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At As the weather was warm, and it was desirable that as much air as possible might pass down the shaft, constables were placed at proper distances to keep off the crowd. Two surgeons were also in attendance in case of accidents. At six o'clock in the morning eight persons descended the William Pit and began to explore the workings. As a current of water had been constantly diverted down this shaft for the space of ten hours, the air was found to be perfectly cool and wholesome. Light was now procured from steel mills.As the explosions had occasioned several falls of large masses of stone from the roof, the removing of them caused considerable delay.
Charles Taylor

They found, however, one of the bodies. When this corpse was to be lifted into a coffin, the men stood over it in speechless horror. They imagined it was in so putrid a state that it would fall asunder by lifting. At length they encouraged each other to begin and after several hesitations and resolutions, they laid it in a coffin which was conveyed to the shaft in a bier made for the purpose and drawn to the bank in a net made of strong cords.

The shifts of men employed in this doleful and unwholesome work, were generally about eight in number. They were four hours in and eight hours out of the mine, each individual therefore wrought two shifts every twenty four hours. When the first of the men came up at ten o'clock, a message was sent for a number of coffins to be in readiness at the point. These, to the number of ninety two (a most gloomy sight) being at the joiners shop, piled in a heap, had to pass by the village of Low Felling. As soon as the cart load of them was seen, the shrieks of the women, who hitherto continued in their houses but now began to assemble about their doors, came on the breeze in slow fitful gusts which presaged a scene of much distress and confusion being soon exhibited near the pit but happily by preventing to them the shocking appearance of a body that had been found, and the ill effects on their own bodies and minds likely to ensue from sufferings themselves, to be hurried away by such violent convulsions of grief, they either returned to their own houses or continued in silence in the neighbourhood of the pit.

Every family had made provision for the entertainment of their neighbours on the day the bodies of their friends were received and it had been generally given out that they intended to take the bodies to their own houses but Dr. Ramsey, having given his opinion that if such a proceeding, if carried into effect, might spread a putrid fever through the neighbourhood, and the first body when exposed to observation having a most horrid and corrupt appearance, they readily agreed to have them interred immediately after they were found. Permission, therefore, was given to let the hearse, on its way to the chapel yard, pass by the door of the deceased.

From 8th July to the 19th. September, the heart rending scene of mothers and widows examining the putrid bodies of their sons and husbands, for marks by which to identify them, was almost daily renewed but very few of them were known by any personal mark.

They were too much mangled and scorched to retain any of their features. Their clothes, tobacco boxes, shoes and the like were therefore the only marks by which they could be recognised. All the bodies except one were found. Except four, whoever buried in single graves, the remains were interred in Heworth Chapel yard in a trench side by side, two coffins deep with a partition of brick and lime between every four coffins. Those entered an unknown in the burial register have had their names added to them since the search was discontinued."

The Reverend Hodgson offered consolation to the relatives of the victims and conducted the burial services. Being close to the pitmen and their families, he knew the dangers of coal mining, The papers of the time were reluctant to pint accounts of colliery disasters and Hodgson, against the feelings of the coal owners, set out to make the Felling Disaster as widely known as possible with the hope of getting expert help in preventing similar disasters. He wrote for many weeks on the 'Newcastle Courant' with an account of the disaster and plans to show how the mine was ventilated. This was published on 4th January, 1813 and was widely circulated. Unknown to Hodgson it was printed in 'Dr. Thompson's Annals of Philosophy' and read by Mr. J.J. Wilkinson, a barrister of the Temple who, during his long vacation in 1813, he went to the north of England and consulted with his friends on the matter of safety in mines.


On 1st. September, 1813, he published proposals for a ‘ Society for the prevention of Accidents in Coal Mines’ . The proposals came to the notice of the Bishop of Durham who wrote to the Revered Dr. Gray, who was Rector of Bishopsweirmouth, giving him permission to form such a society. A meeting was held at Sunderland on the 1 st October 1813 when the Society was instituted and Committee appointed to carry out its objectives. The work of the Committee led to Davy developing his safety lamp.



Pit Terminology - Glossary