Bersham Colliery Accident. Wrexham 3rd August 1880.

Bersham Colliery

The colliery was the property of the Bersham Coal Company and had recently been sunk to the Main Coal Seam and the workings in the mine were not very extensive but the coal was known to give off a great deal of firedamp. The Main Coal was reached by a shaft 418 yards deep. The diameter of the downcast shaft was 10 feet 6 inches and that of the upcast 13 feet. The ventilation was by a Guibal fan, 30 feet in diameter and the total amount of air passing through the mine on the day of the explosion was 43,110 cubic feet per minute and of this quantity, 5,980 cubic feet went to the West Side and 11,040 cubic feet went to the East Side. The coal was worked by gunpowder and on the evening of the disaster shots had been fired at the far end of the No.2 West Level which had ignited a blower. Attempts were made by the workmen to smother the flames but without success and eventually they left the mine and went to seek the help of the manager were. The manger with some firemen and others, nine in all, went down the pit and arrived on the scene and tried to cut off the ventilation by means of stoppings. By this time the smoke had become so dense, they could not get close to the face or the intake end of the West Level. They appeared to have partly opened an air door to try to drive away some of the smoke. The opening of the door reduced the ventilation on the North level and the neighbouring places. Gas appeared to have accumulated very rapidly and eventually came into contact with the flames in the West Level and exploded at a point 335 yards from the pit eye. The manager was killed along with seven others and a workman named Valentine was so seriously injured that he died a few days later.

Those who lost their lives were: –

William Pattison aged 57 years, manager.

Joseph Mathias aged 34 years, fireman.

Edward Owen aged 49 years, fireman.

John Johns aged 42 years, fireman.

James Roberts aged 36 years, fireman.

Henry Valentine aged 44 years, pitman.

Thomas Evans aged 32 years, collier.

Edward Parry aged 36 years, collier.

Robert Lloyd aged 39 years, hooker-on.

The inquest into the disaster was held at the County Buildings before Mr. B.H. Thelwell, Coroner and the jury. The members of the jury were, Messrs. Robert Roberts, John Salisbury, William Robert Griffiths, Edward Tunnah, David Yates, William Edwards, William Henry Simpson, Stephen Jones, R. Jones, John Prince, Benjamin Lloyd, Richard Pennah, Daniel W. Robinson, John Jones, John, Owens, and Robert Green,. Also present were Mr. Henry Hall, Inspector of Mines and his assistant, Mr. Hedley, Mr. J. Walker, a mining engineer of Wigan and number of managers from surrounding collieries. Mr. Ellis, solicitor of Wigan, appeared for the Colliery Company. Mr. Walker, of Wigan, was the first witness to be called. He had acted as consulting engineer to the Company from the preceding March and he thought the explosion had take place in the No.2 heading, west of the No.2 pit. He had examined all the workings on the 26th and 28th July with Edward Lloyd Jones, the mineral agent and they found the ventilation in good order and the only gas to be found was in an office close to the downcast shaft, which had been destroyed by the explosion. A collier, John Williams, who had worked on and off at the colliery for about four years, knew all the men that had been killed. He went into the workings at 2 p.m. on the day of the explosion with his brother. He had seen shots fired by Edward Owens about 8 p.m. and some before this. He did not know if the fireman had examined the place. He and his brother worked until 8 p.m. and did not see any gas in their place but there was some in the next about five yards away.

Edward Owens, one of the victims, called to him that the gas had fired and added, “let’s go lads and put it out”’ John Williams went into the place with another collier, John Hughes and they tried to brush out the gas with a piece of brattice cloth. They failed and gave up and went to the surface. William believed that gas had been ignited at a moderate blower. Joseph Jones, another collier, said Edward Owens was always close when he fired the shots and a shot was never fired without the fireman’s orders. When they could not put out the blower, they all got frightened and ran away by Edward Owens sent Jones for some water from the pit eye. When he returned, he could not get to Owens because of the smoke, he tried to go another way but by that time the alarm had been given and everyone was running the other way. He went with then and did not see Owens on the pit bank. James Owen, collier, went down the pit at 2 p.m. and knew all the men who had been killed. He was working on the North Seam Level and about 9 p.m. he was called by others to come and try to put out the fire. he had gone on Owen’s orders with Jones to get water from the pit eye and could not get through the smoke on his return. He met the manager, Joseph Mathias, but no words were exchanged between them. He had been a collier for forty years and when blowers had been seen, attempts were always made to wedge the coal down. Henry Mathis, a collier, thought it was a dangerous colliery to work in but that it was carefully managed. Thomas Steen, also a collier was working on the East side of the North Level. At about 8 p.m., John Hughes came in and asked he and his partner, Evan Parry, to come and help him put out the fire. They went back and found smoke and had to run for their lives. He saw the coal on fire and heard a man named Anthony calling out as he was smothering on the road, he went back to help him. The wind rushed through the workings and a door slammed violently shut. Sure felt sure that there had been an explosion, as he knows there must be gas close by.

