Wigan Alexandra Pit 7 lives lost

Manchester Tines, December 11th 1875

At terrible accident occurred at the Alexandra Pit, Haigh, nr Wigan, belonging to the Wigan Coal and Iron Company Ltd, yesterday week, by which seven men lost their lives. The pit is one of a group of four which are situate near the main road leading from Wigan to Aspull, and occupy a large space of ground between the road and the plantations surrounding Haigh Hall, the seat of the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, who is chairman on the board of directors of the company owning the collieries. The whole concern of the company is one of the largest in the country.

The Alexandra pit, which has been sunk to win the Pemberton 4ft mine is 269yds deep and 19ft 6inches in diameter inside the brickwork, and has only been open for about six months. During that time coal has been wound to the surface, but in order to open out the workings and prepare for a larger output, a staff of men have for some time been engaged in widening the mouthing of the bottom of the shaft. This piece of work, as is usual at many collieries was let by contract, the contractor was Mr W. HOLDEN and the unfortunate men that lost their lives, one of whom was the son of the contractor, were part of the workmen employed by the Mr HOLDEN to undertake the job. The work had so far advanced that the roof was being arched, with bricks, and was only a few days from completion.

At 6pm on Friday the men who were on the nightshift descended the shaft to their work, and at 10pm returned to the surface for their supper, and on their descending the pit again at 10.30pm the melancholy accident happened. The cause of the occurrence is at present a matter of conjecture, but from the appearance of the cages it is supposed, that by some means the cage in which the men were being lowered came in contact with the ascending cage, and in the “meeting” the descending cage was upset, and the seven men it contained precipitated to the bottom of the shaft. A number of colliers were working down below, and one who was near the piteye, hearing a rumbling noise near the shaft, hurried to apprise his fellow workmen that something was wrong. On their arrival at the mouthing they saw that scaffolding over the “dib-hole” was smashed, and on further search they found the seven men in the water. The poor fellows, had of course, been killed instantly, and falling, as they did, about 130yds, their bodies were dreadfully mutilated.

The engineman on the bank at once saw that something was wrong, although he could not know what was the full extent of the accident, and a messenger was immediately despatched for Mr Charles Gidlow JACKSON, the manager of the company pits in the Wigan section, and he and Mr W. GRUNDY were early on the spot. It was found that one of the cages could be used and a descent was made between 12 and 1am. The bodies were shortly afterwards wound to the surface, and later on in the morning were removed to the Packet House, New Springs, to await the coroner’s inquest, were they were dressed and laid out in a room in the inn.

The intelligence of the accident naturally created considerable excitement in Aspull and Haigh, where most of the men who were killed resided, and the news of the sad affair soon becomeing known, a large number of people visited the scene of the accident in the course of the day. Examination of the shaft and machinery were made by the company’s surveyors, and in the morning Mr W. H. HEWLETT General manager of the company’s collieries, descended the shaft and made an personal inspection.

The cages at this pit are guarded by steel rods, running the full depth of the shaft and neither cage became disconnected from the rods to which it was attached, although the empty one was much shattered and the ironwork twisted in an extraordinary manner. Ample room is said to have been allowed for the cages to pass with safety, and consequently the disaster has caused great surprise, and various reasons are given for it. One is, that the vibration of the rods was so great as to make the cages collide as their meeting each other, another, that the men being improperly balance in the cage, or moving about in it, made it to press rather heavily to one side, and thus bring about the collision.

List of the dead.

Thomas BEACH, 34, Chargeman of the shift, Aspull, leaves a widow and three children

Patrick MURTHER, 22, Labourer, Aspull, unmarried

James BIRCHALL, 26, Bricksetter, New Springs, leaves a widow and two children

Joseph SMITH, 20, Bricksetter’s apprentice, Aspull Moor, unmarried

Joseph FAIRCLOUGH, 19, Bricksetter’s apprentice, Adlington, but lodging at Aspull, inmarried

Charles HOLDEN, 25, Metalman, Hindley, married no children

Patrick NOLAN, 20, Labourer. Wigan, unmarried

On Monday an inquest was opened by Mr C. E. DRIFFIELD, district county coroner, at the Packet House, New Springs, Wigan, Mr HALL the government inspector of mines for the district, Mr C. G. JACKSON manager of the company’s collieries in the Wigan section, Supt CLARKSON of the County Constabulary were also present. Evidence of identification having been given by the relatives of the deceased, Mr Ralph D. GRUNDY, of Bank House, Ince, the companies mechanical engineer was called. He produced plans showing the construction of the shaft, cages and headgear, and sketches of the position and fractures of both cages after the occurrence. One of the cages, he said, was knocked out of shape, and the other broken. The pit was winding all day on Friday, and the deceased, who were employed by Mr HOLDEN a subcontractor under the company, who were employed to brick an archway at the mouthing of the Pemberton four-feet mine, went to work at 6pm. The accident happened at 10.30pm and witness arrived at 1am. The conducting rods which guided the two cages up and down the shaft, were made of twisted iron, wire, an inch in diameter, and there were two rods to each cage. Each rod had attached to it a weight of 2tons 15cwt, and there was a clear space of 13inches between the cages at the meeting. The weight were 3ft from the bottom of the sump or dib-hole. Inquiry adjourned to allow the Govt Inspector to examine the shaft and machinery.


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