Colliery explosion, Gerard's Bridge and Cowley Hill mines, St Helens 1847

Colliery explosion, Gerard's Bridge and Cowley Hill mines, St Helens 1847

Liverpool Mercury, June 4th, 1847

Dreadful explosion of fire damp at St Helens

Loss of eight lives

On Wednesday last a fearful explosion took place at the collieries of Messers SPEAKMAN, CALDWELL and Co, Gerard's Bridge, St Helens. Between 3 and 4am, about 50 men and boys went down the pit to work. About 7am the explosion was heard, and so great was the force that the fire was driven out at the mouth of the pit. It was at first supposed that the whole of the persons in the pit would be lost, but at about 10am 42 of the men and boys were rescued, two of them only being slightly burned. There still remained 8 persons in the pit, and these, it was feared would be suffocated. No assistance could be given as the fire damp continued to explode all through Wednesday. A man, named MATTHEWS and his four sons were missing. A great number of men went down the pit for the purpose of building a wall and rescuing the sufferers. How the fire originated has not been ascertained. It was painful to see the friends of those still missing, lingering throughout the day at the mouth of the pit. Another account, We have received the following from a friend at St Helens and believe that it can be implicitly relied on

St Helens, Thursday

Yesterday morning an explosion of fire damp took place at Gerard's Bridge, Colliery, St Helens, belonging to Messers SPEAKMAN, CALDWELL and Co, through two boys [pony drivers] running along the mine with naked candles. There were at the time about 80 men employed underground and 13 ponies. Most of them got out in a few hours, very little injured, but 8, together with 3 ponies, have not been found up till noon this day, and there is no doubt they are all either burnt to death or suffocated. Most of these unfortunate creatures were working in the mines, half a mile from the shaft of the pit, and the fire intercepting, prevented that prompt assistance which all were most anxious to render. There being a large quantity of gas and the coals being very dry, they were more inflammable than coals usually are in such situations, and consequently lighted more readily. They are now [Thursday] burning with great fury under the ground, at a depth of 175yds. The place of working being a long distance from the mouth of the pit [1000yds] makes it very difficult to convey water or any other material to extinguish the fire, it is impossible to say how long the coals may continue to burn, as the fire in these cases, occasionally extends to a week and at other times much longer. The names of the sufferers are, John MATTHEWS, and his four sons, young men, John LEO, aged 18, unmarried, Joseph WORRALL, married with a large family, and Richard KAYE, single man, aged 21.

Liverpool Mercury, June 8th, 1847

Colliery explosion at St Helens

The inquest

The bodies of those killed were subsequently discovered, their names were, John MATTHEW, collier, aged 45, Peter MATTHEW, collier, his son, aged 22, John MATTHEW, aged 17, David MATTHEW, aged 15, and Joseph MATTHEW, aged 10, also his sons all drawers, Joseph WORRAL, collier, aged 50, who leaves a wife and 5 children, John LEA, drawer, aged 17, and James MORRIS, aged 12.

The inquest was held on Friday before John HEYES Esq, coroner

Mr TAYLOR agent for the proprietors of the mines appeared to watch the proceedings on their behalf and Mr W. P. ROBERTS, Manchester, the miners, "attorney-general" was present as the representative of the collier's union.

Thomas WINN said, he was employed as a collier in the Cowley Hill Mine when the accident happened, all persons who were killed worked in the same mine, but in a higher level than the one in which he was employed. About 5am he went down into the mine, but, having a long way to go from the bottom of the shaft, it would be 6am before he got to work. It was between 7 and 8am when the explosion took place, there being upwards of 50 persons in different parts of the mine at the time. Witness worked in the place where the fire took place, accompanied by a man named MARSH, who worked a little higher up than himself. MARSH who was hacking with his pick against the side of the mine, said to the witness that he thought he was going through, or there was a "bit of a slip or a shoot." Witness said to him if that was the case he must put his candle out. They then both put their candles out, and witness said, "Lets be going." MARSH at the time observed, "Aye. Lord! it has fired." They immediately made their escape an sat down in the next opening. They both began to be alarmed lest they should be suffocated, and witness exclaimed, "Oh dear me, we are all done." He put his hand to the mouth of the upper level, and the strong foul air forced it back again. They then both got into the bottom level, and ran down the main road towards the pit mouth, a distance of 400 to 500yrds from where they had been working. Witness kept shouting to the men to put their lights out. He never saw a breath of foul air in the mine before, and could not account for it in the present instance. Witness did not ask MARSH to pick through, but said that if he did he must put his light out.

