Flowery Field Colliery Disaster 1842

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Location: Hyde, Cheshire, Englandmap
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Disasters Project | Mining Disasters | England Mining Disasters | Cheshire Mining Disasters | Flowery Field Pit Disaster 1842



  • Date: 8 April 1842
  • Location: Flowery Field Pit, Hyde, Cheshire, England
  • Victims: 17
  • Cause: Explosion & fire

History and Circumstances

Area History

The township of Dukinfield is located on the estates of Francis Dukinfield Palmer Ashley. Historically part of Cheshire, the town developed as a result of the Industrial Revolution when it became the site of coal mining and cotton manufacturing. Dukinfield is located 159 miles (256 km) north-northwest of London. It is situated on the site of a vast ancient swamp which is the reason coal is found in this area. [1]

Mine History

The Dunkirk Coal Company which was the original developer was taken over by Samuel Swire and Henry Lees as the Dukinfield Coal and Cannel Company. They managed a number of mines in the Dukinfield area. There were three clusters of mines under their control. Flowery Field was in the eastern cluster. The Dukinfield company first sank shafts in Flowery Fields around 1832. At that time they gave notice they were planning to extract coal to a depth of 50 yards. The Flowery Fields pit worked the Black Mine. [2]
The following was written by George Eaton who was a coal miner himself and he lived in Dukinfield in 1837. This is offered to add context to life in this time and place.
"In 1837, the pit was about 70 yards deep to the mouthing. There were iron conductors in the pit. The tubs held 4cwt of coal and had ears. There were no chains so hooks were used instead of flat hemp ropes to wind with, there were flat chains of four longish links, and those links that ran flat over the pulleys were packed firmly with wood inside the links, the next four links ran over the pulley on all the under edges and were not packed. When the engine was winding the jingling of the chains could be heard at a considerable distance from the pit. The chains were fully as wide as an ordinary flat hempen rope. I never saw chains like them before or since. The miners thought that hemp ropes were safer than chain ropes." [3]
Mine Disaster Circumstances
The colliery was the property of Messrs. Swire and Lees and was located in Newton, near Hyde and employed 50-60 men and boys. The mine was entered by a shaft about 160 yards deep and at the bottom there was a tramway or inclined plane over 300 yards long. This is where the wagons of coal were taken by a steam engine. At the end of the tramway there was a landing place or flat space about ten yards. From here there was another tramway up an incline about 300 yards long to another landing. The coal was taken from all parts of the mine to this place by mules. The explosion occurred on this level about 200 yards from the extreme end of the pit.

On Friday, 8 April 1842 about eleven o'clock an explosion of carburated hydrogen gas occurred. A terrible rumbling was heard and flames erupted from the mouth of the pit. It is thought that the explosion happened in the dirthole. Seventeen people died that day. Most of the deaths were caused by suffocation due to the gas. Two of the dead were badly burned and the other died when the roof collapsed on him.


An inquest was held the following Monday, 11 April 1842 at the White Hart Hotel on Old Road, Flowery Field. Testimony was extended for a second day in order to include all witnesses.
Candle Lighting in the Mine
The Investigation team determined that the epicenter of the explosion was in the disused "dirt whale" workings (no longer in use).
They also determined that the ventilation for this unused area had become partially blocked due to a build up of rubble. The result of this inadequate ventilation was an accumulation of firedamp (methane) in the enclosed area. Someone may have entered that area with a naked candle which caused the explosion.
Testimony at the inquest revealed the following information:
  • Samuel Swire (one of the trustees) attributed the cause of the accident to Robert Downing (dead). He went down into the dirt-hole with a naked candle, where he had no business to go, thus caused the explosion. He also said the mine was perfectly safe in all but the one area (dirt-hole was not properly ventilated).
  • Another witness at the inquest - William Hartley (viewer to the trustees of the Dukinfield estate) stated that the mine had not been inspected for at least 12 months. He was responsible to physically look at the mine and operations and make sure everything was being done correctly but had not for a year.
According to a detailed article in The Guardian newspaper, several conclusions could be drawn.
  • First, all the miners were provided with safety lamps by their employers but all of them were using naked candles which they had to purchase for themselves.
  • Secondly, if the miners had stayed at the lower level, in all probability they would not have perished. If they had opened the vents to allow the gas to escape, they would not have died.

The impression was that none of the miners were knowledgeable about the natural laws that govern the movement of gases.

The jury deliberated for 10 minutes before they rendered a judgement. Although they judged the event an accident with no fault assigned, they did recommend that in the future to either completely fill the dirt-hole or to leave ventilation open. [4]
The following men testified at the inquest:[5]
  • Thomas Merrick - miner
  • William Williams - miner
  • Henry Brookshaw - his son James died
  • Joseph Mosley - hooker-on broken arm
  • James Mayo
  • James Donk - turn-winder
  • Hardy
  • Samuel Rogers - miner
  • William Hurst - waggoner

