Warren Vale, Yorkshire. 20th December, 1851
(Information From Ian Winstanley)
From outward appearance, everything went on as usual until a few minutes before 7 o'clock. At that time, not only those near the pit, but the whole neighbourhood, were astounded and horrified by an explosion like that of a volcano. Smoke and flames burst from the mouth of the pit in an appalling volume. Two corves which were being drawn out of the pit were projected upwards with volcanic force, and lodged in the gearing over the shaft. A great quantity of coals, stones, and other matter, which had been carried high into the air, fell in a dense shower and the persons employed near the pit mouth were compelled to take shelter under the platform of the tipplers for loading the carts; it was only by this precaution, that they escaped possible fatal injury.
The colliery was owned by Messrs. Charlesworth and had only been worked about 12 months. The explosion claimed the lives of fifty two men and boys. The colliery had two shafts that were a few yards apart. The downcast was twelve yards in diameter and 127 yards deep to the Nine Feet Coal and the upcast was nine feet in diameter and 65 yards deep to the Five Feet Coal. The down cast shaft took air to both the mines and there was furnace, nine feet long and seven feet wide at the bottom of the upcast shaft which carried the air from both the mines. The air was split at the bottom of the downcast and sent to the Five Feet Coal and then on to the deeper thick coal mine. From here it returned through a staple pit that was only six feet in diameter. In the mines, single ventilation doors were fixed where double ones should have been. Brattices were used in some of the bordgates and even during the day there was not a permanent furnaceman. At night the furnace was not attended at all. The mine was lit with candles.
The colliery was comparatively new and there had been about two acres of coal worked and the thick coal, in which the explosion occurred, had not been driven more than three hundred yards in any direction and the goaves were limited. On the west side, where the gas fired there were three banks numbered 1, 2 and 3. They varied from thirty to forty yards in width and the roads into them were supported by pack walls, six feet thick that had been built from the material that had fallen from the roof.
Seventy men and boys worked in the lower coal and they were supervised by a steward who was old, infirm and had very little knowledge, all factors that worked against him doing his job efficiently. He had a ‘fire trier’ who was labourer to help him in the morning but generally the men went down the pit in a morning without any report from him.
John Roebuck was the engine tenter at the colliery and went to work at 5 a.m. on the morning of the disaster. The men started to arrive at the colliery about an hour later and it was at this time that the ‘fire trier’, Thomas Sylvester arrived and he was let down the pit first. He did not take a lamp but had a piece of lighted tar rope. The mine was not worked with lamps but considered safe for naked lights. Four or five men went down with Sylvester. Roebuck stated that he had never been told not to let men down until Sylvester had inspected the mine and said it was safe. The practice at the colliery was for the men to go down after him.
Roebuck was in the engine house when the explosion occurred at about five minutes to seven. Two corves of coal were in the deep shaft about ten yards from the bottom.
They weighed about two tons and were blown out of the shaft into the headgear where they stuck. The enginehouse was filled with dust and smoke and metal plates at the pit head were blown up. He then heard a very loud report. John Hague, a collier, who had two sons in the mine-
“I and my son went to work on Saturday morning in the deep level. We went down at a quarter to six and began to work in our usual place. We found no difference in the air. Joseph Shaw and his brother and Joseph Cooper were in the level above. Charles King, Samuel Pearce and Eli Barker were in the back bord and John James and William Dodson were in the centre bord. We filled two corves, and had started to fill a third corf when the blast came. We had been working an hour. The blast knocked out all out lights but one. We walked to the shaft and fourteen of us got out there, but with great difficulty, on account of the sulphur. There was a great wailing from those who were dying. We were 240 yards from the shaft when the explosion took place. It was nearly spent when it reached us. I assisted in getting men out of the pit.”
Charles Burgin worked in the pit as a packer and started work at 6.20 a.m. on the bank at the dip side. he had been there half an hour when the disaster happened.
“As soon as I felt the blast I dropped down to hide myself. I hear others crying out, and I told them to throw themselves down. as soon as I thought it was over in about half a minute) I proceeded into the horse-road towards the shaft. I had gone only a few yards when I stumbled over George Lindley. I shook him, but he made no answer. I left him, supposing him to be dead. When I got to the shaft I found seventeen or eighteen others. I told them to remain quite and I went to the north level. I had not got more than ten yards before I found a dead body. A little further up I found another. I then went to the first bordgate to see if the trapdoor was up, but it was blown away and shattered to pieces. Thinking it unsafe to go further I returned to the shaft, and we all remained there until assistance came from above ground, about an hour after the explosion.”
Mr. Burgin went down the pit again and gave an account of the operations that went on to recover and inspect the mine and to recover the bodies.
“We then got some tarpaulin sheets and nailed them in place of the trapdoors and stoppings, which were all blown down. We continued on the level where we found six bodies. We then went to the No.3, or far most bank, and found Thomas Knapton, Henry Gothard, Joshua Bugg, Charles Sylvester and Benjamin Lane.