In reply to a juror, witness admitted that he feared an explosion, from the pick going through the old workings.

By Mr TAYLOR,- Was aware that it was a rule of the colliery to provide lamps for the men.

By Mr ROBERTS, - He was not aware that their had been any conversation amongst the men that there was any foul air where he was working. He never heard of any. He never used a lamp in that part of the mine, nor ever saw anyone else use any. It is usual to have candles in preference, as they give a better light.

Thomas MARSH, a collier, employed with the last witness corroborated the whole of his testimony.

By Mr ROBERTS, - Had never received any caution that there was foul air in the upper brow. He was not aware of the exact place it had broke in. The foul air rushed out quick, when he struck through with his pick, and, he thought, fired in the waggon road.

By Mr TAYLOR, - He had often broke through into the old working before. He had never worked in a mine better ventilated.

John HOOTON, said, he was a drawer in the mine, employed by the two last witnesses. He was coming along the main road with his waggon and pony, and when at a distance of about 50yds from the place where they were working, he heard them shout that there was an escape of foul air. He then left his candle in the road behind, and ran. When at a distance of about 30yds the explosion took place. He escaped by falling on his face.

John CROSBY, a collier said, he was working in the cross, or the upper level of the mine at the time the accident happened. Four of the persons killed worked there also. About 7am there was a strong smell of foul air, and fearing an explosion he rushed over the coals, down the brow, into the main waggon road, some others following him. He considered the men had been killed by suffocation, induced by the smoke and, "choke damp," caused by the explosion below, which ascended into the upper level, where they were working. As soon as he got into the waggon road, he felt himself, "going" but after some time recovered, when he heard a waggon coming down the main road, and, on looking at it, saw it contained four persons, all of whom appeared to have been struck by the damp, and suffocated. There was no delay in getting the men out.

William WORRALL, aged 27, son of Joseph WORRALL one of the sufferers, gave evidence in corroboration of the preceding, and added that he asked his father to come away when he smelt the foul air, but he declined to do so thinking there was no danger.

Thomas ROWLEY, and John M'DONOUGH, deposed to going down the same mine on Thursday last, and finding the whole of the bodies, which they assisted in bringing up.

Edward HARDMAN, the underlooker in the mine was subjected to a severe examination by Mr ROBERTS and several of the jury, in the course of which he admitted that although it was a rule to have lamps in the mine, yet that they could not enforce it, as the men preferred candles and were in the habit of leaving their lamps at home. He also admitted that the present accident would not have happened, had lamps been in use at the time.

The jury, after about a quarter of an hour's deliberation, returned a verdict of, "Accidental death." caused by gases arising from the combustion of coal, which was set on fire during an explosion.

Colliery explosion, Kirkless Hall colliery, about 2miles from Wigan 1847

Colliery explosion, Kirkless Hall colliery, about 2miles from Wigan 1847

Liverpool Mercury, July 2nd, 1847

Fatal colliery explosion

Loss of 8 lives

Serious injury to nearly 20 others

One Tuesday last at 1pm, an explosion of fire-damp occurred at the Kirkless Hall colliery, about 2miles from Wigan, in the township of Ince-in-Mackerfield, near the boundary line between that township and Aspull, on the banks of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, from the effects of which, 8 persons, were on Wednesday, reported dead, 12 severely burnt and 8 slightly injured. Of the 8 killed, 6 were not got out of the pit on Wednesday evening. It appears at the time of the explosion there were about 26 persons in that section of the pit, and the full number of hands would probably be about 30, but of these 6 or 8 had been sent up before the damp took fire.

