The colliery was worked by the Oxcroft Colliery Company, Limited, Bolsover, near Chesterfield. The agent for the colliery was Mr. George Anderson with Mr. R.M. Percy, the certificated manager who had been in charge of the colliery for only ten weeks when the explosion occurred on the 6th April at about 12.30 p.m. in the No.1 or Creswell District of the High Hazel Seam. Mr. James Brailsford was the undermanager.
The colliery had two shafts, a downcast and an upcast, both 495 feet deep to the High Hazel Seam which was about three feet thick. The Creswell District was a cul-de-sac about 800 yards long by 60 yards wide, worked on the longwall system to the rise with gates about 15 yards apart. The Mine Level was an endless rope engine plane and the coal face between 80’s and 90’s gates had been standing for some weeks and about 50 or 60 yards back from the level had been fenced off for some time because of gas.
The longwall face was worked by electrical coal cutters and the level had been extended from time to time by a heading machine which was also electrically driven but on the day of the explosion electricity was used in the Creswell Level only for an auxiliary fan.
The ventilation of the colliery was from a fan at the surface of the upcast shaft which normally produced 34,000 cubic feet of air per minute at a water gauge of 2.3 inches for the 642 men normally employed in the mine. In addition to the main fan there was a small auxiliary fan some distance along the Creswell Level which was in the intake airway and the return for a considerable length went along the coal face. There were only single doors in the gates and the air was often short circuited during the working shift by the tramming of coal through the doors to the Creswell Level. Mr. Mottram commented-
“In these circumstances the layout of the entire district at the time of the explosion was not in accordance with best mining practice, as with a fall of roof on the face the air could not be coursed down one gate and up the next past the fall, thought it should be stated that according to the evidence at the inquest, the extension of the counter level, by means of crossgates, was contemplated by the management.”
Electricity was used underground at the colliery for lighting, pumping and coal cutting. The current was three phase at 440 volts carried by armoured cables and used by different circuits on or near the face for coal cutting and driving auxiliary machinery. On the day of the explosion an auxiliary fan was installed in the Main Level between gates 27 and 28 and another, smaller fan, which been removed the previous month from the level at 88’s road, was moved further along the intake on the morning of the disaster and this work was completed or near completion when the explosion occurred. This fan was driven by a 10h.p. motor controlled by switch gear formed of a coal cutter gate end box adapted for the purpose.
Firedamp had been occasionally found in the workings and both safety lamps and electric lamps were in use. Firedamp was last found in the workings on the 4th April but was removed after falls of roof were cleared the day before the disaster. After an inspection on the day of the disaster, the fans were switched off and not switched on again until about 7 a.m. on the morning of the explosion.
A certain amount of coal dust was produced by the coal cutters and the Creswell Section was dry with the exception of some pools of water on the low side of the Main Level near the face. There was not much coal dust and it did not play a prominent part in the disaster.
On the morning of the explosion, 75 men descended the pit between 6 and 6.30 a.m. Of these only 21 went to work in the No.1 Creswell section. Among these men were Samuel Barke, an electrician and his assistant, Eli Hunt who were there to supervise and assist in the removal further inbye by a small electrically driven auxiliary fan in the Main Level. The remainder of the men were to do cleaning up and repair work which was usually done on a Sunday. The deputy for the section was Elisha Whitehouse and he, instead of descending earlier than his men to make an inspection of the workings, as was his custom on weekdays, descended about the same time at the station which was near the pit bottom. He instructed the men to walk on the Main Level where he later joined them and admitted them to the further inbye after making his inspection. Whether he found the whole of the workings clear of firedamp, there was no way of saying as Whitehouse made no statutory report and was killed in the subsequent explosion.
The fan to be moved was the one that had worked in the level and it was intended to move it to 90’s gate, nearer the face of the level. In addition to this fan there was another auxiliary blowing fan working in the level near the bottom of 28’s gate and this was to assist the ventilation beyond this point. To make this fan operative, a door was placed in the 28’s level at 28’s gate and air was forced through the aperture and taken forward in pipes. If this door remained closed when the fan was blowing, an effective current was produced through the pipes but if the door remained closed when the fan was stopped, the air course was practically closed and no appreciable current would pass beyond that point. It was the practice to stop the fan at the end of the shift on Saturday and to prop open the door so that a current of air could circulate freely in the level beyond by the aid of the surface fan alone.
The clearest account of what happened in the level after work started on that morning was given by William Brailsford, one of the men who was injured, who, along with William Clark was gobbing in 28’s gate near to where the fan was being installed. It seemed that when they started work at 7 a.m., the fan was not running but Eli Hunt, the assistant electrician, soon came and started it and it continued to run for about two and a half to three hours, when it was temporally stopped by Hunt so that the other fan could be disconnected from the circuit. The door was left closed.
During this time several men went through the door and left it closed, apparently without realising the danger. About 12.15, the deputy who had been inspecting other parts of the workings, arrived at the scene and was very concerned to find the fan stopped and the door closed. He immediately exchanged his oil lamp for an electric lamp and passed through the door in the direction where the fan was being relocated.