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The Burley pits of Messrs Stanier and Co. Situated at Apedale near Newcastle, North Staffordshire, were the scenes of a terrible explosion of gas on Saturday morning the 20th of June 1885 resulting in the loss of nine lives. The pit was on the road from Chesterton to Silverdale and about half a mile from Apedale furnaces of the same firm. About 200 men and boys were employed at the colliery, which worked the lower coal seams of the North Staffordshire district, which included the 10-feet, the 7-feet and 8-feet Banbury.

Burley Pit was part of Apedale colliery (c.. 1850 and 1926).
This photograph was taken by Thomas Warham.

The winding shafts were 484 yards deep and 13 feet 6 inches in diameter. They were sunk to the 8-feet Banbury seam, from which cruts had been driven east and west intersecting the Bullhurst on one side of the pit and the 7-feet and 10-feet seams on the other. The south level of the 10-feet seam had been driven a distance of nearly a mile, and about 500 yards from the bottom of the pit there was a dip 100 yards in length with a heading at the top which had been driven about 60 yards. It was thought that the explosion occurred in this area and was fortunate that the number of men employed there was small.

The ventilation of the pit was well provided for, although great caution was required in the working of the colliery, the seams being of a gaseous character and the pit having been previously visited by disaster on the 28th March 1878 a terrible explosion occurred killing 22 men and boys. On that occasion the pit was on fire and could not be extinguished until it had been flooded with water after that it had to stand for six months before the workings could be explored and the bodies of the dead recovered.

At the usual hour an inspection was made of the workings by the firemen on duty and they reported the roadways and working places to be alright and free from gas, and the pits company, of 192 men and boys, then descended and proceeded to their working places.

At about nine 0' clock the explosion occurred in the south side of the 10-feet seam. Due to the location being so far from the shaft there was no outburst from the pit mouth to tell the tale of disaster and death to those on the surface. Information of the sad event was, however, conveyed to the bank and news quickly spread throughout the district, crowds of people hurried to the pit from all directions.

Steps were at once taken to organize exploration and recovery, and occasions like this never lack brave volunteers to engage in it. The manager of the colliery, Mr. James Cadman, and Mr. Thomas Hulme, underlooker, took charge of the first gang who descended the shaft, and relief's were organized among others willing to assist. The men and boys in other parts of the mine, that were unaffected, were called in and sent to the surface as quickly as possible.

Mr. C. H. Hardeman, General Manager, Mr.J. Strick, Consultant Engineer, and others proceeded to the colliery on hearing of the explosion, and from their experience and knowledge were able to render valuable service and advice. The exploring parties worked under great difficulties and at considerable risk, the ventilation having been interfered with and the road ways damaged by the explosion.
They made their way to the place where the explosion had taken place and found that of the twelve men who had been employed there, nine were missing. After witnessing the evidence of the violence of the explosion in the shattered state of the workings, the numerous falls of roof, and taking into account the foulness of the air, the explorers came to the conclusion that none of the missing men could be alive.

Attempts were made to examine the scene of the explosion and to recover the bodies but the after-damp was so powerful that the work was slow and hazardous.

Pit Terminology - Glossary

John Lumsdon


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