The Start of the Fire
Monday 2nd March 1908
The main winding engine broke down preventing men from returning to the surface as normal. 250 men in the mine had to be brought up the number 2 upcast shaft. Under the regulations there had to be two working shafts for coal production.
Thus coal production was stopped. It would, however, have been absolutely necessary to have some men underground to feed the horses and keep the roads open and safe, which was a specific problem at Hamstead where the movement of strata affecting the roadways is considerable. The colliery should have applied to the Secretary of State for permission to continue mining, although this does not appear to have been done.
Wednesday 4th March 4 p.m.
The mine at the time of the accident was being worked by one shaft only, the No. 2 up-cast shaft, and a repairing shift had been engaged underground.
Joseph Dunkley, the day or head eager had had been at the bottom of the No 1 shaft about 4pm and there were no problems. He then moved to be stationed at the bottom of No 2 shaft engaged in sending men up and receiving the down coming men for the change of shift.
William Carter, the night eager, had descended in the last cage of men, and with him in the cage were three other men, Walter and John Summerfield and Joseph Titley. William Carter had heard signals at the surface about 5 o'clock, just before descending, so on arriving at the bottom asked Joseph Dunkley what had been the matter with the signals that had been ringing. Joseph Dunkley said he knew nothing about any signals and asked some of the men if any of them had been touching the wires. No one had and as the wires were insulated they could not possibly interfere with them.
Joseph Dunkerley came up to the surface at about 5.15 p.m. having been relieved by William Carter.
Wednesday 4th March 5.15 p.m.
When William Carter last saw the two Summerfields and Joseph Titley they were going through the separation doors in the road between the two shafts. Walter Summerfield carried a safety lamp. John Summerfield and Joseph Titley were working on the north side, and Walter Summerfield was going to the south side.
Henry Oakley was a day deputy at the colliery. He was employed on the North side workings, but on this particular day he was at work on the South side. On the evening of the accident he was coming out from the South side workings, accompanied by George Webb (who looks after the haulage), and they were making their way to No. 2 shaft with a view of going to the surface, their day's work being completed. They had passed Walter Summerfield, who was going inbye about ten minutes' walk from the bottom of No.1 shaft, probably two hundred yards or more from the shaft bottom.
Frank Dolan, an underground timekeeper, at the time the fire started was on the south side at the underground office near the shaft.
William Carter went to the signal cabin some little distance back from No. 2 shaft and near to the first of the separation doors. He was there about 25 minutes, and had three cage loads of men in all to send up before going round to No. 1 shaft bottom.
He had sent up two cage loads and so had only one left (six men) when he saw smoke coming through the connecting roads. There were some men there who asked where the smoke was coming from. William Carter did not know so he went off with Harry Leach to check. As they went through the doors they found the smoke got thicker and stronger and when they got through the last iron door before the No 1 shaft the smoke was very thick and they could not see much apart from the occasional sight of the smoke rolling along the road. The smell of the smoke was like wood and timber and grease and oil, and rubber like that which is round the electric wires and the signal wires.
William Carter thought there were about three dozen coal tubs on the staging at the bottom of the shaft, but he could not say whether they were burning.
As soon as he got through the iron door he heard Frank Dolan, Henry Oakley and George Webb crying out for the ladder to get at the water tap to turn it on. Dolan saw much flame at and underneath the candle box. Carter and Jones (the furnaceman) were at the scene of the fire about the same time. The tap was high up and used to provide water for the horses.
When the ladder was found Frank Dolan tried to reach the scene of the fire but was prevented by the electric lights going out at that moment so they were in darkness and could do nothing.
William Carter could see flames all about the pit bottom as the smoke rolled, but could not get further than where the cages were at the far end of staging on the north side. The heat and smoke drove him back.
They then all went through the separation doors to No. 2 shaft. As soon us he got to the No. 2 shaft the men who were there made a rush for the cage. Only six were supposed to travel in the cages but he sent up eight or nine in the first cage. He shouted along the roadway but received no answer. He then travelled up in the cage with the remaining men.
Jones - The Last Miner to leave
Wednesday 4th March 6 p.m.
The first intimation received on the surface that anything was wrong below ground was conveyed by these men on coming up.
Henry Oakley, on coming to the surface, went to the house of the Acting Under Manager (John Wright) and informed him that the pit bottom was on fire.
Frank Dolan had gone to the Engine-wright (Oubridge) who was on the pit bank, Frank Dolan asked Oubridge if the No. 1 shaft engine could be run so that a descent might be made, and the water pipes broken in the shaft, but the engine was on the dead-centre and nothing could be done as it would not go one way or the other. Oubridge had stopped the fan with the view of diminishing the force of the air current playing on the fire.
On being informed of the fire, John Wright changed his clothes, came across to the pit as fast as he could, and saw that volumes of smoke were rolling out of the upcast shaft.
Oubridge's first idea was to apply water underground to the fire, but William Carter told him it was impossible.
Live rats and birds were occasionally lowered clown to test the atmospheric conditions of the-mine.
John Wright said it was not safe to attempt to go down No. 2 (upcast) shaft, so no effort to do so was made until the arrival of Mr. Waterhouse, the manager, who had been telegraphed to by Oubridge, at about 7.30 p.m.
Mr. Waterhouse seeing the dense volume of smoke coming up No. 2 shaft, decided that it was impossible to descend through it. He then informed H.M. Inspector of Mines about the situation.
Next - First Rescue Attempts
- The HAMSTEAD MINERS MEMORIAL TRUST is a registered Charity No.1098711
- We welcome information and photographs on Hamstead Colliery and Great Barr