Industrial disasters

(c) Wigan Archives Service

The pits were dangerous places to work and there were often accidental deaths and major disasters due to roof falls, explosions, gas seepages or equipment failure. There are many large disasters documented in the area. However, death was a regular occurrence, with 1 or 2 dying each week in the area.

Maypole Colliery disaster

One of the biggest disasters in the area occurred at the Maypole Colliery in Abram. On 18th August 1908 a large explosion ripped through the Colliery. The inquest into the deaths heard that the explosion was caused by shot firing with an explosive, permitted at the time of the accident, which ignited the gas and coal dust in the mine. It occurred at 5.10pm, an hour after 580 day workers had been brought to the surface and shortly after 60 night workers had descended into the pit. There were 84 miners below ground when the explosion occurred, 6 of which were in the upper seam not affected by the explosion. Of the remaining 78, just 3 people were rescued alive, with one dying later. 76 people therefore lost their lives. A memorial was erected in 1929 at St John the Evangelist Church in Abram to commemorate those that had died.

Dolly’s accident

Another famous accident associated with the mining industry was Dolly’s accident on 30th April 1945. Dolly was a railway engine which shunted coal wagons between the Maypole and Mains Collieries. She was driven by Ludovic Berry, a loyal worker for 35 years. On the day of the accident Dolly, driven by Ludovic, was pushing thirteen wagons loaded with coal between Abram and Platt Bridge, when a large hole appeared in the ground under the railway lines. With the lines now unsupported they broke under the weight of the first wagons, causing them to plummet into the ground, their force taking the remaining wagons and Dolly with them. Ludovic, who tried to save the engine until it was too late to jump, lost his life. The hole had occurred as a result of the subsidence of a shaft sunk 60 years previously and sealed in 1932. The subsidence may have been the result of heavy rains in an area with many mine workings close by.

[My great grandfather] got in a fall and it crushed both his legs and he used sticks for the rest of his life. He said none of his children would ever go down the mine as long as he lived.” Jack

Some of my friends’ dads were miners and when I was about 9 years old there was a pit explosion and one of my friends’ dads was killed in it. And then not long after that pit explosion there was a lot of miners’ strikes.” Karen

“My great grandfather was killed as a coal miner at the age of 24... and the family was split following my great grandfather’s death.” Eric

... they’d fitted some new types of pit props. They were made of steel and one of these buckled and flew and it hit him [my grandfather]. And it split him from the top of his nose to the nave of his neck and he never went down the pit again.” Jack