Destructive Fire At Denaby Main Colliery – Aftermath

December 1887

Sheffield Evening Telegraph – Tuesday 27 December 1887

Destructive Fire At Denaby Main Colliery – Aftermath

1,500 Men Laid Idle Early on Christmas morning the quiet of Mexborough and Conisborough district was thrown into state of excitement and alarm an outbreak of fire on the premises of the Denaby Main Colliery Company.

This colliery is one of the most extensive and important in Yorkshire; and, as may be supposed, the plant both above and below ground, is of a very valuable description. To passengers on the main line which crosses the high road between Mexborough and Conisborough the colliery buildings are a familiar object, and yesterday in their ruined and dilapidated state they presented a peculiar spectacle. Denaby Main is colliery which affords employment to something like 1,500 men and boys; and it painful to have to record that at this season the year all these people have been thrown out of employment for least couple of months.

Between one and two o’clock on Sunday morning fire was discovered to have broken out in the hydraulic engine shed—one a large group of buildings the pit head. At time only very few men were on duty. This is fortunate, for, after events proved, the fire was such a nature for some time to place in jeopardy the lives the men who did happen to be on duty the workings. The origin of the fire remains a mystery. From the statement of the night engineman, William Gough, it appears that about the time stated he was standing at the door of his shed, when he detected the smell of burning. On making search he found that the hydraulic engine house, which lies between his place and the pit shaft, was on fire. He ran towards it, and then the flames broke out, he says, ” like flash of lightning.” The whole of the shed seemed to be one mass of flames in moment. In less time than it takes to write the fire leaped the “gantry,” which is a wooden staircase by which the miners ascend to the pit bank to go down the shaft, and blazed and hissed as it demolished the woodwork surrounding the pit mouth, and the timber of which the screens are largely composed.

Gough at once—although was hardly necessary, for the whole place was lit up—shouted to a man named Briggs, who ran off to the house of Mr. James Rose, who is the enginewright. Along with Gough was his mate, Samuel Hague; and the two speedily raised an alarm. Very soon the flames had assumed such proportions to thoroughly arouse the village district. From, all over the neighbourhood people came crowding to the pit head; and whilst uncertainty prevailed to what was really the matter, there was the greatest excitement.

The first and natural thought of all was that the pit had “fired” —in other words that another had been added to the long and terrible list of colliery explosions. Such, however, was not the case; and all that has to be recorded is lamentable destruction property and the enforced idleness of several hundred men and boys.

This holiday season many people were astir, and in the course of half an hour, the main road was filled with excited spectators. In the meanwhile messengers had been sent to the several resident heads of departments, and steps taken to communicate with the various fire brigades in the neighbourhood.

Fire Brigade Futile.

At length all the available strength of the fire brigade organisation was on the spot, but their services were really of very little avail, for the fire had now a complete hold. Mr. T. R. Nicholas, of Doncaster, was also quickly at Denaby; and it must be said that he gives every credit to Superintendent Gregory and the men of the Doncaster brigade for the celerity which they showed.

But, has already been said, the fire was very soon beyond control, all the main buildings on the bank being in flames. There was plenty of water at hand, the river Don flowing past the colliery on the opposite side to the railway. The Mexborough brigade worked splendidly, headed by Captain Jacques, and each brigade vied with the other in subduing the flames, which had now got fairly hold of the pitbank and the engine-house. While Captain Jacques and Police-constable Midgley ‘were standing on this flooring, without a moment’s notice, it gave way and fell with a crash down to the bottom of the masonry. How the two men escaped with their lives is marvellous. When the flooring gave way they threw their arms, and just managed to catch the sides of the wall. By dint of great exertions they raised themselves, and their escape was wonderful. Deputy-superintendent Gregory at once perceived the treacherous nature of the flooring, and gave instructions to his men only to stand on the masonry, and he had no sooner said the words and his order fulfilled than the rest of the flooring gave

Anxiety At The Pit Head.

