An explosion occurred at Leycett, North Staffordshire, on Wednesday 21st January 1880, which will rank among the great colliery disasters of a district, too famous for such disasters. The damage to property is unusually great; the loss of life is almost commensurate with the number of persons in the pit. At least 70 men (including the newly-appointed manager and his son) went down into the mine; only 12 came out alive and of these, 4 have since died of the injuries they received, and the lives of most of the remaining 8 are despaired of.
Fifty-two dead bodies, many of them frightfully mutilated, have been brought to the surface, an unknown number still remaining in the pit. There is ground for the opinion that death in almost every instance has been instantaneous. Only one of the survivors says he was conscious of nothing until all was over, when the sense of pain from the burns he had received revived him. The sudden shock of the explosion did its work effectively, and the burning and mutilation occurred to dead bodies, not to living men. The long agony is reserved for the friends of the dead, for wives who have seen the mangled remains of their husbands, for fathers and mothers whose sons are now unrecognisable heaps of charred and mangled flesh.
The Fair Lady shaft is on the left and the
Bang Up shaft is on the right.
The scene on the pit bank after the explosion maybe conceived. The slow heartache, which will follow in many a home, whose lamp has been quenched in darkness, cannot even be conceived.
It is natural to suppose, when such a catastrophe occurs, that somebody was to blame. But at present there seems no reason whatever for attaching blame either to the company, their manager or the miners. Since the last accident at the same pit a change in management has taken place and everything seems to have been done which science could suggest, to secure the safety of the mine. The ventilating arrangements were apparently unusually complete and efficient. The lamps used, of the very best construction. Some flaw in the arrangements, or some act of recklessness on the part of a miner, may here after be brought to light. At present the lesson of the catastrophe seems to be that when human skill and science have done their utmost there will still remain a residuum of risk to be face by those who work underground. The lesson is a saddening and humiliating one; but it is never the less true.
Complete exemption from danger is given to no one, to miners least of all. They are the soldiers of civilisation, and must often die that others may live in security and comfort.
During Thursday slow progress was made in the work of exploration and the flames had been extinguished. The explorers were vigorous and undaunted in their work; but under the direction of Mr. Sawyer, Assistant Inspector of Mines, who stuck to his post manfully, care was exercised in the work, so as to guard against any further accident. As the morning advanced spectators increased in numbers, many coming out of curiosity, but others burdened with terrible forebodings and anxious care, being conscious of the fact that all remaining in the mine must be dead. Many women with sad and tearful faces were seen wending their way to the ill-fated colliery.
We had not overestimated the extent of the disaster at the Fair Lady pit, for it became clear that at leased 60 men and youths had perished through this explosion. As may be imagined the effects upon the workings, of so fearful an explosion as that indicated, has been terrible in destructiveness. It was not, therefore, a work of mere exploration of the brave bands of men who have been hard at work since, but there had to be a fight with the fire which had got good hold of the workings. This greatly retarded progress of course, but it was work necessary to be done, even in the interests of the explorers.
The last recovered bodies were brought out at long intervals; then there was a lull. It was known that there were about a dozen bodies in the mine and in a higher part of the workings, a place difficult to reach, as there had to be an approach made through the debris, and shattered roof and sides of the mine. While the dread enemy gas, was lurking in some of the sections. It was understood that the work of exploration would go on through the night or until all the bodies were got out, if it was found they could be reached.
There was any quantity of volunteers to carry on the work. Eventually the bringing up of bodies ceased to produce much excitement, even in the crowd, for it was simply one bundle of shattered humanity after another that was borne away to the room for the dead.
Opening of the Inquest
The inquest on the bodies of the deceased was opened on Thursday afternoon in the engine house, Mr. John Booth, coroner for the North Staffordshire district, addressing the jury said he was very sorry it was necessary to call them together again to inquire into another accident, which he was told occurred at the Fair Lady pit.
At present he was totally without information on the subject and therefore it might not be advisable that he should say anything with regard to the matter, but should reserve any remarks, which he might have to make till he was given further knowledge on the subject. He believed that the list of dead would at least reach the number of 60 and what he proposed to do was, simply to view the bodies that were at present lying near and then, so far as he could, issue burial orders, so that the remains might be removed and interned.
As to the bodies then in the pit, under a recent order of the Secretary of State, he could only hold one inquest and after issuing orders for the burial of those already recovered he should communicate with the Home Secretary for instructions as to the bodies yet in the mine. The jury then proceeded to view the bodies and identifications took place. The coroner said it would not be necessary to detain the jury any longer that day and proposed to adjourn until the 15th of February in order to give the government Inspector an opportunity to make an examination of the mine and some of the men who were in the pit at the time of the explosion might be so far recovered, as to be able to attend and give evidence, which it seemed to him it was most desirable that they should hear. The inquiry was adjourned until the 15th of next month.