Colliery explosion in the King pit, Pemberton 1877

From the Graphic, courtesey, 'Ian Winstanley and'

Liverpool Journal, Oct 13th 1877

Great colliery disaster in Wigan

Supposed 40 lives lost

A dreadful colliery explosion happened on Thursday at the Kings Pit, Pemberton, Wigan, belonging to Messers Jonathan BLUNDELL and son, some 35 workmen were killed, and the manager, certified manager, the under locker of the pit and three of the band of explorers also lost their lives in a noble effort to save their fellow men.

The colliers of Messers BLUNDELL are some of the finest in the country and the Manager Mr WATKIN, who has fallen victim has at all times received the warmest encomiums for the manager in which the concern has been gradually built up. The colliers are situated a short distance from Pemberton station on the Liverpool portion of the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway, about a mile and a half from Wigan.

The pit where the explosion took place is one of two, the first sods of which were cut out on the 2nd December 1867 with the object of winning the Wigan seams, the King coal and the Cannel seams, and the Orrell 5ft and 4ft, or Arley seam. The shafts were 640 yds deep, the downcast being called the Queen pit and the upcast the King pit, the former 17ft 4ins in diameter at the top, 16ft at the bottom, the difference in the diameter for the purpose of admitting tubing in case the water from the Pemberton seams should make its way into the workings. The shafts are lined throughout with massive fireclay quarries, and down each side runs pairs of railway metals which are gripped by shoes fixed on the cages. These hold 6 tubs each, and are made of steel. From the upcast the 4ft is won at a distance of 270yds, the 9ft at 300yds and the King coal and Cannel at 364 yds, whilst from the other shaft the Orrell 4ft and 5ft seams are wound. There is however communication between both shafts in each mine for the purpose of ventilation, this being secured by the means of a large Guibal fan 46ft in diameter, 15ft wide, driven by two engines, one of which is capable of doing the work in an emergency, calculated to produce 225,000 cubic ft of air per minute. The upcast shaft is covered over at the top with a scaffold, and the air enters the fan by means of a large culvert and at the top of the drift between the fan and the drift there is an escape chimney provided with 4 large doors, so that in the case of an explosion the blast passes through without injuring the fan.

It was here on Thursday that there was the first intimations on the surface of anything having gone wrong in the workings, a cloud of dust and smoke shortly after 1 o clock, told a terrible explosion must have happened. Knocking was heard from below and the cage was quickly lowered, it was found a fearful blast had occurred in the 9ft seam, the few living men and boys there were wound to the surface.

An exploring party were immediately formed consisting of Mr WATKIN manager, Mr COOK certificated manager, Mr. LAVERICK underlooker, at the Kings pit, Messers W. CROSSLEY and A. E. WOODS surveyors, George ASHURST, Joseph SIMPKIN, William STEPHEN under lookers, and several other officials, and the men, some 600 in number, in the other seams were wound to the surface and work stopped.

First examination showed progress by the down cast shaft was impossible, the air doors and bratticing having been blown down and ventilation interrupted, exploration stopped by after damp. A descent was made by the upcast shaft, the extent of the explosion was then realised and it was impossible to get far into the workings. The main airway between the two shafts was cleared and a fresh supply of air was sent along it, but the after damp was so powerful, it prevented any long stay there. The roads were blocked by broken tubs, doors and falls of coal, despite untiring exertions little or no progress was made.

Shortly after 2 Messers WATKIN, COOK and LAVERICK went into the workings in the hope of saving some men, leaving CROSSLEY, WOOD, ASHURST and the Doctors behind. After some time the party left behind became alarmed after not hearing from the leaders and a search was made. On reaching a jig brow 200yds from the mouth of the workings and 100yds from the main airway the search party were horrified to find the managers in an unconscious state, all having fallen on their faces, facing the shaft, showing that they had endeavoured to make their way back having met the after damp and had been trying to regain the pure air.