Three days before Joseph Mathias had told him to put up rails to prevent people going into the place because gas was present. Mr. N.R. Griffiths, mining engineer of Wrexham, heard the explosion at midnight and immediately drove to the colliery. He was told the position by John Pattison and Mr. Hough and they went to look at the air that was coming from the mine through the fan drift and there was strong smell of burning coal coming from the mine. Griffiths and Hough descended the downcast shaft in the bottom deck of the cage as the cover had been blown off the top deck. They found some damage to the shaft. The water rings were broken which made it very wet and the down signal strand was broken about half way down for about four yards from the bottom and they found that the rods on the north side had been blown into the shaft and the cage jammed against them. They returned to the surface where they met Mr. Dodd and got a ladder. With the help of the ladder, Dodd and Griffiths got into the north inset and told the other two to wait in the cage for them as they set off along the North Level. A few yards from the shaft they found a fall of roof and just beyond this they found the first body which was later found to that of William Pattison. He was lying on his face and knees facing the shaft and appeared to have been blown towards the shaft by the blast. They satisfied themselves that he was dead and went along the level. They found that both stoppings were down as was the air crossing and the air supply decreased the further they went.

At the old longwall working they could smell burning and a little further on they found Valentine alive. The door to the First West Heading was blown out and the air was stagnant. They went along the North Level and there was thin, white smoke hanging in the roof. The afterdamp was very strong and affected Griffiths so they found they could go no further. They shouted once or twice but go no reply and concluded that there was no one left alive in that part of the mine. He became worried for the safety of other parts of the pit and though that Valentine would have some information. He returned to the pit eye and decided to take Pattison’s body to the surface where he spoke to Valentine. Valentine told him that when he had left the pit eye, the hooker-on was there and as he had gone towards the North Level, he had met Pattison going towards the pit eye. Pattison had told him to hurry and Valentine was certain that the men must be further along the North Level. Valentine also confirmed that the blast came from the Level towards the pit eye. Griffiths went back down the pit with Mr. Hedley, the inspector and some men they sent to the South Side to look for the hooker-on’s body. The body was found under the guide rods that had been blown into the South Inset. They found that the afterdamp was not as strong in the North Level and as they made their way down, they found the bodies of John Jones, Edward Owen and Robert Lloyd. They went back to the surface where they met Messrs. Walker, Barnes and Hall. The work on the bratticing started on the morning of Saturday 7th. and the Second West Heading was reached. The door was found shut and not damaged by the explosion but a board was broken. This had been done intentionally, apparently to let some air pass through the door. The stopping in the Main Return was knocked out to let the air circulate. The bodies of James Roberts and Thomas Evans were found on the inbye side of the stopping.

Griffiths did not go down the pit again until the following morning when the bodies of Evan Parry and Joseph Mathias were found. On the 18th August, the ventilation was restored throughout the pit and the Inspectors and others who were interested parties made a full examination of the mine. From the evidence that was available it was seen that the explosion came along the North Level and in the workings on the South Side there were indications of a violent concussions, which had blown tubs for some distance. The last witness to give evidence was John Laidley Hedley, Assistant Inspector of Mines. He was critical of the use of gunpowder in mines and said “Firedamp was freely given off in all parts of the seam and at the time of my inspection showed at the flame of the lamp in all the south headings, in addition to which there were blowers in several places. The danger of using gunpowder in such places was pointed out to Mr. Pattison, who presumably acquiesced in our views, as the work in this part of the mine was discontinued. The question the naturally arises whether in a seam of this character, it is safe to fire shots at all. I am strongly of the opinion that shots should not be fired at any time when blowers are perceptible and that under any circumstances gunpowder should only be used when the men ordinarily employed in the mine are out of the mine. If it is held that the mine cannot be worked under these circumstances, I may say that the principle is now being carried out in a number of fiery mines in Lancashire.”


Source: Collieries of Denbighshire



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