Section 4a The First Explosion


IV Narrative of the Occurrence of the Two Explosions

The First Explosion

On the morning of Tuesday, July 9th, between 1 and 2 o´clock, William Humphries, a road layer, was at work at a spot about 260 yards along the South Level when he noticed “`a sudden stoppage of the air followed by a warm heat which travelled past me .and presently it came back, there being electric lights, I could see it picked the dust up and came up the landings coming from the pit bottom, picking up all the dust from the level, and filling it full of dust.”

Seeing something was wrong, he went out to the pit bottom, ‘knowing that there were two men working -“in a slit near the pit bottom´; he explained to these men what he had observed, but could not make anything of them,” so went back to the level again, but work I could not, I thought there was something really amiss in the pit, but where it was I did not know.”

He went to the plane top and found the ventilation in its normal state, so returned to his work and was shortly afterwards joined by J Farmer, a` .greaser, who had come out of another district. It was then about 2.15·a.m. Farmer, on hearing Humphries´s story, came to the conclusion that an explosion had taken place. As to what was the line of action, if any, agreed upon between Humphries and Farmer at this point I cannot say, for their stories do not tally. However, what happened was that Farmer went further along the plane, and when he `had got 200 or 300,yards·along he .noticed signs of some force, for instance, the sawdust which he had placed at the greaser, instead of being white was ” as black as ink,” dust had been blown off” the girders, &c

Going through the doors at 33 level he found the atmosphere so foul that he hurried out again. At 166´s he found the separation doors intact. Further down he found five tubs had been disturbed by the explosion. He went a little distance further down to a point about 100 to 150 yards outbye side of the 14 level and shouted two, or three times and getting no answer, and feeling a ” little strange in the head ” retraced his steps, his object being to get assistance, and at the top of the plane fell in with a man named Senior; He sent this man to fetch a man named Bullock, himself and Humphries going down the plane again, when they were presently rejoined by Senior somewhere beyond_ 33 level, who told them that Bullock, Sylvester and Nicholson were coming.

On opening the doors at 33 level they saw these three men coming out “all in lather.” They had been about 900 yards along the level. They were then joined by Wildman and the whole of them then proceeded down the plane. When they had got as far as the 14’s landing they found 50 or 60 tubs which had been blown about by the explosion. .. It was then agreed among them to despatch Nicholson and Wildman to fetch Fisher, the deputy in- the West District, and Cusworth, the under-manager. Those remaining, after getting through the broken tubs, proceeded a short distance inbye (about 100 yards and finding the air rather bad determined to retrace their steps to the plane and there await the arrival of an official. Fisher joined them there. It was five minutes to 5`o´clock when Nicholson found Fisher.

Fisher on being summoned went straight away into the South District. He went through the doors at 23 and found the return air very foul, so came out again closing the .doors, and went forward, examined the doors at 33 and saw that they were closed.,, He then joined Humphries and the others, and examined their lamps and set off with them along 19´s cross-gate, and finding the first door open arranged for it to continue open a little further along he found a fall. Just over the fall they found the body of Mulrooney. Fisher continued as far as “some crossings´ (the junction of 19´s cross-gate with 19`s landing) there he stopped to think for a minute or two, then coming back he closed the door in 19´s cross-gate and coming to the bottom of the cross-gate, sent Humphries out to the pit bottom for assistance, having done which he set off on a tour of inspection, travelling by way of 14’s level, along 121,´s crossgate and thence to64’s and back down the 19´s cross-gate. He got into the face of 64´s but not of 7’s.

He lost his light at the face of 64’s when testing for gas, whilst trying to get along towards 7 s. This was the first time he found gas during the inspection. Previous to this he knew he was in afterdamp by the effect oh himself? When at 64´s, whilst trying for gas, the gas put his light out. . He fenced off 64Js before leaving it as a warning to anyone e se coming t at way that it was dangerous, He later on informed Mr. Bur that he had found gas in Gifs and fenced the; place off`.) Then with the single light (Bullock´s) he and Bullock came out by 19″s cross gate, at the bottom of which they met Cusworth (the assistant under-manager) and Springthorpe. *

On his way out to summon the rescue party, Humphries had met Cusworth and Springthorpe coming down the South Plane at a point just below 33 level, and he informed them of what he knew and where Fisher and Bullock were. Cusworth told him to bring back with him the report book, which was kept at the “box-hole” near to the shaft. This is a book (see page 14) in which the deputy notes the position of the workmen during his shift and the work they are engaged upon, and is additional to, the statutory report book.

