Home Office Inquiry Into the Cadey Disaster – Monday Afternoon

August 1912

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 10 August 1912

Home Office Inquiry Into the Cadey Disaster – Monday Afternoon

Mr. Witty Examined

The testimony of Mr. Harry Sykes Witty, agent to the (Scenery Company, occupied some two hours of the afternoon session. He said he had been agent to the company since December last, and before that he was manager of Cadeby Main. He was thoroughly conversant with all the underground workings the colliery. He then entered into an explanation of the composition of the underground staff of the colliery, and dealing particularly with the deputies said an assistant deputy was required to have a working acquaintance with the Act, and to have experience at the coal face in timbering and ripping. The senior deputies were some, time drawn from the ranks of the assistant deputies, but sometimes they were obtained from other collieries, already qualified. The youngest deputy was the late Charles Prince who was 28.

Witness could not mention any other fires in the month district beyond those already mentioned by Mr. Bridges.

A Possible Precaution

Mr. Redmayne: In view of what happened at the other explosion to January, didn’t you think it was advisable to adopt any special method procedure in the case of another? —All precautions were taken that could possibly be thought of.

Ought you not to have withdrawn from the district where the occurred, except such men as were working on the fire?— I don’t think so. I went into that district shortly after, and did not find the slightest danger, in my opinion.

In view of what we now know would have been wise, that you know what you, knew, that four men had been burned, and there had been explosion, wouldn’t you think it advisable to have withdrawn all the men from that district except those engaged on the fire?—l was not the manager at the time. but I don’t see any reason for doing differently to what he did. I don’t think there was anything omitted.

But supposing only the men engaged on the fire had been there when the July explosion occurred, presumably fewer men would have been killed ?—There was no fire that we knew of when explosion occurred.

You examine the reports every day?—Yes.

You are aware that on 5th there was gob Stink reported in 121, and right away up to ten o’clock on the night of the explosion? —Yes.

Have you any idea in your own mind where that fire was?—No, sir. I can only say the smell was there, and it might have been anywhere in the radius of that smell.

Did you have a discussion with Mr. Bury on this matter? – Yes. I simply asked what was being done and he said he was carrying was out instructions, building stoppings in the affected area.

Witness further stated that the plan before the court was prepared at his direction, but he had the hearsay evidence of a man named Humphries that the stoppings were there as marked. He had not seen them himself.

Would you naturally have expected to get gas from this region, in view of the other explosions? There was gaps given off occasionally, but it was cleared in the ordinary way, and was not sufficient to foul the return.

The Fatal Cavity

But if there was a cavity it would collect right along the fault, and that cavity would act as a magazine for the gas?—Yes.

Are you satisfied that there was somewhere is that neighbourhood, fire?—l have only the report that there was a “gob” stink to go on.

One of the quickest modes of detecting the proximity of the fire would be the human nose?—Yes.

Yon prefer it to an analysis—Yes.

What, about the thermometer?—Only when the temperature rises very rapidly does it lead us to expect anything.

Seeing that you were apprehensive of the existence of fire, didn’t you think, especially as you had an explosion in the neighbourhood before, it was just the time of all others to take precautions? – I think every precaution had been taken, short of the withdrawal of the men. I don’t think there was enough gas in the district at the time to such an effect. Besides, the other explosion which too place was caused practically by throwing water on it.

Tell us how that happened? – There was a bit of fire over a bar, and the man who discovered it, Gregory, through a bucket of water at it and the flame flashed out.

Then the water brushed the gas onto the top of it? – No, I don’t think so. It was mostly steam.

Oh you don’t think there was an explosion? – Oh, yes, there was an explosion.

How close was amend to the fire? – Close to it, a yard or two off.

Report to Mr Pickering

Mr witty, at the request of the chief inspector, then proceeded to give a personal account of his own experience of the explosion on July 9, recounting in detail the story he told at the inquest.

Mr Redmayne: One would rather suppose that the explosion, wherever it was, came down 121? – No, it came down 12 and round by the face, I think.

Did Mr Pickering know you had been wrestling with indications of a gob fire? – It had been reported to him.

How? – By the ordinary written report.

That will be sent on Saturday the 6th? – I think it was, but have not seen a copy. If there is any gob stink, we are instructed to report it to the Inspector at once.

Have you any reason to suppose that Mr Pickering new that there was any likelihood of the explosion having been caused by a gob fire? – No.

How do you account for such a large number of men been engaged in bringing up the bodies? – The reports in the pit bottom were that the condition of the pit was normal, and there was a request for men with stretches to remove the bodies. I called for volunteers, and sent as many of them as I thought fit.

Were There Too Many Rescuers?

In view of the fact that the management knew that in all probability a gob fire had something to do with it, would’nt you have reason to suppose that in all probability the explosion would recur?

It didn’t strike me like that. I was not on the spot. I received my impression through the telephone, and I presumed that they could judge whether the pit was safe enough to allow of a number of men going down.

Wouldn’t you suppose that the right course would be to ring Mr. Bury up?

