Colliery Disaster 1






Chorley Standard May 22nd 1852

 Fearful Colliery Explosion, near Chorley

 Thirty Three Lives Lost

 Another terrible colliery catastrophe which occurred on Thursday morning has to be added to the many recent cases, including those which have caused so large a destruction of life in Glamorganshire; and by it a larger number of lives has been sacrificed than by any which has occurred in this district for a long period. The Coppull Hall Colliery, the scene of the present explosion, is situated in the midst of a beautiful country, about three-quarters of a mile from the Coppull station on the North Union Railway, about two and half or three miles from Chorley, six from Wigan, and 10 from Preston. It belongs to Mr John Hargreaves, a gentleman who resides at Southport; and has been entirely under the control of a manager names Ellis. There are, as we understand, four or five pits connected with the colliery; but only one, known as the New Pit, is now actually worked. The furnace pit, called the Coppull Pit, is about 640 yards distant from it and nearly due north; and the Dry Bones pit (a down-cast shaft), is about the same distance in a north-easterly direction, but only the former of the two is sometimes used for winding coal got from the workings connected with the New Pit. The shaft of this last-mentioned pit was sunk between four and five years since, and is 210 yards deep. From it a main airway has been driven, in continuation of the connection with the Coppull Pit. It has a dip of 1 in 7, and at a distance of 280 yards from the bottom of the shaft (or “pit eye” as the colliers term it) is the first level, or “shunt”; there is a second shunt 40 yards further and a third about the same distance from the second. It is in some workings on the right side of the main way, between the second and third shunts, that the explosion occurred. From this point levels have been worked for a distance of 80 or 100 yards; and the coal having been “got” as far as was thought desirable, the men had been “getting back” for a day or two – that is, retreating and cutting away the pillars of coal left to support the roof while the workings were being extended. Altogether about 140 hands were employed at the mine, 90 of them working “downbrow”, or in the part where the explosion has occurred.

 On Thursday morning, Thomas Smith, the fireman of the works in question (another being employed for the other portions of the mine), went down the new pit about twenty minutes before five o’clock, for the purpose of examining the workings. He seems to have been followed by the men, as quickly as they could be let down; but it is said to have been the men’s orders to remain at the first shuntuntil Smith reported all to be safe. On reaching the point where the men were “getting” the pillars, Smith found that a fall of the roof had taken place during the night; and that the current of air being thereby almost entirely stopped, a considrable accummulation of gas had taken place. He accordingly returned to the main air-way, and finding at the third shunt, two of the six men who were employed near where the fall had occurred, he strictly ordered them not to go into their places, telling them there was just at the time very great danger. He also directed his son (fifteen years old); who had come to the shunt, to stop there and prevent any one passing. Smith went round some of the other workings, and on returning to the shunt, his son told him that he had seen and cautioned two other men who worked at the point of danger; and while Smith was on his way to the pit-eye, to inform John Ellis (son of the manager, and himself the underlooker) of what had occurred, he met the remaining two of the six men and cautioned them. John Ellis, on hearing Smith’s statement, approved of what had been done, and desired him to return and see that all the stoppings were right near the fall, preparatory to steps being taken to get rid of the gas. Ellis said he would himself immediately go and stop any men who might have got into the workings, and there is no doubt that he departed with that intention. While the underlooker and the fireman were thus engaged, the explosion occurred; the intimation of it, to those above ground being a fearful rush of air up the shaft loaded with slack and dirt, about two minutes before seven o’clock.  The most painful anxiety was of course felt for the safety of the men and boys, of whom nearly the whole 140 employed were known to be in the pit; but shortly afterwards the cage was drawn up loaded with persons, and by about eight o’clock some 90 had thus escaped from the mine, many of them being much affected by the choke-damp, and some few slightly scorched and bruised. Still there were at least 40 men and boys missing, and to recover these, vigorous steps were taken, there being a number of volunteers to descend. The air was found to be good as far as the first shunt; but from that point the choke damp prevailed to a fearful extent, and the searching parties had frequently to be renewed. Up to ten o’clock, only three persons had been found, and they were got out dead, between that time and one o’clock, 18 dead bodies were brought out, and at five o’clock, when it was ascertained that every one was out of the pit, there had been 32 dead bodies recovered, together with several persons who were frightfully burned, or nearly suffocated. As far as we could learn yesterday, nearly all the bodies were found within 100 yards of the point where the fall of the roof had taken place; and they were principally in the main air-road or near to it, showing that the unfortunate creatures were suffocated while attempting to escape after the explosion, or caught by the deadly blast while coming out in consequence of being warned. We subjoin a list of the names of the sufferers, with the most accurate information we were able to obtain as to their ages, number of children, &c:-

