kindly provided by Ian Winstanley.

- Unfortunately there are no names for those who died in the disaster -


Pit Terminology - Glossary