Search billions of records on
Website logo - Click to go to Home page

Bygone Stanley - The Deep Drop Explosion


On Tuesday 4th March 1879 there was an explosion at the Deep Drop Pit. The following is the report;-

It is my painful duty to record that on the 4th March an explosion of gas took place at the Stanley Colliery near Wakefield, the property' of Messrs. R. Hudson and Company, which resulted in the death of 21 persons. In accordance with your instructions, I reported specialty to you at the time and I now lay before you a summary of my observations at the inquest which was held before Thomas Taylor Esq. at the Court House in Wakefield, together with the evidence of one or two of the principal witnesses including my assistant, Mr Gerrard, and Mr Greaves, the Manager of the colliery, as reported in the newspapers; a plan of the district in which the explosion occurred; the summing up of the coroner and the verdict of the jury, believing this to be the most convenient, concise and clear way in which I can embody the account of the disaster in this report for your information.

The inquest was most searching and thorough, and the inquiry very patiently and fully pursued; it being your special desire in this, as in all other similar inquiries, as it was the wish of all concerned, I believe that every title of evidence should be exhibited which could in any way tend to throw light on the cause of the explosion.

You were pleased to direct that W. St. James Wheelhouse Esq., M.P., Q.C. should attend the inquest and watch the case on behalf of the Government and to that gentleman I am deeply indebted for very valuable assistance.

Thomas Richard Arundel, the underground viewer at the Victoria Colliery, said: "I have charge of the Haigh Moor Pit only, but I go down Silkstone Pit too when I can find time, perhaps once a week, to examine it generally on behalf of Mr Greaves. I went down the pit between 6 and 7 o'clock on the Monday morning before the accident occurred, and finished my examinations about 12 o'clock. I make no report myself but I look at all the reports. I examined all the workings in the west board. We found no trace of gas in any part of them. The pit looked better than I had seen it for some years. They had finished the old holes and started some new ones, and everything looked very well. The usual amount of air was passing through the workings and the ventilation was satisfactory. I was sent for after the explosion and I should reach the pit about 11 o'clock on Tuesday night. As soon as I got there I went down and joined the party of Mr Greaves who had preceded me.

John Sugden, underviewer at Lofthouse Station Colliery, said he was down the Silkstone Pit for the first time the day after the explosion. He went down at 8 o'clock in the morning. Thomas Walls and another man accompanied him. On getting to the bottom they made their way to the west board. They did not see any bodies until they got to No.43 where they found Leake and Waller. The ventilation was in good order at that time, and doors and sheets had been put up. At No.49 they found some gas in the main way It was fire-damp. The roof had fallen in, and they turned back to No.48, He saw Hampshire, who was exhausted and asked witness to take charge. Witness came back to the large fall in the main intake between No.35 and No.43. He gave directions to have the place enlarged that the bodies which had been found might be got over. This was done, and the bodies were afterwards removed. Witness then went to No.21 and passed from the intake into the return to search for the body of Colley. He found it in a slit opposite the stable for six horses, about half-way between No.21 and No.27. Witness took his lamp out of his hand. It was what is called a "paddy" lamp. He could see that a stopping had been blown out. There were bricks and horse gearing all the way on till he found the body. He returned to No.,21 and found the body of a boy in a slit. He returned further along and found the body of another boy and the body of a man lying on his face. He next saw the body of a man on his back, with his head towards the workings. Witness than found two safety lamps in the far return. They were set upright on a sleeper end. He then went up to the working face and found two men had lost them out of their hands when running from the workings. He turned down towards the throw and found the body of Joseph Salt. This was all in the return air-course. Salt was lying on his face with his head towards the south. From that working, witness went to No.9 ending and found the bodies of Perks, Atkinson and William Hartley, the deputy. There was a Stephenson lamp found there on a prop. It was in good order.

Matthew Hall, general & certified manager of the Lofthouse Station Collieries, said he went down the Silkstone Pit on the morning after the explosion. He examined minutely No.43. The blast had gone out over from No.43 and in over from No.43. The centre of the explosion was at No. 43.

