A terrible explosion of gas occurred on Saturday 21st December 1872 at the Sheriff Pit near Silverdale, Newcastle, North Staffordshire, causing the instantaneous deaths of eight workmen and injuring eight more plus considerable damage to the workings in the mine. The pit was five hundred yards deep and thirty yards from the bottom was the Bullhurst seam, in which the explosion occurred.
The seam was connected to many others by various roadways in which upwards of 350 men were employed. The Bullurst had been standing since June and had only been visited a few days before for the purpose of being kept 'clean' and well ventilated. The Butties, John Edwards, and John Bainbridge and others visited the pit on the Saturday to ascertain that it was safe to work therein.
In the Bullhurst seam a level had been driven, and dips were in the course of being driven. The eight deceased were engaged in this part of the pit, five in the dips and three in clearing the levels and attending to the ventilation. About 350 others were engaged in other workings. Whilst these people were following their daily occupation shortly before 8 am a severe gas explosion occurred. The effects were felt throughout the workings, creating terror amongst the men, many of whom rushed to the pit shaft, whilst others, fortunately for their own safety, remained where they were, till they could proceed without fear of the after-damp, there being separate ventilation for each seam.
The effects of the explosion were most disastrous, especially in the vicinity of the occurrence, eight poor fellows losing their lives in an instance, whilst the workings were much damaged. The shock was felt over a considerable area of the surface and much rubbish, it was said, was belched forth out of the top of the shaft.
As soon as the smoke and sulphur had cleared away, they began to raise the workmen to the pit bank and an exploration party was organized. Mr, Lucas, the manager, Mr. T.S Wilkinson, assistant manager and underground bailiff John Downing, led it. It was ascertained that the seat of the mischief was the Bullhurst seam.
There was remarkable diligence in endeavouring to rescue workmen or to find the bodies of the dead. As already stated, there was separate ventilation to each seam and all except the eight working in the Bullhurst were safe as long as they remained where they were. But many were naturally frightened and running from one seam to another they came in contact with the after-damp. In one of the cruts they were nearly falling victims to their own fright. As it was eight were injured. Three doctors on the surface gave treatment to the injured and those suffering from choke-damp.
By the afternoon four of the bodies were recovered and later in the day two more. The rescuers worked incessantly during Saturday night, Sunday and Sunday night removing 170 loads of earth and the other two men were recovered. Gradually, as the full extent of the injuries and loss of life became known the excitement subsided but many returned to their cottages with saddened hearts.