When the coal industry developed rapidly in the 19th century, labour and life were cheap. Men, women and children perished in explosions, roof falls, floods and haulage accidents. The Lancashire Coalfield, the seventh largest producer of coal in the 1870s, often had the highest accident figures. William Pickard, the miners' agent, championed the formation of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Permanent Relief Society in 1872 after a spate of disasters that caused great distress and hardship,leaving widows and families destitute.
Most fatalities were caused by firedamp, some caused by the miners who took the tops off the safety lamps that were designed to protect them because of the poor light they gave out. Some mineowners turned a blind eye to the use of candles in even the gassiest coal seams.
To regulate working conditions, the government passed Acts of Parliament: the 1842 Act prohibited the employment of females and boys under 10 years old and appointed a single inspector, but inspections were few and breaches were common. Acts passed in subsequent years led to the appointment of more inspectors and increased their powers to regulate how mines were operated and the working conditions and welfare of the miners.
After disasters the first rescuers were colliery managers and volunteer colleagues who descended into the pits to look for signs of life, rescue the injured, seal off underground fires and recover bodies while working in dangerous conditions sometimes at great cost to themselves. Apart from safety lamps to detect gases, they had no special equipment. They were the predecessors of the mines rescue teams. Mines rescue stations were recommended in a Royal Commission in 1886 but were not compulsory until after the Coal Mines Act 1911 was passed. In 1906 a committee of the Lancashire and Cheshire Coal Owners Association decided to provide a mines rescue station at Howe Bridge. Its trained rescuers were present at the Maypole and Pretoria Pit disasters. They also trained teams of men in pits throughout the coalfield. Boothstown Mines Rescue Station opened in November 1933 close to the East Lancashire Road. It replaced stations at Howe Bridge, Denton, St Helens and Burnley.
Burgh Colliery was one of numerous pits and shafts that were collectively known as Coppull Collieries. Four years after the Mines and Collieries Act 1842 had passed into law, three of the nine victims of an explosion were girls. A collier lit a candle in the workings before the fireman had inspected them causing accumulated gas to explode.
The workers descended the pit belonging to Fletchers and discovered the presence of gas which they tried to disperse with their jackets. The gas fired at the flame of a lighted candle causing an explosion which killed five men and burned several others.
The pit was worked by Spenser Wilson and Company. Six men were working in the pit when one man went to check for gas with a safety lamp but before he signalled it was safe, another man removed the top from his lamp causing an explosion that killed them all.
Butterworth's pit was in the centre of Oldham. An explosion killed 16 or 17 workers. The pit had a single shaft. About twenty five colliers were at work in the Riley mine (seam) when a roof fall broke the wire gauze of a Davy lamp causing an explosion.
About twenty men and boys and four ponies were working in Turner and Evans' No. 13 pit when an explosion killed ten, injured several others and killed all the ponies. The men worked with candles and the pit was not routinely inspected for gas before work started.
The pit was the property of John Kenworthy and Brothers. According to the inspector's report by Mr Dickinson, an explosion of firedamp killed one man and injured eight more, five of them subsequently died from their injuries.
Shortly after a hundred men and boys descended into the 1,242 feet Deep Pit, an explosion caused by inflammable gas coming into contact with a candle killed 13 workers, the oldest was 65 years of age and the youngest were four boys aged 15.
In very bad weather, water burst into the main level of the colliery. The pit was 54 yards deep and the main drift 260 yards long. Some men near the shaft bottom managed to get into the cage and were drawn to the surface. Eight men were drowned in the rising water but two men and two boys in the upper workings ran until they reached the top of the drift but before the water reached them it subsided and they escaped.
The pit's shafts were 480 feet deep. An explosion in the Engine Pit on a Friday night when most of the colliers had left the pit, claimed twelve lives, mostly boys aged 15 and under who worked as drawers. After the explosion all the workers were supplied with safety lamps.
The colliery was the property of John Hargreaves. It had two shafts but the small furnace for ventilation at the bottom of the upcast shaft was seldom used. A shaft sunk after the previous explosion to increase ventilation was 210 yards deep and 360 yards from the Coppull shaft. The colliery worked the fiery Arley mine. The colliers and drawers had to provide their own safety lamps and some risked using candles. An explosion on killed 36 men and boys, the oldest aged 41 and the youngest a boy of 9 whose father also died.
The Ince Hall Coal and Cannel Company's colliery worked the Arley mine at a depth of 414 yards It was one of a cluster of eight pits about one mile east of Wigan near the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Although it was a fiery seam, the coal was worked with naked lights and on 24 March 1853 an explosion killed fifty men and boys.
The colliery was owned by Thomas Butterworth who, after the explosion in October 1850, had been told by the inspector that the ventilation of the mine was defective. A second shaft was sunk but another explosion killed 20 men and boys, 13 were suffocated by afterdamp and seven were burnt to death.
Another explosion occurred in Ince Hall Colliery's Arley mine in 1854. An explosion of firedamp in the same pit had occurred in the previous year and the recommendations of Her Majesty’s Inspector, Joseph Dickinson had been followed. Ventilation had been improved but the Arley mine was notoriously "fiery" and explosions had occurred in other pits where it was mined. The explosion cost 89 lives, 37 of the victims were burnt and the rest died from suffocation by the afterdamp.
The colliery in the Irwell Valley belonged to Andrew Knowles and Sons. Twenty men were waiting to be raised to the surface at about 9.30 in the morning. Four boys aged from 12 to 16 years and three men, the oldest 60 and the youngest aged 20, were in the cage when it overwound at speed and was pulled into the headgear. The safety catch failed and the cage plunged down the shaft killing all on board.