Humphries found the deputy Hulley, who says he was summoned at about 5.30 a.m. and that they collected the rescue team together, viz., Murgatroyd, a deputy named Humphries, Carlton and Stribley-that they went-to the enquiry office and telephoned to Mr. Witty and to Mr. Bury, and also to the Wath Rescue Station, and that they took with them four sets of apparatus and some spare, oxygen cylinders. By the time they were ready and had descended the pit it was about five minutes to 6 o´clock. Fisher, Cusworth, Hulley and Humphries (deputy) then went along 19´s cross-gate to old 7´s, l2l´s, and 125´s and found an electric lamp in against the stopping in old 121´s. Springthorpe and Hulley went back along 19´s cross-gate. with a message about rescue apparatus, and Fisher and Humphries came out by 33`sllevel and back by 14´s level on to 19`s cross-gate. It would be fully 7·o´clock by the time they arrived at 19`s cross-gate, and meantime Mr. Bury, the manager, had come into the district and had gone into the workings. Fisher followed and caught him up, and went round the “low-side” face, viz., into 14ls and out by 131´s

Fisher says he had no conversation with anyone that led him to believe that there had been a gob fire. There was a fall in 131´s… They- came out to 19´s cross gates and Fisher went out of the pit and home. It was past 9 o´clock when he came to the surface

Fisher, when he went into 64´s, did not observe any signs of burning or violence in that gateway, nor were there any between 19 and 64´s, but from the appearance of the road at the out-bye end of l21´s cross-gate the tubs were upside down; The chief indications besides this was what he termed ” the scorching on the props, i.e. coked dust which was all on the in-bye side of the props.

So he formed the conclusion that the explosion had originated somewhere between 121´s and 7´s.

Hulley´s evidence is interesting. After Fisher and Humphries had gone out by 33 level, Cusworth, Hulley, and Murgatroyd inspected the slits (viz., old 125´s, ]21´s and 7´s) ; the stopping in old 121´s was not completed. Hully suggested that everything be left as they found it until the arrival of the Mines Inspector, and Cusworth stopped the bodies being got out; but Mr. Bury, on his arrival, “said it would be all right, he would make a mark ” on the side where the bodies were, he gave orders to go on and proceed to collect the “bodies.” After that Mr. Bury asked them to accompany him on an examination of the district. Hulley, Farmer, Murgatroyd and Carlton went round with him. They found two bodies in 64`s, just on the low side of the cross-gate, which showed signs of burning. Then at 7´s gate end there was a body not burnt-there was a stopping being built-meaning the stopping in 121`s in front of another stopping. At the suggestion of Bury, Hulley and Carlton went back down the 64´s gate and on to 19´s level, meeting Bury, Springthorpe and Murgatroyd at 19´s gate end. Then Bury asked them (Hulley and Carlton) to go down 19´s and meet him at the next gate, so they went down 19´s on to 14´s level up 121´s cross-gate and met Mr.Bury at that gate end and continued right away through the district, coming back down to the bottom of 19´s cross-gate and resting there for a few minutes. It would then be about 8.45 a.m.

As to indications of burning, Hulley observed these on 64´s gate and cross-gate and on 14´s level and 121´s gate and in 19´s cross-gate as far as 19´s. The two bodies just in-bye side of the door in 19’s cross-gate (Mulrooney and Boycott) were burnt; ” The bodies above that were not burnt at all.”

The bodies in 121´s cross-gate were burnt and mutilated. Hulley gathered from these indications that the explosion had traversed both cross-gates, viz., 121´s· and 19´s.· The door in 19´s cross-gate was shut when he got to it, but he was told that the explosion had blown it open ; it was not off its hinges.

