ST . HELENS COLLIERY, SIDDICK, WORKINGTON, CUMBERLAND
THURSDAY 19TH APRIL 1888 DISASTER
St Helens Colliery St Helen’s No1 pit near to Flimby. was situated north of Workington near the village of Flimby, and sat very close to the sea shore. Sinking of the colliery began in 1877 with the first coal being extracted in 1880. The shafts were 119 fathoms deep. And in 1888 St Helens Pit employed 230 men and boys, and many pit ponies.
St Helens No1 and 2 shafts were at Flimby and St Helens No 3 shaft was situated at Siddick.
On the morning of the disaster, a section of the underground workings had been set alight by a shot fire, which was fired by a deputy despite several reports of gas in the section. It had been considered that the ventilation was sufficient to dissipate the gas. However at around 9am a fire broke out on the coalface as a result of the shot fire.
With the exception of 35 “experienced” miners, everyone was withdrawn from the pit. The remaining men would work in relays to build a stopping to extinguish the fire. In order for these men to work in the underground conditions of smoke and heat the air current had been changed and the thick smoke driven back.
The miners worked throughout the day and came up to the shaft top for some refreshments at around 6pm.
At 8pm just after the miners had returned to the pit, and the mine manager had returned to their offices to discuss the progress underground, a loud explosion shook the buildings on the shaft top and a huge plume of dense smoke could be seen coming from the shaft.
When the smoke cleared shouts were sent down the shaft with no reply, and when the cage was brought to the surface it contained a badly burned miner who died shortly afterwards.
It was established in the disaster report that the change of air current had driven an accumulation of gas onto the fire and igniting to cause an explosion.
By 11pm a crowd had gathered at the shaft top and there were plenty of volunteers setting up the rescue mission, already several of the dead and injured had been brought to the surface. The rescuing party were reported to be “reeling like drunken men” from the effects of the afterdamp, and the Mine Manager John Johnson was one of those suffers, taken away on a stretcher.
With the fire still burning and the gas still accumulating the decision was taken to call off the rescue due to the high probability of further explosions. Water was then used to flood the mine workings and extinguish the underground fire. This wasn’t achieved until April 30th, when recovery of the miners began again with the last of the dead being brought to the surface on 2nd August 1888.
The conclusion of the Mines Inspectors Report was that no fault was to be found with the procedures and therefore no need for prosecution.
In all the disaster took 30 men’s lives and 12 pit ponies.
The mine owners confirmed that there were 34 dependants of those killed in the disaster and a Workington Relief Fund was set up to offer them financial support.