On 18th December, 1817 there was an explosion by which twenty-seven were killed (eleven men and sixteen boys). The Durham Advertiser reported that :
‘The blast occurred before all the men had descended. Had it occurred a little later there would have been 160 men and boys in the pit. Early reports of the total number of lives lost amounted to twenty-six, and those principally boys. The explosion took place at 3 o’clock in the morning, before the hewers had descended the pit and from this circumstance about 160 lives have been preserved. Every exertion was made to render assistance to those in the mine and two men fell having been suffocated by the impure state of the air. The pit in which the accident occurred, was always considered to be quite free from explosive matter and in consequence of this supposed security the safety lamps had never been introduced into it the miners continuing to work by the light of candles.’
Those Who Died:-
Four other victims were buried at St. Mary & St. Cuthbert’s Church, Chester le Street :-
Analysing the ages it will be seen that:-
Analysing the addresses:
The 1818 valuation of the pit.
An interesting notebook covering the period January 1823 to October 1827, kept by John Robson, Underground Manager at Rainton Colliery, provided much valuable information on a period of active development of the colliery. This notebook was used as the basis of an article by John Goodchild and from this some information was extracted for Plain Pit. The notebook supplements the information held in the Londonderry papers.
In John Robson’s valuation for 1818 there were :-
5 hewer’s mauls, 3 shovels, 2 rakes, 3 crackets, 10 wedges, 2 sets of drills.
This suggests that at that time the pit was operating more or less on ‘a care and maintenance basis’.
The 1823 Explosion.
On Monday 3rd November, 1823, at approximately 6.00 a.m. there was an even greater explosion at Plain Pit.
Sykes Local Records for Northumberland and Durham states the number killed as fifty-nine - fifty-three men and six boys, but a report in the York Courant stated that fifty-five were killed in the explosion and two died later which made a total of fifty-seven men and boys.
Of the eighteen horses that were in the pit, twelve were killed, and of the others, three were in the workings and three in the stables and they escaped unhurt.
The inquest into the disaster was held before Peter Bowley, Coroner of the Easington Ward, and a jury, on the body of Thomas Golightly and the others.
Nicholas Dixon, collier, descended the pit on Sunday evening and remained there until two hours before the explosion and he told the court that the air was good all the time. He had examined the air course and found it all right and the doors were in proper order.
Richard Cole, on-setter, descended the pit about 3 o’clock on that Monday morning. He was employed to attach corves to the chain of the rope from the pit from that time until about 6 o’clock when the explosion took place. A short time before the accident, three boys named Johnson, Lowton and Robinson came to the shaft and told Cole that the Davy lamps were ‘standing on fire.’ After about one minute, an explosion took place, followed immediately by a second blast and smoke and fire ascended the shaft. Cole told the court that he was stupefied by the blast. The first shock threw him down but he was back on his legs when the second came. He washed his mouth which revived him and he and several other men and boys were able to ascend the pit by means of the rope which brought down the empty corves.
It was reported that one of the survivors made his way to the shaft and took hold of the rope which would take him to the surface. Just as he was about to go up, he saw a small boy within his reach and almost overcome by the after-damp. He grabbed him by his collar and held on to him until they reached the surface.
After hearing all the evidence the Coroner summed up and the jury brought in a verdict of ‘Accidental death.’
Nine of the victims were interred at Houghton-le-Spring on Tuesday and on the following day a further thirty-five were buried. Eight were buried at Penshaw and three others at Chester-le-Street. Thomas Adamson and William Hutchinson, who were brought out of the pit alive, died on Wednesday and were buried on Thursday.
The furnace was re-lit some days after the explosion and the coals in the South East district of the pit had started to be worked again in September 1824, the district having laid idle since the explosion.
Some time after 1824 a furnace was built in the Hutton seam at the nearby Nicholson’s Pit to draw air through the Plain Pit, and an eight feet diameter chimney was built to provide even better draught. Nicholson’s Pit thereby became an upcast shaft.
New tubbing 10 feet in height, with 20 feet of wall set in cement above it was put in the shaft of Plain Pit in 1824. It is possible that this was to repair damage caused by the explosion.
In August 1825, a new system of ventilating the exhausted coal areas or ‘wastes’ was introduced. This was done in a chain, which included Nicholson’s Pit, Plain Pit, Meadows West Pit (approximately NZ 324 477 opened between 1821 and 1824) and Dunwell Pit (NZ 338 481).
Records of three fatal accidents have been identified :
Glossary of Terms