Astley Deep Colliery Disaster 1874

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Location: Dukinfield, Cheshire, Englandmap
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Disasters Project | Mining Disasters | England Mining Disasters | Cheshire Mining Disasters | Astley Deep Colliery Disaster 1874

Contact: Susie MacLeod


  • Date: 14 April 1874
  • Location: Astley Deep Colliery, Dukinfield, Cheshire, England
  • Casualties: 51
  • Cause: Explosion & Fire


History and Circumstances

Dukinfield History

Dukinfield has a very strong and proud mining tradition. Originally it was a small village located on the south bank of the River Tame just south of Ashton-under-Lyne with open land to the south and east. Dukinfield was historically in the county of Cheshire but now is part of Tameside. In its early days from 1801, and previously, the population was small but boomed during the days of the cotton industry and later the coal industry with its major rail junction adding to its prosperity and growth..[1]
Industrialization – particularly the cotton trade – helped shape the town, but its rapid development destroyed its former pasture and meadow land. Two cotton mills were built before 1794 and by 1825 there were seven. Coal pits exploiting the underlying coal measures to the south of the Lancashire Coalfield were a major part of Dukinfield's industrial history.[2]
At this time in mining history, safety was of little concern to employers and staff. Explosions and cave-ins were considered risks inherent in the mining profession. Although the Mines Regulations Act had been passed in 1873, change was not quick enough throughout the coal industry. Coal was a nationally important commodity and it was known that some pits produced from 1,200 to 1,700 tons of coal a day. It was calculated that the national output of coal in 1881 was 154,184,300 tons and that the industry employed nearly 500,000 people. In the first year after the Act was passed, 1873, it was reported that deaths had fallen to their lowest numbers ever at 100, but of the 63 added deaths in 1874, Astley Deep pit was responsible for 53. At the time Astley Deep Pit was the deepest coal mine in Britain and possibly the world, at 686.5 yards or 2060 feet at the time it opened in 1858, although one shaft was later sunk to a depth of 717 yards, or 2151 feet. This meant that the temperature at the bottom of the mine was high, gaining about one degree Fahrenheit for every 60 feet descended. The mine had taken 12 years to dig and was reported to have cost the owner, Mr F.D. Astley, over £100,000 and the site employed around 400 people working in shifts 24 hours a day.[3]

Mine History

There were two main pits in the town of Dukinfield. The Dewsnap Basin and Astley Deep Pit were developed by Francis Dukinfield Astley and owned by his company the Astley Dukinfield Colliery Company. Dewsnap Pit was sunk in 1845/46 and situated opposite the Globe Lane. [4]

:Astley Pit was sunk in 1847, and was on a slightly bigger scale with a workforce of 487 underground and 123 overground. Astley Pit was the deepest coal mine in Britain. It was sunk to a depth of 686.5 yards or 2060 feet by the time it was properly opened. These two pits together were known as “Dukinfield Collieries”.[5] The workings of the Astley Deep Pit included the Half Moon, Cannel, Peacock and Three Sheds Mines.[6]

There had been several fatal accidents at the colliery:-
15 July 1855 - Four men were being wound out of the mine when they were thrown over the headstocks (the machinery at the top of the shaft which brings the cage up and down the shaft). Nine men were killed in the incident.
25 March 1857 - A falling stone killed a worker, Benjamin Rowson, and in 1862 a second incident killed another miner but the man's name is not known.
8 March 1870 - An explosion in the south side of the pit resulted in national notoriety, 200 men were "benumbed" (stunned and deafened), 2 badly injured and 9 men killed. This incident was mentioned in the House of Commons on 21 April 1874, after the "deep pit disaster". Mr MacDonald called for a "Return of all the lives lost in the Astley Deep Pit, Dukinfield, with cause of the loss of life and date of the same; and, Copy of the opinion of the Inspector of the district, Mr. Wynne, on the management and state of ventilation of the Mine at the time of explosion on the 8th day of March 1870." This disaster is profiled here.
14 April 1874 - An explosion caused the roof of a tunnel to cave in and demolished several tunnels in the "Black mine" (coal seam) killing 51 men and boys and injuring 91. [7]
There had been a raging inferno in the Half Moon Workings of the Astley Pit in the summer of 1865 that burned for several weeks. It was considered to be a potential major contributing factor for the roof cave in a decade later. “The Ashton Reporter first mentioned it on the 15th July when it had been on fire for several days and was increasing despite, ‘every exertion, day and night …. under the able management of Mr. Ray.’” to put it out. The North Cheshire Herald, on 22nd July wrote, that it was still burning.[8]
From that conflagration, there had always been worries about the safety of the roof. Miners still feared the intense heat of the fire could have fractured the roofs and walls to such an extent that they could shatter causing massive cave in. Even though the roof had had extensive additional shoring in the more precarious parts of the roof, there were periodic minor roof falls that only went to reinforce the colliers’ fears. On 14th April 1874, colliers deepest fears were tragically realised, when all the roof of the entire Half Moon level collapsed, even bringing roof collapses in new workings as well. It was nearly a full month before all the bodies were retrieved and the workings cleared.
After a series of pit disasters across the mining areas of Britain, such as in Durham and South Wales, one of which Astley Deep Pit was one of the worst, public opinion made the Government begin a committee of inquiry that led to a Safety in the Mines Act, the one positive result of this disaster.
Astley Pit Deep Disaster also had reverberation, not only across the coalfields of this country, but in other coal mining districts around the world, and were as far apart as Newcastle, Northern Australia, and was written about in the New York Times and Pittsburgh Globe, USA.