THE CORONER: 'In fact there had been a blast in both directions?' Both directions. The blast at No.43 had been a severe one. It drove dust into the timber and charred the coal.

By MR GILL: The dust was a quarter of an inch thick on the timber and formed a cinder. Mr Hampshire drew my attention to the rent in the floor near No.27. It was about ten inches long and five or six inches wide. The hole was in a slanting direction.

'Is this theory correct, that the gas which caused that outburst there must have accumulated below the spavin, and then given off such a quantity that it burst the two feet of binding and tent the floor? - 'I am not prepared to say that.'

'How could that rent be otherwise made than by an accumulation of gas below that spavin?' - 'It might be by an upheaval.'

'But that upheaval would have to rend the two feet of binding?' 'Certainly.

'And therefore there must have been a very serious accumulation of gas below that spavin to cause an upheaval?' 'The upheaval might be caused by pressure on each side, by pressure of the thrown at the right and the goaf at the left.

'Is not the other the more likely mode - the accumulation of gas below the floor?'- 'It might be, but I am not prepared to swear.'

'Your experience has informed you that it is a very frequent occurrence for these rents to take place by the accumulation of gas beneath the spavin?' - 'Gas will do it, and so will pressure.'

'Keep to my suggestion, that accumulation of gas below the spavin. Might gas have caused that outburst?' - 'I have not seen it in my experience. It has undoubtedly occurred in some collieries'.

'And a colliery that has been free from gas, and as safe, to all appearances, as could be at one moment, has become filled by gas by an upheaval of this kind and calamities have occurred? That you know?' - 'I have heard it.'

'The statements of men upon whom reliance can be placed. Is not that so?' - 'Yes, '

'And might it not have been the case in this pit, that an accumulation of gas below the spavin caused that rent, and that there was an outburst of gas which filled the pit and lighted a lamp either at No.43 or No.49 and so account for the explosion. Is that consistent?' - 'It would affect No. 43. It would require gas at No.9 before it would cause an explosion.

'But very little gas there would account for the explosion on the theory I am putting forward now? - 'It is possible that there might have been an outburst of gas at that place.'

'And so the explosion might have occurred?' - 'It might have been so.'

THF CORONER:- 'You put your arm in the hole up to the elbow?' - 'I did.'

'Was there any appearance of charing or burning there?' - 'None.'

'It appeared to be free from fire?' - 'Yes, I tried it with my lamp.'

James Burkinshaw, collier, said he had worked in the Silkstone Pit for six or seven weeks.

By Mr Clegg - 'He was one of the party that went exploring after the explosion. He was with the party that found the bodies of Waller and Leek. He found a lamp which was commonly called a flaming lamp. It was not burning. There was neither oil nor cotton in it. It was about three yards on this side of No.43 ending. lt was lying near Leek's feet.'

John 0ldroyd Greaves, residing at Wakefield, said he was a mining engineer and certified manager of Messrs. Hudson's collieries. The Silkstone Pit was first sunk in 1840 down to the Haigh Moor seam. He was not connected with it when it was sunk to the Silkstone seam. The depth of the shaft is 475 yards and the diameter is 11 feet. On the west board they are bringing the workings back. The ventilation in this portion of the mine was being curtailed as the workings were brought back. The ventilation formerly covered a larger district. He had been manager for l0 years - six years under the Mines Regulation Act and four years before. He had taken the daily supervision of the pit by means of reports of the deputies under him. He had personally examined the pit occasionally, but at no stated rime beyond attending at the colliery' every Thursday morning, and going into the works when necessary. He had never the slightest difficulty on the part of the owners or the men in getting his orders carried out. His last visit to the west board before the explosion was in January. He then made the half-yearly survey. The only reason for not working the pit on Tuesday, the 4th instant, was the want of demand for coal.

By MR CLEGG - 'Witness went all through the west board in January He had not been in the west board since then till the 4th instant. He had not examined any part of the workings between January and March. He did not remember how long it was before January when he made his last examination. He could not tell to a month or two.


