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David Long

Ince Moss Pits Disaster, 6 Sept. 1871

Explosion of Gas - 70 killed - Memorials

David Long
11 November 2011
Ince Moss Pits Disaster, 1871


Some years ago I corresponded with Ian Winstanley re the above disaster. I was after a list of those killed in September 1871 in two explosions - According to the account of the Inquest he sent me, 70 were killed in the first explosion, on September 6th, and 5 in the second.

The intention was to try to have a proper memorial made to the men - only the owner's name is on the substantial memorial to the event in Ince Cemetery.

Ian supplied me with a list... but I was unable then to progress the idea... but I'm being prompted now to start again. On checking the list, I've found it lists only 68 names - rather than the total of 73. Whether this covers both days, and the other 5 were unidentified, or whether it just covers the first explosion, I don't know.

A report I have from the New York Times of 18th September (so before the 2nd explosion) says there were 68 bodies in the pit when it was decided to cease rescue operations and stop up the downcast shaft to starve the fire. It also records 10 were brought to the surface alive, though one died. From all that I deduce the full list is probably 75. So we are missing 7....

Is there any way of finding out?

Rev David Long

St Mary's Church, Lower Ince, Wigan.



I am very hopeful that this project will go forward after speaking to our Ward Councillors today when they came to lay wreathes at the WW1 Cenotaph, about ten yards from the disaster memorial. They agreed that something Should Be Done - and there may even be some money, as well as their co-operation in obtaining whatever permissions are needed.

Also, a local researcher has been transcribing the Cemetery Records for the Borough's Cemeteries, and she has at last got round to doing this cemetery. This is relevant to this project because I've always assumed that many of the men would have been buried in the same cemetery as the memorial - and perhaps in its vicinity. This has been partially confirmed, in that I have found the records of 17 of the men and boys on the list, plus one other not listed. However, their burials (in unmarked, Public Graves - another reason for having their names inscribed on the memorial) date from 1873/4 - two years after the disaster. There are no records of burials in the months after the disaster - yet 54 bodies had been recovered by 1872. They must be buried somewhere.... I am trying to contact the researcher to see if she has seen anything in the records about earlier burials - perhaps a number of mass burials.

I attach a pic of the memorial. The burials I've found are in the open area of grass to the right of the memorial. I've also attached a pic of a grave elsewhere in the cemetery, which I'm sure you'll find interesting. Use as you wish.

Now I've got my mind going on this, I've done a bit of Googling, and also looked again at what I already had from when I initially started this project. Then the fact that the cemetery records have been done in the meantime has meant I have been able to uncover the details of four of the five men killed on September 19th, when an attempt was made to reopen the pit.


  • Zacharia Ashurst, 53. Carpenter, buried 23 Sept 1871
  • Thomas Farrimond, 60. Sinker, buried 23 Sept 1871
  • Samuel Shuttleworth, 34. Joiner, buried 31 Mar 1873
  • John Walsh, 49. Buried 24 Sept 1871. Address: 3 Dansons Yard, Warrington Road. His two sons, John (17) and Thomas (15), were killed in the first explosion.
  • I only have the surname Peak for the 5th man.

Their names have been added in 'Blue' to the list, page 2



14 Nov 2011

The lady who has been transcribing Wigan's Cemetery records has been in touch, and thanks to her I've been able to complete the list of five killed on the 19th - the 5th was Joseph Peet (not Peak), 28, labourer, buried on 22 Sept 1871 in the same unmarked grave as many of the other victims. She has also discovered another victim of the 6th - Peter Greenhall, 23, Collier, buried 9 April 1873. There is a 25 year-old John Greenall on the original list of 68, so it is probable they are two different men.



Article from the Graphic, 9th September 1871
Page: 247, Column: 1

Home News

There has been a fearful colliery explosion at what are known as the Moss Pits, near Wigan. Hitherto this mine, owing to its admirable management, has been particularly free from accidents, but this happy distinction is now at an end.

