|After an examination of the atmosphere in the return airway, and consulting with his officials, the manager decided that stoppings should be put on in the cruts. He gave orders for materials - sand, stone dust etc. to be brought in for that purpose.
(A stopping is to plug the roadway to prevent the access of air to the seat of the fire, and so extinguish it.)
At 7.20 a.m. the night shift was instructed to go home and the day shift set to work getting the stopping material in. Whilst this was being done, the manager and under manager, accompanied by two overmen and four deputies, went into the Fourfeet district to make an examination. On their way down the main crut they perceived a reversal of air, indicating an occurrence of a fifth explosion. Some of the party stayed behind to take the tubs off the rope and the rest went to
inspect the Right Hand Carving. About 40 to 50 yards from the face of the roadway,
firedamp in explosive quantities was found and the party withdrew. No signs had been
seen of John Hassell, one of the missing men although they had penetrated further inbye
than the place where he was thought to have been when the explosion occurred at 6.50
The party returned from the Right Hand Carving about 7.30 a.m. and met Mr. John
Cocks, the Managing Director of the Company who had been informed of the situation
when he reached the shaft bottom. With others Mr. Cocks went down the Main almost
to the face. On the way they found the ventilation doors open, probably as a result of
the explosion. It was decided to leave them lest the firedamp known to be in the Right
Hand Carving should be driven on to the fire.
Near the face of the Main Dip it was found that the rippings had fallen. No fire could
be seen and no inflammable had been detected. This could have been expected as the
intake air was coming down this road. At this point the flame in the main road had been
temporarily smothered, probably because of the collapse of the roof in the face and at
the main road ripping and no more explosions were noticed for some time.
Mr. Cocks, the managing director, decided to change the locations of the stoppings in spite of the expressed disagreement of the manager who foresaw the difficulty in making sound and reliable stoppings in unsettled ground. Davies wanted them on further out bye in solid ground to seal the district off. The under manager stated that Mr.Cocks did not discuss the matter with him, but merely told him of the decision. The complete change of plan for stopping off the fire led to the disaster.
The first plan, decided by Mr.Davies, the manager, was in solid ground and entailed the erection of only two dams, or stoppings, where there were easy means of transporting the necessary materials over a distance of no more than 500yds from the pit bottom.
The second plan, adopted by Mr.Cocks, involved the erection of three stoppings, and the sites were in broken ground that could give access of air to the fire. The distance material had to be transported was 1,300yds and the number of persons required to carry out the work was necessarily larger than in the former plan. The reason for Mr. Cocks' plan was to save the seam. That is to say, it would have left available the development of a new face, which was already in process. However, the decision had been taken.
It was now 9 a.m. and two government inspectors, Mr.Finney and Mr. Bloor, who were to be victims, arrived and met Mr. Davies at the pit bottom. He outlined the position to them and told them what Mr. Cocks intended to do. On their way down the main crut at 9.10 a.m. a sixth explosion occurred. It was again slight. By this time men and material were arriving in the district. There were thirty-eight men in all, including the three missing men.
A moment or two before 10.10 a.m., there was a seventh minor explosion, followed immediately by a very large one, the force of which blew men off their feet at the pit bottom 1,000yds away, and reversed the whole of the ventilation system between the shafts and the Fourfeet workings. Every man in the seam itself was badly burnt. Thirty men were killed and eight injured.
Joe Woodcock, centre, with other members of the Rescue team.
Joe died in 1997
at the age of 89
A certain amount of danger must always attend the operation of sealing off an underground roadway as slowly blocking off the road decreases the air supply and allows a build up of gas.
It is worthwhile to compare the two plans in respect of their relative safety. The first plan was as safe as any plan could be in such circumstances. There were facilities for maintaining the inbye side of the stoppings, (inbye means towards the coal face, outbye towards the shaft) until the very last moment of closing them, plus there was an atmosphere free from inflammable gas. Under the second plan, the intake stopping was to be located very near to the entrance of the right hand gate and it was known, before 9.30 a.m., and before the plan was adopted, that this right hand gate was fouled with firedamp.
The building of the stopping was bound, in due course, to result in an increase in the firedamp percentage at the place where it was to be built and it followed, that persons working there would have to work in or at the brink of an inflammable, explosive mixture of firedamp and air, which was liable at any moment to be ignited by the fire. As history has shown us, this is exactly what happened, unfortunately with the loss of 30 lives.
In his report the inspector, Mr.F.H.Wynne, stated,
"It is my considered opinion that at the time the second plan was adopted, very dangerous conditions existed, and were known at the time to exist which made the attempt to follow this plan a matter of imminent peril to the lives of the unnecessarily large number of men required to execute it."
Clearly there was in this incident a motivation for production, superseding the safety factor.