At about, 8.45 or 8.55 : a.m. Mr. Bury suggested to Hulley and others, they having” been up all night, that they should go home “as there was plenty of strength; (help) there.”` Arriving at the surface at 9.20 Hulley met Mr. Witty at the inquiry office, and there also were Messrs. Pickering and Hewitt. ” Mr. Witty was ready to go down the pit, ” with them, and Mr. Pickering said to him, he had better not go down ; he had better ” stay at the surface . . .’ . He said he (Mr. Witty) would do more good at the ” surface than going down there, as they were all dead in the district.” On Mr. Pickering enquiring of him, Hulley described to him on the plan where he had been and what had been done, ” and he (Mr. Pickering) said we had done everything that could be done.” ··

Hulley said, in answer to a question put by me, that he had no suspicion of the first explosion having been caused by a gob fire ” because we didn´t know there hadi been a ” gob fire.” Nor did Mr. Pickering mention the fact to him.” Mr. Pickering asked him where he thought the explosion had occurred, and he replied that-he,thought it ” had occurred top-side of 64`s flat-sheets – Mr. Pickering made a note of it in his note ” book-If I remember right he asked me which way the force of the explosion travelled, and I shewed him on the plan exactly as I have described it to you … there were suspicions of fire, as we could feel it . . . we could `feel by our eyes ” there was fire somewhere -we couldn´t find it ; we made a full examination, but we couldn´t find it.” *

* But at the Inquest he said under examination by the coroner, that he had told Mr. Pickerinig that there was a fire He explained later (at the inquest), when questioned by Mr. Wilson, thathe did_ not know for certain that there was a fire ; he only believed there was one from “the· effect on our” eyes.” The two statements are quite compatible, as he may have been of the opinionr that the explosion caused a fire. Hulley impressed me as both an honest and a brave man.

Word was sent to the rescue party at 14´s level that the breathing apparatus would not be needed ” as there was a good circuit of air,” the rescue party, therefore, pulled of their breathing suits and laid them in a manhole. Humphries (the road-layer) could not say how many suits there were, but thought about six or seven. He stopped at the manhole to take care of them. He thought they all discarded the apparatus, but in this he was mistaken for one of the rescue brigade, Percy Murgatroyd, retained his.

After about 10 minutes Humphries was sent for by Cusworth who wanted the work book he had brought in. Cusworth examined it and learned where the men had been-working.

Mr. Witty, the agent, arrived at the mine at 6.45 a.m. and learned that a party of trained rescuers (derived in part from men already at work in the pit and in part from. men who were not in the night shift) had gone inbye, and that Mr. Bury Cusworth had also gone down the pit. Mr. Witty himself did not go down the pit. The report from the pit bottom by telephone was to the effect that the South; District had been travelled, the ventilation restored and position of bodies located, but that help was wanted to carry the bodies out. Mr. Witty had the pay shed prepared for the reception of the bodies, placed a man in charge and “sent for a lot more stretchers and asked from “amongst the crowd (which had collected on the surface) “for volunteersto carry out the “bodies.” He asked for 20 men, and 20 men took their lamps and went down, the pit.

The Mines Inspectors, Messrs. Pickering, Hewitt and Tickle arrived on the scene between 9 and 10 o´clock and went down the mine. Two other Inspectors of Mines Messrs. Wilson and Hudspeth, arrived later; they delayed some little time going down the pit whilst certain tracings of the plan of the district were being got ready for them and this delay they in all probability owe their lives.

We must now turn to Springthorpe´s, Murgatroyd´s and Mr. Wilson’s evidence with a view to determining what had transpired between the time of Fisher´s léaving the South District at, say, about 8.30 a.m., and between 11 and 12 o´clock-when Mr.Witty got word of the occurrence of the second explosion`.

Humphries when out at the shaft bottom telephoned, at Springthorpe´s request, for Mr. Bury. Fisher and Bullock having gone out by 33 level, Cusworth and Springthorpe went straight along 14 level, passing the bodies of men and horses on their way, and along new 121´s cross-gate and so into 19´s level down the cross-gate into the 14 level again. When he arrived at 14 level Springthorpe was suffering from the effects of afterdamp so sat down .for a while.

Somewhere in 19´s cross-gate Mr. Bury joined Cusworth and Springthorpe and went into 64´s gate and along the face to 19´s. It was so evident that Spfringthorpe was nearly overcome by afterdamp that when they got to new 131´s gate he (Bury) and Murgatroyd came out by the cross-gate. On the way out Bury and Murgatroyd went into 143´s. On 14 level Bury sent Murgatroyd out with Springthorpe to the level end where he arranged to stop and assist in sending dead bodies up the; plane. Eighteen or nineteen bodies were sent out whilst he was there a few had already been sent out. A man named Littlewood stayed with him.

Between the two explosions and between the hours of 7.30 and 10 o´clock samples of the atmosphere at certain parts of the district were taken, that at old 7´s gate shewed it to contain nearly 3 per cent of methane (at 9.50 a.m.). These samples were taken by T. S. Wallis and the analyses are given in Appendix B

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