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On the 16th of May debris had been cleared out to a depth of 11 yards, on the 17th gas was coming out freely. Work had to cease on the 19th till the gas was cleared. Work of filling out the dirt recommenced on the 20th and a further 12 feet was removed.

The upward pressure of the gas loosened the dirt, so no picks were needed. Three shifts working continued till the 27th when it was decided that no lamps should be used for fear of an ignition, with only one shift cleaning out in the daylight and the second and third shifts backing up with brattice and water pipes.

At about 8 pm. on the 31st, it was reported that a fire had been seen at the bottom of the shaft. After consultation it was decided not to go down the shaft again that night but to wait till morning. In the meantime water was pumped down the shaft all night.

A descent into the shaft was made at daylight next morning, and it was found, to the relief of everyone, that the water, which had been pumped down the shaft during the night, had washed an opening through the Eight Feet inset and had thus liberated a large quantity of gas, which was confined in the workings. The tapping of this large body of gas had been a source of great anxiety to all.

Cleaning out was now proceeded again vigorously. On an inspection being made no signs of any fire could be found. The only reason that could be given for that light seen by the men earlier on was said by the Inspector to probably be the phosphorous given off by the decomposition of the bodies, which were afterwards found in the bottom of the shaft.

By the 2nd of June the shaft bottom had been cleared and here some bodies were found which by the force of the explosion had been blown into the shaft. It being Sunday, large crowds of people assembled on the pit bank to see the bodies brought up, which had been placed in coffins at the bottom of the shaft.

Work continued clearing away into the pit roadways putting on air and water pipes and clearing out gas, progress was made both to the north and south. Several bags of powder with fuses attached were found, also bundles of picks tied together none having been used, being either damaged or broken.

In the south air dip on June 7th there was evidence that a shot had been fired, it was supposed by some, to have been the cause of the explosion. By June 10th the gas had been cleared out of the north side when coke was discovered, as it was hot, water pipes were put into the place and water discharged at full pressure. No signs of a fire could be seen but men were employed to watch it and discharge water continually.

Other men climbed over roof falls and on June 12th on the north side of No.1 dip two bodies were found at the working face, which were placed in coffins and removed with great difficulty over the falls and down the dips.

The solid coalface was actually burnt to coke from 1 foot 6 inches to 2 feet deep. Great anxiety was felt least fire should be smouldering under the dirt, the temperature was 120 degrees and for the next 6 days water was discharged into every place likely to contain fire underneath the dirt. Another body was discovered and removed.

Three shifts per day continued with the wearisome and laborious work of clearing falls and carrying air and water pipes up steep dips. June the 26th another body was found and on June 28th the body of the fireman was found with another workman. On June 30th in the top head, the body of a man was discovered a distance from the face, his drill was in a hole on the head side; he must have been blown backwards while in the act of boring a hole. The night shift came across another missing man.

By the 1st July you could travel along the south heading to a large fall over which they had to clear a road. More bodies were found on July 5th the last body it was supposed being found.

All the gas had now been cleared out of the Eight Feet, and then Mr. Wynne, Inspector, and his assistant visited the workings. Their idea was to reverse the ventilation in order to draw the water from the downcast shaft.

As stated before, it was supposed that all the bodies had been found when to some great surprise, after an interval of nearly two years; another body was discovered at the top of the furnace dip, in a state of extraordinarily free from decomposition, in fact less decomposed than any of the previous bodies, the clothing was also in a good state of preservation, likewise the boots and an old fashioned apron which colliers used to wear in lieu of a strap or belt.

The fact the body having been there for such a length of time undiscovered, is owing to its being buried in three feet of dry dust and dirt and the return air from both north and south here uniting and bringing with it the stench and noxious gases with the smell proceeding from the use of chloride of lime, which was used in handling the bodies, thereby causing no suspicion of any body being there.


Pit Terminology - Glossary

John Lumsdon

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