To the crowd at the pit head the condition of the men below was not known, and, as may be supposed, there was much anxiety and excitement. Mr. Chambers and those who were under his direction worked most assiduously; and at- length the combined efforts were rewarded with so much success that some thought aid could be given to the imprisoned ones. How to get to them was a difficulty. In the few hours during which the fire had raged the intense heat had twisted the iron about the headgear in all sorts of shapes, and 450 yards of thick wire rope, which is used for drawing the cage up and down, were rendered useless. The pulley wheels came down, broken and battered, but they stopped at the pit mouth, which now presented a tangled mass of ironwork in inextricable confusion. The screens, too, suffered considerably, and the engine house was gutted of everything except the ironwork, although that is irretrievably damaged.

Dr. Sykes, Dr. Martin, and their assistants, were early the scene, and it was expected their services would be required. It was feared that the men in the pit would need assistance, and Dr. Sykes gallantly volunteered to go down the cupola shaft. Mr. Chambers, however, resisted his intention, but he remained on the spot until the first man was brought up, and told the reassuring news that his mates, although kept in terrible suspense, were all right. They were principally carpenters and fitters and others who were engaged in making necessary alterations and repairs. The flames having been subdued died out, the work of rescue was commenced. In consequence of all the engines having been destroyed, including the one which works the cupola shaft, there was nothing for but to devise some other means by which the, cage might be worked and the imprisoned men got out. It was decided to attach the rope the colliery locomotive, and by running it along the line, draw the men out by this slow, but sure process. There was an eager crowd waiting outside the door to the shaft, and when the “taps” were made for the engine to stop, eager anticipation was depicted on every face.

Free At Last.

The door at last opened, and out walked Vincent Rose and William Fearuley. Somebody shouted “Are they all right, Silas?” —(meaning Mr. Silas Schofield, who had been communicating the signals to the men in of the locomotive) —and the welcome answer came, “Yes; they’re all right.”

Hours had elapsed since the outbreak of the fire, and the imprisoned men, although occupied extinguishing burning debris which fell down the shaft, and knowing pretty well that their release was only a question of time, were naturally very anxious. Mr. Vincent Rose, who is the brother of the enginewrigbt, states that the ventilation was always good, beyond, of course, the smoke, which might naturally be expected, and that neither be nor any one of his friends was ever in any immediate danger. Everyone was got out in safety.

Now for the cause of the conflagration. There is one thing that everyone is agreed about, and that is that incendiarism had nothing to do with it. The fire, whatever its origin, was purely accidental, and owes its cause to one of those unaccountable incidents which it is impossible to prevent to foresee in such a big undertaking as Denaby colliery. It is said by a gentleman who is most likely to be able to form a correct judgment, that a probable reason is the friction of the wire rope or the brake on the huge iron drum, and that then the fire spread to the hydraulic engine shed. But there a multiplicity of reasons assigned, and it is “impossible to judge.

There will doubtless be an inquiry made, and then we shall be able to speak with more authority. During Sunday Mr. F. N. Wardell, Chief Inspector of Mines, visited the scene of the conflagration, and there were also present one time or the other Mr. J. F. Thomson, manager of Manvers Main Colliery, Mr. Gomersall, Mr. Caseley, Mr. Egerton, officials of Manvers Main Colliery. Crowds of sightseers, hearing of the disaster, flocked to the place, which was viewed with interest until darkness set in. Then every vestige of fire was overcome, but there were watchers there all night in case the flames broke out again.

Damage £20,000.

The damage variously estimated at from £20,000 to £30,000, but we understand that this is covered by insurance. The bank top presents scene of total ruin. It will be at least a couple of months before the enginehouse and other buildings can be rebuilt; and that, of course, means additional loss both to employers and employed. Yesterday being a holiday, the scene was visited by hundreds of spectators, and the unfortunate event was almost the sole topic conversation the district.