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The Fair Lady Pit at the Leycett Colliery, near Newcastle, North Staffs, the property of the Crewe Coal and Iron Co. was the scene of a fearful explosion of gas early yesterday morning, 12 September 1879. Four men and a lad were killed and three men were seriously injured, two of them lying in a precarious position. The accident occurred about 3.30 am. when the men, who formed the night shift, were at work driving a level for the purpose of forming a second connection with the up-cast shaft where a new ventilation fan was in the course of construction.

The pit was a new recovery and the shaft was 430 yards deep. The place in which the explosion happened was 360 yards from the shaft and was in the Seven feet Banbury seam, which was well known to be a very fiery one. There seemed to be no doubt that the pit was well managed and properly ventilated, and that every precaution was taken to prevent accidents. No naked lamps were allowed and the lamps used were the most improved Belgium safety lamps, which were said to have the double advantage that they could not be opened without the light being extinguished, and the light goes out on the approach of gas. If this latter theory was correct, however, there was something extraordinary in the action of the gas upon the lights, or the cause of the explosion was yet to be ascertained.

The explanation given by a very competent authority, of course accounting only to an assumption in the absence of proof, was that during the night there was a sudden and fierce out burst of gas, which travelled with great velocity, came rapidly upon the lamps, and reversed the ordinary, being its self ignited, instead of putting out the light. The view, however, was supported by the fact that when the explorers entered the level, gas was heard blowing off like steam about ten yards back from its face.

When the accident occurred, the engine tender and stoker were on the bank and no time was lost in summering aid. Mr Stevenson, the manager, and a body of men were shortly on the ground, but it was found that the shaft was obstructed by the timbers of the leading place being blown into it, in addition to which the signalling apparatus had been broken down in the shaft and a tub had been forced into the sump. No cage could go down until the obstruction could be removed, and some time elapsed before a passage could be cut to the inset.

At five o'clock however, the descent took place and it was found that very little damage had been done to the workings in the immediate neighbourhood of the explosion, and not much trace of gas or afterdamp except the report already referred to. Five bodies were met with, and three men severely scorched. Only one of the dead seemed to have been killed by the explosion, the others appeared to have fallen victims to afterdamp. One had his arms up as if in the act of picking coal at the moment of his death.

As quickly as possible, the dead bodies and the injured men were brought to the surface, the latter being sent to their homes. All had been recovered by eight o'clock. The names of the dead were;

Thomas Ford,
age 20 single
Joseph Pepper
age 40 leaving widow and 7 children
Joseph Crowder
age 32 leaving widow and 7 children
Edward Milard
age 37 leaving widow and 4 children
William Wardle a lad.  

The injured men were;

Thomas Pearce
Thomas Jones
James Burgess.

Mr. Wynne, the Government Inspector of Mines, examined the pit.

Mr. Booth, the coroner, opened the inquest, but only evidence of identity of the bodies was taken and the inquiry was adjourned. The three injured men died shortly after they were brought out of the pit.

The inquest on the eight bodies was resumed in October at the Old Swan Inn, Little Madeley.
Mr. Wynne, H.M.I. of Mines and Mr. Sawer, assistant inspector were present, Mr. Wheelhouse, Q.C. attended on behalf of the home Secretary and Mr. Holden, solicitor, watched on behalf of the colliery company.

Pit Terminology - Glossary

John Lumsdon


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