Mossfield Colliery is situated on the outskirts of the town of Longton at the South Eastern end of the North Staffordshire Coalfield.
There are two shafts, both sunk to a depth of 440 yards, which is about 20 yards below the Cockshead seam in which the explosion occurred. This seam dipping to the South West at about 1 in 3, and the particular district is known as 15s level.
Other seams, both above and below the Cockshead seam, are worked from the shaft.
The Cockshead seam at this colliery is comparatively thick, there being from 7 to 8 feet of clean coal and an intermittent band of pyrites nodules 2 inches thick at about 5 feet from the floor. The immediate roof consists of 2 feet of "Hussle" black and very friable carbonaceous shale.
The seam gives off firedamp freely so that safety lamps and Permitted explosives only were allowed to be used in the workings.
Generally, the working of the seam produced much dust and large quantities of stone dust were required to neutralise the coal dust.
The Coxhead seam at this mine has an unenviable reputation, inasmuch as from its earliest days the workings in it have been dogged by troubles arising from spontaneous heating. Indeed on 16th October 1889, to be exact an explosion initiated by a gob-fire caused the loss of 64 lives.
The loss of life in 1889 was catastrophic compared with this 1940 occurrence. There is little doubt that the effects of the recent explosion would have been greatly magnified but for the fact that the roadways were copiously treated with stone-dust. As it was the explosion was limited both in extent and violence.
15s longwall face, 90 yards in length, was for practical purposes completely mechanised, the coal being cut at a height of 2 feet 6 inches from the floor by compressed air driven coal cutting machines; shot holes were bored by compressed air drive driven percussive boring machines; and the coal was delivered to the loading point in the level by a compressed air driven shaker conveyor. To the dip of the level there was a short length of about 5 or 6 yards of face, which was hand filled directly into tubs.
On account of the weak nature of the "hussle" and the 2 feet stratum of dirt next above it, a thickness of coal 2 feet 6 inches was left up to form a safe roof in the longwall face. The strip packs were built up to this coal roof; the top coal, however fell in the wastes whence as much as possible of it was recovered and sent out.
The explosion occurred shortly after 1 a.m. on Thursday, 21st March, in the third hour of the night shift of Wednesday. There was at that time 12 persons including the fireman at work in and near 15s Level face. All of them were killed or severely injured by the explosion and only one, the fireman, survived.
To appreciate the sequence of events, which led finally to the explosion, it is necessary to go back to the beginning of the day shift on Friday, 15th March. On that day a contractor named William Neil Washington, reached 15s level face at about 6.30 a.m. The face had been cut and the coal was ready for filling out. Proceeding up the face from the level and looking into each waste on the way, Washington reached the third waste. Against the pack on the rise side he noticed a peculiar smell, and traced it along the pack side for a distance of a yard. He described the smell as an oily one, which he did not consider unusual for the Cockshead working except that in this instance it was stronger than usual. He did not make an immediate report to anyone because he new the fireman would be coming along very soon. He set to work opposite No. 3 waste.
The day fireman, Marshall Carson, did in fact arrive shortly afterwards. Carson approached the face from the return airway at the rise side. He noticed a faint smell when he was about 10 yards down the face, i.e. when just about opposite the lower side of the waste next to the return airway. He followed the smell down to No.3 waste when he met with Washington who then mentioned the smell to him. The time was now 7.30 a.m.
After he had examined the face and had satisfied himself that there was nothing wrong in the waste, Carson thought the smell was coming from the pack. He described in some detail the spot along the pack side from which the smell appeared to emanate. He completed his inspection of the face and then came outbye along 15s level and reported the smell to the overman, John William Birks, whom he met at the main haulage dip. Birks and Carson made their way to 15s face via Tam's Jig and the return airway. Birks ordered one of the workman on the face to clean out all the loose coal and hussle from the waste, he then went away and came back about half past ten, and going up the face at the first waste he met the under-manager, and discussed the situation with him and decided to have a look at it together. They went into No.3 waste as far as they could travel which was 44 yards and found to their surprise that there was some air coming through. Birks said "it looks to me as we shall have to stop this up somehow or another". They then went out onto the main level but could find no trace of air going through the packs on the level.
Samuel Barker, the under manager gave Birks instructions to get men to timber the waste in order to make it safe for building a stopping immediately in front of the debris through which the air was coming. Barker then went outbye and met the manager, Josiah Foster, at the pit bottom and explained the situation to him. Foster then went to the spot himself and got there about 1p.m. The timbering had been completed and Foster agreed that the best to do was to put in the stopping and gave orders accordingly. He also gave instructions for a second stopping to be built across the waste some yards nearer the face.
Work proceeded without intermittence during the weekend until it was completed on Tuesday, 19th March.
Arthur Seaton, the fireman on the night shift who was injured in the explosion, and was the only survivor said "there was no smell at all when he was on the face at the beginning of his shift on Wednesday night, March 20th. He considered that the barrier pack had effectively dealt with the trouble.
On Wednesday, 20th March, normal working proceeded throughout the day shift; throughout the afternoon shift; and during the night shift, until the explosion occurred at about 1.15 a.m. on Thursday, 21st March.
Of 4 persons in 15s face who were injured by the explosion and found alive after it, only the fireman, Seaton, survived and he was able to say very little about it.
Seaton, the night shift fireman described his experience thus:
"At that time I had just come down the face to fetch some Cardox shells from the tub in the level when I sensed something. There was a complete black out. I thought something had struck me and remembered nothing more until I regained my senses in hospital."
The first reports of the explosion were that 8 men had lost their lives and four others received serious injuries. The killed and injured were the only men in the area affected. The whole of the night shift, totalling 110 was withdrawn.
Two rescue teams immediately descended and the injured were speedily removed to hospital.
The 8 bodies were recovered in the early hours of the morning. A father and son were among the killed. Roland Porter age 55 and his 27-year-old son Richard. In addition to his wife, who was grief stricken as a result of her tragic and sudden loss; Mr Roland Porter leaves a family of 3 sons and 6 daughters the youngest of whom is 13 years of age. Two of his sons, both of whom were previously employed at the colliery were serving in the army. The third son was on the day shift.
Particulars of Persons Killed and Injured
|1. James Blundred
|2. Arthur Butler
|3. Colin Dodd
|4. James Johnson
|5. Leslie Leake
|6. Arthur Middleton
|7. Richard Porter
|8. Roland Porter
|9. William Arthur Ratcliffe
|| Haulage hand
|10. Charles Rushton
|11. James Mathew Wood