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A Colliery on Fire at Underwood

UNDERWOOD COLLIERY (Memorial) The Selston (or Underwood) pit also went back centuries, being taken over in 1728 by Barber Walker and Co when it was probably just an opencast or outcropping site.

Barber Walker sank a real vertical mine shaft there in 1831. 

It was included in the 1842 Children's Employment Commission. 

The pit at Underwood was 140 yards deep.  Workers were let down and up, four at a time by a flat rope. They had no Davy Lamps but fortunately no accidents had been recorded at the pit for two years prior to the Commision in 1842. At that time Barber and Walker owned 12 shafts employing a total of 101 children under the age of 13.

A Colliery on Fire at Underwood

Philip's Great Grandfather, John Smith was a Hanger-On at Underwood Pit He died at the age of 22 on 12th September 1874 trying to rescue the pit ponies during a pit fire.

Nottingham Journal Tuesday April 14th 1874
Page 3 Column 1
A Colliery on Fire at Underwood

With greatful thanks to Alan Beales

See Also Bob Bradley

Grave Stone in Brinsley Church Yard

On Sunday morning last Underwood Colliery the property of Messrs. Barber Walker was discovered to be on fire. About eleven o clock two men named Smith and Ball entered the colliery for the purpose of saving the horses. They were warned of meeting with "fire damp" but persisted in their intentions. The men not returning to the surface were followed by another two, who were rescued in a very exhausted condition. The names of the deceased are George Ball and- Smith who lived in Cordon Lane Brinsley. An inquest will be held.

Nottingham Journal Tuesday April 21 1874
page 2 Column 7
The Colliery accident at Underwood
The inquiry

Also Nottingham and Counties Daily Express
Tuesday April 21 1874

page 3 Column 5 and 6
"Fire in a Colliery at Underwood"

Mr Coroner Heath, yesterday forenoon held an adjourned inquest touching the death of two colliers, named George Ball, 37 years of age, and John Smith 22 years of age, at Meakin's Public house Brinsley who were killed by choke damp in Messrs Barber and Walker's pit, at Underwood, a few days ago. The following evidence was taken. Mr Evans, Government Inspector was present during the enquiry

Mr William Wilson, said I am deputy underviewer at the Underwood coal pits belonging to Barber Walker Company. On the of 11 th of April I went through the whole of the workings between half past twelve and one o'clock. I went down the pit that day at a quarter to five o'clock in the morning and remained there until I came up at noon. I went down to Willey Lane and came out the same way. I came back by the intake air road, I saw nothing wrong in any part of those workings I saw no candle or other light, and perceived no unpleasant or unusual smell. The boys on that part of the main road usually use lighted candles which are stuck upon the side of the roadway. They are fastened to the side with clay. I have not seen, that I remember, any of the candles fastened in wood or planks. I consider it perfectly safe to fasten the candle on the bind and used with perfect safety. There were no candles so used on the day I came out of the mine. When I came out of the pit there was no one in but the stable man. On Sunday at noon hearing that something was amiss at the colliery, I went down the pit and heard that the deceased had gone before me. Ball had been brought up before I went down. I and several other persons then helped to discover Smith, but were unable to do so in consequence of the smoke damp which prevailed. I remained down there until Smith's body had been found. I have since been to that part of the workings known as the stone fault and found that they were on fire. I cannot account for the fire and I am unable to account for its origin. We have not yet gone through the stone fault and it is possible the fire may be beyond it. I have never seen any spontaneous fire in these workings. There is no coal exposed in the stone drift or fault.

William Green, of Alma Selston, said I am a deputy underviewer at the Underwood colliery. I was not down the pit after six o'clock on Saturday morning the 11 th of April, until seven o'clock on Sunday morning. That was my usual hour for going down. I went down at Willey Lane, I always go that road on a Sunday morning, I went first to the office at Underwood in the underground workings on this side of the upcast shaft. I found nothing wrong and then went in the direction of the Underwood return outway and round the shaft. As soon as I got beyond the shaft I perceived an unpleasant smell as of noxious gas. I had a Davey's lamp with me, which was closed and locked, and after I had gone about forty yards the light of my lamp was extinguished. And the smell became very strong. I turned back to the office and re-lighted my lamp. The horse men were there, I told them of the gas I had found and they were not to go in that direction. I then asked William Dunn, one of the stable men, to go with me on the main intake road to see if we could discover the cause of the gas. We went as far the stone fault and found it was on fire and we then returned to the Underwood shaft. Neither Ball nor Smith were there at the time. I then gave information to Mr Rowley, another underviewer I afterwards went down the pit with George Ball. I told Ball that the gas must go up to the topside and that he must not go there. Ball said to me "all right", I did not see him again after that. I have seen lighted candles stuck on timber in the stone heading, and also on the other side. I have also seen lighted candles stuck in the coal on the sides of the road. I don't think it is dangerous thus to use candles. I can not say how the pit caught fire. When I got there on the Sunday morning I saw that the roof had fallen and it was all on fire and also that the timber supporting the roof was on fire. The timber there was very dry. It was from that, that I conclude that the fire had been first caused in the roof. The timber had fallen but the uprights were there. I think the fire would be smouldering a long time before it broke out into flame. The candles are usually two or three feet from the top, the fire looked like a glow of wood when I first saw it.

