Sneyd Mine

 

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Sneyd Colliery, Burslem

Sneyd colliery was located between Burslem and Smallthorne, and not at Sneyd Green which was some one and a half miles away.

Sneyd Colliery in 1925
Sneyd Colliery in 1925

The coal wagons on the right would be filled and taken down to Burslem to join the loop line.
Sneyd was modernised extensively and between 1957 and 1964 was linked underground to Hanley Deep and Wolstanton. The mine closed in the 1970ís.


photo:
© The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Staffordshire Past Track


Sneyd Colliery wagons at the coking plant at the Shelton Iron & Steel Works
Colliery wagons at the coking plant at the Shelton Iron & Steel Works

 

two sets of winding gear can be seen as well as Sneyd Colliery wagons
two sets of winding gear can be seen as well as Sneyd Colliery wagons
in the background is the spoil tip

 


Sneyd Colliery in 1896...

Situation: Burslem Owner:
Sneyd Colliery and Brickworks Co. Ltd.
Address: Burslem, Staffs.

 

Name of mine: Sneyd No 2

Manager: John Heath
Under Manager: Wm. Frost
Workers:
Under ground:  462 Surface:   92
Minerals worked: Household Coal;  Manufacturing Coal;  Steam Coal
Seams worked: Yard, Ten Feet, Bowling Alley, Holly Lane, Hard Mine
Remarks:  

 

Name of mine: Sneyd No 3

Manager: John Heath
Under Manager: Wm. Frost
Workers:
Under ground:  147 Surface:   32
Minerals worked: Household Coal;  Manufacturing Coal;  Steam Coal; Ironstone
Seams worked: Burnwood, Mossfield, Seven Feet, Two Feet
Remarks:  

 

From: report by  W. N. Atkinson, H.M. Inspector for North Staffordshire - 1896.
List of Mines worked under the Coal Mines Regulation Act,
in North Staffordshire, during the Year 1896



Explosion at Sneyd Colliery on New Year's Day 1942

 

Memorial to those who died at Sneyd Colliery on New Year's Day 1942
Memorial to those who died at Sneyd Colliery on New Year's Day 1942

photos: John Lumsdon - 24 Aug 2007

Fred Hughes looks back on the Sneyd Colliery disaster of 1942 and meets a man with a first-hand account of the New Year's Day tragedy.....

January 1 marks the .... anniversary of one of Stoke-on-Trent's darkest days. The nation was into the third year of war and hardship and danger was felt in North Staffordshire as much as it was on the fighting fronts.

"It wasn't so much a matter of bombing the coalfields," explains former miner and mining historian John Lumsdon, "It was about location. Even with the observance of secrecy and camouflage, which allowed many collieries to escape direct hits, some coalfields sustained aerial attacks. But aside from the war, underground fatalities were just as frequent as they ever were."

The disaster that caused the biggest impact occurred at Sneyd Colliery on New Year's Day 1942.

Because of wartime censorship, it was only later that many of the personal stories emerged.


It is extremely important that those memories are preserved. John Lumsdon puts it into perspective:

"Coal mining is the traditional dangerous job. It was only after nationalisation in 1947 that the industry's safety standards were properly regulated. Before this, each pit was as safe as the individual owners cared to make it. Even at Sneyd, 15 years after nationalisation, 14 men lost their lives in separate accidents, and hundreds more were laid off through injury. Coal mining was a hazardous job and fatalities were a fundamental part of the risks."


That first day in January 1942, the Evening Sentinel's early edition reported that an explosion had occurred at Sneyd at around 7.30am and that three men had been killed and 48 were still trapped.

"I went up to Sneyd that morning to see if I was wanted for the late shift," recalls 93-year-old William Holdcroft. "There was summat up, you could tell, but nobody was saying anything. Somebody announced that the Germans had invaded Britain.

"It was a daft rumour thought up to explain what was going on. Nobody told us the real reason at first. But the bad news came through anyway. Next day, Friday, I was asked to go underground as the bodies were being taken out. I hadn't been at Sneyd long but I'd struck up a friendship with a chap name Len Bromley. A couple Of days before the explosion he'd had a row with an overman. So when I didn't see him on the Friday I thought he'd either walked out or had stayed at home. It didn't occur to me that he'd turned in on New Year's Day and had been killed." William and his young wife Hilda had been living in Sandbach Road, Burslem, at the time.

"Like most mining families, all the men in my family worked in pits," William says. "I was born in Ball Green so my father and brothers were all at Whitfield together. I'd seen men killed underground before but nothing could prepare me for what happened at Sneyd."

As Thursday moved into Friday, the full horror of the explosion became apparent across the region.