They were all dead. we then entered the No.2 or middle bank and found John Pursglove, Abraham Cooper, Henry Pursglove, Thomas Burgin, William Schofield and James Shepherd. On going into the No.1 bank we found Henry James, Thomas Johnson, William Ashton, Henry Ward and William Hobson. we went up the bordgates and found two other bodies we did not know who they were, they were so bruised and discoloured. At the bottom of the air pit I found Henry Thompson. I then came out and after resting four hours I went down again and was down until three o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Charles Bailey went into the Five Feet pit after the explosion with his brother. At the inquest he said-
“We found two boys dead one in the level and one under the bars of the furnace. There were no others left in the five feet pit. We them went into the deep pit, and assisted in getting out forty two dead bodies. Thomas Sylvester, the ‘fire trier’ was found dead in the No.3 bank. He was elevated about six feet by the stones and coal that had fallen from the roof. There was a very heavy stone upon him. I think Sylvester had crept upon the rubbish after the explosion. The furnace was swept clean out by the blast.”
Mr. W. Goodison , the superintendent of the Charlesworth Collieries, gave an account of the operations at the colliery immediately after the disaster. He said-
“After the explosion we immediately began to search for bodies. I and Thomas Cooper made a brattice to convey the air into it’s regular course. Continued until we found dead men and boys in the level. We were then obliged on account of the afterdamp to ascend and we had a steam jet put down to improve the ventilation, after which we descended again and found a dead boy in the level. We were so fatigued that we obliged to desist, after being down for five hours.”
The search was continued by other parties and the last man who was Thomas Sylvester was brought out of the pit about 8 p.m. All the doors in the pit had been blown out and repair work was put into operation.
Those Who Lost Their Lives Were
The Following Bodies Were Taken To The Star Inn Rawmarsh
William Bownes, 18 - Rawmarsh (an orphan)
J. Purselove, 41 - Rawmarsh
J. Purselove, 14
H. Purselove, 12 (sons)
J. Hartley, 31 - Rawmarsh
John Walton junior, 14 - Rawmarsh, son of John and Ann Thickett, buried 23 December
W. Froggatt, 12 - Warren Vale, buried 23 December
W. Garnett, alias Whyke, 41 - Rawmarsh
J. Siddons, 21 - Lee Brook, Wentworth
James Johnson, 15 - Lane Head, son of John and Sarah Johnson, buried 23 December
William Schofield, 26 - Lane Head(In the No.2 bank)
T. Sylvester junior, 19 - Thorpe
George Sellers, 11 - Pinch Row, Swinton, buried 23 December (his father was injured)
G. Hague, 32 - Rawmarsh
James Shepherd, 21 - Rawmarsh (In the No.2 bank)
Thomas Taylor, 27 - Upper Haugh
G. Robinson, 23 - Rawmarsh
Richard Robinson, 18 - Rawmarsh, buried 23 December
B. Walker, 55 - Rawmarsh
Samuel Siddons, 29 - Rawmarsh, buried 23 December at Greasbrough
H. Goddard, 30 - Thorpe
J. Thompson, 31 - Rawmarsh
James Roberts, 16 - Rawmarsh, son of Joshua and Sarah Cousins, buried 24 December
Joseph Roberts junior, 14 (son of Joseph Roberts) labourer
Abraham Cooper, 41 - Kilnhurst(In the No.2 bank)
W. Cooper, 31 - Rawmarsh
John Cooper, 16 (son), buried 23 December
John Pursglove (In the No.2 bank)
Henry Pursglove (In the No.2 bank)
Thomas Burgin - Rawmarsh Brother to Charles Burgin (In the No.2 bank)
Joshua Bugg, 40 - Lane Head (In the No.3 bank)
Benjamin Lane - Rawmarsh (In the No.3 bank)
Henry James, 36 - Mount Pleasant, Wath (In the No.1 bank)
C. Cousins, 35 - Pinch Row, Swinton
G. Cousins, 11 (son)
Thomas Johnson, 31 - Rawmarsh (In the No.1 bank)
H. Thompson, 37 - Thorpe
William Ashton, 13 - Rawmarsh (In the No.1 bank)
Henry Ward, 26 - Rawmarsh (In the No.1 bank)
T. Farmery, 26 - Upper Haugh
H. Lee, 27 - Upper Haugh
Thomas Knapton, 37 - Rawmarsh (In the No.3 bank)
John Knapton, 16, (son), buried 23 December
Henry Gothard (In the No.3 bank
James Westerman, 16 - Rawmarsh, buried 23 December
William Hobson, 20 - Thorpe (In the No.1 bank)
T. Whithead - Rawmarsh
Thomas Sylvester, 19 - Rawmarsh, buried 23 December
Later found dead
The following 6 were taken to their family home:
Timothy Tinsley Jr, 18 - Rawmarsh - was badly burned and died later
William Barraclough, 19 - Hooton - was badly burned and died later
Richard Robinson left a son Richard and daughter Sarah, buried 23rd December
A. Thompson, 27 - Upper Haugh
Joseph Frith, junior, 11 - Rawmarsh, son Joseph and Silense, Buried 24th December
G. Knapton, 51 - Rawmarsh
E. Bugg, 27 - Rawmarsh