"Then may I take it in this way; that you did not go down the pit last year to make a systematic examination of the workings, but that when you did go down you went either to survey the quantity of coal got or to look at particular places? 'Well, I should have a general inspection if I went to look at any particular place. When I went down I usually stayed the day.'

THE CORONER - "Would it take more than a day to make an examination of the pit?' - 'Yes'

'And would that be recorded somewhere?' - 'No.'

'I know there is nothing in the Act of Parliament, but don't you think for your own safety it would have been better?' - 'No, sir'.

'Very well, I am not your keeper. You know best. Are you the certified manager of any other mine than this?' - 'Yes'.

'How many?' - 'One other.'

You mean for another company?' - 'No, a colliery owner, There are four other pits working.'

'And how many have Messrs. Hudson? - 'Three working.'

'Then you are the certified manager for seven different pits? - 'Well, there are two mines.'

'Having seven pits?' - 'Yes.'

'You say that you have this pit under your daily supervision by means of the daily reports of the deputies?' - 'That is so.'

'Do you see the reports of the deputies every day? - 'Every day; they are sent to my house in Wakefield'

'Of course you are acquainted with the Mines Regulation Act of 1872?' - 'Yes.'

'You know Section 26?' - 'Yes.' Mr Clegg then read this section as follows:-
'Every mine to which this Act applies shall be under the control and daily supervision of a manager, and the owner or agent of every such mine shall nominate himself or some other person (not being a contractor for getting the material in such mine or a person in the employ of such contractor) to be the manager of such mine, and shall send written notice to the inspector of the district of the name and address of such manager.'


The downcast shaft is 11 feet in diameter, is some yards from the upcast, also 11 feet in diameter, at or near the bottom of which is situate the furnace. A drift connects the furnace with the upcast shaft, the drift being 50 yards in length and entering the shaft 20 yards from the bottom. The return air does not pass over the furnace but enters the shaft at the bottom, passing thence up the shaft, and no nearer to the furnace than the extremity of the drift above mentioned. The amount of air passing up the shaft according to the last measurements taken before the explosion, that is on the day previous, was 75,250 cubic feet per minute, an amount amply sufficient in my opinion. for ventilating the mine if properly directed, distributed and conducted through the various workings. Of this quantity, about 53,000 cubic feet went along the west board, but at No.1 North drift this is diminished by about half. The area affected by the explosion was confined entirely to the west side or the shaft; the workings on the other side not being touched in any way, indeed it appears men continued to work there alter the explosion had taker place without being aware even that anything had happened. The number of persons in the pit at the time of the explosion was between 50 and 60, but of these 21 only were at work on the west side - of these 21 poor fellows, not one now remains alive. During the day time, when the pit is at work, there are about 230 persons in the mine, but this explosion, as you know, occurred at night, hence the small number of persons. On Tuesday the 4th, which was the day of the disaster the colliery was not at work from the present sickness of trade; consequently these men who went in at 9 p.m. on Tuesday formed the first party of workmen for that day with he exception of the two colliers who went in at 2 p.m.

Having arrived at the colliery I descended into the mine. At that time I think about seen or eight of the bodies had been recovered, there being still 12 or 14 in the pit. I did not find it practicable or advisable to make my examination at that time - the energies and endeavours of all being applied to recovering the bodies as speedily as possible - but on the following morning the last of the bodies having been brought up, I think about 5 a.m., I was enabled to make a thorough and complete examination of the whole of the district which was affected by the explosion. The main intake board on this side extends some 1,700 yards, or about one mile from the shaft, and I do not think it has ever been my misfortune to see, after any explosion such dire evidence of the terrific nature of the blast. The board almost from the beginning to end is a complete wreck. The falls of roof are very numerous and most extensive; indeed so high are some of them that it was with considerable difficulty I and those with me could manage to crawl over them. I was accompanied in my examination by my assistant, Mr Gerrard, by the manager Mr Greaves and by one or two of the deputies and workmen. On the previous day when down, besides the above there were Mr Hall, the manager of the Lofthouse Station Colliery, and his under-viewer, Sugden, and I willingly take this opportunity of testifying to their very great assistance, energy and courage in assisting to take steps to recover the bodies and restore the ventilation. I wish to mention a fact which struck me as being remarkable and unintelligible, In the stables near the shaft were standing at the time of the explosion several horses. Of these two were killed and the others, although close by in the same stable, were uninjured. Moreover, the two which were killed were not next to each other but were separated by some horses alive and apparently untouched.