The bodies were carried to the main air road and medical help sought, Mr BARNISH of Wigan, and Messrs JOHNSTON and HARTLEY of Pemberton and others volunteered to go down. At first glance the medical men though death had taken place, but, they set to work and for 2hrs were unceasing in their endeavours to resuscitate life, without effect, and their verdict was given that all was over.

Crowds of people waited on the surface for news, the sad tidings were not communicated until after 5.30, when the body of Mr COOK was brought out, and removed to his home a short distance from the colliery. The bodies of Mr WATKIN and Mr LAVERICK were wound out of the pit half an hour afterwards. The melancholy story was quickly passed from one to another, a gloom spread over the whole company such as is seldom seen in this district.

So long a time had transpired, that, there was little hope the men in the mine could be saved, deprived of chief heads of the company, the workmen seemed paralysed, and word was sent for some of the chief enginemen in the district to come and assist the explorers, Mr George HOLLAND of the Winstanley colliery was present in the afternoon and assisted the explorers.

The first batch brought from the 9ft mine consisted of Joseph HEATON, hooker on, Peter HEATON hooker on, E. CANNON, William GREAVES, William MURRAY, James ALLERTON all lads employed as pony drivers, all suffering with the effects of after damp, where possible they were removed to their homes.

: CANNON was badly burned, ALLERTON burnt and shaken, the latter had a miraculous escape, he was blown out of the workings into the shaft and driven with great force into the woodwork in the pit, his arm becoming entangled, he was found suspended over the pit by his wrist. Matthew PRESTON and George BEEDELL both 14yrs old and both a few yards from the shaft at the time of the explosion were blown out of the workings and down the shaft a depth of 340yds, and killed at once. Peter HEATON hooker on had a narrow escape, he was near the pit-eye and a full tub of coal overturned on him by the force of the blast, he was saved. All lights had blown out and HEATON being near the signalling apparatus, immediately, knocked, to the surface.

Two bodies in the 9ft pit recovered on Thursday night were so badly burned that they were unrecognisable, they were removed to the Queen pit, but, not brought to the surface.

The death of Mr WILKINS created a profound sensation on the town, he had only recently been placed on the commission of the peace for the borough, and has filled the chair of the Wigan Board of Guardians for the last 2yrs, has occupied the chairmanship of the Pemberton Local Board since its formation, and was involved with several local institutions. He was a native of Durham and has resided in the district for 13yrs, he only returned on Thursday from a holiday, he leaves a widow but no children.

Mr COOK leaves a widow and 7 daughters, Mr LAVERICK a family of 4, the number killed is estimated at 40.

The work of restoring ventilation was continued till late Thursday night, as soon as workings were ready the men were withdrawn with the exception of Mr HOLLAND and two or three under lookers, on examination in the workings a fire was discovered, it was decided to attempt to brick off the portion of the mine where the fire was situated.

The last explosion up to the present one occurred at a place known as the Moss pits, about a mile and a half from the scene of the accident on Thursday, though the coal seam is the same stretching for many miles the companies working them are different. Explosions have occurred connected with the seam in many other places among which are those at Haydock, Brynn and the accident at Ince Hall, the startling succession of accidents with great loss of life in the several colliers working the seam led to the establishment of the Lancashire and Cheshire Permanent Relief Society. Up to the present time no inquiry has succeeded in arriving at any probable cause of the accident.

As the fire was still raging into the night a consultation was held among several eminent mining engineers including Mr HALL Government Inspector of Mines, Liverpool district, Mr HEADLEY Government mining engineer and Mr J. HILTON eminent mining engineer. It was the result of their deliberations that in order to extinguish the fire it was decided that it must be stifled, brick walls were therefore being constructed as rapidly as possible at each end of the scene of the conflagration, until the fire is completely extinguished it will be impossible to recover the bodies.

