On November 11th 1898 at about 10.30am dense smoke was noticed coming from a cross roads about 80 yards from the bottom of the up-cast shaft. The smoke was so dense that even at the pit-head men knew there was something wrong.
There were 480 persons at work in the mine when the fire started. A bell was rung which signalled all the workers to go to the bottom of the down-cast shaft. The cages carried 20 men at a time and all were brought out in 24 minutes except for those men with the horses. There were 70 horses and all but two were saved.
Isaac Meacham, the mine manager who had been attending another minor fire about a mile away, returned and at 11am he went down the shaft to direct work for damming in the fire by building walls of sandstone to cut of the air supply. 80 men were engaged in the fire-fighting. This took all day but was ineffective so by evening it became necessary to block up the shafts.
At night by the light of their Davy lamps the men shovelled rubbish of every description into the mouth of the pit. The night was a busy one with 150 cart loads of rubbish and dirt tipped down the down-cast shaft and in the morning the up-cast shaft had been filled in.
The fire was left to burn itself out - which took nearly twelve months. Because the shaft had been filled in at the bottom the re-opened shaft only went down to the thin 'brooch coal' level at about 580 yards. New roads were cut North and South to connect to the workings which then went East. At about 600 yards there was an 200 yard incline of 1 in 5 down to the thick coal seam workings some 40 yards below.
Luckily no lives were lost but the pit closure caused great hardship for miners and their families. It was reported 300 miners and their families needed assistance and no funds were available. Soup kitchens were opened in Hamstead and West Bromwich to help women and children and an appeal distributed. A fund was started to which all Black Country miners would contribute. Agents from collieries in Wales and elsewhere came to Hamstead to offer miners work. Men went to Wales, Yorkshire, Highley and Kinlet (near Bewdley) to find work.
It was noted the township of Perry Barr would suffer from the disaster as the principal portion of its rates was drawn from colliery sources. The impact would be felt across the Black Country as much of the coal is used by local mills and forges so the iron trade will suffer higher costs to obtain coal from elsewhere.
Sources: Birmingham Public Libraries; "Birmingham
Mail" November 12th 1898; "Post" November 26th
Page updated 29th August 2007
- The HAMSTEAD MINERS MEMORIAL TRUST is a registered Charity No.1098711
- We welcome information and photographs on Hamstead Colliery and Great Barr