Explosion at Stanley Colliery (Deep Drop).




The colliery accident has in these modem days become so common an occurrence, that it has almost ceased to awaken very intense or, at any rate, sustained interest. Scarcely a month passes without bringing with it the record of some terrible disaster of this kind; yet beyond the immediate locality affected, the memory of it soon passes away.

Though Wakefield is almost surrounded by collieries, some of a very extensive character, it is very rarely that anything approaching a serious accident happens in connection with any of them. 

A most marked and painful exception to this rule has now, however, to be chronicled, associated with circumstances of an almost unusual character, seeing that, so far as present prospects lead us to judge, it is very doubtful that anyone has escaped to tell the tale, in other words, to give some explanation of the immediate cause. 

The scene of the accident is what is commonly known as the “ Deep Drop,” or Silkstone Pit, owned by Messers. R. Hudson and Co, Limited and situated near Stanley Lane End. 

This firm own three collieries in close proximity, lying in nearly a straight line and equidistant half - a — mile from each other. There is the Victoria Colliery, on the Leeds Road side, at which the Haigh Moor seam is worked;

The “Deep Drop,” at which the Silkstone is now worked, at a depth of four hundred and seventy yards (above a quarter of a mile); and a new pit at Stanley Ferry (Stanley Main Seam), which has only been in active operation for a few months.

Altogether, the firm employ between seven hundred and eight hundred hands, and their extensive properties are under the direction of Mr. J.H. Cookson, with Mr. J .O Greaves of Wakefield, as certified manager. 

It may be added that the “Deep Drop” is one of the oldest pits in this neighbourhood. Formerly the Haigh Moor seam was worked at a depth of 270 yards, but when it became exhausted the shaft was sunk a further 200 yards to reach the Silkstone coal.

It has always been considered a fiery pit, and for that reason the use of safety lamps was most ridgidly enforced and carried out; for the same reason blasting has been strictly forbidden. 

The number of hands employed at the pit has varied from time to time, but recently it might be put down at nearly 300. Of these 240 men and boys work the night shift.

Mr Thomas Arundrel fills the post of chief steward, and he has under him two other officials in a like capacity, Mr Ezra Hampshire and Mr Joseph Wheately.

On Tuesday night, at nine 0’ clock, fifty-five men and boys descended the shaft (which, from what we have already stated, appears to be one of the deepest in this locality): and got fairly to work in their usual places. 

Not the slightest apprehension of danger was entertained, as neither the men who left the colliery during the afternoon nor the responsible officials had reported any unusual circumstance in connection with the workings. 

By ten o’clock the men and boys together with forty-eight ponies were in “full swing," when five minutes later an explosion of a most terrific character occurred in the West Board, the cause of which must for the present remain a mystery. 

This, however, seems certain, that the gas was ignited at the further end of the board. In this board or district there were twenty men and boys at work, and with one exception they were all killed on the spot. 

The wind was blowing in heavy gusts at the time, and therefore any sound of the explosion was not noticed at a distance from the colliery. as it might otherwise have been; but from what we learn from Police constable Cooper. Who at the time happened to be within about forty yards of the pit. 

Those on the premises could be in no doubt as to what had happened. The officer said that at a few minutes alter ten o‘clock, as he was walking towards Hatfeild Hall, he heard a report as of a heavy piece of ordnance being discharged underground. 

The sound seemed to cease instantly, and was then followed by a most striking appearance at the pit -bank. 

This was an immense eruption of broken coal and debris, blown up the ventilation shaft, or cupola, and rising for many yards into the air, accompanied by dense volumes of smoke. 

So heavy was the discharge that had not the officer taken refuge behind an outhouse he would most certainly have been struck with the shower of hard materials which were falling all around him. 

As soon has the way had somewhat been cleared the policeman ran to the pit hill, where he found Squire Walker, the engineman, Benjamin Bramley, the fireman Walter Hall, the night banksman, and two lamp boys. 

 The whole premises were enveloped in smoke and the men in charge of them seemed for the moment to be almost overpowered by the shock. The officer at once ran for Mr. J. H. Cookson, and the resident partner and manager, who lives within a few hundred yards from the pit, and that gentleman was promptly in attendance. 

In the meantime a signal had been received from below, and on the cage being drawn up it was seen to contain six men and boys, who reported that an explosion had taken place, adding that on their way to the bottom of the shaft they had picked up the dead body of a boy, which afterwards turned out to be that of William Musgreave, of Eastmoor. 

The next step was to send for Mr Greaves and Mr. John Whiteley, of the firm of Messers. Horsfall and Whiteley, of Wakefield, who are the surgeons to the colliery. 

