A Remembrance of
The Astley Deep Pit Disaster
14th April 1874
Once located near the Dewsnap Sidings, off King Street in Dukinfield, the Astley Deep Pit Mine was reputed to be the deepest coal mine in the world, being 700 yards deep (640 metres). Its history began in 1847, when boring commenced. However after 476 yards (435 metres) were completed, further movement downwards was suspended.
In 1858 the Pit sank a further seam of 686 yards (627 metres). It was calculated that this would last for upwards of 30 years, at the rate of 500 tonnes of coal being extracted per day, while the entire pit would last for 100 years. In fact it lasted 43 years closing on 7th August 1901.
The pit size was one of the largest in Tameside. The south side extended 1560 yards (1426 metres), then went up an angle of 220 of 400 yards (366 metres)continuing to the boundary of 200 yards (183 metres). The North Side level stopped at a fault at 300 yards (274 metres), but a little further down, the Engine Brow commenced and by 1874 was driven a further 630 yards (576 metres)hoping ultimately to reach 1120 yards (1024 metres, nearly 3/4 miles in length).
Several accidents occurred at the mine with many resulting in the death of miners. The recorded deaths are listed below:
|15 July 1855
||4 men were wound up and thrown over the headstocks, resulting in 9 being killed.
|25 March 1857
||Benjamin Rowson was killed by a falling stone.
|1862 (Date unknown)
||Another miner killed by the same fate.
|3rd March 1870
||9 killed, 2 badly injured and 200 benumbed through an explosion on the south side of the pit.
Although one tragedy outstands the rest, being the worst reported mining accident in Tameside's history.
The Astley Deep Pit Disaster
On Tuesday 14 April 1874, the night shift of 152 men and boys arrived for work at 3.00pm. 61 were sent to the Engine Brow, a 600 yard (548 metres) tunnel known as the Cannel Tunnel.
This tunnel had caught fire several years earlier and carried on burning for a few months continuously until it finally had been burnt out. From this time the roof was unsafe and dangerous, the repairs that had been carried out had been executed with rubble, and temporary supports for the roof made from timber posts.
About 7.00pm a few miners noticed slight falls of dirt occurring. Four men were immediately sent to make the roof safe, helped by an engineer and a steam engine.
Working in the tunnel with their `open lamps' for better illumination, it was estimated about 50 minutes later the roof began to groan and creak. Before long the timbers entirely collapsed. The pockets of unknown gas which had accumulated in the cracks above the artificial roof, came down and were instantly ignited by the open flame lamps of the repair workers and from the fire box of the accompanying steam engine.
There was a massive explosion, which was heard throughout the mine. Fire promptly set alight to the timber lining of the tunnel, quickly spreading to the timber stables located at the pit bottom which disastrously blocked any way out.
The fire burned for two days, killing 54 miners in total. Only seven escaped from the immediate catastrophe area. A further ninety one miners were affected from the explosion, many of them badly injured through using dangerous escape routes.
One of the accounts from Mr Holmes, a 21 year old who was working in another seam recalled:
"Suddenly there was a terrible roar followed by a gust of wind which blew out every light in the workings. We all commenced to walk forward in the dark and the first thing I came in contact with was a horse, which completely blocked the road. We somehow got as far the Cannel Tunnel and then found our way blocked.
Then we sensed the fire damp, several of the men started to shout out, but by opening their mouths they swallowed the gas and were soon overcome. Most of us got to the ground and I remember one man saying "If we have to dee, we'll have to dee with eawr hearts up".
"Hour after hour passed, and in the early morning we heard the sound of picking and the approach of the rescue party. Most of us were in a dazed condition, but the hope of rescue put life into us. I found myself with my head across the body of a dead comrade. Later in the morning the rescue party cut a hole through the roof and I helped to lift the men through. I was last to be got alive."
The dead were severely burnt and one miner was never properly identified due to the extent of his injuries. The youngest victim was a waggoner named George Lindley who was only ten years old.
The Miners Union paid a sum of £5 to the relatives of the deceased for funeral expenses, with £10 granted for the same purpose from the funds of the Pit Club for miners who were aged 18 years and above. Anyone who died under that age, £8 was forwarded. Oak coffins were constructed by the colliery company ready for the unforgettable weekend of funerals, which were organised after the inquest into the mining's disaster.
The plaque located at Woodbury Crescent, Dukinfield remembers the fateful day, where so many local men sadly lost their lives.