William Rowley of Brinsley said; I am an underviewer at the Underwood colliery I came up on the morning of the 11 th of April about nine o'clock I had been down the workings on Saturday. I went down on Sunday morning, that was in consequence of what William Green had told me. Either four or five men went down with me. I went first on the return air road. After going about fifteen yards I perceived that there was some gas, my lamp went low and that was a warning of gas. We started forward again, and after we had gone five yards we felt the presence of gas. I then returned to the pit shaft and in about five minutes tried to go on the same road, and went about thirty yards when I found the gas there was stronger. Three or four men were behind me, I came back at once and formed the opinion that it was unsafe for anyone to go there. I went to try to rescue the horses which were in the stables in that direction. The deceased John Smith went down with me. I told him and others that I wanted to reach the horses. He was there when I last returned and he came back with me. I told Smith, at the office, to go to the Willey Lane "return stables" to give some directions to one of the horsemen there. Smith after that came to the fire with a barrel of water. I did not see him again after that. But I am quite sure that I told him it was unsafe to go to the Underwood stables. He made no reply. When I got to the fire the timber was burning. It was a red glow. The binding of the roof had fallen the "uprights" were there, and on fire.

Edward Sheldon, of Selston, said I am a collier and on Saturday the 11 th April I was in the Underwood pit. I came out that day by the intake road through the drift, and past the Willey Lane return stables. Another workman named George Ward and five boys were with me. As we got towards the heading I smelt something like smoke which I thought came from the Willey Lane pit. And when we got through the heading the smell was not there. We stopped a bit there and examined the stone heading to see if there were any bits of candles left, we could not find any. We did not see any smoke, although we felt something like smoke. I made no statement to anyone about it as I did not think anything was wrong. I have seen candles burning against the wood and timber.

William Wesson said I am the manager; for the Underwood colliery. I heard about the fire about half past nine on Sunday morning, and at once went on to Underwood, and when I got there two men had been brought up the shaft and were insensible. I sent for the doctor from Eastwood, and then went down the pit and after getting a safety lamp went on to the return workings. After about twenty five yards my lamp was nearly extinguished and I then found there was considerable gas or mixture of Carbonic gas and Carbonic Oxide which is termed technically smoke damp. I had heard then that Ball and Smith were in that direction but I was satisfied that it was not then safe to go forward where I had been. I then attended to the ventilation in that part and subsequently about a quarter past eleven found the body of George Ball. The body was immediately sent to the shaft, and on Monday evening I found the body of John Smith. That was about forty five yards from the junction of the main airway; his lamp which was extinguished was in his left hand. I think he must have been overtaken when running, and mistaken his way at the junction. Smith was a collier at the Willey Lane colliery. And the other man was one of two contractors on the road. I saw the fire on Sunday. There was smoke coming from the sides of the stone drift and there had been a large fall of roof. I think it was possible to set the place on fire by candles placed as described. I have frequently directed them not to put their candles in that way. I think it is possible and probable that the fire was there when Wilson went through, without him experiencing a smell from it. There is nothing in the stone heading to produce spontaneous combustion. I rather conclude that it had been purposely set on fire and not accidentally.

William Staples, of Underwood horse keeper; I was working in the stables on the Underwood pits on the "return" I came out on Saturday Afternoon at about a quarter to three o'clock by the Underwood shaft. There was no unusual smell, and I returned on Sunday morning and went to the stables. I went down with a man named Dunn, and after feeding the horses went to the other stables. After going about thirty yards my candle went out. I had a naked candle and also one in a lamp. I relighted them and returned; and when I arrived at about the same place my candle went out. I did not smell anything unusual and I did not understand fire damp. I then started to go without any lights, and went backwards for fear that I should knock my head against something. I got as far as the first air door and pushed it open and then smelt something strong and different from the smell in the other workings. I stayed about a minute and my head began to get dizzy and my legs tottered and I made my way back.

John Holmes of Westwood said I am an engine driver on the Underwood colliery. I was there on Saturday the 11 th April. I saw Staples that afternoon about three o'clock none came up the pit after him. I did not see Ball come up the pit that day. I was there on Sunday morning. William Staples and William Dunn where the first to go down.

The jury returned a verdict of "Death from choke damp caused by an accident. The firing of the woodwork in the stone heading.

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