The bodies of the following men have since been recovered, Robert RITCHIE hooker on, aged 27, James WINSTANLEY pony driver, Nicholas HALLOWAY back overman, Edward BIRCH and Matthew PRESTON pony driver. James TAYLOR fireman, the son of James TAYLOR also perished but his body has not yet been recovered. Another body of a youth recovered, aged about 16 has not yet been identified

Liverpool Journal, Oct 20th 1877

Wigan colliery explosion

In brief:-

The full extent of the Wigan colliery catastrophe has now been ascertained, 37 lives have been sacrificed, and 30 bodies recovered, The seven missing colliers were at work in a stall in the part of the mine which was discovered to be on fire, it was found necessary to construct brick walls at each end of the workings, the bodies of the missing men are enclosed in them, probably never to be seen again.

As the bodies of the victims were taken to the Concert room[ used in the village for meetings and entertainment] the relatives of the deceased assembled and identified the poor fellows. Many were so disfigured by burns they were identified by their clothes, these being placed at the foot of their coffins. In the case of the two lads blown down the shaft a mistake was made in their identification, one body identified by his brothers as Matthew PRESTON, the other lad not identified, was later identified as that of PRESTON by his father and mother, the mother proving this by a patch she had put on his trousers the night before the catastrophe. The other body was then later identified by Mrs BEALE as that of her son.

At Highfield Iron church erected on the colliery estate by Col BLUNDELL, Rev J. LEACH, Vicar of Pemberton, preached on Sunday, alluding in feeling terms to the explosion, specially referring to the brave act of the three managers who lost their lives trying to save their workmen.

At the Parish Church, Wigan, the rector, Rev and Hon G. T. O. BRIDGEMAN at the conclusion of his sermon, publicly acknowledged on behalf of the Wigan people, the gift of 5 pounds received that morning from Bishop SELWYN, Bishop of Lichfield in aid of the sufferers of the accident.

Last Sunday the colliery was visited by thousands from Wigan and surrounds, the bells of Wigan Parish Church rang a muffled peal.

The Inquest

On Monday afternoon Mr C. E. DRIFFIELD district coroner, opened the inquest on the bodies, there were present, Mr HALL and Mr HEDLEY Government inspectors of mines for the district, Mr TAYLOR [TAYLOR and ROWBOTTOM] appeared for Col BLUNDELL, Mr CAMPBELL represented the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners Permanent Relief Society, also present, Supt CLARKSON of the County Constabulary, Mr W. PICKARD and Mr STANSFIELD miners agents.

The Coroner on commencing the inquiry said that he was grieved to have to attend there that day and how sorry he was, all he intended to do that day is open the inquest, he had been obliged to let some persons go to attend funerals of relatives and he wanted to meet on Tuesday next to identify the victims, and would arrange a further adjournment.

He also stated that the inspectors had made a pretty good inspection of the workings, but it would be a long time before they could get into the seat of the workings where the explosion took place. Mr HALL had received a telegram from the Home Office stating that the Home Secretary had requested Mr MARLE. Q.C, should attend the inquest whenever it takes place.

Mr James PICKERING, Liverpool, agent for Col BLUNDELL expressed on behalf of Col BLUNDELL, his great regret at the loss entailed by the accident, Col BLUNDELL would rather have lost the whole of his colliery than the humblest of his workpeople should have been killed and he was grateful to those who had gone down into the workings, their lives in their hands, every assistance the Col could give would be at their command.

The Coroner said he would hold a separate inquiry on the men who met their deaths in the exploration, the deaths being quite distinct from the others, although the incident was connected to the explosion.

Evidence to the identification of the sixteen bodies was given, an inquiry was adjourned till next Tuesday.

At the sitting of the Wigan Borough Magistrates on Monday, Mayor [Mr Walter MAYHEW], on taking his seat before the proceedings expressed his regret at the death of Mr WATKIN.

Funerals of the victims

The majority of the funerals took place on Monday at Pemberton, Orrell, Goose Green and Upholland.

