1899 Fatal Explosion at Denaby Main



A sensational report overspread Mexborough and the surrounding district on Saturday night March 11th 1899, to the effect that a fire had occurred at the new Cadeby Main Colliery, and that a number of men had been very seriously injured. Saturday night being a market night, the Mexborough district was crowded to an unusual extent, and it can readily be conceived what a sensation that report created. Women and children were crowding round the hospital at Mexborough to see if the rumour was correct, and also to see if all the members of their own household were safe.

The rumour was verified on enquiry at the Montagu Cottage Hospital, where it transpired that a number of men had been slightly injured, and two men seriously.

The unfortunate men proved to be :-

Richard Seales of 97 Clifton Street, Denaby Main

William Barrett of 5 Cusworth Street, Denaby Main.

And the two other men who were less seriously injured were George Foster and William O´Brien, both of Denaby Main, but these two, after their injuries had been attended to were able to be removed to their homes.

A rumour had also got abroad in Mexborough, that the deputy, John Lumb, had been killed but this report proved to be totally unfounded.

On further enquiries, it was ascertained that what was known as a `Gob Fire´ was in the pit, and several of the men were engaged specially to check the fire, and keep the heat in as small an area as possible. A deputy was also there testing the various parts of the roof in the neighbourhood of the fire, and also to see if he could discover any traces of gas about. The four injured men were engaged in this work, with several others, when the accident occurred. About two o´clock the deputy examined the roof, and to all appearances it seemed to be perfectly safe. Neither could he find any trace of gas. The men all the time were engaged in their work trying to extinguish the fire. All went well until about half-past four in the afternoon, when Barrett and Seeles were working near the fire, whilst O´Brien and foster were sitting down close by, with the deputy. At this time a fall of roof occurred a few yards away from where Barrett and Foster were working.

This, of course liberated a considerable amount of gas. which, on coming in contact with the fire, caught alight, and there was at once an alarming flash. This passed in the direction of the four injured men, Barrett and Seeles being nearer the spot than their companions, consequently received the worst injuries. Both of these men had their hair burnt off, and they were otherwise seriously injured. Foster and O´Brien did not receive such bad burns, but their injuries necessitated their removal to hospital. The deputy had a narrow escape. He was seated at the time, and the flame passed a few inches over his head, with no serious consequences.

The occurrence extinguished the men´s safety lamps. There were a few other workmen in the pit, and the accident caused a considerable amount of alarm. Luckily there were but a few men working in the pit, the cage having gone up with the workmen some hours previously. The four injured men were removed to the Mexborough Montagu Cottage Hospital as quickly as possible, followed by a crowd of anxious inquirers. After the report had proceeded through Mexborough, a crowd of people wended their way to the hospital doors, to await the arrival of the conveyances, and to convince them –

-selves of the safety of their comrades.

Ann Barrett, of 5 Cusworth Street, Denaby Main, said the deceased William Barrett was her husband, he would have been 34 years old in May. He was a miner at the Cadeby Main Colliery. Witness last saw him at dinner time on Saturday, about one o´clock when he left for work, she had not seen him since.

John Lumb, of 26 Strafforth Terrace, Denaby Main, said he was a deputy at Cadeby Main. He saw an explosion occur in No.7 Oldgate. He was with the men at the time, and about ten yards from the two deceased men. This was about half past four, and the men were moving dirt out of the gate. The two men were working alone, but the others were about ten yards away. A fall of roof occurred, followed by an explosion. The fall of roof did not catch either of the deceased. There was a big flame, which extended to within two yards from where the witness was. The two men were badly burned and witness had the two men brought out as quickly as possible. There were ambulance appliances for them. Witness had tested the roof at two o´clock, and found nothing wrong with this particular portion. The deceased men saw him testing the roof. There had been no weighting of roof lately, and it was always considered a sound one. No props had given way in the fall. The fall was about two yards in length and a yard wide. The timber never gave way at all. The fall took place a few yards from the men, who were scouring away to extinguish a fire which had been there above a week. They had been busy in trying to scour it out ever since. All the men were engaged in the same work, but the deceased men were in the most dangerous position at the time of the explosion.

The Coroner : What was the extent of the fall?

Witness : Two yards in length and one in width.

No timber had given way? – No.

Mr. Wardell : The men were working at a fire trying to get it out. They had been employed at the work for more than a week, and they had been very busy one shift after the other. The fire had never been left since it´s existence . The deceased men were on the return side, whilst the two other men were on the intake.

The Coroner : Were the other two men injured ?.

Witness : One was slightly, but he was able to go home. Foster received no injuries.

Mr. Wardell : I believe it is a very difficult matter to deal with underground fires ?.

