This view in the Wigan 4 feet workings is looking back up brow towards the Wigan mines access.The double warrick can be seen replacing the earlier single girder type.Sadly 2 men lost their lives in the Wigan mines access tunnel when a runaway minecar went careering out of control down the roadway and the broader 2 gider system was employed to try and stop the same thing happening again.
The colliery was the property of Ackers Whitley and Company and was in Bickershaw village a few miles from Leigh. On Monday 10th. October when the cage containing the first load of day shift workers was being lowered down the No.3 shaft, an overwind took place and nineteen of the twenty men in the cage were drowned in the sump.
The No.3 shaft was 18 feet in diameter ad 700 yards deep. There was an inset to the Wigan Six Feet Seam at 638 yards. The centres of the pulleys in the headgear were 50 feet 3 inches above the landing plates and the top of the detaching hook bell was 42 feet 2 inches above the keps which were four and half inches below the landing plates. The cage conductors, four for each cage, were suspended from girders in the headgear and kept taut by weights 50 feet below the Wigan Six Feet inset. Thirty six feet below this inset, there was strong scaffold of planks, resting on beams, on which any debris from the shaft collected. Five feet three inches below the inset, which was the height of the bottom deck of the cage, there was a landing platform constructed of very strong beams running parallel with the cages, on which were laid two eight inch by seven inch wooden beams on which the cage rested.
Any water made in the No.3 or No.4 shaft, which also went down to the Wigan Six Feet Seam, was collected in the sump of the No.3 shaft and at infrequent intervals, was raised to the surface in tanks suspended under the cages. When the water tanks were not in use, they were suspended in the sump on light girders resting on the same bearers as carried by the landing beams. On the day of the disaster, the level of the water in the sump was 14 feet below the inset and the water tanks and the suspension weights were under water.
The winding engines were a pair of horizontal cylinders, 36 inches in diameter with a stroke of 84 inches, which were directly coupled to a drum 18 feet 6 inches in diameter. The brake paths, one on each side of the drum, were 19 feet 3 inches in diameter. There were slide valves operated by link motion from the drum shaft. There were four post brakes, eight feet long and five feet wide which were operated either by hand or by steam. When they were operated by steam, the brakes were held in the off position by steam pressure on a 10 inch diameter piston. When the steam was cut off, a weight of 915 pounds at a leverage of 88 to 1, actuated the brake.
The steam for this and other large engines was drawn from a receiver placed at the level between the boilers and the engines and a pressure of 75 pounds per square inch was used. The ropes were 1.5 inches in diameter and weighed 96 hundredweight when they were new. The detaching hooks were of the Ormerod type.
The cage had two decks but men were raised and lowered only in the top deck. The maximum number of people allowed in the cage at one time was 20. The cage gates were telescopic and on being raised, were held up by hooks. Each cage was provided with eight chains, four in tension and four slack.
The automatic device to prevent overwinding was the ‘Visor’ and was made by Messrs. John Wood and Sons of Wigan. Before the accident it was set so that if the speed at three selected points in the wind was excessive, steam would be cut off and the brake applied, after which the drum would be brought to rest within two revolutions. These control point corresponded with the cage being at 200, 130 and 100 yards from the surface landing plates. There was further protecting trip, mainly as a guard against the engines being run in the wrong direction, which operated when the cage was raised three feet above the landing plates.
The Mechanical Engineer at the colliery had said in a report to A.D. Nicholson, H.M. Divisional Inspector of Mines, that there had been other overwinds at the colliery and more sensitive controls had been installed.
On the day of the accident, the dayshift winding engineman arrived to take over the engine from the night engineman at 5.45 a.m. and found several persons in the enginehouse who had no right to be there. There was general discussion about football, and some discussion between the enginemen with regard to the engines. At 5.55 a.m., the buzzer sounded and the banks man signalled that he was ready to descend. The cage attached to the overlap rope was within sight of the banksman and was brought to the surface. After the necessary signals had been given, the cage loaded with 20 men was lowered.
Shortly after there was a crash and the capel of the underlap rope was seen by these in the engine room to be hanging through a hole it had made in the roof. It was then seen that the cage, which had been detached by the Ormerod hook, was hanging in the headgear and that the ‘Visor’ control had functioned, cutting off the steam and applying the brake.
The day engineman said he shut off the steam at about half shaft, run on to within two revolutions of the end of the wind, just touching the brake with his foot level, and then thrown over his reversing lever. On finding the engines did not retard, he used the steam brake, but without result and the overwind took place. The suggested that the condensing water in the winding engine cylinders and the steam brake cylinder prevented him from having proper control.
The engineer said that when he arrived the enginehouse, he said that the reversing level was in the running position for the underlap rope, and this accounted for the overwind. No steps had been taken up to the time of his arrival to reset the ‘Visor’ controller but as he arrived the signal was given from the Wigan Six Feet inset for the cage to be raised. The controller was then reset, this operation took about one minute, and the cage raised. This would have been 10 to 15 minutes after the overwind had taken place.