"It made me bad to see so many bodies being brought out," says William. "I was so ill that I couldn't go in on Saturday. It finished me." Even as the tragedy descended upon Burslem, normal life was far from safe. "In that same week a bomb was dropped near where we lived in Sandbach Road," recalls William. "It was as though the Germans were aiming for Sneyd even after all those men had died there."

The Sneyd explosion claimed 57 lives. The traditional day off for New Year had been put aside because of the war effort and 295 men were working in No 4 Pit at the time. By late Friday, the Evening Sentinel gave the names of the miners who had been killed. "You put bad things out of your mind," murmurs William.

"After the war I never gave a thought to Len Bromley until they put the memorial up in Burslem. I asked my son to take me down and I saw his name carved in the plaque." A fitting memorial was erected in Burslem town centre in 2007.

Fred Hughes, The Sentinel newspaper Dec 29 2007

 

On January 1st. 1942, fifty-seven men and boys lay down their lives for King and Country just as if they had been fighting with the armed forces. Their deaths were not caused by enemy action but by a horrific underground explosion at Sneyd Colliery on the outskirts of Burslem and Smallthorne, bringing great sorrow and grief to the community.

It's sad to think that in normal times the pit would not have been worked on New Year's Day, but due to the urgent demand for coal, to make the instruments of war, the manager appealed to the men to work, and they whole-heartedly responded.

The tragic explosion occurred at 7.50 am. on January 1st. 1942, 800 yards below ground. The first report was that seven men were dead and fifty-one were missing.

The Sneyd rescue team were the first to go down after the 1942 disaster
The Sneyd rescue team were the first to go down after the 1942 disaster

Rescue work began immediately, and four of the victims, two of whom died in hospital later, were found close to the pit bottom. The other three bodies were recovered as rescue workers forced their way through the debris.

The trapped men were working in the Seven Feet Banbury Seam of No. 4 pit. There were two faces in the district concerned, 21s and 22s, one being 1,000 yards from the pit bottom and the other 600 yards. One road was clear and an investigation being made along it, but the other road was blocked by falls of roof. There had simply been an explosion but there was no exact idea as to where it had occurred. The explosion had not affected any other part of the pit, so immediately after the occurrence all workers were withdrawn from No. 4 and No. 2 pits.

Assistance was readily available from other colliery managers in the district and from rescue teams, the cream of the industry, from other pits, Chatterley Whitfield, Black Bull, Hanley Deep and Shelton.

Sadly, later on in the day all hope had been abandoned of recovering alive anyone left in the pit.

Mr. I. W. Cumberbatch, director and general manager of the Sneyd Collieries, made the following statement at 1 pm. on January 1st:-

"An accident happened in the Seven Feet Banbury Coal Seam in No.4 Pit at Sneyd Colliery at about 7.50 this morning. Rescue teams have been sent down and have made an examination; and further teams have been sent down to continue investigations up to the coal face.

The cause of the accident is at the present time unknown. There were 53 men in the area affected, and immediately after the occurrence all other workers were withdrawn from No. 4 pit and also from No. 2 pit.

The pits will remain idle until the trouble has been decided. The district where the accident happened is about 800 yards below, and there are two faces, one a 1,000 yards from the pit bottom, and the other about 600yards. One road is clear and an investigation is being made along it; but the other road is definitely blocked by roof falls. So far as it is known, there is no fire.

We are making another check of the men known to be in the affected district and who, unfortunately, are still trapped. Details will be issued as soon as possible."

Rescue work went ahead unceasing with all possible speed, but by 6 pm. the rescue workers were still 200 yards from the coalface. Another official statement was issued on Friday morning:-

"It is agreed by the workmen's representatives, H.M. Inspectors of Mines and management that there is no hope of any of the unfortunate men being alive. Rescue operations are being carried out continuously by the men in fresh air. Two teams of rescue men with self-contained breathing apparatus are standing by, in case any emergency or necessity for their use arises.

Sixteen bodies so far have been recovered today. To reach the remainder of the bodies two large falls have to be cleared. To do this, recovery work is proceeding in an orderly manner, and by a carefully prepared plan, having due regard to the safety of the men at work in the rescue operations. It is expected the pit will resume coal drawing on Monday morning next."

Seventy nine percent of the under-ground workers employed on the day shift reported for duty on Monday when work was resumed at the colliery. High appreciation of the workers' response was expressed by Mr. Cumberbatch, who in a statement said:-

"The spirit shown by the men in making this wholehearted response to the back to work call is absolutely marvellous. It is really wonderful that 79% of the normal day-shift should report for duty to-day and the percentage would undoubtedly have been higher if news of the official decision to resume work in the pits had reached all the men concerned. I am deeply appreciative of the workers' support and co-operation in the vital national service of coal production."

On Tuesday morning, 94% of the day shift workers in No. 4 pit, reported for duty and there was a 100% attendance in respect of No 2 pit. By January 9th, the bodies of every man and boy had been recovered. This represented a marvellous achievement, recognised by anyone having knowledge of the dangerous conditions that prevail following an explosion.

