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Eighty Miners Have Lost Their Lives

The Derbyshire Times - Fri 29 Sept 1950 - Thanks to Ian Gilbert for this information

The Derbyshire Times, Fri 29 Sept 1950
Thanks to Ian Gilbert for this information

Eighty Miners Have Lost Their Lives In a Fire

EIGHTY miners have lost their lives in a fire, which broke out in Creswell pit in the early hours of Tuesday morning. They were among a night shift of 211 men 1,000 feet under-ground and about three-and-a-half miles from the shaft bottom. Ninety-nine of them were in the affected area and only 19 of them managed to reach safety. Had it been the day-shift the loss of life might have been heavier, because there would have been then about 400 men in the pit.

The fire occurred at a transfer point on the main conveyor. It is thought that friction was the original cause of the outbreak. The men were trapped behind a wall of flame, which involved pit props, roof supports and other equipment. Probably most of the victims were suffocated by the poisonous fumes before the flames reached them.

Rescue efforts were immediately started, and teams from all over Derbyshire rushed to the Pit.

Three bodies were brought out before it was decided to abandon rescue efforts and seal up the affected area. Before this decision was taken a conference was held between management, workmens representatives and mines' inspectors, the tragic decision was unanimous, as any further rescue efforts would inevitably have led to a greater loss of life.

News of the fire spread quickly throughout the district, and large numbers of anxious relatives rushed to the pithead, where they remained for hours, until the final announcement was read that all hope was abandoned. There were heartrending pithead scenes.

On Tuesday evening news was brought to the surface that the fire had died down. The seals were broken and throughout the night 200 men, working in relays, started the grim work of recovering the bodies. By Wednesday morning an additional 44 bodies had been recovered, but at 10 am. a further notice was issued to the effect that exploration had revealed that the fire was more extensive than had been anticipated, and the affected part was scaled off again.

Two thousand people attended an impressive service held at the pit-head.

The previous worst pit disaster in Derbyshire occurred at Markham Black Shale in May 1938, when 79 lost their lives and 38 were injured. An explosion at Markham Colliery in January 1937 killed nine men. At Grassmoor Colliery, in November 1933, 14 men were killed and eight injured by an explosion in their Deep Hard seam. There was an accident at Creswell Colliery on June 3rd, 1938, when three men, were killed and eight injured by runaway tubs.

Three Sons Of One Family
The Dodds, of Creswell, were the hardest hit family in the disaster. Three sons of the seven in the family, Leslie, aged 47, and Ernest, aged 31 were both working in 74s panel, and John, aged 45. who was in 68 panel. They all died. John had just returned with his wife and two children from a week's, holiday and Monday night was the first shift since his return. A fourth brother, Joseph, would have been in the pit had he not been on holiday, Mrs. Kathleen Barker, Wood Avenue, Creswell, whose Husband was numbered among the dead, lost her first husband in the same colliery 17 years ago. She has two children. Mr. C. Hemingway, aged 26, of Welbeck Street, Creswell, another victim, was married only two weeks ago. Two Clowne victims each left families of seven children.

Graphic Stories
Among the first of the small party of 19 who crawled choking and gasping to safety was James Arthur Hancock (42), coal cutter charge hand, 39, Church Street Creswell. He was working with his brother George (37), Duke Street, Creswell, and Jim Wood, Welbeck Street. Explaining that the first intimation they had at the coal face that something was wrong was about 3.30 am. when they had a power cut. He added: "We were working in the 65's left side which is towards the return way. I said to George that we should wait a quarter of an hour and then go up and find what the cut was about. I set off and had gone about 30 yards from the bottom of the loader gate when I ran into a big black cloud. How I managed to get through it I don't know. "I scrambled and crawled on my hands and knees and lay for what seemed like five minutes. A man came up to me and said there was a fire at No. 2 transfer point. That was about three quarters of a mile away, but even at that distance it was burning hot. My eyes were streaming. The other men, including my brother and Jim Wood, were coming in ones and twos towards the pit bottom. We all took off our shirts and soaked them with water, putting them over our mouths and noses. We then all came out together. It was a very terrible experience, and I never saw anything of the men who were lost. No one could have got within sight of them. We who got out are the luckiest men to be alive."

Other survivors had similar graphic stories to tell. They all agreed that they were very lucky men to be alive. One of the last men to escape from the affected part of the pit was George Vardy (36) conveyor erector of Skinner Street Creswell. He said "I was working at one of the panels which run off the two roadways with about 25 other men when I smelt smoke. I mentioned it to our deputy, Bill Morris, and he went towards the main road to see what was the matter. He then shouted to us to clear the panel and we started to get out. To get to the main roadway we had to go along a branch roadway about 200 yards long, and thick smoke and fumes were coming towards us.