 DEAD 33

 Ainscough William, 35 resides at Coppull: left a widow and two children.

Almond James, 22, Chorley.

Banks Thomas, 40, Coppull : widow and three children.

Banks Robert, son of above, 16.

Banks Thomas, ditto, 14.

Baxendale William, 29, Coppull: widow and three children.

Berry Ellis, 23, Chorley: widow and one child.

Blackhurst William, 25, Duxbury.

Booth Richard, 31, Duxbury: widow and two children.

Bradley John, 26, Coppull: widow and six children.

Butterworth John, 12, Coppull.

Culshaw William, 30, Coppull.

Culshaw Henry (brother of the above), 17, Coppull.

Darbyshire William, 35, Duxbury: widow and two children.

Darbyshire James (his son) 15.

Ellis John (the underlooker, and son of the manager), 24, Coppull.

Green William, 30, Chorley: widow and three children.

Green Richard (his brother), 27, Chorley: widow and child.

Gregson Thomas, 40, Coppull: widow and four children.

Gregson John (his son), 9.

Howarth George, a lad, Chorley.

Miller Thomas, 20, Chorley.

Moorfield Peter, 26, Coppull: widow and two children.

Morris William, 31, Duxbury: widow and five children.

Robinson Edward, 30, Coppull: widow and child.

Roscow John, 24, Coppull.

Ryding William, 21, Coppull.

Smith Robert (son of the fireman), 17, Coppull.

Southworth Tomas, 12, Chorley.

Tootal Robert, 13, Coppull.

Turner Stephen, 39, Wrightington: widow and two children.

Turner James, 41, Coppull: widow and four children.

Watson Thomas, 40, Coppull (widower): four children.


 Culshaw John, 25 (brother to the two of the same name in the preceding list).

Dickenson Henry, 45 (widower), Chorley.

Farrington John, 20, Coppull.

Holcroft Samuel, 25, Coppull.

Hunter James, 18, Coppull.

Yates John, 27, Chorley: widow and two children.

 Of the 33 dead, only Robert Banks was got out of the pit alive; he died early yesterday morning. Four or five of the sufferers were not burned at all; and while six or eight of the others are very severely burned and bruised, the deaths of the remainder resulted more from choke-damp. Of the six injured persons, Farrington and Holcroft are in the most dangerous state; the former, it is thought, may rally, but no hopes are entertained for the latter. The excitement in the neighbourhood of the pit was most intense throughout the day; the police had difficulty in restraining those who were so long kept in suspense as to the fate of husband, father, or child, and the eager rush for the “cage” on each occasion of its coming up loaded with its ghastly freight was succeeded by the shrieks of those who recognised amongst the corpses that of some member of their family.

 As to the cause of the explosion there is little doubt, seeing that a considerable volume of gas had been discovered; and the general opinion in the neighbourhood of the pit is, that notwithstanding the warnings given to the men who worked at the point of danger, one of them went in to “try” the state of the air, and thus ignited the gas. The manager, Ellis, says that if the men had remained at the third shunt, where the fireman left his son, the gas might have been very speedily removed, and all danger prevented.

