Baddesley Pit Explosion - Atherstone, Warwickshire.
Other descents were made by William Pickering, Joseph Chetwynd, Mr. Stokes, Mr. Marsh and
Mr. Mottram and they succeed in bringing out Rowland Till and John Collins alive but these men died later bringing the final death toll to twenty three.
When Mr. Evans arrived at the colliery he found smoke coming up the shafts indicating to him that there was a fire raging underground. He held a consultation with Mr. Gillett of Derby, the mining engineer at the colliery and decided that further attempts at rescue would be foolhardy and reckless. After another consultation the following day it was decided that there could be no one left alive in the pit and that the only way of extinguishing the fire and saving the colliery was to seal the shafts. This was successfully done during that day.
From that time until the end of November the pit remained sealed and when the covering was removed the mine was explored and the bodies recovered. The Waddell fan had not been damaged and the colliery was well ventilated which made the relighting of the furnace unnecessary.
The inquest into the deaths of the men was held at the Town Hall, Atherstone by the County Coroner for Warwickshire. Mr. Stokes gave a graphic account of what had happened when he and others went down the pit.
“The six of us set off round the shaft and I found the air coming from behind us very strong from the shaft and we decided to re-light one of the lamps. We had only three lamps between the six. We got a tub to shade us from the wind. I thought it was perfectly safe and we started forward and found the roadway quite clear until we got some distance. When we arrived at the top of the incline it was just as if you had drawn a black curtain the smoke was so dense, and it was as straight as if you had cut it with a knife. We went 50 yards very well. I stooped down and shouted, ‘Is there anyone beyond?’ and almost immediately someone shouted, "Here". I said to the men who were with me, ‘Now I will take the middle, one of you get on my right and the other on my left and the three will follow us. We will make a rush for this man. The three must follow behind so that if one falls the other is ready to pick him up and drag him out.’ I shouted again, ‘You must keep shouting and we will find you.’ We started off down the road. I do not know how far we went.
We went with our heads as low as possible and I found that a foot from the ground the ventilation was good. There was at least 11 feet of dense smoke. Indeed it was a regular wall of smoke and we had to keep out heads close enough to the ground I kept shouting again and again and received the same help, ‘Here. Here.’ After a few yards I stumbled over Mr. Dugdale. I took his right arm and Mr. Marsh took his left arm and Mr. Mottram took the back of his collar of his coat. He lay upon his back upon the floor. I said ‘Pull,’ and we dragged him away. We had not gone far when I fell. I got up and we pulled until we had got away from the smoke. I said, ‘Who is it?’ and he said, ‘Mr. Dugdale.’
We had ascended and were on the bank a little time when Mr. Spruce said to me, ‘Do you remember when Mr. Dugdale was calling?’ Noting as if the sounds were going away. I said that there could be another behind Mr. Dugdale. We went down again and found a man named Collins. It was evident that he had crawled up the incline. We took him to the engine house and treated his burns. He told us that there was another man behind him and Chetwynd went in with a rope which he tied round the body and we dragged him out. It was a man Named Till.”
The Coroner heard all the evidence and then summed up. The jury retired and the jury returned the following verdict-
“We find that the 12 we viewed on the 4 th May met their deaths in accordance with the medical evidence adduced at the inquiry held on the 5th May and was of an accidental character. We also consider it an error of judgement to have place the engine and boiler so far from the bottom of the shaft in the return airway, and in such an imperfect and unprotected manner, subjecting the pit to great risks, and which, in this case the cause of the fire.”
First Class Albert Medals were bestowed by Her Majesty to:-
- Reuben Smallman, mining engineer
- Arthur Henry Stokes, Inspector of Mines
- Charles Day, collier
- Charles Chetwynd, collier.
Second Class Medals were awarded to:-
- Samuel Spruce, mining engineer
- Frederick Samuel Marsh, colliery manager
- Thomas Henry Mottram, colliery manager
- William Morris, collier
- William Pickering, collier
- Jospeh Chetwynd, collier.
The men were presented with the awards at the Corn Exchange, Atherstone on Monday 19th February 1883 by Lord Leigh, Lord-Lieutenant of the County of Warwick. Lord Leigh said-
“I do not believe that any brave soldier, who ever had the Victoria Cross presented to him, had performed an action more gallant than any of these heroes.” At this point there were loud cheers and His Lordship then pinned the medals on the left breasts of each man and congratulated him wishing him a long life to wear the decoration and heartily shaking hands with him.