As in all disasters of this kind, a fund was immediately set up to help the dependants of those killed, many of whom were the breadwinners. The Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent opened this relief fund. Among the earliest contributors were the following: -
  • Sneyd Collieries Ltd., £5.000,
  • I.C.I. Ltd. £500,
  • Shelton Iron Steel and Coal Co. £262 10s,
  • Staffordshire Sentinel Newspapers Ltd. £200,
  • And the Nat. Ass. Of Local Gov. Officers S.O.T. Branch £52.10s.

It was also announced that Sneyd Collieries Ltd would pay the funeral expenses of the victims. By Jan. 9th, the fund had reached a total of £12,278 and it was decided to make an immediate payment to the families, the amount based on the number of dependants and circumstances of the various homes.

In order to find the cause of the explosion there was a most searching investigation, with the services of experts in mining, electricity, and under-ground ventilation being enlisted from all parts of the country. Evidence showed that at the top of the Banbury Crut Jig (a haulage roadway) the force of the explosion was inbye (towards the coal face) and from the bottom it was out bye (towards the shaft).

Having assimilated the evidence given at the inquiry and visiting the site, the Government Inspector issued the result as follows:

That the up-going rope got over the inside wheel of the first tub of the set coming down at the time of the runaway; That the marks between the strands of the sample rope examined by Mr. McClelland were made by the rope rubbing against the front right hand corner of the first tub coming down and that the small flakes of mild steel he found embedded in the rope came from the bottom of the tub; Also the capel of the up going rope was caught against the sole of this tub and so pulled off, the Jig wheel being pulled down and the set derailed at the same time.

This occurred when the first tub of the down-coming set was about ten feet above the flange of the air main.

Thereafter, the derailed tub or tubs displaced the flange and then damaged the electric cable; and I think that the dust, which was ignited, was dust from the jig and not from the runaway tubs; He concluded that the dust had been ignited before either the hole in the air main had been exposed or the electric cable damaged; And that the ignition of such dust was due to the heat generated by friction between the up-going rope and the underside of the first down-coming tub of the runaway set.


The ages of the victims ranged from 16-17 year olds to veteran miners....

  • Thomas Gibson, aged 64, said it was knowledge of the pit workings that saved his life. He was near the pit bottom, when a blast of air blew him off his feet hurling him against the side of the roadway; then he fainted. The next thing he remembered was coming to and finding him self, lying in total darkness covered with dust.

It was difficult to breath, but he managed to crawl on hands and knees off the main road of the Banbury Seam into the return road of the Holly Lane district (that's another coal seam). It was a narrow passage, just enough to take a mans body. Had it not been for his knowledge of the whole underground workings, he should not have found his way into the Holly Lane district. He crawled on his hands and knees for 200 yards then came across other workers who gave him some water the he fainted again and the next thing he remembered was coming to in the hospital.

 

  • One lad of 16 was working in the pit bottom when the initial blast blew him to safety around a corner, bowling him over and over until he was halted by an open oil drum that was full of water. Everything and everywhere went black with coal dust, dense and suffocating. He remembered immersing his head in the water until his lungs were near to bursting then crying out for his mother. When the dust settled and the gas had dispersed, he looked around to see what had happened........

Where there had been whitewashed walls illuminated by electric lights, now there was darkness and everywhere blackened by coal dust. He searched in the darkness for his mate and found him dead. Another man nearby had also died, Staggering on, he came across another man devoid of all his clothing but still alive. The young lad, alone and frightened, but filled with compassion, took off his jacket and put it over his colleague.


A shadow was thrown on many homes in the Potteries.....

For one woman who lost her husband, it was their wedding anniversary New Year's Day, and in others the wives of the victims were expectant mothers.

Mrs. Bennett of 88 Moorland Rd suffered a double bereavement, losing her husband aged 41 and her son aged 17. The family came from Scotland in response to an appeal to Scottish miners to come and work in the Staffordshire coalfield.

Another victim of the same name though not related had worked at another colliery with his father, but three weeks before the disaster he moved to Sneyd to gain more experience.

Joseph Sheratt, a fireman aged 38, living at 102 Dimsdale View, Porthill, was married with two children aged 7 and 11 and his wife shortly expecting a baby. Only a few hours earlier he was entertaining his own children and their playmates at a party. Knowing that the father of one of his little guests was serving in the navy, he had obtained a puppet show of "Sinbad the Sailor" with which to amuse the youngsters. He was not superstitious about working New Years Day but before he left home that morning his wife handed him a silver three pence piece as a good luck keepsake.


information in this account of the disaster was researched by John Lumsdon and supplied by the website - Healey Hero

 

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