"During the eighteenth century hundreds of miners lost their lives by explosion, roof falls and other accidents in order to develop the coal industry in England, as the main power source in the Country; as well as a major export commodity to gain precious currency abroad. In the Collieries, which I have written, there were in excess of, 1200 deaths. Small accidents in the pit were normal and did not attract much press attention, even when fatalities occurred. However these fatalities were noticed when the banners were draped in black at the annual Durham Big Meeting onlookers made special note of these pits.
Each Colliery disaster made coal owners re-think safety but they did not always implement change; except after Hartley when, with the help of William Coulson the one shaft system was outlawed. For years experts pointed to coal dust as being the major factor in the travel of the blast, in an explosion; the force of the blast died out where there was no coal dust, especially near to shafts, and explosions never occurred in wet or damp seams. On trying to find books to research mining disasters I found nearly all were out of print; even in public libraries they were in short supply. I have attempted to redress this situation in a small way by writing this book; like the men who lost their lives in the two main world wars, and are remembered each year, it is only right and proper that the men who lost their lives in the mines, should also be remembered. Without them we would not have been able to survive as a Country, during both wars; as we needed the coal industry for the power to run the factories, and to supply the heat for the home front. These brave men should be fresh in our thoughts and memories, for the debt we owe them, for our present prosperity.
As the years went by, the industry was taken over by the ‘National Coal Board’, workers and families in the industry sighed a sigh of relief, thinking that the safe running of the pits would be paramount and that unsafe working conditions would not be tolerated; this alas was not the case and on 29th. May 1951 there was a terrible explosion at ‘Easington Colliery’, Co. Durham, when 81 miners and two rescuers lost their lives. This explosion could have been prevented if the powers that be had observed and acted on, the danger signs that were obvious at the time. The Duckbill District, part of the ‘Five Quarter Seam’ was known to be dusty;
the coal being transported by belts. In the days prior to the disaster a check had been made when a high percentage of gas had been observed, and reported. Spiral Alarms could not be carried as they constantly sounded off.
It was obvious that even with the National Coal Board, they had not learnt the lesson on the travel of explosions, because of the presence of gas and Coal dust in the air!! In this millennium year coal dust has left another major problem when thousand’s of ex-miners are dying from emphysema and other related lung diseases, when the present Labour Government has delayed the compensation payout. If it had been compulsory to wear masks when working in dusty seams this problem would not have arisen.
Some of the stories are sad, but most show the tremendous courage of the miners and rescuers faced with death when trying to rescue their fellow men. All miners faced possible death or injury on a daily basis, especially in the years prior to 1900. I hope this book goes some way to give the miners the recognition they deserve.
March 2004 The book has for some time, been out of print; when writing the book in 2002; I regretted not including Seaham Colliery, Brancepeth, East Hetton (Kelloe) & Wingate. The miners from these areas had tremendously sad memories, while making a living at their particular Collieries, many loosing their lives in the explosions which occurred. I decided to re-produce the book and include the story of Seaham Colliery, Kelloe, Brance-peth and Wingate. A lot of my Information for 'Brancepeth', was taken from information supplied by Mr Frank Gent, who's Great Uncle lost his life at Brancepeth. Frank went to live at Middlesborough later in his life. His book was patiently written in longhand and now has a hardback cover with the headings in gold embossed writing. I have handled this book with the care it deserves and I feel that like all other information on our mining roots Franks book which is based at Willington Library will be too precious to lend out in the future and therefore will not be available. That is mainly my reason for including these Collieries; this information should be available to all. Since the first Publication in 2002 there has also been a dramatic improvement in Miners affected by Chest problems. Payouts are now progressing smoothly; with the help of Mr. Hopper and his colleagues at the NUM Headquarters, Flass Street, Durham. This is also where chest problems are assessed.