 We have stated that shortly before the explosion, Smith, the fireman, was sent from the pit-eye by the underlooker, to examine the stoppings. He seems to have gone into some workings above where the explosion occurred, and being caught by the explosion there, he was knocked down by the force of the blast. He almost instantly recovered himself, and sought for and found a son who was at work near. Being well acquainted with all the workings, he guided his son and a number of other men who had congregated, safely to the main air-way, near the first shunt, and they escaped, after being compelled to alter their course once r twice, and suffering a good deal from choke-damp. Some men who followed Smith a short distance are supposed to have taken a wrong turn, or to have been overpowered; and they were subsequently found dead. Smith’s son was found dead very near the place where he had been stationed by his father. John Ellis, the underlooker, was also found suffocated, having been overtaken by the choke-damp while attempting to get the men out of the workings near the fall. William Tootal, a collier, states that he went down the pit about five o’clock on Thursday morning, and stopped with 20 or 30 men about 200 yards from the bottom of the shaft, for a quarter of an hour. He then went on to his place about 100 yards on the near side of the point where the pillars were being got; but finding some sulphur, he came out, and was afterwards told by Smith, the fireman, that he must “XXX” until the gas had been removed. He afterwards met John Ellis on his way to the further workings, and was by him desired to do what he could to get the men out from their places. He accordingly sent his brother, Robert Tootal, his drawer, to warn Almond, Howarth and Southworth; but his brother, like the others, was caught by the explosion, and killed. Tootal himself was at the bottom of the shaft when the explosion occurred and escaped unhurt. One man seems to have lost his life through a desire to recover his clothes. We are informaed that James Turner and Henry Cockerham, who worked some distance along the down-brow, were escaping safely after the explosion, when Turner despite the remonstrances of his companion, turned back to fetch his clothes. He was subsequently found lying in his work place, with his clothes folded as a pillow and placed under his head, and his clogs pulled off. He was no doubt stupified by the choke-damp, and lay down and died. Thomas Banks, sen. Whose name appears in the list of the dead, was close to the bottom of ????????????? two hundred yards from the shaft, but he was alive and crawling slowly out, the father – despite the appalling choke-damp – pressed on to seek his younger son, Thomas. He got some fifty yards further, and was then overpowered. The father and his two sons shared one common fate – all being suffocated. Henery Lomax and Robert Howarth were engaged in removing some dirt which had fallen in a level out of the air-way, about 100 yards from the point where the explosion occurred. They seem to have been under the impression that the rush of air was caused rather by a


 were working “in the face of coal” (that is beginning new workings) the gas soon disappeared, and was not afterwards found at all inconvenient; that the fall of the roof at the point of the explosion, was not at all of so extensive a description as to approach what miners call a “sink” or “goaf”, only three or four pillars having been removed, and the first fall having taken place during Wednesday night; and that in the old workings which existed, it had been found that the gas generated partook more of the character of a choke damp than of the explosive fire damp. All these statements of course rest on the authority of persons connected with the mine; and it is by them admitted that the colliers were not required, or even expected, to use safety lamps, except when gas was discovered in a particular part of the mine, or a fall of the roof was known to have occurred – the requirement extending, even then, only the part of the mine affected. The use of naked candles was the rule – the use of the lamp a rare exception; and these lamps, we are told, had to be purchased by the men. Indeed the manager says that the plan he adopted to be safer than that of using lamps as is generally done; upon this ground. He never allowed the men to work in places which he did not believe to be clear of gas; but when lamps are more frequently used, he says the men are allowed to work in air known to be explosive, any one of the lamps is at all times liable to an accident, and then an explosion is certain. Mr Hargreaves, we are informed, has left everything in the shape of management to Mr Ellis; and although he always believed his mine to be a very safe one, he was induced by the recent frequent explosions, to write to Mr Ellis, urging him not to omit anything which could add to the safety of the men.

 The inquest is to be commenced this afternoon, at the Wheatsheaf public-house, Coppull, by Mr Palmer(?), coroner for the Leyland hundred. We understand that it is not intended to do more than take evidence as to identity, so as to allow of the bodies being interred on Sunday. The required notice of the accident was only forwarded to the Secretary of State late on Thursday night, and 48 hours must elapse before the inquiry is virtually commenced; in addition to which the inspector for the district had not visited the pit up to last evening.