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In answer to the first question, the Banbury Crut Jig is a roadway some two hundred yards long rising 1 in 3.5 from the Cockshead seam to the Banbury seam. It was driven in the latter part of 1937. Down this jig all the coal from the Banbury seam, about 1,700 tons per week, was sent out-bye. The haulage was self-acting, the loaded tubs going down the incline, always on the same side, pulling the empty one up.

The jig wheel, for the haulage rope, was place horizontally at the top of the jig. Six tubs of coal formed a full set and six tubs an empty set.

On the right hand side looking in-bye there was a six-inch diameter pipe to convey compressed air to haulage, coal cutting and machinery in the Banbury Seam.
Also on the same side slung in canvas slings, there was an electric cable carrying 3,000 volts to feed the 50 hp motor driving the main and tail gear operating the haulage on 21s level.After the explosion, many tubs were found near the bottom of the crut, some overturned. Near these tubs were roof falls. One of the stones measured 6 feet long by 3 feet wide and 3 feet thick.

Travelling up the jig on the empty side was found a rope capel. This is an implement for holding the haulage rope in at one end and making provision for coupling on to the tub at the other end. There was as well in this area a damaged compressed air pipe and a roof cavity, presumably from the large stone found lower down had come from. A tub coupling chain was found, and further up, one end of the jig rope with its capel and coupler intact. Another 5 yards further on was a damaged electrical power cable, and continuing up the crut was the other end of the jig rope without its capel. At the top, due to some force, the jig wheel had moved some 8 feet out-bye and near by was a damaged electrical light fitting. It was from these findings that the cause of the explosion had to be deduced.Mr. H. Cook, the undermanager, stated that after the explosion he found evidence of a runaway set of full tubs which in their career down the crut had knocked a pair of glands exposing a hole in the 6 inch compressed air pipe in which there was 80 lbs per sq. inch pressure. The rope capel was sent to the Safety in Mines Research Board to be examined by Mr. A. E. McClelland. He found 4 of the 6 strands in the rope had been broken in the capel and the other two had been pulled out. He remarked the capel was not reliably made. He also found some small flakes of mild steel, not rope steel, between the wires of the rope, and these flakes had been heated to a temperature in access of 700 deg. Cent, by friction.In answer to a question at the enquiry, he replied that the force needed to break the rope was 9.5 tons. Asked if there would be any sparks if the rope were broken very quickly, he replied, there would be a moderate shower of sparks. It was not possible to say whether the run-a-way on Jan 1st. was, or was not due to a failure of the breaking system of the jig wheel and it cannot be said with certainty how the jig wheel was pulled out, but it was probably by the empty rope getting fast at some point in the jig.At a later date, it was generally agreed that the explosion had originated in the Banbury jig and was one of coal dust alone, not a gas explosion.The conclusion was that six full coal tubs had been ready at the top of the Crut to come down and they had run away and careered down the incline at a speed of about 40 miles per hour. There were no tubs on the empty side of the up coming rope, which was joined to both caples by a five-linked chain. (Normally six empty tubs would be in place of this five-link chain.) I think possibly there had been some hold up and therefore no empties were available, so in order to keep production going they were sending the coal out. And as the empty rope was coming up fast, remember about 40 mph, the capel was arrested as it met the wheel of the front tub with the result that the jig wheel was pulled down and the haulage rope broken, which would give rise to considerable sparking.

It was thought merely a coincidence that the electric cable was damaged about the same time as the explosion occurred. As regards the damaged compressed air pipe, Prof. Cotton believed this would produce considerable turbulence in the roadway, and produce electrostatic sparking from escaping air.Now to the second question, as to the means by which the explosion could have travelled in-bye to the two faces, and over all the roads in the Banbury Seam and out-bye towards the downcast shaft. The two faces were, respectively about 350 yards and 210 yards long with one road at each end, and the method of working by undercutting the coal with machines, blasting down the coal, then filling it on to conveyors, which discharged into tubs at the intake end of each face.This led to the making of much dust, the finest particles of which were carried by the ventilating air current at the return end of each of the faces and deposited.