Only one man in the descending cage escaped. He said that after the cage got to the ‘meetings’, it was suddenly checked and then, followed by half a dozen jerks, they seemed to be in the water in a flash. He was the last men to enter the cage so that he was near one gate, which he managed to lift and get out. He rose to the surface of the water and held on to one of the conductors until he was rescued.
The onsetter said that after the cage left the inset to ascend the shaft he heard unusual noises and saw the conductors jerking about. The descending cage passed the inset a tremendous speed, throwing the skeleton gate violently back on it’s hinges with a gust of air. He heard cries from the shaft and on looking down, saw a face in the water. He thought the winding rope had broken and devoted all his attention to getting the man put of the sump.
The night shift men were approaching the pit bottom at the time of the disaster and with their aid and a length of rope, and then a ladder, the man was got onto the landing plates. In the meantime, a telephone calls and signals from the surface had been ignored. When he got the man out the onsetter saw that the rope was not broken but was slack and had lined up with the conductors. He answered the telephone and called for the cage to be raised. This was done and the 19 bodies removed. All had died from asphyxia after being immersed in water.
Those who lost their lives were:-
James Baines aged 47 years, fireman, married with five children, of 9, Common Lane, Leigh.
Daniel Hogan aged 48 years married with one child of 87, Nel Pan Lane, Leigh.
Joseph Thomas Waters aged 31 years, married of 23, Canaan, Lowton, Leigh.
Griffith McDonald aged 46 years, married of 5, Howard Street, Plank Lane, Abram.
Thomas Shepherd aged 20 years, haulage hand of 357, St Helens Road, Leigh.
Charles Lowe aged 50 years, single of 20, Plank Lane, Leigh.
Walter Lowe aged 44 years, single of 20, Plank Lane, Leigh., brother of Charles.
Henry Felthouse aged 64 years, dataller, married of Langdale Street, Leigh.
Thomas Walls, aged 40 years, married with eight children of Cowper Street, Leigh.
Robert Jones aged 40 years, .married of 57 Plank Lane, Leigh.
Richard Briscoe aged 51 years, married of 19, Walthew Lane, Platt Bridge, Wigan.
William Dawber aged 34 years, married of 2, Leonard Street, Plank Lane, Leigh.
Thomas Jackson aged 41 years, married, 2, Nevison Street, Leigh.
Michael Carroll aged 41 years, married of 14 St. Helens Road, Leigh.
Samuel Derbyshire, fireman, married of 95, Smallbrook Lane, Leigh.
William Talbot aged 45 years, single of 40, Talbot Road, Plank Lane, Leigh.
Walter Nelson, aged 30 years, married of 212, Firs Lane, Leigh.
The inquest was opened on the 11th. October for the purpose of the identification of the bodies by Deputy Coroner, Mr. R.H. Barlow. The proceedings to determine the cause of the disaster were held on the 20th., 21st., and 24th, October.
After the disaster it was fond that the cage had cut through two eight inch by seven inch beams and bent the light girders carrying the water tank and came to rest on the platform protecting the weights. The two and half inch shackle pin on the underside of the detaching hook of the top cage was slightly bent and one of the bridle chains was broken. Two of the hangers from the cage bottom were slightly bent.
The coroner heard all the evidence and the summed up to the jury who returned the verdict the cage got out of control and went into the sump so drowning the men. The jury did not find that the engine was faulty but the wrong lever had been applied and that the cage had passed the point at which the ‘Visor’ was set. They recommend that water in the sump should be kept at a reasonable level. The source of the accident was an error of judgement by the engineman Hitchen.
As a result the ‘Visor’ controller at the colliery was immediately altered and 16 points were provided in the last 90 yards of the wind. The accident caused great anxiety to all users of winding engines in Lancashire.
Astley Green Colliery.
The Disaster of 1939.
The news was announced to the local populace by the “News Chronicle” for Wednesday, June 7th. The headlines read:
Five men were killed and four injured in a series of explosions while fighting a gob fire in the Crombouke Mine of the Astley Green Pit this afternoon.
Tonight, with the bodies of the men - officials and trained fire fighters - still unrecovered, it was decided to seal off the affected part of the pit to prevent further loss of life.” “The manager of the pit, Mr. J.H.Hewitt, was killed while leading the fire-fighters, his under-manager, Mr. W.Middleton was seriously injured.
Manchester Collieries, Limited, owners of the pit, tonight issued the following statement: Manchester Collieries deeply regret to report that following a series of slight explosions in the Crombouke Mine at their Astley Green Colliery, five men have lost their lives.
J.H.Hewitt, Manager of the Pit, Allenby Street, Atherton.
G.Griffiths, Under-looker, of Coach Road, Astley.
J.Keegan, fireman, of Henry Street, Tyldesley.
Eli Smith, colliery, of Tyldesley Road, Atherton.
William Warhurst, colliery, of Second Avenue, Astley.
“Four other men have been got out of the mine injured, only one seriously.”
“Following a conference with His majesty's Inspector of Mines and the Miners Agent, it was decided to prevent possible further loss of life, to seal off the district affected.”
