An accident of a serious nature happened at 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday 3rd May 1881 at the Lillydale colliery, Bucknall, North Staffordshire. This colliery, which was opened about 25 years ago by Mersses Forrester, Gerrard and Hawkes, was not a very extensive one. But judging from the number of times it had changed hands the working of it did not seem to had been a very lucrative business. Mr. Enoch Perrins, the present proprietor, had been in possession for up to a year and latterly only a small number of hands had been employed.
On the day in question only 16 men were engaged in the pit and they were working with naked lights, according to the custom of the place.
Some of them were driving a thirling on the north side of the south dip at a depth of about 160 yards. The possible influx of water from old workings seems to have been anticipated and bore holes had been kept ahead. However, as a precautionary measure, this was insufficient to guard against the danger. The water was trapped and it began rushing into the thirling. The force of the air current thus disturbed some gas, hanging about, to be driven into the naked lights and a violent explosion was the result.
The water rose so rapidly that within half an hour it had filled most of the workings. As soon after the accident as possible, help arrived at the pit and several volunteers, at great personal risk, ventured down the shaft in the hopes of being able to rescue the work people. Valuable aid was rendered by men from neighbouring collieries who first descended succeeded in bringing out alive Thomas Plant, Anthony Barlow, William Tabbinor and George Philipps, who were much scorched. Anthony Barlow was rescued just at the point of drowning. Attention to him was attracted by a hand moving above the water and a noise like gurgling in the water and he was got out with great difficulty. George Philips was found near the edge of the water, just in time to be saved. He was unconscious from the effects of after damp. Plant, Barlow and Philipps were removed to the North Staffs Infirmary, where Plant died the following day. A boy named Henry Johnson was got out alive.
The only dead body found was that of Edward Clewlow. Owing to the rapidly rising water, the explorers were unable to go through the workings and it was thought when they retired from the mine they were obliged to leave behind them, Alfred Wood, Enoch Barlow, Samuel, Biddulph, Elijah Gratton, and William Eaton, so that altogether seven lives had been sacrificed. Whether they were drowned or killed by the explosion cannot of course be ascertained. Four of the deceased were married men and had families.
Mr. Wynne, Government Inspector, and Mr. Sawyer, Assistant Inspector, visited the colliery. Mr. Sawyer and others descended the shaft on Tuesday evening with a view of endeavouring to ascertain the best course to be adopted, when they were surprised to find the pit on fire on the opposite side to which the explosion occurred and it was considered advisable that the workings should be completely flooded. A long time must consequently elapse before the bodies of the men left in the pit can be recovered. The fire in the pit, it appears, has been burning for several months, within about 15 yards of the up cast shaft.