Furthermore, there could have been spillage and dust blown off the laden tubs as they travelled out on the roads.

Coal dust, when suspended in the air by the turbulence of an explosion, is highly explosive itself and can be ignited, thereby propagating the explosion to all parts of the mine as long as there is a sufficient supply of dust.Having assimilated the evidence given at the inquiry and visiting the site, the Government Inspector issued the result as follows;
That the up-going rope got over the inside wheel of the first tub of the set coming down at the time of the runaway; That the marks between the strands of the sample rope examined by Mr. McClelland were made by the rope rubbing against the front right hand corner of the first tub coming down and that the small flakes of mild steel he found embedded in the rope came from the bottom of the tub; Also the capel of the up going rope was caught against the sole of this tub and so pulled off, the Jig wheel being pulled down and the set derailed at the same time.

This occurred when the first tub of the down-coming set was about ten feet above the flange of the air main.

Thereafter, the derailed tub or tubs displaced the flange and then damaged the electric cable; and I think that the dust, which was ignited, was dust from the jig and not from the runaway tubs; He concluded that the dust had been ignited before either the hole in the air main had been exposed or the electric cable damaged; And that the ignition of such dust was due to the heat generated by friction between the up-going rope and the underside of the first down-coming tub of the runaway set.

The Inspector recommended modifications to improve the safety of the system. But of course, when all the procedures, inquiries, and investigations had been gone through to ascertain the cause of this disastrous explosion, it was no consolation for the bereaved, who had their loved ones suddenly snatched away on that fateful New Years Day. The ages of the victims ranged from 16-17 year olds to veteran miners.Thomas Gibson, aged 64, said it was knowledge of the pit workings that saved his life. He was near the pit bottom, when a blast of air blew him off his feet hurling him against the side of the roadway; then he fainted. The next thing he remembered was coming to and finding him self, lying in total darkness covered with dust.

It was difficult to breath, but he managed to crawl on hands and knees off the main road of the Banbury Seam into the return road of the Holly Lane district (that's another coal seam). It was a narrow passage, just enough to take a mans body. Had it not been for his knowledge of the whole underground workings, he should not have found his way into the Holly Lane district. He crawled on his hands and knees for 200 yards then came across other workers who gave him some water the he fainted again and the next thing he remembered was coming to in the hospital.One lad of 16 was working in the pit bottom when the initial blast blew him to safety around a corner, bowling him over and over until he was halted by an open oil drum that was full of water. Everything and everywhere went black with coal dust, dense and suffocating.

He remembered immersing his head in the water until his lungs were near to bursting the crying out for his mother. When the dust settled and the gas had dispersed, he looked around to see what had happened.

Where there had been whitewashed walls illuminated by electric lights, now there was darkness and everywhere blackened by coal dust. He searched in the darkness for his mate and found him dead. Another man nearby had also died, Staggering on, he came across another man devoid of all his clothing but still alive. The young lad, alone and frightened, but filled with compassion, took off his jacket and put it over his colleague.A shadow was thrown on many homes in the Potteries. For one woman who lost her husband, it was their wedding anniversary New Year's Day, and in others the wives of the victims were expectant mothers. Mrs. Bennett of 88 Moorland Rd suffered a double bereavement, losing her husband aged 41 and her son aged 17. The family came from Scotland in response to an appeal to Scottish miners to come and work in the Staffordshire coalfield. Another victim of the same name though not related had worked at another colliery with his father, but three weeks before the disaster he moved to Sneyd to gain more experience.Joseph Sheratt, a fireman aged 38, living at 102 Dimsdale View, Porthill, was married with two children aged 7 and 11 and his wife shortly expecting a baby. Only a few hours earlier he was entertaining his own children and their playmates at a party. Knowing that the father of one of his little guests was serving in the navy, he had obtained a puppet show of "Sinbad the Sailor" with which to amuse the youngsters. He was not superstitious about working New Years Day but before he left home that morning his wife handed him a silver three pence piece as a good luck keepsake.

These are just a few of the stories appertaining to the disaster. Many more were not recorded but will be in the memories of some relatives and friends.

 



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Pit Terminology - Glossary