Names of those killed:-
D. Hancock 20yrs.
W. Mansell 47 yrs. J. Oakes 48 yrs. J. Bailey 54 yrs.
J. Lawton 62 yrs. T.W.L. Meaking 45 yrs.
On raising the alarm,
Mr Keeling called Mr. Birchall, one of the directors of the company working
the Footrail, who lived some 150 yards away. Mr. Birchall and his son-in-law
immediately descended the working and found and brought out Woolrich and promptly
called the rescue services of the National Coal Board, who were quickly on
the scene, as also were N.C.B. officials led by Mr.Roland Bennett, Area Divisional
The area Production Manager, Mr. E. Cope and Mr. H. Foden, Superintendent
of the Mines Rescue Station and Mr. F. Facey, his assistant together with
Mr. Dennis Minshull went down and discovered one of the bodies about 2 o clock.
Two hours later the first rescue team found four more bodies and the second
rescue team found the other body. Rescue teams from the Victoria colliery
and the Chatterley Whitfield colliery were called out. After the bodies had
been located, Mr. Bennett told a Sentinel reporter that ventilation was being
restored in the workings before the bodies were recovered and brought to the
surface. The accident shocked a district where many of the people are miners
and work in collieries in the vicinity. Today 3rd. February, anxious relatives
visited the footrail for news of their men folk.
In an official statement, Mr. Wilmot Wilcox, Sub Area agent, North Staffordshire
NCB remarked, Woolrich, the survivor said that an intensive explosion occurred
in the Whinpenny seam 100 yards from the bottom of the shaft, Woolrich was
found 50 yards from the shaft bottom and the other five were a further 100
yards away in very steep workings. There was no fire and very little debris
Mr Wilcox, indicated that the precipitous workings had been hampering the
efforts of the rescue party who were impeded by their gear. Because of this
it had been decided at noon to establish good ventilation throughout the workings
so that the men could proceed without their cumbersome breathing apparatus.
It took some hours before all the bodies were recovered, but once good ventilation
had been established the work proceeded very quickly. Mr. Wilcox said the
workings were so steep that tubs could not be used to convey the coal, which
had to be manhandled in metal skips. Watched by a small group of relatives,
rescue workers brought up the first body shortly before noon. The engineman,
Mr, Leslie Keeling, who lives at 2 Moorland Rd. Mow Cop, described how his
anxiety grew when he received no signal from the men when their shift normally
ended. Mr. Keeling who is 24 has worked in the engine room at the colliery
since leaving school ten years ago He said he lowered the men on the noon
shift at 2.25 pm. And about 4 o clock began to lift coal to the surface in
the cage. The working was very slow and up to 6.30 pm. had only had four loads.
There was no further signal from the shaft bottom but that was no unusual
and I was not unduly worried. Mr. Keeling explained that he thought the men
would be collecting coal, loading it into a hopper and he would receive several
loads close together near the time when the shift was due to end. He went
on, I expected a signal about 10 o clock, when I heard nothing I began to
get anxious. I rang and rang the electric bell and I got no reply. I went
to the mouth of the shaft and knocked on the rails and water pipes but there
was no answer. I could tell from the rope, which was quite still that no one
was walking up. I went to the air shaft on the bark dip and no one was walking
up there. By this time I was quite worried.
Mr. Keeling said he telephoned to Mr. Alfred Birchall and advised him that
the shift was overdue. Mr. Birchall came along with his son-in-law about 11
pm. and they slithered down the main shaft holding on to the rope because
it was considered inadvisable to draw up the cage. When they returned to the
surface in the cage about 11.35 pm. They had the injured man, Woolrich. He
was semi conscious and was able to tell them, that he had his snapping about
7 o clock then went in again, he could not remember anything else. Mr. Keeling
said after the injured man had been taken away, Mr. Birchall and his son-in-law
again went down the shaft, this time in the cage, but they had to return because
of gas. They had no breathing apparatus. At the bottom of the shaft they found
evidence of an explosion.