Mine Disaster Circumstances

Day of the Disaster
On Tuesday 14 April 1874 the night shift of 152 men and boys arrived for work at 3pm. 61 were sent to the Engine Brow known as the Cannel Tunnel. About 7PM a few miners noticed slight falls of dirt occurring. Four men were immediately sent to make the roof safe.
The workings of Astley Deep Pit were 2500 feet beneath the surface. Half Moon Tunnel led to workings from the bottom of the main shaft. Its roof beams were failing. John Swindells and Timothy O'Neill were datallers (Pit maintenance men). They got miner John Carr and engineer William Hartshorn to help repair the roof. [9]
At about eight o'clock Tuesday evening, part of the roof fell, blocking the tunnel about 25 yards from the main shaft. No one was injured in the fall but it released gas which had accumulated in a cavity. The miners were using "naked lights" for better illumination and this ignited an explosion which extinguished the lights and started a fire which took hold in wooden structures down the mine shaft.[10]
The fire burned for 2 days killing 54 miners in total. Only 7 escaped from the immediate area. An additional 91 miners were affected by the explosion.[11]

Investigation Report

There was an extensive inquest to try to determine the cause of the accident and identify those responsible. By the end of June, the jury decided that the cause was clear. A cavity above the Half Moon Tunnel, created by a fire several years earlier, should have either been filled or ventilated. Instead, it had been walled up, allowing gas to accumulate. The gas was released by a roof fall and ignited by a flame. The jury was unable to determine who was responsible for the root cause. No one would admit responsibility. The work had been done several years earlier and no evidence could be found. [12]
The jury criticized three people. Benjamin Ashton, the pit owner, for having employed incompetent managers and for meddling in the day to day management of the pit. Mr Walshaw, pit manager, when the cavity was bricked, who either gave the order or should have known about it. David Holmes, pit underlooker, for the whole period, who knew about the cavity and its potentially fatal consequences, but who failed to tell the current highly professional pit manager who learned about the cavity only after the explosion.
The House of Commons requested a special report by the Secretary of Mines about this terrible accident. In July 1874 Mr. T, Wynne reported the following conclusions: Management of the mine was an issue. During the previous twenty years, there had been nine changes in management at the colliery. Few of those men were competent to manage even a small colliery. The other issue is the defective ventilation. Even though this has been brought to the attention of management, nothing was done to correct the problem. Mr. Wynne recommended that the proprietors be compelled to change the state of ventilation and timbering of the dangerous parts of the mine and any other change necessary for the safety of those employed.[13]

