On October 16th 1889, 64 miners at Mossfield Colliery became a statistics. But one must remember that each one of those who died in this tragic incident was a major disaster in itself to some one, - wife, mother, brother or sister.
The colliery was situated in Adderley Green near Longton and was worked by means of two shafts 15 yards apart each 10' 6" in diameter. The shafts were 440 yards deep
The ventilation of the colliery was produced by a Waddell fan 30 feet in diameter, placed near the top of the upcast.
The ventilation of the colliery was interfered with by the movement of the cages which occupied one third of the area of each shaft and during every alternate journey the cages moved rapidly against the air current in both shafts at the same time.
Sometimes water needed to be drawn up from the sump by the cages and water was drawn from the downcast shaft. The cage was lowered into the sump with a receptacle in it and the other cage in the upcast shaft of course rose above ground level and opened a door and the ventilation was almost suspended for a short time, so it is not a very satisfactory state of affairs regarding ventilation even if everything else was in order.
At the time of the inquiry the Inspector of Mines was unable to obtain any authentic observations, from the pit head's thermometer, hydrometer or barometer either it had not been read or it was not entered in the book.
He was furnished with a barometer chart that had been recorded 30 miles away and it showed that a drop in pressure had commenced about 16 hours before the explosion took place.
The Cockshead seam was subject to gob fires (an area that has been left void after the coal has been extracted and fires are caused by spontaneous combustion). Signs that a gob fire was going to break out had been observed a short time before the explosion and had formed an important feature in the inquiry and may have been the cause of the explosion.
An earlier gob fire, in 1887 resulted in the men being withdrawn and the downcast shaft being sealed off to prevent air circulating the mine. It took two months and the loss of 16,000 tons of coal before work was resumed. This loss in production may have had a bearing on what happened in 1889
The men were suffering sickness, vomiting, and severe headaches in that part of the mine, and these were signs and symptoms of a gob fire besides the gob stink. On 25th August it was giving out steam and heat, stoppings were then put in. But no amount of sealing off, isolating and bricking up were of any use whilst the mine was badly ventilated. Roof falls had been allowed to remain un-repaired which affected the air circulation also far too much brattice cloth had been used to turn the air to new faces. The continuous movement of the haulage to and fro had frayed the brattice cloth and almost rendered it useless. Consequently the airflow was erratic and fostered an increase of firedamp.
A series of explosions began on the 12th September , probably due to the access of air to the gob fire and the crushing of the extremely thin pillars of coal separating the two workings.
The Mines Inspector, Mr. Atkinson, in his report states that "It was very imprudent to rely on such a fragile barrier in the case of a gob fire".
" The stoppings that had been put on at H had the effect of cutting off the ventilation in drift number 2 and consequently it filled with gas.
" A new roadway had been driven to renew the ventilation there but was incomplete and that drift remained full of gas at the time of the explosion.
" Signs of gob fire number 5 were first noted by the men working in number 5 drift on 14th October 1889, two days before the explosion. There was the characteristic smell and the men complained and Arthur Fletcher, the nightshift fireman, reported this to his father William, the Under Manager, the next morning.
William Fletcher informed Mr. Potts, the Manager, that a gob fire was breaking out in number 5 drift. The plans of the workings were laid out on the colliery desk and Mr. Potts said that the next day he would put stoppings in place at points nearest to the gob fire where it would be possible to erect air tight stoppings. But the Manager did not go down the pit despite the fact that the Coal Mines Act 1886 states quite clearly in Rule 24 that a Manager must go down into the pit and see for himself and not rely on hearsay. Arthur Fletcher the nightshift deputy, aged 26, was more vehement than his father and he maintained that all the men should be withdrawn from the pit immediately.