Whitehaven News

HAIG PIT DISASTERS - 13th Dec. 1927 & 12th Feb. 1928

Thanks To John Lumsdon


After the explosion on 13th December 1927, which killed four men, the 800 miners at Wellington Pit returned to work on 3rd January. Haig, however, still lay idle along with 1100 men. Doors were made in some of the Stoppings on the 9th February in preparation for exploration work. Samples of air, taken through pipes in the stoppings earlier in the week had been analysed and showed the fire was probably extinguished. Checks on the far side of the main stopping were made using Canaries, which revealed a satisfactory state of affairs.

Saturday was chosen to resume the search for the body of Harold Horrocks. Permission was gained from the inspectors and a party of 24, consisting of two rescue teams, Mines Inspectors, Officials and Colliery Managers, entered the mine. On reaching the stopping’s, the Canaries seemed unaffected by gas, so the first rescue team proceeded into the area of the fire at No.1 Dilly, leaving the others, who had no breathing apparatus, behind.

They came back with pieces of coke and charred wood and reported that the fire was out and they could find no heat. At this, the rest of the party entered the area. The Deputies cleared de-railed tubs and Electrical Engineers restored telephonic communication with the surface. At the seat of the fire, it was found that 25 yards of the coal face was a mass of coke and the props had been charred to a depth of two inches.

At 11 pm, with work progressing well, Messrs Johnson, Foster, Durham, Morgan and others returned to the surface, while refreshments were conveyed to the remainder. Shortly before midnight, the rescue team returned to the entrance of the Development District to recharge their breathing apparatus. A section of the party headed by Mr Steel, the Works Manager, entered the Engine Dip in search of Mr Horrocks, leaving five deputies to clear up falls in the main road.

Robert Steel (middle), the Works Manager, seen with two men in rescue equipment. As the shaft top supports are made of wood, this photograph was probably taken at Wellington Pit .

Without warning, a series of three explosions occurred within fifteen minutes. The first was described as "a rumble", the second was more serious, enveloping the men in clouds of coal and stone dust, while the third was extremely violent, hurling the men off their feet and filling the workings with foul air. Battered and bruised, eleven survivors groped their way, nearly three miles in the dark, to the shaft bottom by following the rails and telephone wires.

Immediately, three rescue parties, numbering about 15, descended the shaft. Battling through foul air, in which the Canaries quickly collapsed, the rescue parties reached the area of the main stopping and discovered the area completely wrecked and further progress barred by huge falls of roof.

The stopping had been totally smashed by the explosion and the debris was flung over 80 yards, according to one of the rescuers, "the whole area was quivering and quaking" with roof falls. It was decided by all present, that no one could have survived further inbye, and as there was evidence of another fire, it was decided to again, seal the area, this time with bags of stone dust which were readily available, and the rescue parties were withdrawn.

An Overman Mr Isaac Graham survived the ordeal and had been involved with every explosion that had occurred in the local district over the previous 20 years.

He received the King Edward Medal for his efforts at the Wellington Pit disaster, said it was the worst explosion he had ever seen.

The 14 missing men were :- (including Harold Horrocks from the previous explosion)

Name Age Occupation Address Status

Robert Steel

58

Agent & Works Manager

Whelpside

Married

William Loudon

48

HM Inspector of Mines

Earls Road

Married

Peter Burdess

35

HM Inspector of Mines

Newcastle

Married

Robert Fell

48

Under Manager

3, Mountain View, Prospect

Married

Henry C Hanlon

30

Miners Agent

Brayton Road , Bransty

Married

John Tyson

47

Colliery Officials Association

West View, Bransty

Married

Tom Walker

38

Overman

1, Rydal Avenue, Seacliffe

Married

George Hodgson

56

Deputy

37, Solway Road, Kells

Married

James Rothery

41

Deputy

43, Front Row, Newhouses

Married

Frank Wilkinson

32

Deputy

1, Ladypit Cottages

Married

Jesse Cresswell

29

Deputy

Brickworks House, Low Rd

Single

Hugh McKenzie

49

Deputy

Sandhills Lane

Married

William Graham

41

Deputy

24, Church Street

Married



Pit Terminology