I couldn’t get at him; he was too far away, and the men I was in communication with were as capable of judging of the safety of the pat as I was.

Have you a rule which requires that nobody shall go down the mine after a colliery disaster except with the permission of the manager?

Certainly there is that rule.

What check was there on the observant of that rule?

The check was the engine-wright at the pit top, who prevented anyone going down without authorisation. The authorisation was the possession of a lamp given at the pit top, and it was I who sent the man for the lamps.

Everybody who got a lamp was allowed to go down the mine?— Yes.

Was it Wise?

That is to say after an explosion caused by a gob tire in which 35 were killed, another 63 were allowed to go down? Was that wise?

I thought so at the time. Probably I should do the under the circumstances. The manager was there, the under-manager, and the inspectors.

But it was not to save life, you see?

lt was not to save life. I am quite aware of that; although it was to recover bodies.

Would you in like circumstances, repeat that course ?

Witness (hesitating), I don’t think I should I should say, “No, come out.”

Whole Mine Might Have Exploded

Are you of opinion that the explosion was limited in its effects by the fact that the dust was stoned? – I think so.

Had it been a coal dust road, the whole mine might have exploded.

Mr. Smillie: Was the manager of the colliery bound to take orders from you? —.No.

Don’t you hold a higher position than he did? —Not with respect to the executive.

Don’t you take responsibility for the working of the mine?—Not now.

Do you think it was wise that all the rescuers should have gone straightforward to the seat of the explosion? Ought they not to have been stationed in different parts of the mine ? — There was only one party of rescuers at first, and they were told that their rescue apparatus was not needed, and the place was all right.

Can you my what time the first explosion took place?—l am told between half past one and two.

No Responsibility

  1. Smith: Did I understand you to tell Mr Smillie that you take no responsibility for the management of this mine? —l do at present.

I am talking about the 9th of July. Did I get it from you that you took no responsibility? —Mr. Bury was the manager. He received the reports from the pit bottom, and they were sent on to me and I initialled them.

So that you did take some responsibility? –So far.

Mr. Redmayne has taken you through the reports in the book. Was your attention drawn to those reports on the 8th of July? — I saw the reports for Saturday and Monday morning. I didn’t see them for Thursday.

Qualify Deputies

Have you noticed that two deputies have made one examination at one time? —Yes.

Did not that strike you that there was something very important requiring attention there?—No, these deputies, Springthorpe and Prince were both on the same round.

Do you say that every deputy has had practical experience at the coal face? – Yes

Has Prince—Yes.

What, working at the face?—Yes, getting ribs out—a very difficult job.

Has Springthorpe been a miner? – Yes, for twenty years at Denaby.

Coal Drawn after Explosion.

Is it a fact that coal was drawn from Cadeby pit up to a quarter to ten that morning when it was known that something had gone wrong and there were 22 bodies lying In the mine that were known about?

Some coal had to be drawn to make way for the men to come out.

Did it take from a quarter to seven to a quarter to ten to zero that coal out ?

I was not aware of it until someone came the bridge and said, ” Those pulleys are going.” I said “they shall be stopped,” and I went across to give instructions about it.

Would there be 200 men in the pit?

I couldn’t say.

Both head gears are pretty plain to you from the office windows? —They are 80 yards apart.

Is it a fact that coal was being drawn?

I couldn’t say as to the time, but I know it was being drawn. When Mr. Tickle came, I went across and stopped them. That was just at nine o’clock.

Mr. Pickering was there before nine?— About nine. He came with Mr. Tickle.

And had given orders over coal drawing then? —Yes.

What time did you ask for volunteers to so down to bring the dead bodies out?—About half-past ten.

Is It a fact that you do clean this dust up?

We have a man during nothing else.

Is that for the whole district? – Yes.

What area will he cover?—He will cover the roads and return.

Is it not a fact that the dust lies 10 inches deep at some points? —lt is not a fact.

There is a good deal of dust? Isn’t there — I think the place is very clean and well looked after.

Thirty-Five Fires at Cadeby

How many fires do you remember taking place in this pit? – About 35 fires, as near as I can remember.

Of course, as a rule, you get the smell before you get the fire? – Yes.

And don’t you get a kind of grey vapour? – No

Isn’t your lamp affected with gob stink?— No.

The smell is like benzoline?—Yes, something like that.

You say there have been thirty-five fires — all gob fires?–Yes

Have you any record of the length of time lapsing between getting reports of gob stink and the outbreak of fire? – Yes, I daresay.

The times differ, don’t they?— Yes, some weeks, some days, and some hours.

Having regard this experience, you told Mr. Redmayne you would not be likely to send so many rescuers down another time. Having regard to your experience of gob stink from this locality, would you be likely to remove the men from the district? —lt would depend on the circumstances. Not if there no gas in the district.

I am ,putting it to you, and I as you the question it view of the fact that you had an explosion in January., And now this?

I don’t think I should send men out of the whole of the district, because there was gob stink.

Should Men have been Withdrawn?

