WOOD PIT. Haydock, Lancashire. 7th. June, 1878.
In 1878 the village of Haydock was described in contemporary accounts as small, neat and clean, considering the nature of the employment of most of the village which was coal mining and all the collieries in the village were owned by Messrs. Richard Evans and Company. On the morning of the 7th. June 1878, men started out at four and five in the morning to be at work at the coalface by six. A cyclone was approaching the British Isles from the Atlantic. Many of the newspapers of the time in mining areas around the country published articles about the dangers of mine explosions in these conditions. The Sheffield Telegraph published ‘A Warning to Colliers’ and went on to say that they should take great care at work and not use any naked lights in the mines and great care should be taken with the ventilation of the mines.
As the men arrived at the pit, they went to the lamp-house for their lamps and then made their way to the pit bank to descend and start their work. The Redford family, father and three sons entered the cage when one of the bays found that he had left his tea can behind so he hurried off home to get it. He would have been annoyed at the time, but in the light of events relieved, to find that when he returned to the pit bank, the officials would not let him go down the mine as he was late. He was sent home without pay. Once at the bottom, the men made their way to their workplaces in the Upper Florida Mine.
From the pit eye, the roads to the Florida Mine sloped about one in five. The workings were reached at a depth of about two hundred yards by a road two hundred yards long that had been cut though the Red Rock Fault that caused a down throw of about fifty feet in the coal seam. the workings consisted of two short jig brows, one a little to the west of the second. there was a returning gallery leading to the head of the second jig brow and a working parallel to the first and leading to a ventilation tunnel which led into a drop-pit in the upcast shaft.
They made their way up the steep one in three roadway to the workings, ready to start work at six in the morning. During the morning there were two reports of men making their way to the surface. One had trouble with his lamp, the other with his clog. Both later reported that the had a great fear of returning down the pit, a feeling that undoubtedly saved their lives.
The day began in such a normal and routine way that no one realised that the stage was set, for what is still on record as the worst disaster in a Haydock pit and one of the worst in the Lancashire coalfield as a whole. As the work got under way, Roger Banks, of Vista Cottages, Earlestown, began his inspection of the workings. He was the deputy overlooker and he was responsible for this part of the mine.
During the morning the mine manager, Mr. John Turton, who was a well qualified and experienced man, descended the pit to make his inspection. at about ten thirty the two men met in a large brick lined tunnel which was the main haulage road and Mr. Banks made his report to Mr. Turton. It was routine and there was nothing out of the ordinary. the two men parted, Mr. Banks making his way to the workings and Mr. Turton to the pit eye.
At a little after eleven o’clock in the morning, Mr Turton had reached the surface and as he walked away from the pit he saw, to his horror, plumes of dust and smoke coming from both the upcast and the downcast shafts. to a well qualified and experienced man that he was, this could mean only one thing, there had been an underground explosion.
With total disregard for his safety. he at once ran back to the cage and ordered the engineman, Arnold Shufflebotham, to lower him into the pit leaving instructions that runners should be sent to seek out help. Once at the pit bottom he started to do what he could to improve the ventilation by adjusting the air doors. With his understanding of the ventilation system of the mine he closed doors that had been blown open by the explosion to get the best possible supply of air to the workings.
His experience told him that there was little he could do for those caught in the initial blast, but he would know that after an underground explosion there was a more deadly danger, that of afterdamp which is mainly deadly carbon dioxide, that is formed as a result of the explosion. It says much for the courage and the steel nerves of this man that he worked o steadfastly in a desperate attempt to save as many men as he could that had survived the blast. The men he found lying near the shaft he turned on their backs so that they could breath more easily although they were unconscious from the effects of the afterdamp. The stories of the survivors paint a vivid picture of the conditions underground and as with so many disaster stories, they are little short of miraculous.
One of the survivors, George Whitley, was exceptionally lucky because this was the third explosion that he had survived. He had worked in the mines for twenty years and at the time of the explosion was in the Lower Florida Mine but on the other side of the pit when he heard the all too familiar sound of an underground explosion. He immediately made his way down the tunnel which he took every day and which he knew well, but he had gone no more that ten yards when he was overcome by the afterdamp which he related later was ‘the worst I have ever known’. He passed out twice more before he reached the pit eye where he passed out for a third time but he was found and sent to the surface, probably by Mr. Turton. He realised only too well, how lucky he had been and that in just a few more minutes he would have been a dead man.
William Green and Peter Monohan were both working at the bottom of the downcast shaft and were both knocked down by the force of the explosion and had their lamps blown out. Both were rescued by the actions of Mr. Turton.
A graphic account was given to the press by Edward Edwards, a collier. He was saying his grace prior to eating his dinner, something that he always did, when he heard the explosion. He heard a voice say, ‘Lads, there’s been an explosion.’ Everyone in the area rushed out and made for the bottom of the pit for they all knew and feared the afterdamp. Edwards went past an unconscious man, whose name is not recorded, and dragged him out by his feet. The man later recovered. Later Edwards related to the press, ‘All the men prayed to God to help them and we prayed to. You never heard such praying in all your life. The force of the blast was terrific and I have no doubt that all those in the workings have perished.’
Richard Bate, a dataller of Park Road Parr, was working at the top of the downbrow tunnel at the time of the explosion and was in the act of making a signal to the haulage engine. He heard a noise which was followed by a lot of smoke and dust but he did not see any fire although his face was burnt. He made his way to the side of a brick built arch but before he could get away he was overcome by the afterdamp. When he came to he was in a cart at the surface.
Thomas Sutton lived in Crow Lane, Newton, and was working as a dataller in the Ravenhead Mine, about fifteen yards from the furnace getting out coal and dirt. He was knocked off his feet by the force of the explosion but remembers getting to the bottom of the winding shaft by passing through two ventilation doors that were open. After that he remembers nothing until he was at home.