Miner Victims

Name Age Those they left behind Sourced Bio Connected Category
Bailey, John 18 Left parents and three siblings Yes Yes Yes
Beard, Henry 34 Left a widow and three children Yes Yes Yes
Bickerdyke, Joseph 35 Left a widow and four children, brother of Nathaniel below, identified by his father-in-law, Samuel Moss Yes Yes Yes
Bickerdyke, Nathaniel Alfred 33 Left a widow and three children, brother of Joseph above, identified by his brother, Israel Bickerdyke Yes Yes Yes
Bowker, Albert 12 Son of Orlando Bowker Yes Yes Yes
Bradshaw, James 40 Left a widow, Ann, and four children Yes Yes Yes
Brown, Thomas 45 Left a widow, Mary, and two children Yes Yes Yes
Bryce, Albert 20 Identified by William Bryce Yes Yes Yes
Carr, John 46 Died in Ashton Infirmary, left a widow and eight children, identified by his son, Edward, of Birch Lane, Dukinfield Yes Yes Yes
Carter, James 26 Left a widow, Amelia, and two children Yes Yes Yes
Cartwright, Aaron 38 Left a widow, Elizabeth, and two children, aged 11 and 14 years Yes Yes Yes
Chadwick, William 16 Son of John and Eliza Yes Tes Yes
Connley, Michael 29 Alt. Names: Cormley or Counley Yes Yes Yes
Davies, Edward 29 Left a widow, Nancy Yes Yes Yes
Davies, Samuel John 20 Lived with his widowed mother Yes Yes Yes
Downs, John 22 Left a widow, Kate, and one child Yes Yes Yes
Dugdale, Robert 15 Son of John Dugdale, he had three brothers Yes Yes Yes
Fletcher, Richard 26 Left a widow and two children Yes Yes Yes
Garside, John 18 Son of Josiah below Yes Yes Yes
Garside, Josiah 42 AKA 'Siah' Father of John above, left a widow, Mary, and three children Yes Yes Yes
Hadfield, Thomas 27 Married with one child Yes Yes Yes
Hallam, James 29 Son of James, left a widow, Elizabeth, and three children Yes Yes Yes
Harrison, Nelson 52 Left a widow, Sarah Ann, and four young children Yes Yes Yes
Hartshorn, William 20 Unmarried, son of Ellen and John Hartshorn Yes Yes Yes
Hibbert, Walter 21 Identified by his mother, Mary Yes Yes Yes
Matthew Higgenbottom 35 Name: Heginbotham Yes Yes Yes
Hitchen, John 17 Son of Thomas Hitchen Yes Yes Yes
Hudson, James Dugdale 13
Hyde, Ham 14 Son of Ham and Jane Yes Yes Yes
Jackson, John 15 Son of Jane. only been at work there 8 days
Jones, Charles 25 Left a widow and one child. Charles entered the pit at 2:00pm on Wednesday, 15 April 1874, as part of a rescue team, but was overcome by fumes Yes Yes Yes
Kaine, John 44 Left a widow, Ann, and five children, father of Thomas John below Yes Yes Yes
Kaine, Thomas John 16 Son of John and Ann above Yes Yes Yes
Knott, William Henry 16 Identified by his mother, Martha Whitehead Yes Yes Yes
Lawton, William 15 Son of Samuel Lawton. Another son of Samuel's had drowned in the Peak Forest Canal at Dukinfield two weeks earlier Yes Yes Yes
Leyland, John 44 Identified at the inquest by Thomas Thompson
Lindley, George 16 Son of Henry
Merrick, James 33 Left a widow and two children Yes
Morgan, John 20 Left a widow, Caroline, and one child
Oliver, Edwin 12 Son of James Oliver
O'Neil, Timothy Died in Ashton Infirmary, left a widow, Margaret, and seven children
Reynolds, James 24 Left a widow, identified by his uncle Samuel Laxford
Roberts, John 44 Left a widow, Catherine
Shockledge, John 22 Left a widow, son of William John
Statham, John 32 Left a widow, Elizabeth, and two children
Swindells, John 45 Died in Ashton Infirmary, identified by his widow Martha, they had a son, Edward
Taylor, Law 30 Left a widow and four children, identified by his brother, Paul
Thomas, Robert 26 Left a widow, Sarah Ann, and one child
Walker, Robert 41 Left a widow and three children
Wardle, Samuel 24 Left a widow, Ellen, and two children
Watkinson, Henry 23 Left a widow
Welsby, James 30 Left a widow, Mary, and a daughter
Williams, Benjamin 28 Left a widow and five children, identified by his father-in-law Samuel Laxford
Wright, George 25 Left a widow, Mary Ann, and two children

Miner Survivors

These men and boys were injured and survived.

