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Ubberley Colliery
Near Hanley, North Staffordshire. 25th August 1851

Early on Monday morning on the 25th August 1851 at Ubberley Colliery near Hanley, the property of
John Ridgway, Esq., of Cauldron Place, was the scene of a most disastrous occurrence. As a precautionary measure the use of safety lamps had been generally insisted upon. But such appeared to be the safe conditions of the works, after close inspection that at the request of the managers a number of lamps were withdrawn on Friday, the men having for sometime worked without them and only used them on entering the works, according to orders as a test for safety. The pits were left in good condition on Saturday and the fire lamps for promoting ventilation were attended to as usual through Sunday and were found burning well when the men returned on Monday morning.

The pits at which the accident happened are the Sampson pits and are the principle ones at the colliery. Between six and seven it would seem between thirteen men and boys descended the engine shaft in two wagons. Seven took the south way into the level and six the north, the latter shutting after them the doors of communication between these different parts of the works a circumstance to which their preservation from the effects of the explosion that soon afterwards occurred may be attributed.

We may also mention that all the men on the north side were provided with lamps, that part of the works being considered the most doubtful. Ralph Hancock, a trusted butty took the lead on entering the south side, with a safety lamp in his hand, followed at some distance by his six companions, having amongst them several lighted candles.

Hancock had scarcely proceeded 300 yards in the workings (ascertained by the situation in which his body was found), before an explosion of foul air took place. How it was caused must now remain a mystery, for there is no survivor today. If it was attributable to the lamp itself, or whether Hancock failed to hold the lamp high enough to test perfectly the safety of the place, and the foul air being disturbed by his passing along, was ignited by the candles of those who followed.

The latter is the prevalent conjecture among persons conversant with such matters. One thing is clear; the lamp was shattered to pieces and blown from Hancock’s hands 50 yards towards the pit shaft, while he and all his companions must have instantly perished. The blast flew up the shaft with a hissing sound, well known to colliers and told the sad tale of what happened beneath. Two bold fellows quickly descended and had the joy to find the men in the north side of the works in safety. They united to explore the scene of danger and proceeded, at great risk to themselves, in search of their ill fated companions, but were obliged to desist for a while from their melancholy task in consequence of the works not yet clear.

The alarm soon spread from the pit bank to the adjacent collieries and surrounding neighbourhood and the most prompt measures were taken, first for the rescue of the living, and next, for the bring up of the bodies of the dead. Among the former was a lad who should have accompanied Hancock and his companions into the workings, but for some cause had remained near the bottom of the shaft instead of following them along the level, and hearing the rush, slipped down between some wagons and most providentially escaped.

Happily plenty of help was soon at hand and no time was left in purifying the air by turning water down the shaft. The men who first descended were quite exhausted when again drawn up, but with medical attention were soon restored. When the search was resumed, the awful effects of the explosion were seen in the doors being blown off, the damaged roof, and masses of rubbish which interrupted the airways and obstructed the various passes, a greater portion of mischief being done towards the entrance of the level than near the extremity of the mine. The mangled appearance of some of the bodies was indicative of their having been blown about and severely bruised, but others lay as if fallen asleep.

Soon after the search commenced, a young man named Ephraim Mountford, in the anxiety to recover the body of his brother George, pressed precipitately forward, was overcome by the foul air and would have fallen a victim to the promptings of fraternal affection, had not those behind him found him lying in a state of stupor and afforded timely aid.

Before any of the bodies were recovered, preparations had been made for their reception and notice of the sad catastrophe had been humanely sent to their respective families. As the bodies were brought out of the pit, the sight of so many fellow creatures, so awfully cut off, was truly an affecting one, for though the sufferers were dressed and covered with flannel, their remains still presented a shocking spectacle as they were borne from the pit to the carts waiting to convey them to the homes which they had so recently left in the vigour of health and strength.

The following is a list of the sufferers;

  • Ralph Hancock, of Upper Hanley, age 55 married, six children.
  • William Hopkins, of Upper Hanley, age 50 married, family grown up.
  • Thomas Jones, Well Street Hanley age 37 widower, three young children.
  • Edward Forrister, Well Street Hanley age 47 married, seven children
  • George Mountford, Eaves Lane Bucknall age 19 single.
  • George Sumner, Bucknall age 20 single.
  • John Goodfellow, Bucknall a lad age 14.

In about three hours from the time of the accident the sad scene was closed, and the assembled multitudes were bending their way homeward, their conduct having been eminently orderly and their sympathies exited to a painful degree. Mr. Ridgway and his nephews (Messrs Bale and Saunders) were on the spot as soon as they could be fetched and rendering every assistance in their power, and it must be added in justice to the bailiffs and other officers of the establishment, that nothing could exceed their anxiety and exertion. Immediate care was taken of the four widowed wives as well as the fatherless children and we feel assured they will not be forgotten by the benevolent proprietor of the works after the day of morning is ended.

For more detailed particulars of the calamity we refer to the report of the proceedings at the inquest as given below. The reparations of the mine, we understand, are being rapidly proceeded with as that the colliers and their families may not suffer for the want of work, and that the manufacturers and others who have been supplied by this large concern may not be incommoded; indeed we expect the repairs will be almost completed before this meets the eye of the reader.

We might in conclusion say something of the care bestowed by Mr. Ridgway to ensure the safety and comfort of his men, and his deep feeling of sorrow at the occurrence of this painful accident; but this is unnecessary and we forbear, sincerely hoping that as it is the first of a like fatal character that has happened for many years in the district, so it may be the last we shall have to report.


Pit Terminology - Glossary

John Lumsdon

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