26 April 1915 - Seven Killed
Disaster at No. 4 Pit
At approx 11a.m. on Monday, 26th April 1915, an explosion occurred at Brayton Domain No. 4 Pit which injured eight miners seven of whom subsequently died of the severe burns they received. The miners were:
DEATH OF TWO INJURED MEN
CRITICAL STATE OF OTHERS
Of the eight men injured in the colliery explosion at No. 4 Pit, Brayton, on Monday, two have succumbed to their injuries. R. Lightfoot, aged 20, residing at Harriston with his mother, died early on Wednesday morning; and Henry Wilkinson, single, aged about 29, residing with his parents in Lawson Street, died yesterday morning about eight o'clock. The latter was a prominent bowler, being a member of the Brandraw Bowling Club, and latterly with the Harriston Club. He was also at one time a member of St. Kentigern's Parish Church Choir. Both men were well known and highly respected.
OPENING OF THE INQUESTS
Yesterday afternoon Mr. Atter, Coroner for West Cumberland, opened the inquest in the Reading Room, Harriston, on the body of Lightfoot. Mr. A. Sharp (miners' agent) appeared for the relatives.
The mother of the deceased gave evidence of identification, and the inquiry was adjourned till Tuesday week at 11-30 in the Market Hall, Aspatria to permit the attendance of his Majesty's Inspector of Mines.
The jury and Coroner then proceeded to the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Aspatria, where the inquest on the body of Wilkinson was opened, and after evidence of identification was given by his brother the inquiry was adjourned.
Police-sergeant Todhunter stated at the inquest that Rumney was rather better; that Harris was fairly well; that Birney, Rayson, and Little were in a critical condition; and that Wilkinson was doing nicely.
The Coroner expressed the hope that there would be no more deaths.
TWO MORE MEN SUCCUMB
FUNERAL OF VICTIMS
Early on Sunday morning T. Birney, married, residing at Harriston, aged about 61 years, another of the men injured in last Monday's explosion at Brayton, succumbed to his injuries. Deceased was of an unassuming character and very highly respected. He was a sidesman and regular attender at all the services in the Parish Church, and a keen and enthusiastic bowler, being a member of the Harris Bowling Club. Yesterday afternoon Thomas Little, aged about 28, single, residing at Springkell, also succumbed.
On inquiry yesterday morning it was ascertained that the other injured men are in a very critical condition.
On Friday the remains of the late Mr. R. Lightfoot, a victim of the explosion were laid to rest in the Parish Church-yard. The service was conducted by the Rev. H. Preston, Primitive Methodist Pastor, and was largely attended. On Saturday the funeral of the late Mr. Henry Wilkinson, the second victim took place. The cortege assembled in Lawson Street. The coffin was borne by members of the Aspatria and District Friendly Society, of which the deceased was a member. There was a large turn-out of members, who proceeded the coffin wearing sashes. The service was conducted by the vicar (the Rev. T. Hackworth), assisted by the Rev. E. B. Furmston. There was a very large concourse of sympathisers many being unable to gain admission to the church. There was a large number of wreaths, and besides family wreathes others were sent from Aspatria Choral Society, Aspatria Rugby Union Football Club, Aspatria Athletic Association Club, friends at Reading Room, and Harriston Bowling Club. Bro. W. Pennington read the Aspatria and District Friendly Society service at the graveside.
A FIFTH DEATH
Five deaths have now occurred as the result of the explosion at Brayton Domain Colliery. Paul Rayson, aged 25, single man, living at Harriston, died on Monday, and much sympathy is felt in the neighbourhood with the mother, who has thus lost two of her sons.
The inquest was formally opened on Tuesday afternoon, and adjourned for a week.
FUNERAL OF THREE OF THE VICTIMS.
The interment of Mr. Thomas Birney took place on Tuesday afternoon, when there was a large attendance of his fellow-workers. Mr. Birney having been a sidesman at St. Kentigern's Church, a choral service was held. There was a large number of wreaths.
On Wednesday two more of the victims - Paul Rayson and Thomas Herbert Little - were buried in the Parish Churchyard. The service for the former was conducted in the Primitive Methodist Church and at the graveside by the Rev. H. Preston, Primitive Methodist Pastor. The remains of Mr. Little were borne from the residence in Springkell by the members of the Aspatria and District Friendly Society (of which the deceased was a member), who assembled in large numbers and wearing their regalia. The service was conducted by the Vicar (the Rev. T. Hackworth), who at the close gave a short address. There was a large number of wreaths.
Never in the History of Aspatria, with the exception of the late Sir Wilfrid and Lady Lawson's funerals, have so many people in mourning been on the Aspatria streets between three and six o'clock. As a mark of respect most houses had drawn blinds.
DEATH OF ANOTHER INJURED MAN
On Friday morning, James Wilkinson, aged about 60, married and living at Lawson Street, Aspatria, died from injuries received in the explosion at No. 4 Pit, Brayton, on the 26th April. Eight men were injured by the explosion, and this brings the number of deaths up to six. Wilkinson's son, Henry, who was also one of the injured men, died three days after the accident.