At Pemberton Parish Church 14 were interred, Mr COOKE certified manager and Mr LAVERICK underlooker, were buried at 2pm, leading colliery officials attended, Messers SHORTEDE, HOLLAND and CLARKE, mining engineers, Doctors BARRUSH, JOHNSTONE, HARTLY and MOLYNEUX, the first three of whom descended the pit, leading residents walked in procession to the church.

Shortly after 4pm a joint service was held, one by one 19 bodies were brought by their relatives and placed in the sacred edifice, the church was filled, Rev J. LEACH, vicar, delivered a short address, the hymn, Brief life is here our portion, was then sung and the coffins removed to the churchyard, where the Rev J. LEACH, T. EVANS and T. WOOD read the concluding portion of the burial service at each grave.

James and Luke TAYLOR, father and eldest son were buried in one grave, one of the deceased was a member of Pemberton Brass Band and his companions wearing black scarves over their uniform preceded the coffin, which had on it the deceased�s band uniform, the band played the, Dead march, on the way to the church, crowds of people looked on who thronged the streets.

On Tuesday afternoon the body of Mr WATKIN was carried from his residence by the underlookers employed by the firm to Pemberton station, whence it was taken by train to Sunderland, where the funeral took place on Wednesday.

Several funerals took place on Tuesday, 4 at Pemberton Church, and 6 at Orrell R.C, Chapel.

The colliers who had been idle since the explosion at Pemberton King Pit, resumed work on Wednesday morning, 157 men and 38 boys descended the pit.

List of killed

Whose bodies were recovered ;-

W. J. L. WATKIN, aged 38, Pemberton, agent, married, no family

Richard V. COOK, aged 45, Pemberton, manager, married, 5 children

Robert LAVERICK, aged 39, Highfield, underlooker, married 3 children

James WINSTANLEY, aged 20, Orrell, single

James TAYLOR, aged 45, Little Lane, fireman, married, 5 children

Nicholas HALLIWELL, aged 30, Alexandra Terrace, married, 3 children

Luke PARKINSON, Goose Green, drawer, married 3 children

William BYROM, aged 14, Worsley Mesnes, pony driver

Edward James BIRCH, aged 13, Newtown, pony driver

Robert RITCHIE, Victoria St, waggon wayman, married

Matthew PRESTON, aged 13, Lamberhead Green, drawer

Thomas ROBY, Newtown, married, 5 children

William HEATON, aged 21, Halfway House, drawer, single

Richard TABENER, aged 16, Newtown, drawer

Charles BEALE, aged 13, Goose Green, pony driver

Peter CHARNOCK, aged 17, Thwaites Delf, drawer

Benjamin HARTLEY, aged 24, Newtown, drawer, single

Francis KEEGAN, aged 25, Thwaites Delf, drawer, single

Luke TAYLOR, aged 19, Little Lane, drawer, single

John KELLETT, aged 21, Pemberton, collier, single

John BRADSHAW, aged 26, Halfway House, collier, married, 3 children

William HULME, aged 49, Newtown, collier, single

John ATHERTON, Lamberhead Green, collier, married, 5 children

William CHAPMAN, aged 31, Newtown, collier, married, 5 children

John CUBBINS, aged 28, Spring Bank, collier, married, 1 child

John WILD, Lamberhead Green, collier, married, 3 children

William WEBB, aged 24, Newtown, drawer, married, 1 child

Nehemiah HOUGHTON, aged 19, Farmoor, drawer, single


Believed still in the workings

John WOODCOCK, aged 24, Worsley Mesnes, drawer, married, 2 children

Michael HUGHES, Little Lane, drawer, single

James MURRAY, aged 24, Goose Green, drawer, single

Daniel PRICE, aged 32, Worsley Mesnes, collier, married, 2 children

George RUTTER, aged 32, Newtown, collier, married, 5 children

Patrick BROGAN, aged 32, Alexandra Terrace, collier, single

John WOOD, aged 31, Little Lane, collier, married, 1 child.


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