Witness : Yes, anybody in Denaby knows that.

Great care has been taken since the fire broke out ? – Yes.

You examined the roof that day and found no trace of gas ?. – Yes.

Did you find any part on fire ?. – Yes, about half an hour before the accident, I saw the bottom of a prop on fire.

Was that near the part of the roof where the fire was ?. – Yes.

Did you get that out as soon as possible ?. – Yes. Did you see any flame between that and the explosion ?. – No

But there must have been some, probably at the back, which you could not see ?. – Yes, but I did not discover any.

You discovered some gas immediately after the explosion ?. – No.

Mr. Wardell : I think there was a little in the pit, after the occurrence.

Mr. Witty : On Sunday we found traces of gas in the same place.

Mr. Wardell : I suppose a deputy was constantly in charge of these shifts ?.

Witness : Yes.

What was the burning stuff composed of, was it more than timber ?. – No.

Only timber ?. Had you extinctuers ?. – Yes, and a hose pipe.

Did the fire ever seem to get to any big dimensions ?. – No, it did not.

What quantity of fire would there be ?. – Only a very little.

It would not need much gas to flash in the air ?. – No.

Was it a big explosion ?. – No.

Did you feel any effects of after-damp ?. – I found it strong in the return.

I suppose all the lamps in the pit were extinguished ?. – Yes.

Have you ever been in an explosion before ?. – No, this is the first.

Have you ever seen any gas in your lamp ?. – Yes, many a time, but there was none in it this time.

Did you try to find out gas in the lamp ?. – Yes.

And there was none there ?. – No.

The Foreman : Did you think that the fall of roof liberated the gas ?.

Witness : Yes, no doubt, but I could not reach it.

Mr. Wardell : There is no doubt this is exactly what took place.

William O´Brien of 37 Blythe Street, Denaby Main, said he was working at the same place where the accident occurred. Witness was sat down at the time of the accident, with another man named Foster, all were close together, about five yards away from the fall of roof. He was ten yards from the deceased. He heard the fall of roof, and saw the explosion. He would confirm all the previous witness´s evidence.

The Coroner : Were you injured ?. Witness : I received slight injuries on my left shoulder, and my hair was singed

You have nothing to add to the deputy´s evidence ?. – No

Mr. Wardell : You did not see any trace of gas ?. – No.

Did you see the deputy examine the place ?. – No, he was working before me.

Have you ever heard of any gas there ?. – No.

Did you see a prop burning ?. – Yes.

It never struck you that you were in danger ?. – No.

Have you worked at the place since ?. – No, I have not worked since the accident. You were in the intake ?. – Yes. That accounts for you not receiving such severe injuries ?. – Yes.

Did you see the flash ?. – Yes. It came out of the roof ?. – Yes.

All the lights were extinguished ?. – Yes. There was not much gas about there – No, if there had been we should all have been killed on the spot.

Without hearing any further evidence, the jury returned a verdict of `Accidental deaths´, caused by burns received from an explosion of gas at Cadeby Main Colliery.

Funerals of the Victims.

The mortal remains of the late William Barrett were laid to rest on Wednesday

March 15th 1899, at the Conisbrough cemetery, amid many manifestations of grief and sympathy. The funeral was very largely attended and was considered to be one of the largest in the district for some time.

The choir of the Primitive Methodist Chapel, under the leadership of Mr. Berry, rendered a hymn in a pathetic manner, ” The Hearts Bowed Down ” being selected. The procession left the deceased´s house to the Conisbrough Church, where the Curate of Conisbrough

The Rev. J. Crawford, performed the mournful ceremony, and delivered some very touching remarks on the sad occasion. A large number of the colliery workmen were present at the funeral, and all were deeply touched by the solemnity of the occasion. The coffin was of polished pitch pine, and mahogany

and bore the following inscription : `Wm. Barrett died March 12th 1899, aged 33 years´. The whole of the funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr. Millwood, undertaker, of Mexborough, in a most satisfactory manner.

The body of Richard Seeles, the other victim of the fatal explosion, was buried on Thursday March 16th 1899, at Swisveance, in Camebridgeshire. The remains were removed by special funeral car by the Great Central Railway on Thursday morning, at 8-30 am, and arrived at Swisveance at 1-55 pm, where it was met by the relatives and friends of the unfortunate man. The procession started for the Mount Pleasant cemetery, amidst many outward expressions of sorrow. Mr. Stockdale of Swiveance, supplied the coaches and hearse, and Mr. Millwood, of Mexborough, made the coffin of solid pitch pine and mahogany, with brass handles. All the arrangements for the funeral were carried out by Mr. Millwood.


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