Brayton Domain Colliery.
The inquest on the victims of the colliery explosion at Brayton No. 4 Colliery, which has been adjourned several times, was held at the Market Hall, Aspatria, on Friday last week, before Mr. E. Atter (coroner for West Cumberland). The explosion occurred about 11 o’clock on Monday April 26, in a portion of the pit which is known as Jackson’s drift. It appears that a shot was fired which is supposed to have penetrated an old working charged with gas, with the result that an explosion occurred, and eight men were very severely burned. They were all got out alive, but since then seven of them have succumbed to their injuries. The names of those who have died are: - Jas. Wilkinson, 59, married, 71, Lawson-street; Jos. Rumney, 60, married, Springkell; Henry Wilkinson, 32, single, 71, Lawson-street; Thos. Birney, 64, married, 16, Harriston; Paul Rayson, 25, single, 36, Harriston; Thos. Herbert Little, 29, single, 8, Springkell; and Robt. Lightfoot, 20 , single, 36, Harriston.
Mr. Thos. Eadie, assistant manager, produced a plan, and explained to the jury where the shot was fired and the explosion occurred.
Thos. Harris said that on April 25 he was on the morning shift. It was about 11 o’clock when the explosion occurred. He could just recollect the explosion, and then he fell down. A stone hit him on the head and shoulder. Witness heard someone shout, and he shouted back. He then crept out of the place. He was not unconcious. The hole for the shot was bored by a shot jumper, and would be about 18 to 20 in. long. He did not know that there was any gas in the place, nor did he know there was any road found. The explosive they were using was stowite, and was purchased from the colliery company. Before April 26 he never heard of any gas in this locality. He did not know that Rayson and Little fired a shot about a quarter of an hour before they fired theirs.
Wm. Brown Dand, deputy at No. 4 pit, stated that on the morning of April 26 he commenced duty at 4 o’clock, and worked till 12 o’clock. He tested for gas in Jackson’s drift, but found no trace of any. Witness had never found any gas in this district. He saw all the deceased workmen during the shift. The place was inspected again about half-an-hour before the explosion. Witness became aware of the explosion by means of a rush of air, and on going into the working the first man he saw was James Wilkinson, who was sitting. He told witness that there had been an explosion. Witness could not say how many men there were in the pit, but there were 24 men in his district. When he went into the working place for the second time, about 10.15, he was told that the men were ready for firing a shot, and if he saw Rumney, he had to tell him. Witness tested for gas on that occasion, but the hole was not drilled when he was in. He met Rumney about 250yds. away, and he told him what the men had said. The working was undercut, but he supposed a shot was needed, because it was too hard to hew. He tested on the edge of the goaf, but did not go into the goaf, because he did not think it was safe, as he did not know the state of the roof. He came to the conclusion that it was quite clear of all gas. He did not anticipate the shot going through. Witness, in answer to questions, said previous to the explosion he had never found gas in that place, but he had found it since. The only way he could account for it was that several stoppings had been blown out by the explosion, and one had been overlooked. Since it was put in, the gas had cleared away. He would not call it a gassy seam. There was a thin seam above, but the had never heard of that upper seam giving off gas to the goaf.
Mr. Wilson (H.M. divisional inspector of mines): What is the smallest quantity of gas you can see on your lamp? – 1˝ per cent.
Do you report that when you find it? – If I found it in any place where anyone was working I would report it.
In reply to Mr. Sharp, witness said it did not occur to him to suggest to the men to hew the place down instead of firing a shot. He admitted that if he had said to them "Don’t fire a shot, but hew the place down," and he would see they were paid for it, and he had reported it to Mr. Elliott, giving his reasons, it would have been paid. They did not consider the question of pay where safety was concerned. There was no regulation requiring him to go into the goaf. Witness did not know if Rumney examined the holes for breaks according to the regulations, or if he found any. The first shot, of which mention had already been made, was fired about 15 or 20 minutes before the explosion, and would be about 60 yds. distant. The first shot also fired into a goaf. Rumney was a good, responsible man.
In reply to the coroner, Mr. Askew, the manager of the colliery, said the fan was never slowed down at No. 4 pit, not even on Sundays. It always ran at the same speed.
Mr. Wilson here pointed out: "There is no regulation about going into a goaf, but there is a section which says you must assure yourself of the general safety. My point was, unless you are absolutely certain of the safety at that corner, you ought not to allow a shot to be fired."
The deputy said if he thought there was any danger to the men he would examine the place, irrespective of the regulations.