Name Age Residence Sourced Bio Connected Category
Butterworth, James 4 Hill Street
Chadwick, David
Clayton, Squire Kay Street
Dean, George 14 Park Street
Fielding, Henry
Fletcher, Joseph
Harrison, George 347 Astley Street
Hitchen, Thomas Astley Street
Hulme, Allen Oxford Road
Hulme, Charles Astley Street
Kellett, William 20 Astley Street
Lee, Matthew Leech Street
Lees, John 'Nepplin'
Normanton, Joseph 15 Oxford Road
Robinson, Matthew
Timbs, Samuel
Walker, John Leech Street
Wood, John Thomas Parkside

Rescue Effort & Rescuers

Rescue work began with two pit underlookers, David Holmes and Abraham Else, together with George Harrison and Elijah Swann being slowly lowered down the pit shaft, checking for bad air as they went. At the bottom, they began to explore the passages. They were soon joined by James Hilton, the pit manager, who had remained on the surface for a time to organize help. [14]

The rescuers worked in short shifts because of the dangerous working conditions. The names of only a few of these are known.

Teams of volunteers continued to descend into the pit to fight the fire, open passages, improve ventilation and support the roof. Assistance was received from local pits and mills, and from Ashton-under-Lyne, Hyde and Denton fire services and police. The miners on the "right side" of the explosion were able to escape. This included ninety miners working in another part of the mine. However, the roof repair team and sixty others working at the far end of Half Moon Tunnel were not so lucky.
Roll of Rescuers
Name Occupation Sourced Bio Connected Category
Holmes, David Underlooker
Elce (or Else), Abraham Underlooker
Harrison, James Manager
Harrison, George
Swann, Elijah

Others Involved/Supporters and the Aftermath

The number of deaths continued to rise after 14 April. Four severely injured miners were taken to the Ashton Infirmary and all died.
On the morning of Sunday 26 April 1874 the miners of Hyde, Denton, Haughton, Flowery Field and Newtonmoor marched in procession to St.George's Church in Hyde where a special sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Read and a collection was made in aid of the fund that was being raised for the relief of the widows and orphans of the victims. Later that day the miners in the Ashton-under-Lyne district paid further tribute to their departed comrades by marching in procession along the principal thoroughfares of Dukinfield. They went to the Crescent Road Independent Chapel for a special service arranged for the occasion. In most of the local places of worship the calamity was the topic of sermons and at several churches collections in aid of the relief fund were made morning and evening. On Sunday the relief fund for the 32 widows and 55 children whom the explosion had thrown dependent on public benevolence amounted to nearly £1500. [15]
The Miner's Union distributed funds to the relatives of the deceased for funeral expenses. A Blue Plaque was placed by Tameside Metropolitan Borough council to commemorate the accident and the men that died. [16]
Debate over mining accidents continued and hearings in the House of Commons instigated by Mr Macdonald were heard on 21 June 1878. The notes also included a list of accidents and their causes heard in evidence by a jury. The jury noted these statements concerning Astley Deep pit.
Of the 1870 accident - "We are of opinion that Elijah Swain is not competent to have the sole management of such a mine as this. The persons have been killed by want of good management.--The Jury."
Of the Deep pit disaster of 1874 - "That the primary cause of the explosion was the blocking up of the mouthing leading to the smithy mines. That this was an act of gross ignorance or a culpable negligence. The jury considers there is distinct evidence as to the employment of incompetent persons and placing them in authority. The jury desire to express their strong opinion that the present system of inspection is inadequate.--The Jury." [17]

Astley Deep Pit Explosion Memorial

Memorial Plaque to the 54 Dead In Woodbury Crescent, Dukinfield

The Plaque Stands in the Centre of a Pleasant Circle of Houses at the End of a Quiet Cul-De-Sac.

A hundred and fifty years ago this place was very different. Noisy, dusty, and dark with smoke. It is difficult to imagine the contrast. Here, men and boys made the ear popping descent down a pit shaft to spend long hours toiling in the bowels of the earth. Some didn't return alive. The blue plaque is their memorial.

Want to Know More?


  1. Dukinfield
  2. Astley Deep Pit Disaster
  3. Astley Deep Pit Disaster
  4. Dukinfield Mining Past
  5. blogspot
  6. Lancashire Coalfield Dukinfield Colliery
  9. AstleyPit
  10. AstleyPit
  11. AstleyPit
  12. AstleyPit
  13. The Dukinfield Colliery Explosion. The Guardian (London, Greater London, England). 20 Jul 1874, Mon. Page 5
  14. carlscam
  15. The Guardian (London, Greater London, England) 27 Apr 1874, Mon. Page 7
  16. Astket Deep Pit Disaster
  17. Astket Deep Pit Disaster

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