By half-past eleven o’clock Mr Greaves arrived, and Mr Whiteley not long afterwards. Dr. Hefferman, of Lake Lock, was also summoned, and he arriving on the spot first, at once descended the shaft to render what assistance lay in his power. 

A party of explorers was quickly formed and headed by Mr. Arundrel and Mr. Hampshire had commenced an examination of the workings in the hope if possible of saving life. 

The West Board, in which the explosion took place, is of considerable length, and some of the men must have been working at least half-a-mile from the bottom of the shaft. 

Under the circumstances, to get to these latter proved a very difficult and dangerous task, seeing that in many places the roof had been blown down, corves upset and smashed to splinters, and debris of every description blocking the way. 

Nothing daunted however, the party boldly pushed on, and very soon came upon first one and then another of the dead bodies of their fellow workmen. For sometime they meet with nothing but death, until they came upon a man named David Nobles, of Woodcocks Square, Eastmoor, who showed some indications of life. 

He was of course promptly brought to the bottom of the shaft, and handed over to the care of Dr Hefferman, who accompanied him to the surface. Noble's immediate wants were attended to, and then he was removed to the Clayton Hospital at Wakefield in one of a couple of ambulances which are constantly kept on the premises. 

This was about ten o’clock in the morning. A short time before the body of the boy Musgreave had been brought to bank, removed to the carpenter’s shop, and decently laid on a table. 

With respect to this poor lad it may be stated that he was not working in the West Board, but in what is called No 1 Drift. He was in the act, it seems, of greasing corves, when he was blown for several yards in the direction of the jenny, and he was found there with his head jammed into the brake wheel of the jenny. 

During the course of several succeeding hours the bodies were gradually recovered as fast as progress could be made, and were brought to the bottom of the shaft, and then afier an interval, drawn up and placed alongside the body of Musgreave. 

It was expected that some time must elapse before all the bodies were recovered, for reasons already stated. 

Of this, however no doubt was entertained, that the of the twenty men and boys in the west board nineteen would be brought back out dead, in addition to the boy Musgreave. 

From reports brought up by some of the explorers, it was feared the some of the bodies would be mutilated. It was also stated that 10 to 12 of the 48 ponies had been killed. 

Police Constable Cooper was first on the scene, but was quickly joined by Sergeant Chalkley, Police Constable Harriss and Mac Laren. 

The news spread through the district, a small crowd appeared at the pit. Young mothers stood with infants wrapped close to their breasts, they were stunned with shock. 

It is at present impossible to say definitely what caused the explosion. No accident of this kind has occurred in the pit before: and the greatest care. it is asserted had been taken to prevent gas now and again from igniting.

Only safety lamps were used. and these being of Stephenson Pattern , and securely locked, it was impossible for the flame to be exposed in the ordinary course of working. 

At one time it was rumoured in Stanley that it originated with one of the miners striking a light in the working; in order that he might smoke a pipe. 

This rumour may have originated from the fact that a little tobacco is said to have been found in the pockets of one or two of the men who were brought up dead: but this in itself is not proof of smoking especially as we have not heard that any of the colliers contravened the regulations by taking down a pipe into the pit. 

The change of temperature during Tuesday afternoon may have: tended to increase the danger at the extreme end of the workings; but if there was much gas about it should have shown itself by extinguishing the safety lamps 

One explanation which has been suggested is that a flaw in one of the lamps may have admitted to the gauze and thence to the light such an admixture of atmospheric air as would cause the explosion

The idea is to some extent supported by the finding in the west board of a lamp. which has all the appearance of having been tampered with or burst by accident. 

The only direct personal testimony which is possible to obtain is that of the man Nobles the only survivor. when he is sufficiently recovered. although it is very doubtful if even he can have any idea of the course of events previous to the explosion. so suddenly must he have been thrown down and overpowered. 

When first removed to the hospital he was in a very critical state. He was rolling about in bed like a mad man. and totally unconscious of what had happened. Being got to vomit a good deal, however, he fired his chest and stomach of the noxious vapours he had inhaled. and getting at last some quiet sleep. is now in a fair way to recovery.

As soon as the extent of the disaster was ascertained. the carpenters at the firm‘s workshops were set to work to make twenty neat. substantial coffins, and as soon as practicable the bodies were placed in them. 

Some of the interments took place yesterday at Stanley Church; others are arranged for to-day. We would not omit to add that while making every provision for the proper and becoming interment of the dead. 

Messers Hudson & Co. have not forgotten the living. but are seeing to it that. so far us pecuniary assistance can be of service, the full weight of the calamity is broken and modified.

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