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Coal Mines Act of 1911 - Explosion at Whitehaven

In 1886 a Royal Commission recommended the establishment of Rescue Stations, but they did not become general until the Coal Mines Act of 1911 made their provision compulsory. The reluctance to make progress was in some degree due to lack of development of suitable breathing apparatus.

There was an explosion at Whitehaven on the night of May 11th 1910, followed by a fire shortly after 141 miners had descended the mine. Rescue parties were formed, their work valiant and self-sacrificing, but the inferno was too much to throw away more lives. The authorities ordered the workings to be sealed off, leaving 122 men and boys where they had perished.

Then at a meeting at the Home Office on June 8th 1910 there was a discussion on the use of rescue operations in mines, rescue stations, and trained rescue men. A Royal Commission was to be set up and legislation would be required through Acts of Parliament. Mr Ratcliffe Ellis, of the Coal Owners' Association, referred to a statement made by Mr. Keir Hardi in reference to the Whitehaven disaster that; "In his opinion as a miner he believed that the workings had been sealed off to put the fire out at the colliery while the victims were still alive". Mr Churchhill said it was a cruel and very disgraceful statement to make.
But on June 16th 1910 in the House of Commons Keir Hardi raised the matter again, he said, is it not a fact that the miners were dissatisfied with the decision that they threatened to storm the colliery and remove the stoppings, and that extra police had to be called in to prevent disorder? Mr Churchill said; Yes it is perfectly true that undeterred by the practical certainty of death overtaking any rescue party which attempted to penetrate the workings, a number of miners, with the heroism that commands the greatest of respect, were anxious in their despair to make another effort, but I think it is unquestionable that it was right to prevent that effort.

During this discussion on the Whitehaven colliery disaster, Enoch Edwards MP. Also secretary of the North Staffs Miners Federation put a resolution to the House of Commons on safety in mines, which included:
"And this House is also of the opinion that rescue and experimental stations with suitable rescue appliances should be set up in all mining areas.

Then on June 27th 1910 a Bill was introduced to make provision with respect to organisation for the purpose of rescue and aid in the case of accidents in mines." After much discussion the Bill was read for the first time amid cheers.

Pit Terminology - Glossary


History of Mines Rescue


List of Stations