Proceeding along the intake or west board I found, as I have described, evidence of a severe explosion; the direction of such explosion being apparently towards the shaft from some point I had not yet reached. Tubs, stoppings, sheets, doors and debris were all blown outwards towards the shaft; the stoppings, doors and sheets between the intake and return, which run parallel to each other, being blown in the return and across it from the intake board. The dust also was on the sides of the props and bars furthest from the shaft. There are three points in particular with which we have to deal, and these are known as No.9, No.21 and No.43. At or near each of these men were killed - it being noticeable that those who were in or near the intake were burnt; those in the returns and other parts having apparently died from the effects of afterdamp. Although the indications, particularly approaching No.21, were such as at first to make it extremely difficult to determine which way the blast had gone - the tubs and materials being here blown and twisted about in the most extraordinary manner - still, on the whole, most of this can be attributed to the suck following the explosion and evidence greatly preponderated in favour of the blast having come from some point further in, and its force exerted in the direction of the shaft. At the stables situate near No.21, and in which the five or six horses there standing were all killed, there is the same deduction to be drawn - the stoppings between the intake and return being blown from the intake across the return and many yards along the ending beyond, the horsekeeper also having been killed and carried in the same direction. The falls here and up to No.43 were very extensive, indeed it was with some difficulty we could crawl over one just before reaching 43. The bodies of Waller and Leek were found beyond this fall, at 43, and both were severely burnt; between these bodies wore found a flaming or open lamp. Here was also strong evidence of the explosion in the form of coked dust which was lying thick upon the props and sides. Beyond this point, towards 49, the indications of disturbance die away. Evidence has been given as to a hole in the floor between the stables and 21 ending. There certainly was this hole, but I don't know that it is to be accounted for in any way but as the effects of the general disturbance of the floor and roof, owing to the falls, and when I saw it it was not so large as has been described. There was no indication of burning about it, and no gas whatever was at that time issuing from it. Indeed, I do not think that the gas which caused the explosion came from this place. From the evidence, and from my personal observations, it seems to me that the gas fired at either Leek's or Waller's open light, at or near 43 in the main intake. There is no question here of shot firing or of matches or smoking, or tampering with safety-lamps, because naked lights werehere in use. It will be noted that this was close to the ending where, on the day previous, Arundel had examined to see if any gas was coming off, and this ending communicated with that large goaf which extends the whole distance of the west board on its northern side. The returns which I also examined on the west side are comparatively uninjured, the effect of the blast having confined itself chiefly to the intake board, and the ending opening therefrom into the return.

It is curious to note with regard to the boy Musgrave who was suffocated by the afterdamp up No.1 South drift, that his horse standing close by him was perfectly uninjured. The practice of allowing naked lights in this pit at such a considerable distance from the shaft, although in the main intake and with the fact that certain boards arc erected to prevent such lights being taken into the return is, it seems to me, a most injudicious one. The seam is one which is known to give off gas, and an enormous goaf exists to the north of the west board, and sufficiently near to it to make it at any rate possible that any fall therein or disturbance might expel any gas there might happen to be on to this intake, where the naked lights exist. I would earnestly recommend that open lights of every description should be prohibited, at any rate beyond the point where the split of fresh air takes place at the first South drift. The custom too is objectionable in the highest degree, if not contrary to rule, of allowing at certain times the workmen to go into the mine with the deputies, although they may even not be allowed to proceed further than the fixed stations, before their working-places are examined. The system of keeping the books and entering the reports as required by the Act seems to me, from the evidence of the deputies and those whose duty it is to make such reports, to be deplorably defective; and although the means at hand for the good regulation of the pit are ample as well as the appliances for its proper ventilation, it appears to me that, as regards the points I have named, the management is singularly lax and capable of very considerable improvement.