“The injured men are:
W.Middleton, of Henfold Road, Tyldesley, Under-Manager.
John Laughton, Under-looker, of Leigh.
Frank Morris, of Lime Street, Tyldesley.
William Smith, of Manchester Road, Astley.
“A gob fire was first reported at 12.30 a.m. today, and the night shift of 1000 men was withdrawn from the pit face. Forty men, officials and trained fire fighters were left to fight the fire. They made such progress that by 4 a.m. it was possible for the morning shift to descend. Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. 1000 men went down the shaft to the various mines which make up the Astley Pit. During the morning men were withdrawn from certain sections, and a party of officials, including the men killed and injured, descended. They were working in C panel of the Crombouke Mine, where the gob fire had occurred earlier in the day. Men continued to work in the Rams mine on a lower level, and at 1.30 p.m. news of an explosion reached them.
John Skise (25), a collier, of Manchester Road, Tyldesley, told me that he was working in the Rams mine.
“I did'nt hear any explosion, but there is such a racket that it would have to be tremendous for us to hear it in our seam.”
“A fireman came and said: “There's trouble in the Crombouke mine. There are men there. I want you lads to come and help me get them out.”
“When I got there it was very hot and there was smoke hanging about. I helped to carry Mr. Middleton out. He seemed to be very badly injured. He had got out Frank Morriss, one of the other men. Although he was hurt himself, he had dragged Morriss, who was fainting for 200 yards.” “At one stage he stopped to release air from a pipe into Morriss' face to revive him. They told me that Bill Smith was further along, but the fireman said there was too much gas to go after him.”
“Three chaps said they'd have a go and came back with Bill Smith. They were George Marger, William Hulme and Richard Sutton.”
“I think Mr. Middleton's effort was the bravest thing a man could do. He was in no state to walk himself, let alone help others.” Another rescue workman told me that the 40 men left to fight the fire used sand and a tank holding 199 gallons of water. “Those men are heroes” he said.
Following the explosion a call was sent to the mines rescue station at Boothstown and men equipped with every device for fighting the fire were hurried to the scene.
Ten rescue men, who had been putting on their breathing equipment as they were being driven to the pit immediately went down. They were met by other explosions before they had time to reach the five men now given up as lost.
The Astley Green Pit is one of the most modern in the Lancashire Coalfield, and is at present employing 2000 men. It was sunk in 1908 and this is the first serious accident there has been.
Mr. Hewitt was promoted from Under-Manager about two years ago. His father retired some time ago from the position as Manager at another coal pit. Mr. Hewitt leaves a widow and two sons.
The father of Eli Smith, one of the dead men, was killed in the same pit in 1920. Eli Smith was married with one child. His brother, Harry, is also employed in the pit.
There was a notable absence of women waiting at the pit head; at one time not a woman was to be seen among the crowd. I understand that Manchester Collieries immediately informed the relatives of every man who had not escaped unharmed. This prevented the pitiful scenes so frequently a feature of colliery accidents.
Tonight lorry loads of bricks and sand are being rushed to the mine. On the busy East Lancashire Road, a few hundred yards away, a police officer was on traffic duty to facilitiate their quick arrival. The bricks and sand are being sent down in the cage to rescue men, for strengthening the barrier which has been built to prevent the fire from spreading.
Men who arrived at the colliery to prepare for work the afternoon saw a notice chalked roughly on the wall. It read “No afternoon shift today.”
Tonight several hundred sightseers gathered in the roadway near the pit head. Few of them were relatives.”
The Inquest into the deaths took place in late July, when the Jury returned a verdict of “death from misadventure”. The bravery of the men was remarked on by the Coroner. Additional information concerning the disaster was given by Edward Humphrey Browne, the Mining Agent. He said that Hewitt, the dead Manager, had rung him up to say that in the early hours of June 6th. a shot had been fired and some smoke had been seen at another place. Hewitt was satisfied at the time that the smoke was fumes from the shot. However, after a subsequent message, Browne put into effect the emergency organisation. Twice he spoke to Hewitt over the telephone, but he was emphatic that he could find no trace of the fire.
Browne was about to go underground himself to see when a final message was received, “It has gone off again. It has blown us off our feet.” Two men volunteered to go down with him. It was very dusty and difficult to see when they reached the Crombouke delivery level. The safety lamps were burning, allbeit low, and the canary was still alive. When they reached the haulage engine, Browne's lamp went out and when another was passed forward the canary appeared to be dead. The party were unable to go further and returned to summon the rescue teams.
The first team were instructed to look for the missing men, but just before they reached the coal face there was a fall and they were stopped. They had passed three bodies on the way and offered to go and get them out. They were told not to, and a second fresh team was sent in instead to see if there was any trace of fire. Browne remained with the stand-by team, and then short circuited the fresh air into the return, to starve any fire of oxygen. He was certain that had the first team been allowed to return then they too would have been lost.
William Granby, the Under-Manager, said that when he went down the mine after the accident there had been a temporary lull in the ventilation and then a sudden reversal of the current. This was the usual sign of an explosion.