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The Butty System - 4
1863, Mr. Johnson, it appears, was in the habit of keeping powder for blasting purposes in his house

Information from Dr David Woolliscroft

David Woolliscroft
15 November 2012
Butty men - Tunstall beer house explosion

I found your mining web site whilst looking for information on butty colliers as part of some research I am doing on the 19th century North Staffordshire Railway. 

It was very helpful, but I notice it says that butty men were not concerned with blasting.  I am attaching an extract from the Staffordshire Sentinel (the local paper of Stoke on Trent) of 24th Oct, 1863 which might be of interest, which shows that at least in the 1860s and in North Staffordshire, they could be so concerned.  The foot notes give other information I have found about the place and people involved.

Thanks for providing the site.

Best wishes, David Woolliscroft.

Dr D.J.Woolliscroft. 
The Roman Gask Project.
Dept of Archaeology. 
University of Liverpool. UK. 

Staffordshire Sentinel and Commercial and General Advertiser, 
Saturday, 24th Oct, 1863, p4.

LONGTON.  Explosion of Gunpowder —

About seven o'clock on Thursday morning [22nd] an explosion of gunpowder took place at the Roe Buck beer house, adjoining the Market Place, (1) which is kept Henry Johnson, who is also a butty collier in the employ of Mr. Sparrow. 
Mr. Johnson, it appears, was in the habit of keeping powder for blasting purposes in his house, taking out small quantities as he wanted it to use at the colliery. He kept this powder in a room on the second floor, a part of which, divided from the rest by a wooden partition, forms a bed room for two young children, both under nine years of age. (2) There were from four to five pounds of powder in a small barrel in this room on Thursday morning. By some means this powder exploded, doing considerable damage to the house itself, but fortunately little besides. The referred to, it was supposed, were at the time asleep in the adjoining room, but except the night clothes of one of them being singed they sustained no harm. The explosion blew out the windows of the room, shattered the ceiling, unhinged and threw down two doors, cracked the walls in several places, the wooden partition was blown down, several tiles were shaken from the roof, the wall in the lower part of the house damaged, and the whole building in fact, shaken to its foundations and unsettled. Above the room in which the explosion took place is a garret and a portion of the powder found its way through the ceiling of the room and the garret, and left openings in the roof. The house belongs to the North Staffordshire Railway Company. It is difficult to estimate the amount of the damage done, but it is no doubt considerable. The report was heard for a long distance around and. created some alarm until the real fact became known. No cause of the explosion can be assign unless the children mentioned set fire to it in play, not being aware of the danger they were creating.

  1. Actually, the "Old Roebuck Inn", was at 2 Wood Street, directly adjoining the iconic Longton railway bridge, which fortunately does not seem to have been damaged in the incident. Johnson came from Shropshire, but his wife, Mary Ann was local and his children were all born in Longton. He was a new tenant; the 1861 census has him at 137 Heathcote Road, as "coal miner", but beer selling and butty men often went together. The building seems to have survived and the NSR must have been tolerant landlords, as the family were still there in the 1871 census, with Johnson now just down as a beer seller, but with 5 coal miner lodgers, one with wife.

  2. These were Henry Jnr, then 8, and Rosetta, aged 5. At the time there was also a younger daughter, 1 year old Rosannah, and two more children, Richard and Harriett, arrived in the years after the incident.

Bob Bradley
A comprehensive history of mining in the Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire
and Leicestershire Coalfields
in chronological order

There is a reference to a similar one at Clay Cross in 1863. Myra Radcliffe was killed in her home at Clay Cross by an explosion of gunpowder used by her miner husband. Because the miners had to buy their own explosives it was normal to keep the powder in the home. The fuses or squibs to detonate the powder were made by the miner and kept indoors also. It is probable that the explosion was caused by the powder and fuses both being kept near the fire to keep dry.

1866 - The Co-op store at Clay Cross was fined during the year for storing 400 lb of gunpowder on the premises.  By now powder was usually kept in separate secure premises.  For example at Tibshelf, the Chemist firm of Crofts on the High Street had a building behind the shop and powder was stored there for miners to purchase.  The detonators were kept in a separate part of the building.  The collier would make up his own amount of explosive to put in the hand bored shot hole and light a squib from a candle to explode the powder.

In later years there would be an explosive store situated on every pit top, far away from any other building so that should an explosion occur, very little damage would be done.  There would also be a powder distribution store closer to the pit bank where explosives and detonators could be obtained and signed for by an official, and volunteers (powder monkeys) would carry powder bags inbye for a small payment.  However the detonators would always be carried in leather pouches with separate compartments with soft lining by the official in charge. Only authorised and qualified personnel would then fire shots.

Some notes:-

The Explosives in Mines Order 1902 came into force from 1st January 1903 revoking Section 6 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1896.  A list of permitted explosives for underground work was published.  A few of the 47 permitted explosives are listed: Ammonite, Arkite, Bobbinite, Carbonite, Dragonite, Kynite, Nobel Ammonia Powder No1, and No2, Nobel Carbonite, Roburite No3, Saxonite, Thunderite and Victorite.

Following the Explosives in Coal Mines Order, 1906 safe ‘permitted’ explosives were introduced into the mines.  However many miners continued to use the old black powder and still made up their own charges and squibs at home.

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