Explosions of firedamp have been fewer in number and not nearly so disastrous as in the previous year, but still there is much to complain of in the way mines that are liable to give off explosive gases are carried on, and there dose not appear to be any chance of improvement until the managers of both large and small concerns are brought to feel the heavy responsibility that rests upon them.
There are several managers in my district who are quite alive to the danger of allowing even the smallest quantity of gas to accumulate in the workings and who never rest until it is removed whenever symptoms make it appear that gas is being given off in ever so small a quantity.
There are others who simply turn men into a pit as a farmer would turn sheep into a pasture, and expect the collier to take the same care of himself as a sheep does, forgetting the unforeseen dangers that surround a collier from the time he leaves the surface until he reaches it again, and who, instead of being expected to take care of himself, should be cared for, as it is the duty of the workmen to do a fair day's work, for a fair day's wage, and not to spend his time looking through all the holes and corners of the pit to see if there be any gas or other danger lurking in those holes and corners.
It is clearly the duty of the manager and his subordinates to do this, and see that every place in the pit is made as safe as human foresight can make it. Then, and not until then, will mining become a far less dangerous occupation than it is at present, for experience clearly demonstrates that where the manager exerts all his energies to keep up discipline and to ensure that the safety of his men very few accidents happen.
The most distressing explosions are those that arise from preventable causes and it is a melancholy fact that the majority of explosions that occur are preventable, and it is my firm opinion, based on twenty years experience as an inspector, that whenever an explosion takes place in a colliery from any cause whatever, except a sudden outburst of gas, there are some persons in authority who are well aware of the possible if not probable consequences long before it really happens, for it often comes out at an inquest that the underlooker or the fireman knew there was gas in the place or in the immediate neighbourhood of the workings for some days. But for want of firmness and from the great desire to send out the full quantity of coal, neglected to send the men out until the working places were made safe, preferring to let all the daily operations to go on until a more favourable opportunity turned up to remedy the defect, when an explosion is the consequence, and the blameable and blameless are together hurried into eternity.
The most severe explosion happened early in the year at Leycett colliery, near Newcastle under Lyme, North Staffs, the most unfortunate colliery in my district. Accident following accident in such succession that a change in the underground management became inevitable, and with it a change in the frequency and severity of the accidents, but still it is one of those collieries with a large capital, requiring a large "output" of coal to make it pay, and must necessarily cause great anxiety to an inspector unless he be satisfied that first rate talent is engaged in the management.
The seams of coal lie at an inclination of about 22 inches to the yard, and the explosion was entirely owing to the vicious system of having a great number of levels being driven out at the same time, some 20 and others 30 yards beyond the main air, and nothing but pipe or brattice ventilation, and that sometimes many yards back from the face.
Fearful Colliery Explosion
An explosion that has been attended with very serious consequences, occurred on Thursday 12 th January 1871 at the Crewe Coal and Iron Company Collieries at Leycett about 5 miles from Newcastle under Lyme. The "New pit" at the same colliery has been closed for about nine months in consequence of a fire in it, which caused great loss of property and in the course of being got in readiness for working again.
The explosion we have now to record, though not causing much damage to the property, has unfortunately destroyed four lives, while fourteen men and one boy have been more or less seriously injured.
The pit in which the explosion occurred is near the "New" pit, but not connected with it. It is called the "Independent" (No. 1 pit) and is 270 yards in depth. On Thursday morning at six o' clock, 66 men and boys descended the shaft for the purpose of going to their daily work. The firemen preceded the others in order to examine the workings and having done this without discovering the presence of any gas, they reported the pit to be safe.
Thomas Bagnall was the fireman who examined the South level of the Ten-Feet mine, and he reported to Wm. Leather, the underlooker, upon whose directions the majority of the men went into that mine. About twenty minutes past six o' clock, one of the workmen, named John Crooks, fired a shot. The hole had been previously drilled, and Crooks, without obtaining the permission of the fireman and procuring a light from him, as he should have done acted independently and too hastily in firing the shot. It would be too much to say that the explosion was entirely attributable to his undue haste; but as soon as he applied the light to the powder, it blew out of the hole. It was ineffectual so far as the coal was concerned, none of it being removed by the powder. Probably if the object of firing the shot, the displacement of a large body of coal, had been accomplished, it would have scattered what gas there was in the workings, and the explosion would have been avoided.
Instead of this, however, as already stated, the powder blew out the hole, and an explosion of gas was the consequence. Immediately on this taken place, such as the work people who could run, hurried from the spot to seek safety, but 4 of them were killed and 15 were injured.