Peckfield Pit Disaster, Micklefield, Leeds, West Yorkshire.
30th April, 1896
Micklefield Tenants and Residents Association
The colliery was the property of Messrs. Joseph Cliff and Sons and was opened out by this firm about 22 years before the disaster. There were two seams of coal being worked at the time of the disaster, the Upper, the Beeston Bed where the explosion occurred and to which it was confined, and the Lower, Black Bed seam. The coal in the Beeston Bed was mainly steam coal, hard strong, not friable and easily broken. The Section of the Beeston Bred to the south of the East and West Levels, in the Dip, was damp and that to the north of these levels on the rise although drier, was not fiery. There were two shafts at the colliery, the upcast was sunk through both the Beeston and Black Beds and was used to wind men only. The downcast was sunk to the bottom of the Beeston Bed at 175 yards and was used for drawing coal and the winding of men. The access from the Beeston Bed to the Black Bed was by way of a drift out of the East Level about 320 yards from the downcast shaft.
Them manager of both the seams was Mr. Charles Houfton who held a First Class Certificate and had been manager of the colliery since it opened. Mr. William Radford was the undermanager who also held a first class certificate and had worked as an undermanager or 17 years. Each seam had separate deputies, and each deputy had a portion of the seam assigned to him. In the ordinary course of events there was one shift for getting coal per day which went down at 6 a.m. and employed between 250 and 260 men and one shift for repairs which went down at 10 p.m. which employed 35 to 40 men. The colliery was worked on the longwall system.
The ventilation was the colliery was by a Waddle Fan which was at the top of the upcast shaft. The fan was 30 feet in diameter and worked at 40 revolutions per minute. It had been installed about 22 years before the accident and since then had been kept in good order and had been running continually. The Beeston Bed was divided into four ventilation districts which each taking its intake from the downcast shaft. These four intakes were on the West Level No.1 Rise Bord, The East Level and No.1 Dip. In the West Level and the No.1 Dip there were two air splits each and in the East Level and the No.1 Rise Bord there was one air split. The currents were carried round all the working faces and the air in the Black Bed was supplied down the Drift from the East Level. Readings taken on the 30th. March by William Hargreaves showed the 79,000 cubic feet per minute were passing into the pit and 16,020 cubic feet to the West Level and its splits, 14,000 to the No.1 Rise Bord and its splits, 32,000 to the East Level and its splits including 8,100 cubic feet to the Black Bed and the No.1 Dip and its slits, 16,500 cubic feet.
There had been very little gas found in the mine before the explosion and there was no history of blowers. Hissing had never been heard in the mine. There were eleven case reported in the previous five years and these were quickly dealt with by the ventilation. The last two of these were on the 17th. and the 23rd. December 1895 in James Plumb’s gate in the Fast Level Division in the south east of the Beeston Bed and was coming from the same place on both occasions. There was a crack in the roof and it was cleared away within 12 hours after each discovery. No gas had ever been found in the New North Road of the West Level Division or in the place where the explosion originated. The place was closely packed and there were no cavities that would harbour gas.
Before the explosion the manager was never believed by the three deputies of the night shift that coal dust was likely to explode but it was a coal dust explosion that claimed the 63 lives. Dust was found to on the props about one-sixteenth of an inch thick and it was admitted that there could have been accumulations behind the timbering on the sides and roofs of the roads. The hardness of the coal was not likely to produce much dust. The coal was loaded into open tubs at one end and taken to the bottom of the downcast shaft in trains of 22 tubs which ran five times each way during the coal getting shift. Lumps of coal fell out during the journey to the bottom of the shaft and there was dust from the shaking tubs during transit which would have been blown down the travelling road by the ventilation currents.
The coal was screened on the surface but the coal was holed in the dirt and the bottom of the seam and was filled into the tubs with forks with prongs about two inches apart which meant that no dirt was filled. The dust from the passing of the tubs and that which fell from them was usually cleared away every evening. The dust that was removed was mainly of shale dust but no coal dust had been removed from the Beeston Seam for six months previous to the explosion. The roadways but not the sides or roofs were watered but this was not done on a regular basis and the last time that this was done was two weeks before the explosion.
Safety lamps were used by the deputies during the examination of the seams before the commencement of a shift and before blasting operations. For coal getting operations naked lights were used and the colliery engineer, Mr. Childe, that these lights were unsafe.
At 7 a.m. on the morning of the explosion, three deputies, Lillyman, Hopkinson and Backhouse inspected every part of the Beeston Bed and the report was that it was clear of gas and the ventilation was good and the roof and sides were safe and good. Lillyman placed his mark in white chalk at the side of John Goodall’s Gate and no fall or break from which gas might come was observed at that time. No coal was got on the 30th. April and the ordinary shift did not go down at 6 a.m. by a shift of 98 men went down the pit at 7 a.m. to repair roads, fill tubs and do other jobs. They took their naked lights with them.
The explosion took place about 7.15 a.m., within twenty minutes of the 98 men going down. Of these, 35 including one who came out just before the explosion survived. The remaining 63 were killed including a man named Whitaker who was recovered alive from the mine but later died in Leeds Infirmary. All the officials on the day shift were killed and this included the undermanager and every deputy. The bodies of these men were found in the cabin near the bottom of the shaft where it looked as though they were filling in the report books. Two bodies were found on the East Level between the shaft bottom and the entrance to the Black Bed Drift. The falls of roof were very heavy and all the evidence pointed to the blast going from East to West.
Mr. Childe who was with the first rescue party to go in to the mine said about the discovery of the body of a pony driver-
“It is more than a probability that he had gone inbye with his pony and left it in the New North Road at the Gate whilst he went past No.1 Gate and beyond into the fresh air current to perform a natural operation and the by means of his naked light, fired a small quantity of gas.”
Mr. Childe then went on to say that this small explosion disturbed the coal dust that had gathered on props, bars and roofs and sides which fired at the flame of the explosion.
Mr. Wardell went down the pit and found falls and afterdamp but several bodies were found at the bottom of the New North Road. The working faces were in good working order and no trace of the explosion existed in any of them and it was believed that many of the men had never reached their working places. In the Old North Road the body of Westerman was found clutching a Clanny lamp that was in good order. The colliery was carefully inspected by Mr. Wardell and Mr. Childe, Mr. Parrott and Mr. Spencer. The last two were representatives of the Miners’ Union and represented the workmen at the colliery.
There were 23 horses in the pit at the time of the disaster. Fourteen of these were in the stables and of these two were found to be alive with those on each side of them dead as was the horsekeeper. Two other ponies were later got out alive one near the place where Whitaker was found down the No.2 South Bord and the other nearly two weeks later down the No.1 Dip.