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He said, "We are sitting on a time bomb with a dangerously short fuse", and over his father's head he demanded an interview with Mr. Potts. The manager replied that because of a previous engagement he would not be home until midnight. "Then I'll be waiting for you when you come home at midnight" replied Arthur Potts, realising that he was up against a determined young man and despite the fact that he had this engagement, he went to the pit top at 9.00 p.m. but as Arthur was in charge of both the Bambury and Cockshead workings he had to be in the pit before the nightshift came on at 9.30 p.m. to examine the districts to see that they were fit for the men to go to work in, so they agreed to meet at midnight.
After making his rounds underground Fletcher advised the men to keep clear of the danger spot until he returned from his meeting with the manager whose residence was only a few minutes walk from the pit top.
Now whatever passed between these two officials we shall never know. We have only Mr. Potts' version, which incidentally the inquiry found contradictory and unsatisfactory.

Arthur Fletcher's account died with him a few hours later. Though it was common knowledge that he wanted all the men withdrawn from the pit.

Fletcher resented the manager's refusal to go into the pit, to make a personal inspection of the danger zone as the Coal Mines Act 1887 demanded. After the meeting with the manager, Fletcher hurried back into the pit as he was the only official on duty that night. He was obliged to examine both the Bambury district and the Cockshead before the day shift came on at 7.00 a.m because of the absence of the Bambury fireman., and he had to make this pre-shift examination. Moreover, he had the critical operation of the gob fire, which was very demanding for a young man, especially when the lives of more than 100 miners depended upon the mood of the gob fire. All that is needed for an explosion is between 5% and 15% of methane in air and a source of ignition.

As Fletcher got out of the cage at the pit bottom his brother-in-law, William Bracegirdle who was the hooker, asked, "How did you get on with Potts, Arthur?" "No-how." was his sharp reply, "All he thinks about is coal production." These were significant words especially as one knows nothing of his conversation with the manager. News of the midnight meeting with the manager had already circulated underground.

It was now 2.00 a.m. Wednesday October 16th 1889 work was in full swing from the surface to the coal faces. On the surface it was cold, damp and misty. The village clock chimed 1/2 hour, it was now 3.45 a.m. and all was well. Five minutes later the colliery erupted with a loud boom, the most dreaded of all sounds in any mining village. The explosive blast shook every house in Adderley Green the blaring of the colliery hooter was heard far and wide. Shocked and dazed villagers poured out into the street. 'The Old-Sal's gone up" was the awful cry that was going round the village and from all directions people came running towards the colliery, anxiety on every face. Smoke, soot and dust were now spiraling upwards from the upcast shaft to form a black acrid canopy over the stricken pit. The manager was quickly on the scene but there was little he could do immediately until other officials arrived. But he had to contact the owners, local collieries, hospitals and police. Fortunately, the downcast shaft was not severely damaged so the Hardmine men could be drawn up immediately as their section of the colliery was independent of the Bambury and Cockshead. The speedy arrival of other officials enabled Potts to organise rescue brigades. The Hardmine men were now up on the surface, safe and sound, but they volunteered to go back into the pit to look for survivors. With the help of George Nixon the Surface Overman, Potts chose twenty volunteers to accompany him on this dangerous mission below ground.

They found the pit bottom coated with black oily dust, a relic of the explosion, which made their eyes, smart, clogged their nostrils and made their throats feel very dry. Huddled in a manhole they found a haulage hand by the name of George Timmis. He was frightened but uninjured. Nearby lay William Bracegirdle the hooker, he had been blown across the pit bottom by the blast. Meanwhile the explorers found that the separation doors between the two shafts were smashed, roof supports leading to the Bambury crut were down, tubs of stone were jammed into the roof, regulating doors in the Bambury return area were blown inwards and near the end of the Bambury horse level, a winch which was used for hauling tubs out had been blown away and was lying nearby and broken. A great force would have been required to move this winch but it would also have been spragged down. More ventilation doors and regulators were destroyed and it was evident that all these must be repaired to force the air current to follow according to plan. Rescue operations would otherwise be impossible; neither would there be any survivors in the workings, as they would be suffocated.

At the entrance to the Cockshead seam an air crossing had been severely damaged the rescuers ventured in the mine as far as they dared go, some of them described it as hot as hell and reeking with chokedamp (gas), so it was wiser to gather up the 12 survivors in this section.

Jess Smith had been severely burnt, he was 25 yards from the shaft bottom along with his pit pony but he fully recovered later in Longton hospital. On the way out the weary men sat down to rest. Mr Potts sat slightly apart from the rest. He raised his head and said "Six years ago I was appointed manager of this colliery and I was the envy of every manager in the city, I wonder if they would envy me today?"

At the pit bottom they were greeted by a team that had been exploring the Bambury seam and they managed to bring out one survivor, that was George Hewitt of Sandford Hill. Hewitt and his mates had been erecting a new ventilation door between the two air currents when the explosive blast blew this heavy door on top of him, a fact that saved his life but which killed his companions.

 



Pit Terminology - Glossary