Whitehaven News

Haig Pit Disaster - 5th September 1922

Thanks To John Lumsdon


It was 5 am on any normal day when William Weightman, the Deputy in Charge of the Six Quarters Seam, was working overtime to cover for another man on holiday. The report book showed that gas had been detected in the North District, and three areas were fenced off, but when Weightman went down, earlier that evening, the areas were reported to be clear. Fourteen men entered the South-west District including the Deputy Daniel McKenzie & thirty-eight men went to the Six Quarters North District. A further nineteen went to the drifts and eleven to the main haulage road and shaft bottom. At 7 am, Carl Brewster, a Shotfirer, descended & went to the North District, Also in the mine was Under Manager, Alexander Millar.

Just before nine, the Banksman, Alexander Pitblade, noticed a cloud of dust coming up the downcast shaft {No.4 shaft}. The agent, Robert Steel, was informed at William Pit, and after calling the Mines Rescue, set off for Haig along with Mr Brodie, William Pit Manager, and Mr Cook, the Inspector of Mines.

When the explosion struck, Millar, the Under Manager and Trevaskis, a Rope splicer, were standing underground near the Compressor House, when they were knocked off their feet by a blast coming from the North District, Six Quarter Seam. Trevaskis suffered broken ribs but Millar, more or less unhurt, moved in bye until he came across the first dead body, a young man called Thomas Telford, aged 19. He had been thrown with great force and was lying between some tubs and the side wall. In the South-west District, the men knew there had been an explosion and were making their way out. By the time Steel, Brodie, Cook and Thompson arrived, they could hear Millar calling for help, and found him, near unconscious, 120 yards down the drift. They dragged him back to the junction with the help of John Rothery and Mr Kilpatrick, who had made their way to the scene. The search resumed and a Hewer, named William Carter, was found dying under empty tubs, de-railed at No.1 crossing.

Cook and Steel managed to reach the Six Quarters Junction, and after deciding there was no risk of fire, started the fan at 10.30 am. The air was full of afterdamp (mainly Carbon Monoxide) and a white vapour, and they decided all must be dead in the area of the explosion. Steel, Brodie and Millar were all taken to the surface suffering from the effects of gas and were taken to the local hospital. A halt in the rescue attempts was called until repairs could be carried out to improve the atmosphere.

By early afternoon, the repairs were completed and the air was making its normal course. The Rescue party moved in, recovering dead bodies and making further repairs as they went. Afterdamp was still causing problems, with many rescuers having to be helped back to the shaft top, some unconscious, but things were improving with the erection of further brattices (planks or a wooden frame with a canvas cover to control air circulation). By 3 am on the 6 th, 22 hours after the shift had entered the mine, the bodies of 25 men had been recovered. The remainder had been buried by roof falls and their bodies were not recovered until the 10th September.



Pit Terminology