A disaster occurred on Thursday afternoon 25th February at the New Hem Heath colliery, Chesterton, North Staffordshire, owned by Messrs Hodgkinson Bros. It was feared that eleven lives had been lost. Nine of the workers were known to be dead and two were missing.
The pit was a small one, employing about 120 workmen and at the time of the accident about 21 men were in the colliery. They were engaged in the Red Mine seam loading ironstone, which had been got during the day, when, at about half past three in the afternoon a fire occurred. The fire was believed to have originated in the engine room, a wooden structure, situated near the bottom of the pit and 400 to 500 hundred yards from where the men in the Red Mine seam were working. In this engine house were three compressed air engines. Workmen gallantly endeavoured to subdue the flames, but they spread rapidly burning the supporting timber resulting in falls of roof that hindered operations. The pit, being an ironstone mine and free from gas, was worked with naked lights and was regarded as absolutely safe.
When the occurrence became known, rescue brigades were summoned from the North Staffordshire Central Rescue Station at Berryhill, Birchenwood, Apedale, Silverdale, Talk o' th' Hill, Florence and Parkhouse collieries and these together with colliery officials entered upon rescue work as speedily as possible. Among those known to be dead was Mr. Claude Hodgkinson one of the proprietors of this colliery
Deep sympathy was felt for the widows, the orphans and relatives of those who lost their lives in such a terrible manner. As was often the case, however, the disaster furnished splendid examples of individual heroism and self-sacrifice.
Ernest Brown, the engineman, appears to have lost his life in attempting to warn his mates of their danger. Horace Platt, age 15 who was in the engine room together with Arnold Clarke, told the story that also describes the beginning of the fire, Horace Platt, said, we were in the engine house; there was a compressed air engine, and paraffin stoves were kept burning somewhere underneath to keep it from freezing. Ernest Brown was filling one of these stoves when he accidentally knocked it over. There was some oil about and it immediately took fire, as well as some wood and cotton waste. It was soon a furious blaze. We tried to put it out with buckets of water, but it was no use. The place was filled with thick smoke and burning oil ran along the floor. The engine room was soon a blazing furnace, and Ernest Brown said: "lets fetch them from the Red Slag place", (these were the men beyond the engine house) He made two or three attempts to break through the smoke and flames, but each time he was beaten back and we (Horace Platt and Arnold Clarke) told him it was no good trying get through that. He then said: "We shall have to do summat," and with that he ran into the smoke, and we never saw him again.