The coroner then summed up to the jury. The evidence, he said, seems to leave no doubt that these 21 unfortunate persons had come to their deaths by an explosion at No.43. It seems Hampshire directed Leek the previous day to put in some twine plates at that spot, and on that day, according to Hawksworth, the air was dead at that part. After drawing the attention of the jury to the duties and liabilities of those connected with the mine, as shown in several rules which he read, he said it was for them to say whether negligence had been shown in the discharge of duty, and whether or not it was excusable or justifiable. If there was a sudden outburst of gas, nobody could reasonably be blamed for it; but if it was unreasonable to allow anyone to go there without having previously examined it, the responsibility was very grave. If they thought any person criminally responsible for the death of these persons, they would say so; but if they thought death the result of a sudden outburst which could not be foreseen, they would return their verdict according to that view.

The jury retired at five minutes past five, and returned into Court at five minutes past six precisely with the following verdict:- 'The jury are unanimously of opinion that the 21 persons whose bodies have been viewed have come to their deaths by an accidental explosion of fire-damp in Silkstone Pit and that such explosion originated at the naked light in 43 ending of the west board; and they are also of the opinion that there was some degree of laxity in carrying out the rules.'

Mr Gill said he was desired by the proprietors to say that the recommendations of the Inspector should be strictly carried out.

The inquiry then terminated.


1) William Musgrave (a boy), Baileys Buildings, Eastmoor.
2) George Bolland, Ferry Lane.
3) Luke Walker, Lofthouse Gate.
4) Charles Wild, Newton Lane End.
5) Richard Atkinson, Ouchthorpe Lane.
6) John Perks (a boy), Newton Lane End.
7) William Hartley, Newton Lane End.
8) Eli Blackburn, Firths Yard, Eastmoor.
9) William Jones, Newton Lane End.
10) James Dolan (a boy), New Street, Wakefield.
11) Joseph Salt, Victoria Row, Newton Lane.
12) Israel Hartley, Stanley Lane End.
13) John Dolan,
14) William Colley
15) Thomas Farrar (a boy), Newton Lane End
16) Charles Firth, Stanley Lane End.
17) James Leek.
18) Luke Waller, Stanley Lane End,
19) William Grice.
20) Andrew Wild.

The report names 20 people on the plan. There were, however, 21 killed; the report says 21 persons bodies have been buried. The odd one out on the plan showing positions of bodies was William Colley of Bread Baker Lane, who died shortly afterwards.

E. N. Steele, in his write up 'Glimpses of Stanley's Past', makes some observations, other than points raised at the official inquest, which were interesting:-

*On that occasion fifty men had descended on the night shift at nine o'clock. Just over an hour later a frightening explosion occurred caused by an ignition of gas. Nineteen men and boys were working on the west board where the explosion occurred.

*A police officer, Constable Cooper, was not far from the pit on Aberford Road and heard a sound similar to that of a large gun being fired, followed by a massive shower of coal, debris and smoke which arose in the air from the shaft.

*The colliery surgeons, Mr Greaves and Mr Whitely, were sent for by responsible pit staff and they were joined by Dr. Hefferman of Lake Lock. Three other police officers also arrived soon after.

*A rescue and recovery operation took place and after much difficulty the bodies of the dead were brought out; only one man being found alive from the board.

*By 1 o'clock a small group of villagers had gathered at the pit head - wives, families, friends and colleagues of the night shift miners. As the bodies were identified, wails and cries of despair and grief filled the night air.

Next Section

JGC Logo Valid HTML5 Logo HTML5 Logo Valid CSS3 Logo JGC Logo
Copyright logo
This page (drop.html) was last modified on Sunday 27/01/2013