Miner Victims

They are gone but not forgotten
17 Lives Lost in the Black Mine Flowery Field 1842 Colliery Explosion [6]
Name Age Approx DOB Notes Profile Manager
Aspinall, John 44 1798 Died of suffocation. Collier. Lynn Hemrick
Aspinall, John 15 1827 Died of suffocation. Collier Lynn Hemrick
Bowker, John 47 1795 left widow and 8 children Lynn Hemrick
Bowker, William 17 1825 Eldest of 9 children Lynn Hemrick
Brookshaw, James 13 1829 also shown as James BRUCKSHAW , age 12. Burnt and Suffocated Lynn Hemrick
Derbyshire, Samuel 16 1826 Son of the head banksman, he died from suffocation. He had 6 siblings Lynn Hemrick
Downing, Robert 16 1826 also shown as aged 17. Taken from the pit alive but died 12 hours later. Lynn Hemrick
Gill, Adam 41 1801 left widow and 4 children, aged 8-11. Killed by force of blast. Lynn Hemrick
Grimshaw, William 45 1797 left widow and 1 child. Suffocated. Lynn Hemrick
Hardy, John 33 1809 Left a widow and 3 children. Suffocated. Lynn Hemrick
Lees, James 15 also listed as 12 1827 Suffocated Lynn Hemrick
Oldfield, James 13 1829 Eldest of three children. Suffocated. Lynn Hemrick
Unwin, Robert 19 1822 Left a widowed mother and five siblings. Lynn Hemrick
Wild, John 40 1802 also shown as aged 42. Was shoeing a mule in the stables at the time of the explosion and was killed when the roof fell on him. Lynn Hemrick
Williams, Thomas 14 1827 Showed only a slight injury to his forehead. Suffocated. Lynn Hemrick
Williams, William 17 1825 Killed by afterdamp. Suffocated. Lynn Hemrick
Ragg, William 18 1824 also shown as age 16. Lived with Grandparents. Lynn Hemrick

Miner Survivors

7 Injured Survivors of the Explosion [7]
Name Age DOB Notes
Brookhaw, Henry 46 1796 Overcome by gas
Dunk, James 60 1782 Worked as turn-winder
Hurst, William 22 1820 Worked as waggoner
Merrick, John 22 1820 miner
Merrick, Robert 15 1827 miner
Merrick, Thomas 45 1796 miner
Mosley, Joseph 42 1800 Arm broken in two places. Worked as hooker-on.

Rescue Effort & Rescuers

Mr. Frederick Tinkler and Mr. Potter, surgeons arrived to give what help they could but it was several hours before it was deemed safe to go down into the pit. The underlooker descended and after a protracted and dangerous search, he and his party succeeded in finding eight of the missing colliers. However, all were dead, some bruised, some suffocated and others much bruised. Shortly afterwards another seven bodies were located and all were taken to the pit head. The search continued and after about an hour the remaining ten were discovered at the extreme end of the mine where they had run for safety. Bowker and Grimshaw were alive but in a desperate state. Bowker died soon after he was found and Grimshaw expired in the arms of a fellow workman but four of the eight recovered and made their way to the pit.

Others Involved/Supporters and the Aftermath

Many were involved after the disaster: Tinker and Potter were both surgeons. They came to the mine but were told that all were dead so they left. Subsequently, eight were brought up to the surface. There was a delay in the injured being seen by a surgeon which may have resulted in death. Frederick Tinker, surgeon John Wright Mr. Potter Mr. Taylor 2 surgeons from Dukinfield

The community worked together to provide for the destitute and bereaved widows and families of those killed in the explosion. A subscription was begun under the auspices of Capt. Clarke, who agreed to act as treasurer and Mr. Coulthart, manager of the Ashton Bank. The Guardian newspaper described the conditions thus "in external , apart from their present loss of those who maintained them, the inmates of many of these houses were but just able to gain a bare livelihood. ... many of them must actually want for food." [8]

Another Explosion 3 Years Later

Three years later, in November, 1845 there is a first-hand account of a subsequent explosion at the Flowery Field mine. George Eaton gives the following account:

He was the Wagoner for the crew of two who were hewing the coal and George was delivering it to “other hands”. He was working the second shift which started at 2pm. They were using candles by sticking them upright in the soft clay.
At about 6 pm, after George returned from his lunch break, one of the workers hewing coal “broke through” into an old wagon road. The other worker was digging without light because “there is gas in the old level”. George was instructed to test if there was gas by lighting a candle. He observed that a candle already burning suddenly became “a torch” and even though they ran, both were burned by the exploding gas. The underground manager was not present, so did not authorize proceeding without safety checks after the sealed tunnel was opened.
After the explosion, George crawled to an exit point and the three men were taken home. George states that the explosion was a “great blunder” because when the cut was made into another tunnel, there should have been an air test and a safety lantern used instead of candles. The old tunnel had been sealed and there was no ventilation so there was an expectation that the sealed level would be full of either choke damp or fire damp.

So, even three years after the 1842 explosion, there continued to be unsafe practices in the very dangerous environment of a pit mine. The miners preferred to use candles instead of the safety lamp. This may be because of the safety lamp's dim light. Eaton Journals

Want to Know More?


  1. Wikipedia
  4. The CoalPit Explosion at Newton, Near Hyde. The Guardian (London, Greater London, England). 16 April 1842, Saturday. Page 3.
  5. London Guardian article
  6. Black Mine Flowery Field, pg. 6
  7. Black Mine Flowery Field, pg.6-7
  8. The Guardian (London, Greater London, England). Coal-Pit Explosion at Newton, Near Hyde. 13 Apr 1842. page 3



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