The pit is divided into two sections, in one of which only were the effects of the explosion felt. The accident appears to have been caused in the first instance by the inattention of the men to the rules laid down at the colliery, which, it is stated are very stringent. No man is allowed to enter the pit without a safety lamp, and fines are inflicted on all who do not keep them regularly covered. It is also expressly ordered that no blasting of coal is to be allowed, although it is feared that, to save labour, this practise is frequently put in operation by the men, and to a neglect of this nature must be attributed the present accident. About 11.30am one of the men had, to use the language of the pit, been, "having a shot" and in doing so set fire to the coal, which is easily ignited, it being of a highly bituminous character.

The attention of the underlooker, George EVANS, being drawn to the spot, every effort was made to put out the fire, but, it appears, unfortunately without effect, and EVANS then finding the fire gaining up on them, resolved upon cutting off the communication by bricking up that portion of the mine. He also took the precaution of sending all unnecessary hands out of the pit. Whilst engaged in closing in the fired coal, doubtless from the usual current being stopped and the accumulation of foul air, in consequence, in the neighbourhood of the fire, the explosion took place, and all in that section of the pit were more or less injured.

One man John CARTWRIGHT was brought up dead, and another John BERRY was so much injured that he died soon afterwards. 12 more were taken out very severely burnt, and 6 slightly so. Besides these there are at least 6 missing, all supposed to be dead. It was impossible to prosecute the search further in the then state of the pit, and all available strength was brought to bear in order to block the fire, which was still smouldering where it had commenced. From what we can learn the missing men are near to the fire, and at the particular spot where the explosion was felt, consequently there cannot be the slightest doubt about their being dead.

Up to Wednesday night all efforts to reach the dead bodies were abortive, but it was confidently expected that yesterday they would be got out. Until the pit could be properly examined, no account, of course, can be relied on as strictly correct, we believe however the following statement is as near the truth as it is possible to arrive at :-


John CARTWRIGHT, taken out dead, has a wife and three children.

John BERRY, died a few hours afterwards, married, no children

In the pit on Wednesday night supposed dead :-

Joshua PAINMAN, wife and one child

James HIRST, wife and three children

John HARDING [alias HOLCROFT] wife and one child

Robert SOUTHERN, wife and one child

William DAINTY, single man

William JACKSON, single man

Taken out severely burnt :-

George EVANS, underlooker, Samuel EVANS, [brother to George EVANS], Henry HANSON, Henry WHITTLE, John RHODES, James WILKINSON [boy], Henry ASHMORE [boy], John RILEY, John BOLTON, Robert WILKINSON, John WEBSTER and James BELSHAW.

Taken out slightly burnt :-

Eli MONK [boy], John MARKLAND, John MILLS, Thomas LURRISON, Thomas CAWSEY and Samuel HORSTER [boy]. On Thursday [yesterday] morning to time had, we believe been fixed for an inquest, nor was it likely that the inquiry would be instituted before the other dead bodies were brought out of the pit. Several of those severely burnt are not expected to recover, indeed yesterday morning another was reported dead.




Yesterday [Thursday] morning another explosion, that will be fatal it is feared, to two men, occurred at a colliery belonging to A. F. HALIBURTON Esq, adjoining the North Union Railway, in Wigan, and known as the No2 Pit. At the time of the explosion four men were in the pit engaged in sinking to a lower bed of coal, called the Arley Mine. The men, it appears from the prevalence of damp in the pit, carried on their work, without lights, and also, in blasting, fixed the train at the top of the shaft by a process termed "ringing it" at each explosion from which the damp also was fired. On Tuesday last a shot had been laid, and it would seem that from some part of the train being imperfect, the main body of powder was not ignited, the damp only being fired along with some part of the train. The men, on Thursday morning, where at work with the boring rods again, and at the time of the explosion, it is supposed that, in the blowing up of the rock, the damp would also be fired. Two men, William WINSTANLEY and Richard MORGAN, were taken out very seriously injured, with, it is feared, with very little hopes of recovery, but the other two who were at the time, behind a tub of water, escaped apparently unhurt. WINSTANLEY is a married man with four children and resides at Pemberton, MORGAN a single man, resides in Scholes, Wigan. Both men were taken home in carts, and every assistance rendered as soon as possible.


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