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Fair Lady Pit Explosion, Leycette, 1880 - Page 2

John Lumsdon             Firedamp, Ignition Caused By Shot Firing, 62 Killed

The Workings

Mr.Settle, manager, who has been one of the foremost amongst those who so readily volunteered their aid in rescuing the unfortunate colliers was down the mine exploring for about 24 hours. He states there’s not much timber in the mine, work not having been prosecuted for any lengthened period, but the workings have sustained considerable injury, his estimate of damage being about £2,000.

At one time during which he was labouring in the colliery, gas was issuing again, but those at work had been able to clear it away and continue their operations. He further said that in the course of the operations the relief party discovered and put out 11 fires and there were 50,000 sq feet of air per minute. In his exploration he was able to get very easily into the mine, with exception of the higher portion.

The explosion took place in the South side of the workings and with regard to its cause two different theories were advanced.

First it was contended that the firing of a shot might have occasioned it and secondly it was considered possibly it might have risen through a disarrangement of the air by a fall of coal. On the South side, where the explosion took place, the use of powder was allowed, but we were informed that only 10 lbs of powder had been used in shots in the course of 12 months. Further more, that the employment of powder was by no means encouraged by the authorities, is evident by the fact that the men were paid six pence a yard extra for” wedging”. That is to say for getting out the coal by means of wedges, instead of by the use of shots. What actually has been the cause of the explosion remains unknown, but some light may yet be thrown on the subject.

The Exploration

As anticipated, there was not a complete recovery of the bodies of the victims by Thursday evening and much remained to be done in the mine. The excitement at the colliery had greatly subsided yesterday, though large numbers of people, including many from the Potteries and Newcastle were present in the course of the day.

During the night, the work of restoring the ventilation and making search for the remaining dead was unremittingly continued. Gas was frequently found but happily no serious results attended the operation of the search parties. During the night no bodies were brought out. There was found a half of the body of a youth named Herbert Walker, of Madeley, and that was brought out yesterday morning, the head and shoulders having been brought up on Thursday. With unabated vigour the exploration work went on, Mr. Settle, the manager, being in charge and Mr. Sawyer, assistant government inspector of mines joining in the work. Up till 4pm. Only three bodies were got out and one could not be identified.

During the day the work of clothing the bodies went on. Good Oak coffins were provided and the remains wrapped in flannel and when placed in the coffins were packed with light straw. A number of women performing these duties, the coffins were sent away to the homes of the deceased in conveyances, and it may be imagined how their entrance helped to thicken the dark cloud of sorrow, which this disaster had spread over many homes.

There was much difficulty by the explorers in getting at the remaining bodies. Penetration of the workings could only be effected, by making their way through the debris, which was thickly strewn along the roads; and it was also necessary to carry on the ventilation and arrangements concurrently with the advances made.

The air doors had been blown into slithers and the bratticing had to be extensively done in order to make the approaches safe. One of the last recovered body bodies had to be dug out of the debris, and over it the exploring parties had sometimes passed, unconscious of what they were treading upon.

The Full Extent Of The Disaster May Now Be Summed Up Thus

Total loss of life 62 of which 56 had been recovered up to yesterday afternoon and 6 were still in the mine. Every facility was afforded yesterday for visitors who were likely to identify the deceased, to see the remains. Anxiety was shown to get the poor fellows identified, as it was desired to get them coffined as soon as possible. One difficulty in the way was that little of the clothing or articles of the deceased were recovered; and so great was the disfiguration that the features could not be recognised. In one case a pair of clogs were placed beside the dead and these were carefully examined. In another case there really was no article to give a clue to identify, it was hoped that in some way or another, the recognition would eventually be made.

Recovery of More Bodies

There were 4 bodies unidentified on Friday afternoon, and they were all recognised by relatives or acquaintances later. The work of exploration went on and when the evening was advanced 4 other bodies were recovered and brought to the surface and identified.

The only known person in the mine unaccounted for, on Saturday morning was Joseph Viggars, the hooker on. It was surmised that he had been knocked through the sump platform at the bottom of the shaft and had perished in the sump, said to be 30 yards deep. With the object of recovering this body efforts were made at once; and about 1 pm the body of Viggars was found. It was buried beneath the shattered woodwork and some pit tubs. There was a coffin awaiting the body and sent to the surface. It was assumed that all the bodies had been recovered, but the officials were not certain, as more lamps had been given out on Wednesday morning than agreed with the men alive and dead who had been brought out of the pit since the explosion.

On Saturday morning another injured man died, his name is Thomas Mayer. Of the 12 who were rescued alive on the day of the explosion 5 have succumbed to the injuries they received and go to swell the list of the dead.

Saturday Afternoon at the Colliery

There were not many visitors to the colliery on Saturday afternoon; and by four o clock, the works presented something like their normal appearance. There were a few workmen engaged at the mouth of the shaft; but their occupation gave not the slightest indication of anything unusual having occurred. When the last coffin had been sent away nearly every tangible relic of the dead colliers had disappeared. The stable at the entrance to the colliery ground, where so many of the dead had lain, had been cleared of every vestige of what had been used in relation to its temporary character of a mortuary. In and about the other buildings where the dead had lain there was littered straw, and here and there, shreds of clothing belonging to the deceased, and that was all. The wind swept across the pit bank in bitter gusts, and soon drove visitors back from the colliery. In the rows of houses at the village of Leycett, seen from the colliery bank, all the blinds were drawn, giving indication of the reign of death in the place.