Whitehaven Pit Disaster

On the evening of Wednesday, May 11th 1910 the west Cumberland town of Whitehaven was rocked by a disaster deep underground.

High on the cliff tops overlooking the town stood the public face of Wellington Pit. Below and many miles out to sea, was the mine where, in only a few hours, the fate of 136 men and boys was sealed.

Owned by Lord Lonsdale, however leased by Messrs. Bain and Co. (Mr. J. B. Bain, Colonel Bain, and Mr. J. S. Simpson) Wellington Pit was first worked in 1843.

The memorial is just blow the pit head and looking out to sea

The memorial is just below the pit head and looking out to sea

At the time of the accident the total number of persons employed underground at the Wellington pit was 723.

Something wrong

According to the official report into the incident, the first signs of a problem were at 7.40pm on the evening of May 11.

Air gushing out from the mine accompanied with thick dust alerted many to a possible explosion deep underground.

Just before 9pm rescue units started to arrive.

As a result of the explosion and fire the mine was sealed and remained so for many months.

On the 11 September the mine was examined for the first time since the accident and some of the bodies were recovered after noting their position in the mine.

In memory of the 136

In memory of the 136

Dr. Harris, the colliery doctor, gave his opinion of the causes of death to the 133 men and boys who perished.

  • 12 were killed outright by the violence of the explosion.
  • 35 were “undoubtedly poisoned by carbon monoxide.”
  • 30 were killed by burning and shock.
  • 38 “by suffocation by smoke fumes or other fumes and possibly CO poisoning.”
  • 4 burns, shock, and suffocation in CO2.
  • 1 calcined remains. Burns, or shock, or suffocation.
  • 1 shock or suffocation.
  • 12 suffocation in smoke fumes and probably CO poisoning.

Three bodies were not identified positively at the scene.

Questions to be answered

Lasting eleven days, the inquiry into the incident took place at the Town Hall in Whitehaven.  It was decided that the Inquiry would run concurrently with the Coroners Inquest.

Wellington Pit in Whitehaven 1840-1932

Wellington Pit in Whitehaven 1840-1932

Forty four witnesses were summoned including Robert Steele the Colliery Manager, Richard Walker Moore, Mineral Agent for Lord Lonsdale and J. B. Atkinson, Inspector of Mines.

The official report in to the accident at Wellington Pit was conducted by R.A.S. Redmayne,  H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines

Conclusion

The official report indicates that the ignition of firedamp was the cause of the explosion. However, what ignited the gases is not clear.

Remembered

Two parts of the Wellington Pit remain to this day. The candlestick chimney, used as a ventilation shaft, and Wellington lodge, now used as base for the coastguard.

On the 100 year anniversary of the accident a large black memorial was unveiled. A week of events, parades and exhibitions around the town also took place.

A message on a floral Tribute

A message on a floral Tribute

A gravestone remembering the three people who were not identified was also unveiled. For many this finally drew a line under the events of 1910 as all those who died were recognised.

Record number of awards

Such was the extreme conditions of the rescue that the King awarded 66 bravery medals to those involved.

The Edward Medal is known as the miners’ VC and recognised the efforts of those in the rescue parties.

The medal which features the the monarch’s effigy and a miner rescuing a comrade was designed by W. Reynolds-Stephens in 1907.

Living recipients were invited to exchange their medals for the George Cross in 1971.

Further information

Durham Mining Museum – Transcript of the official report in to the 1910 accident

BBC Cumbria  – 100 years later at Wellington Pit

Whitehaven News – Photo gallery of Wellington Pit

List of those in receipt of the Edward Medal





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