Crawl And Grope
"It got worse as we went along. It was so thick that our lamps were no good, and we had to crawl and grope for the rail on the floor to guide us. As far as I know none of the men from three other panels further round towards the fire escaped. It all happened so quickly. At one point we had to climb up an incline of one in six. I noticed one man about 60, who had asthma, and he was coughing and choking with the thick, black smoke and poisonous fumes. I can still taste the burning rubber.

Last To Escape "While the rest went to the pit bottom five of us-Bill Morris, Edgar Linton, Bob Wild, Dick Evan and myself, stayed to help any more men who might have followed us through. That was at about 4.55 a.m. We stayed on until 8 o'clock but no one else got through. We were the last to escape. By this time the manager and others were down, and sand and water and fire fighting equipment and breathing apparatus were being taken inroad to the fire."

Married Three Weeks Only three weeks after his marriage to Miss Audrey Wragg, only daughter of Coun. Mrs. T Margaret Wragg and Mr. C. A. Wragg, 23, Morven Street, Creswell, Mr. Colin Hemingray (25), (Mecco-Moore operator), Duchess Street, Creswell, was killed in the disaster. His Young wife had his, breakfast ready and knew nothing bout the disaster until her mother (Coun. Wragg) told her. They both waited at home in vain. Mr. and Mrs. Hemingray had hoped to start their honeymoon on Saturday.

Had Shift Off Mr. A. J. Smith, Duchess Street, Creswell, who was due to start work on the Monday night shift, after returning late from Creswell Cinema, decided to have a shift off. Mr. Smith had been off work a week and should have started on the Monday night shift. He is married with five children. Not until several hours after his escape did Mr. George Lewis, Whaley Common, Langwith, one of the 19 men to be rescued realise that his 46 year old brother, Albert Lewis, was one of the 80 fatalities. The brothers, both bachelors living together at Whaley Common, were working as packers on the same shift but in different Panels. Mr. George Lewis, who was in the 65 panel, was one of the last men to escape by crawling a long distance through foul air under a very low roof. His brother was in 64 panel.

Alfred Edgar Bryan (56), of Model Village, had been away from work for thee weeks with a chest injury received in the pit, and his first shift back proved to be his last.

Tragic Homecoming When Mrs. Tilda London. Apple Tree Road, Stanfree, arrived back from the funeral of her mother, Mrs. E. Partridge, Chesterfield on Tuesday, she was told that her husband, Mr. W. London, had been killed in the disaster. Mr William Mellish, 7, Church Street, Creswell, was making his first shift at the coal face for two years. He was off work for six months earlier this year because of heart trouble, and returned to work month ago to do lighter duties at the pit bottom. Formerly he had worked at the face for eight years but when able to attend work during the last two years had always been at the pit bottom. His uncle, Mr. William Mellish, Duchess Street, also lost his life in the disaster.

47 Bodies Recovered
Although an official statement had been made on Tuesday that rescue work had been abandoned and the affected part of the pit sealed, rescue teams nevertheless worked in four-hour shifts throughout the night. Tests were made of the heat inside the sealed-off portion and, during the night an entry was affected at one end. Although smoke and fumes made rescue work extremely difficult and hazardous, 44 more bodies were recovered and brought to the surface, making a total recovered of 47.

Further Exploration Abandoned
Subsequently this had to be abandoned at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

The Bodies Were Taken to the Drill Hall and the sad work of identification was then proceeded with. It is understood that the majority of bodies recovered were not burnt and were, indeed, little marked. Twenty of the dead men were found sitting together as though they had been overcome when waiting for rescue.

Sir Hubert and Lady Houldsworth stayed late at the pit, as also did Sir Eric Young. The Minister of Fuel and Power. Mr. Philip Noel-Baker, and Lord Hyndley, Chairman of the N.C.B., flew from London to Tollerton aerodrome and then drove to the pit. Also present was Sir Andrew Meikle Bryan, Chief Inspector of Mines. Sir Hubert Houldsworth, Mr. Harry White, M.P, for N.E. Derbyshire, and Mr. Harold Neale, M.P. for Bolsover, were among early arrivals at the pit, and later Sir Eric Young, now a member of the National Board and formerly Managing Director of the Bolsover Colliery Company, rushed from London on hearing of the disaster.

Sir Hubert stated that although the actual cause of the fire was not known, friction was suspected. The fullest investigation would be made.