The explosion occurred on Wednesday morning while the men were at work both in the Nine Feet, and the Cannel. Two sinkers were descending the upcast shaft, when there was a sudden discharge of smoke from the shaft, and the gearing was completely wrecked.

Parties of men were at once set to work to clear away the ruins and open the shafts, and as soon as possible exploring parties sent down. The men in the Cannel were found alive and sent to the top, but in the Nine Feet it was different. Some here were still alive, though much injured, but the dead numbered sixty-nine. The toal and woodwork of the shafts were found to be on fire, so it was determined, it being certain that all below must be dead, to brick up the shaft.

Article from the Graphic, 16th September 1871
Page: 270, Column: 1

Home News

With reference to the Wigan colliery explosion, there seems to be some doubt as to the number of men who were in the ill-fated Nine Feet Seam at the time, but it is supposed there were seventy, three of whom were rescued for the time, but died afterwards.

The exploring party having got these men out, made their way through the workings, finding strong indications of fire and after-damp, but no signs of life; and while they were so engaged, the second explosion occurred, throwing them down. With considerable difficulty they made their way back to the shaft, and got out in safety. Thereupon the consultation was held which resulted in the closing of the shafts, a measure which was not adopted hastily, but only when no one could doubt that all those in the mine must be dead, and the question had been submitted to the relatives of those in the pit. So the shafts were sealed, a vent pipe and valve being placed at one to show how things were going on below. At present the smoke which arises from this shows an increasing amount of choke-damp, and the temperature of the mine is decreasing, both signs that the means adopted are effectual in extinguishing the fire. Subscriptions are being raised for the widows and children, and the owners of the mine have taken care to relieve the immediate distress.

Article from the Graphic, 23rd September 1871
Page: 294, Column: 3

Home News

There has been another disastrous explosion at the Wigan Colliery on the re-opening of the shafts. The engineers were so persuaded from their observations that the fire had been extinguished that they resolved on Wednesday to try and recover the bodies, and for this purpose the two shafts were partly re-opened.

The operations seem to have been done with great care, and one of the engineers, looking over the mouth of the upcast and observing that all was quiet below, had just remarked that he thought they might safely descend, when the explosion came. There was a rush of wind, a loud report, and a great flame shot out of the shaft. Those standing near were blown away, many were severely hurt, and several, it is believed five, killed. It has been determined to flood the mine.

Article from the Graphic, 30th September 1871
Page: 318, Column: 3

Home News

The Wigan Colliery accident has gradually developed to be one of the most disastrous ever known, and at the time of writing the water is still being poured into the mine with a view to extinguishing the fire.

This course was resolved upon after the second explosion, and the pipes were got ready for the purpose. While this was doing the smoke issuing from the shaft was observed to increase in density; there was a sudden report, and a stream of fire shot up from the shaft mouth. This was about four o'clock in the morning; the fire seemed gradually to burn itself out until about half-past seven, when a similar but smaller explosion took place, setting fire to the head gear and engine house. Other explosions followed, all much weaker than the first.

The huge column of smoke surging out of the shaft mouth, fifteen feet in diameter, rose above the tall colliery chimneys, and spread before the wind in a thick veil. "A Forty two Years Miner," writing to a contemporary on this subject, declares that the only remedy is more shafts and less brattice. The common sense view of the matter he takes to be some method of getting rid of the foul air, not some method of working safely in it, and with a perfect system of ventilation there ought to be no necessity for safety lamps.

Of course, this is a right view of the question, but it costs money, and that money would come out of the householders' pocket in the shape of a rise in coals. It sounds dreadfully heartless to set the miners' lives against an extra shilling or so per ton; but that, we fear, is what would be done. If a mine owner has to sink six shafts where he now sinks one he must charge more for his coals; if he charges more for his coals the consumer will grumble, and as the consumer is also a taxpayer and elector his voice has to be listened to.

Information from Durham Mining Museum

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