Joseph Hillary, who has been overman at the colliery for the last nine years, stated that he became aware of the accident by a change in the air. Dand came to him, and said he thought there had been a fall somewhere. Witness went in and learned of the accident, so he telephoned to the under-manager what had happened, and he also telephoned throughout the pit for all the workmen to go home, as there had been an explosion. There would be from 150 to 160 men in the pit. He had been in the working that morning before the explosion, and had examined it thoroughly. He had been round behind the timber on the Friday before the explosion, carrying a Davy lamp, but found no signs of gas. In reply to a further question, witness said the gas had come down over the week-end. The little seam above sometimes contained gas, and it probably came from there. He had been in the high side of the goaf many a time. The whole of the edge was not down. He had to crawl some part of the way. The fall that came down at the week-end was a freestone fall. He would have stopped the men firing a hole through into the goaf. He had never found gas in the district previous to the explosion.
Hudson Yeowart, overman, stated that he had the place under supervision 10 weeks previously. He had never seen any gas there.
Mr. George Henry Askew, manager and agent of the Brayton Collieries, stated that he was there about 9 o’clock on April 26. He did not make an examination of the place until the evening, when he went down into the locality with Mr. Cook. In his opinion, there had been an accumulation of gas in the Little seam above the Yard band, and it had been exploded by the shot. The only conclusion he could come to was that the shot-firer did not make an examination immediately beforehand. He was an experienced, good man, whom he had known ever since he came to the pit 25 years ago. His instruction was that no shot was to be fired unless the goaf was properly examined. He admitted that unless someone went to the other side of the place no shot should be fired. His instructions were that any gas found in examinations had to be reported, even if removed after a short time. From the distance the gas travelled, there must have been an accumulation, but he did not think it accumulated over the week-end. He would not approve of firing into the goaf without he went round to examine it. It was not a pit that made a lot of gas. compressed powder was not used at the time of the accident. He had never given orders for men to hew down when they got to the goaf.
Mr. Lightfoot (who represented the owners), referring to the question of permitted explosives, said their use depended on the provisions of the Order. Where there was no indication of danger from the presence of flammable gases, they could use explosives not classed as permitted. In this case gas had not been found in the three months set out in the section.
In reply to the coroner, Mr. Askew said they had tried several explosives, and were trying to get a satisfactory one. they had had two explosions that caused injury. The only one due to gas was the case of a man who burned himself in lighting a shot 12 or 15 years ago. Another man was also burned, but it was not clear whether it was due to gas or the blowing out of the powder.
In reply to Mr. Cape, witness said No. 4 pit was a wet mine throughout.
Robt. Bell, delegate and representative of the workmen, who was called by Mr. Cape, stated that he visited the scene on April 29 – three days after the explosion, and went through the whole of the district. In Birney’s place they found no gas, but there was some leading to Wilkinson’s place. The first road they tried to get to Wilkinson’s place they could not use because it took the lights. They went up behind, right up to where the hole had been blown through. They found no gas there. The roof was fallen.
The inspector, asked for his observations by the coroner, said the shot should never have been fired under the circumstances. The man who was directly responsible was unfortunately the man who had lost his life. But, apart from that, that did not exonerate the deputy, because he was a higher official than the shot-firer. He thought he should have taken more precaution with regard to the safety of the place. He made an examination according to his light, but an official in that position ought to be a man who could discern an element of danger. A shot was going to be fired into the unknown, and no official should take the responsibility of a shot being fired into the unknown, because it might be a very dangerous zone, as it was in this case. With regard to the question of explosives, the inspector said there were two parts of the order; one referred to places where there was no danger, and the other to places where safety lamps were always used, and where permitted explosives could only be used. The manager had interpreted the Order to use any explosives, and it was only fair to say that at the moment he was not prepared to controvert that opinion. In the future, however, there could be no question but that they would only have to use permitted explosives. Whether the explosion might not have happened if permitted explosives had been used was quite another thing.
In summing up, the Coroner said it was a most sad occurrence to investigate the death of seven good reliable workmen. At the enquiry they had the advantage of the chief inspector of mines; all parties were represented, and as far as the evidence was concerned, it was given by reliable men. Then many of the jury were practical miners, and could appreciate the evidence given. With regard to the witness Dand, they might not at first be favourably impressed, but there was a true saying. "Put yourself in his place." Were they not all liable to make mistakes, and to be wise afterwards? Did they think Dand did anything carelessly or negligently, or did they think he was doing what he thought to be safe? Whatever their opinion was, there was in law nothing criminal or negligent. Therefore the only question was: did they think he was censurable? They could not but be struck by the candour of Dand. When a man made a mistake, there was a great temptation to be subborn, but Dand was quite candid. It was unpleasant to say anything about a man who was gone. Rumney was known to them. Was he likely to endanger the lives of people working with him, or was it anything more than an error of judgement? The object of these enquiries went very much beyond finding if anyone was responsible; the chief object was to prevent a repetition of it. As regards the death of the men, that was due to the burning caused by the explosion.
The jury retired for a short time, and on their return, the foreman said they found a verdict that "Death was caused by burning from the explosion." They also added the following recommendation: "That no shot shall be fired in a rib next to any goaf, unless an examination can be made of the rib on the goaf side."