Mr. Keeling said he remained in the engine room the whole of the time that
the shift was down. He heard no explosion and felt no vibration. The electrical
circuits were in order and the ventilator fans were running.
of the Shaft
Mr. Gordon Birchall told a Sentinel reporter of his father’s description of
his descent to the workings, his rescue of Woolrich and his attempt to reach
another man. His father who is 62, he said, scrambled down the 300 yards shaft
with his son-in-law, Mr. Jack Barlow, who is a collier employed by the firm.
At the bottom they found Percy Woolrich, who Mr. Birchall senior thought would
have died because of the foul air if they had not been able to get him out.
He saw another man, Dennis Hancock, lying on the ground apparently dead, eight
yards away from Woolrich. He tried to get him away but the foul atmosphere
prevented him. After returning to the surface with the injured man in the
cage they gave the general alarm. Mr. Birchall said there was a test for gas
when the shift went on. We have never known gas in this particular spot before.
The weekly output of the colliery was approximately 300 tons working on two
shifts. There were about 19 or 20 men on the day shift. The colliery was not
mechanised apart from electric drills. The Footrail stands in some fields
on gently sloping land, about 150 yards from the main road through Harriseahead
from Tunstall to Mow Cop. The workings are about 300 yards down and access
is gained down a slope of about 67 degrees from the vertical. The men go down
in steel skips operated by surface winding gear.
Charge Submission Fails
On the 28th September, the third day of the hearing of Dales Green colliery
case, Alfred Birchall, the colliery agent, told the court he had often been
down the mine at week-ends with the ventilation fan not working and the air
was quite in order. There are 35 summonses alleging contravention of the mines
safety and health regulations against the agent and owners. They have pleaded
not guilty. At the conclusion of the prosecution evidence yesterday afternoon,
Mr. Ryder Richardson, Q.C. defending, submitted that as far as the main charge
was concerned, a joint count alleging failure to ensure that an adequate amount
of ventilation was constantly produced in the mine, all the prosecution had
done was to prove the defence.
Yesterday’s first prosecution witness was Mr. Albert Lewis Alexander, electrical
equipment specialist, who continued the evidence he began on Friday of his
visit to the mine to see if electrical equipment had any bearing on the explosion.
He described ineffective earthing of machinery at various points. Witness
said when he finished his electrical investigations; he told Mr. Birchall
he was not satisfied with the installation and maintenance work on the electrical
equipment. Mr. Birchall told witness he was not an electrical man and must
have been let down by his electrical staff. He also said he would obtain another
more reliable electrician to do the work.
There were questions and answers regarding the electrical equipment, the Mono
pump and haulage. It appeared that this had nothing to do with the actual
explosion. On the matter of ventilation, a map was produced and a question
was asked, “ if there was leakage of air through any of these cross-cuts,
would you say that the mine was not ventilated adequately”? Mr. Bates, mining
engineer, replied that there was always a leakage in every mine, but it was
a question of degree.
An officer from the Mines Research Station at Buxton collected a fan from
No.3 level, a coupling, a metal elbow and buckled sheeting.
Cross-examined, the officer agreed that as a result of explosion the pieces
of metal may have travelled with considerable velocity and may have been considerably
damaged. The research establishment examined the objects and concluded that
the fan was distorted and that the fan tubing had been burst open by an internal
explosion, and that re-circulation of air had taken place. Witness was questioned
at length on the results of internal explosion and outward blast, and the
possibility of a shot being fired and setting fire to methane gas, which had
collected in the fan, duct, following a sudden choking of the ventilation.
Mr.Richardson stated, “It is quite possible that the explosion goes into the
tube with sufficient force to blow that tubing to pieces, is it not?” Witness,
I don’t agree.