I take it that these men would have been alive today had they been sent out of the district, you would still have had the explosion whether they had been sent out or not. Would you have had these men withdrawn while you got at the seat of the gob stink?

Not for gob stink alone. We have had so many cases reported. If there was a likelihood of gas it would be a proper thing to have these men withdrawn, but this was a place where no gas was reported.

Mr Hartshorne: Has your attention been drawn to the fact that coal was being drawn before you went to give instructions for it to stop?

No, as soon as I heard of it I stopped.

Mr Redmayne: Who was in charge of the rescue party?

Mr Berry, and Sergeant Winch brought another rescue party afterwards.

What message would you adopt for preventing men to mention this part of the mine of the district?

There is no means of preventing them.

Would it not have been wise to station men in different parts to prevent men from going into the dangerous area? – It would be a very good idea.

As a matter of fact, did many mentors from another district in the south district? – A few.

Checking Lost Men

Whet system have you of checking the number of persons in the mine? When I arrived on the Tuesday night I had the greatest difficulty in discovering the number of persons killed, therefore it that I ask the question?

A man takes out a lamp and a check with the same number, leaves the check in the office for the purpose of registering his time, and then when he comes out he receives the check again and passes it in with his lamp.

How long has that system been in operation?

About eighteen months.

Has it been tested before this explosion?

Yes, it was twice total and found successful; once recently when a man was lost in the mine and was found wandering round a triangular section, and again when a man was left in the dark and was discovered by the search parties some distance from where he ought to have been.

How was it that it broke down this day?

It didn’t break down at the first explosion. Everyone was amounted for. It broke down after the second explosion, because I didn’t take sufficient care to have every check taken out.

The telephone was intact after the explosion, and was the greatest assistance? —Yes.

What was the earliest time anybody knew at the surface?

I am told about half-past five.

What time did the first rescue party go down?

About half-past five, Harry Hulley in charge.

What did the party comprise?—Four men with rescue apparatus, and four who went as a stand-by.

How many persons were in the affected district before the inspectors arrived?

I don’t know. I had sent 20 down before they came.

The South Deputy

The next witness was James Springthorpe, the senior deputy of the South district, and Mr. Redmayne, before taking his evidence, sympathised with him upon the suffering he had undergone during the recent sad calamity.

Witness said he had been a deputy six years, and was on the morning shift. He had been present at two of the fires Coned in his evidence by Mr. Bridges. Referring to the fire which was discovered last November and produced the explosion in January, he said they found it had originated over some bars set in a scouring road. It was some top coal that was burning, and the fire was not very large—probably a foot or eighteen inches above the bars. He reported the matter to Mr. Bridges.

The January Explosion

On January 22nd, Mr. Bridges and he heard that something had gone wrong down the south plane, and they met men as they were coming out. Mr. Bridges went forward with Mr. Cusworth, while witness and his assistant (Prince) remained to treat any injuries that the men might have sustained. Some men came along suffering from burns, and these were treated with cotton wool.

They told witness and his mate that they had seen a flame, and one of them had tried to put it out with a bucket of water, whereupon the flame had gone up into the roof, and had gone off straight away. On the 10th of April the chargeman of the stoppings which were being put up in connection with that fire reported that he had seen some flame coming over the top of the last pack that had been put in the gobbings.

Witness went and looked round, and found no signs of fire. There was nothing scorched. After that the first intimation he had that anything was wrong was on the morning of the 5th, when the conditions were slightly altered. The smell was different from the ordinary return air. It was very alight at first, but it increased on the 6th and the 7th. Mr. Bury, who was manager at the time, ordered the groundwork to be gut out for a stopping in the old gate, and the men were to continue with the drawing off in the 121 old gate.

At the time of the first explosion on July 9th, were any men engaged in working at the stoppings.

They were working at the 121 unfinished stopping.

Were those the only men who were working at a stopping?—Yes.

Scorched Eyebrows

Witness, at the request of the Chief Inspector then gave an outline of his inquest story of the events of July 9th, and described the condition of the pit as he saw it after the first explosion, when he went round first with Mr. Cusworth, and then with Mr. Bury and Percy Murgatroyd. He then proceeded to give an account of the second explosion, from which he narrowly escaped.

Mr. Redmayne: When this explosion occurred, did you feel much heat?

I felt a scorching across my eyebrows, and it took the corner of one of my eyebrows, but there was a very little flame. It was just a dull red dame. The flame did not extend any further than the level, and the force of the explosion was lessened ac it struck 14 level. Otherwise he would not have been at the inquiry that day.

Miraculous Escapes

Mr. Redmayne: We all agree that you have had a miraculous escape.

Mr. Redmayne: Did you notice any charring of the coal?

No, there was no charring. There was some encrustation of the props at about sixty-fours or nineteens or somewhere there. It was nearly all round the props.

Witness stated, in reply to further questions, that when the inspectors came along he told Charlie Prince to take them to the manager, as he was done up. Prince conducted the inspectors to Mr. Bury, and then came back and rejoined witness, with whom he remained up to three minutes from the, second explosion.

This concluded the first day’s hearing.