The colliery's Prince Albert Pit was one of numerous small pits around Shevington and Appley Bridge to the west of Wigan. Its shaft was sunk to 260 yards and candles were permitted in the workings. An explosion of firedamp killed 13 men and boys. All the victims were overcome by afterdamp. The explosion was caused by gas coming into contact with an open flame.
The colliery was situated near Pagefield Lock on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Wigan. Shaft sinking began in 1863 and by 1865 a depth of 500 yards had been reached. Eight men were being lowered to the workings in a hoppet (a large bucket) when it stopped in the shaft for no apparent reason. A second hoppet was attached to the winding gear and men were lowered into the shaft to investigate. Explosives used in sinking had caused the shaft walling at the pit bottom to collapse burying the first hoppet and the men. Working parties removed load after load of bricks and rubble and three men were rescued but five who had been thrown out were killed.
The pit belonged to Kirkless Hall Coal and Iron, a company that owned several pits, coke works and ironworks near the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Aspull. At the end of the shift, 277 men and boys working the Arley mine at 315 yards below the surface, began ascending the shaft. The two-decker cage raised the workers in groups of eight. After many colliers had been raised, and the cage once again rose in the shaft, the steel winding rope slipped off the drum causing it to snap and plunged the cage down the shaft. Workers waiting at the pit bottom had just enough time to rush back before the cage plunged into the sump followed by the steel rods that guided the cage in the shaft. Eight bodies were recovered but the reason for the 3¾ inch rope snapping was never determined.
The old pit was sunk in 1824 off Walkden Road. An explosion killed seven men in May 1867. The pit was considered to be safe as little methane had been encountered and the men used candles. The explosion resulted when gas was ignited by an open flame.
The colliery employed nearly 300 men and boys. An explosion in the colliery's Springs Pit occurred in the Arley mine at 8.40am. Rescue teams were organised and some men and boys were raised from the workings, some suffering from the effect of afterdamp. The rescue party found 62 men and boys had been suffocated by afterdamp and some were badly burned by flames from the ventilation furnace.
The colliery, started around 1848 had eight shafts. At the time of the accident No. 7 shaft was the upcast and No. 8 the downcast. The ventilation furnace set fire to coal at the upcast shaft and spread to the down brow. Water pipes were lowered into the downcast shaft. The fire caused an explosion of gas. Nine men died.
The colliery was operated by the Moss Hall Coal Company, it had eight shafts. An explosion of gas in the Six Feet seam caused by shotfiring killed 27 men and boys and started an underground fire. The fire was extinguished after the pit was flooded with water taken from the aqueduct that supplied Liverpool with water from the Rivington Reservoirs.
The colliery was sunk in about 1856 by Smith and Sons. It was owned by W & B J Crippen at the time of the disaster. The explosion was heard for miles around and damaged both the shafts. A hoppet (large bucket) was set up to raise about 100 miners working in another part of the mine before search parties could begin the task of exploring for survivors and victims. Fifteen survivors found suffering from afterdamp were raised to the surface and twenty men died.
An explosion occurred in Pearson and Knowles' Moss Pits where men were working in the Nine Foot and Cannel mines. Two sinkers were descending the upcast shaft in a hoppet (large bucket) when an explosion damaged the headgear and discharged large volumes of smoke. After fixing the winding gear the hoppet was drawn uop and found to be empty. It was lowered again and returned with five colliers from the Cannel mine who said the explosion was in the Nine Foot. An exploring party including the miners' agent William Pickard descended into the downcast shaft where several colliers were found alive and returned them to the surface. The coal had caught fire and buckets were sent for to extinguish it but two more explosions occurred and the explorers had to return to the surface. It was decided that anyone left underground must be dead and the shaft was sealed. Altogether 69 men died.
A fire in the colliery's Cannel mine around 1,200 yards from the pit bottom filled the workings with smoke and fumes. Most men escaped but of 40 trapped by the fire 18 were asphyxiated. The fire was extinguished two days later. At the time of the disaster naked flames were used in the colliery as it was not considered to be a "gassy" pit.
Foggs Pit employed 50 men and boys.the workers rushed to the pit bottom after smoke filled the workings. Ten men were missing. Exploring parties were sent down but the pit was on fire and had to be blocked up. A second explosion sent flames from the shaft blowing the cage into the headgear.
The colliery worked two seams, the Trencherbone mine at about 300 yards and the Cannel mine at about 360 yards. The two shafts had winding engines and the downcast was the winding shaft for both seams. Open lights were used to work both seams and safety lamps were only used for examinations. The explosion took place in the lower Cannel mine after a roof fall. Just before the explosion, the cage had just reached the pit bank when the blast blew it into fragments, some of which fell down the shaft.
An explosion caused by a blown out shot took place at Pemberton Colliery's King Pit which was owned by Jonathan Blundell and Sons. The explosion in the Wigan Nine Foot mine killed 36 men and boys including Mr Watkin, the colliery manager. After the accident, blasting was carried out during the night.
An explosion, caused by the ignition of a build up of methane, at Golborne Colliery killed 10 men and seriously injured several others. A fireball shot along a tunnel which was 1,800 feet underground.
Morley, Arnold, MP (31 July 1885), Report by Arnold Morley, Esq, M.P., upon the circumstances attending a fatal explosion which occurred on the 18th of June, 1885, in the Trencherbone mine of the Clifton Hall Colliery, 19th Century House of Commons Sessional Papers, 1884-85, Vol.XIV, p.813, HMSO