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Following on from an Email from Frank Peacock
West Stanley Pit Disaster, Durham. 16th February, 1909 - Page 1
Explosion of gas 168 killed - Those Who Died

West Stanley, Durham. 16th February, 1909


Post card from Jan Woodbridge

The colliery was about four miles to the west of Chester-le-Street, Durham and was worked by 'The Owners of the West Stanley Colliery. The manager was Mr. J.P. Hall, the undermanager, Mr. R. Heslop and there were two fore-overmen, one back overman, two master shifters and twenty two deputies. The colliery employed 527 men and boys underground and 118 at the surface a total of 645 people.

It was worked by two shafts known as the Busty Pit which was twelve feet in diameter and was the downcast and the Lamp Pit, upcast, which was nine and three quarters feet in diameter. Both the shafts were sunk to the Brockwell Seam at 163 fathoms. The shafts passed through the Shield Row, Five Quarter, Brass Thill, Low Main, Hutton, Towneley, Tilley, Busty and Brockwell seams but only the Towneley, Tilley, Busty and Brockwell seams were worked. the Towneley had an average thickness of two feet two inches, the Tilley, two feet three inches, the Busty three feet and the Brockwell two feet five inches. The coal from the Towneley Seam was lowered down a staple to the hanging-on of the downcast shaft at the Busty Level and that from the Tilley seam was run down a stone drift to the same level opposite the shaft, so coal was drawn up the downcast shaft from the Busty Level came for the Towneley, Tilley and Busty seams and the coal from the Brockwell seam was drawn up the upcast shaft from the Brockwell level.

The ventilation was provided by a Guibal fan 35 feet in diameter and ten feet wide which ran at 35 revolutions at a water gauge of 1.5 inches. The air measured going into the mine on the 12th. February was 76,808 cubic feet per minute. 21,756 cubic feet went to the Towneley Seam, 15,545 cubic feet to the Tilley Seam, 10,210 feet to the Busty Seam and 17,297 to the Brockwell Seam. The remaining 12,000 cubic feet went into some old workings higher up in the shaft in one of which a pump was positioned.

The Towneley, Tilley and the Brockwell seam on the south side of the shafts were worked by longwall methods while on the north side of the shafts in the Brockwell seam, pillars were being removed. In the Busty seam the workings consisted entirely of pillar removing. In the Towneley, Brockwell and Tilley seams here were for electrically driven Hurd Bar-type cutting machines. Two of these were in the Towneley and one each in the Tilley and Brockwell where there was also a spare machine in a stenton next the bottom of the upcast shaft.

There was other electrically driven machinery underground. In the Brass Thill seam there was a 25 h.p. motor for driving a pump and a 100 h.p. haulage motor in the Towneley seam hauling from the straight West District and a 5 h.p. motor driving a 3-throw pump which was in the straight West Way. In the Tilley seam an 25 h.p. motor drove an air compressor. In the Busty seam there was 100 h.p. motor driving a 3-throw pump close to the downcast shaft and two 5 h.p. motors which each drove a small pump in the West Way. There was 5 h.p. motor driving a creeper on the south side of the downcast shaft. There was 1 48 h.p, motor in the Brockwell seam there was a 48 h.p. motor to drive an air compressor but this had never been used.

The electric current was generated at the surface as three phase current at 550 volts and led to a switchboard in the generator house and from there down the shaft by three copper cables which were not armoured. The three mains down the shaft were controlled by an oil immersed switch and three fuses of 150 amps which were on the main switch board at the generating station. The shaft sidings at the Busty seam and the haulage engine house and staple top in the Towneley seam were lit by incandescent lights, twenty lamps in the Busty and fifteen in the Towneley.

All the other lights in use in the mine were safety lamps of which there were 637, 526 of these were Marsaut and 11 were of the Donald type. All were lit and riveted by lead rivets in the lamps room at the surface and no re-lighting was done underground. Only those men on the haulage roads, putters, drivers and others had Donald lamps. The coal hewers and stonemen were provided with Marsaut lamps with double gauzes. There was a proper system recording the number of lamps given out and those returned and of the lamps that were recovered none were without tops or unlocked.

The workings of the four seam were dusty and the lower workings of the Busty seam was wet and there was wet areas in the Tilley seam. The upper section of the Busty seam consisted of old crushed pillars and produced large quantities of dust. In the past, considerable quantities of dust were carried in the air down the downcast shaft from the screens that were near the shaft on the surface. It came from a shoot which delivered coal to the boilers. In order to lessen this, the boilers had been boxed in.

The roads of the mine were watered by a small tank in which was fixed a hand pump and spray. The water was supplied from pipes laid along the main roads with taps at intervals. The roads were watered but they soon dried out and it was possible that there was not enough watering done to keep the roads damp. The last watering had been done the night before the explosion, particularly in the Busty Seam.

In the Towneley seam, explosives were taken in by the stone men and no others.

They obtained the explosives at the magazine at the surface in a locked box. Only the deputies had a key and they fired the shots during the night shift. The stonemen in the Straight South District in this seam went down the pit at 3 p.m. and shots would start to be fired when the men and boys were on their way outbye. The explosives used in the mine were 'Saxonite' in the stone and 'Monabell' in the coal. Shots were fired in the day time in the coal but between shifts only in the stone. All the shots were fired electrically using No.6 detonators. No shot had been fired on the day of the explosion except one in the coal in the South West District of the Towneley Seam and this was fired at 10 a.m. by a deputy as the deputies were the only people permitted to fire shots.

The return airways were travelled in the Towneley seam the week prior to the disaster and those in the Tilley and Brockwell seams during the week ending 22nd. January 1909 and it was presumed that no heavy falls obstructed the air passing through the mine. The presence of gas had been reported only once in the previous twelve months and the seam did not give off much gas. On Thursday 24th September 1908 the workings of the Busty seam were examined as had the workings in the other seams some little time before and the result of the examination was as follows-

"Ventilation good working places satisfactory returns all right.
General Report:- we the undersigned travelled the Busty Seam, Straight West Way and Bugle South flats ponies scrubbing in South flat all things very satisfactory."

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