Alfred Birchall then gave evidence. He said he was 62 and had been running
the Dales Green colliery for about 15 years. All his life had been spent in
and about mines. Towards the end of last year, he decided to install electrical
equipment in the Winpenny seam, and gave notice to that effect without opposition.
He had a qualified working electrician and another who was employed by the
N.C.B. to whom he gave a free hand. There were notices in the stores, “if
they had gone to the trouble of putting them up.” Defendant said before the
introduction of electricity he had been complimented by the Mines Inspector
on the airflow. In or about September 1952, an old return airway began to
get blocked up. A new one was cut through and the ventilation improved. He
often went down the mine at weekends with the fan not working, and the ventilation
was quite in order and free from gas.
Referring to the surface crown hole, defendant said it had been there for
about four years. He had a channel cut round it. The Farmer had no right to
cut a way through it and let water into the crown hole. When, after the explosion,
Mr. Adis, (a pit deputy) told him of the blockage in the new airway, he told
the Inspectors, who were then in charge of the mine. Mr. Ricardson asked,
do you think they understood? The defendant replied, they just looked at me
and took no notice. Continuing, the defendant said he had never been informed
by the Mines Inspectorate it was wrong to put brattice sheets instead of doors.
They did not have doors because of the severe “heave” due to the angle at
which they mined. The “heave” damaged doors and surrounding brickwork.
Defendant said some of his men (he employed about 26) had been with him from
leaving school and were well trained. Neither the Mono pump nor the haulage
had ever been worked, the electrical installations not having been completed
before the explosion. He said there should have been about 10 firedamp detectors
on the surface. He had also provided fire buckets and had seen them there
one day and gone the next. Cross examined by Mr. G.A. Preston, for the Ministry
of Fuel and Power, the defendant said he did not take any steps to ensure
that any detectors were at the working places on the coalface. That was a
lamp man’s job, or the fireman’s. He did not know whether they had done what
they ought to have done. They knew what to do and what not to do. The defendant
agreed that the return airway shown on the plan was not the same as that existing
before the explosion. He had known about the “heave” for about five years
but never had occasion to mention it to the Inspectors. Asked about the crown
hole and ditch, the defendant said he discovered the cut in the ditch on February
18th. He used it to go to the crown hole very often, he thought the previous
occasion was perhaps a week before the explosion, but he did not notice it
When the 5-day hearing concluded the Potteries Stipendiary Magistrate, Mr.
R.M. Macgregor, reserved his decision to a date to be fixed.
Mr. Ryder Richardson, Q.C. defending, submitted that it was clear that the
cause of the tragedy was sudden, unexpected and unforeseeable and that all
the rest of the prosecution’s case was an endeavour to cross the Ts and dot
Hearing October 14th
There are 37 summonses; two had been withdrawn, during the hearing, alleging
contraventions of the mines safety and health regulations against the owners,
Alfred Birchall, of Red Lion Farm, Harriseahead and Birchall Collieries Ltd.
There was cross examination of the defence and prosecution regarding the effects
of “heave”, the auxiliary fan, whether to have doors, or brattice sheets,
due to the gradient, the crown hole and the farmer messing with the drain
which skirted it.
Giving his reserved decision, fines were imposed on the company and agent.
The defendants, Alfred Birchall, of Red Lion Farm, Harriseahead the agent
and Birchall Collieries Ltd of 12 Price St, Burslem, the owners of the colliery,
were fined a total of £68, with £57 five shillings costs. Alfred Birchall
alone was fined £2 on 24 of 35 counts, 10 being dismissed, and one having
previously been withdrawn. The Magistrate went on to say, it seams clear that
the cause of the failure of the explosive gas to be carried through the mine
and out up No 3 dip (the air retune route) was due to cessation of ventilation.
After the explosion, it was discovered that this cessation was due to a blockage
of the air return route and it seemed that the cause of the blockage was water
getting into the crown hole and so into the workings and carrying down boulder
clay and debris, which crept along No1 level from the old workings and so
into No3 dip.