top of page

Lofthouse Colliery Disaster

Extracts from the Inrush at Lofthouse Colliery Report

By JW Calder HM Chief Inspector of Mines and Quarries

I find that seven men lost their lives as a result of the inrush of water at the face of South 9B district in the Flockton Thin seam. The conditions in the district following the incident were such that only one body could be recovered. Access to the face was not possible but I am satisfied that the evidence given at the Inquiry was sufficiently comprehensive to enable me to determine the causes and circumstances of the inrush. The names of the men who lost their lives in the accident are given later in this report.

Description of the Colliery

Lofthouse Colliery is situated some 2.5 miles north of Wakefield, on the western fringe of the working coal field. Production began in 1877 and at the time of the inrush the saleable output was 18,500 tons per week with 837 men employed below ground and 207 on the surface. There are four shafts. The A (downcast) shaft of 18ft 6in diameter and the B (upcast) shaft of 15ft diameter are at Lofthouse while the Silkstone (downcast) and Beeston (upcast) shafts of 14ft diameter are at Wrenthorpe, some 1.75 miles to the south. Coal winding is confined to the A shaft with man winding at the B shaft. The Silkstone shaft has winding equipment but there are no winding facilities at the Beeston shaft. At the top of the B shaft there are three Aerex fans in parallel extracting 180,000 cubic ft of air per minute at 7inches water gauge. A Keith Blackman centrifugal fan extracts 60,000 cubic ft per minute at 3.2 inches water gauge from Beeston shaft at Wrenthorpe.


Lofthouse Colliery

Seams worked and water pumped

Coal was won from longwall advancing mechanised faces and the seams worked given in descending order were; Flockton Thin – three working faces, eleven Yards – one working face, Beeston – two working faces. Development was taking place in the Blocking Bed seam which lies between the Eleven Yards and Beeston seams. Very little water is pumped from the mine. The main make at Lofthouse A and B) shafts is from the old Haigh Moor workings and is between 160 and 230 gallons per minute dependent on the season. At Wrenthorpe shafts there is a well shaft 63 ft deep, from which 33 to 55 gallons per minute are pumped dependent on seasonal variation. The make of water from the main shafts at Wrenthorpe is only 15 gallons per minute pumped from the Silkstone pit bottom.

The South 9B District

The location of the 9B district is in the Flockton Thin seam to the west of South 4 loader gate. The face is 5,600 yards from the Lofthouse pit bottom. The Flockton Thin seam has a thickness of 34 inches, which includes a three inch dirt band. The roof is medium grey shale mudstone and the floor also consists of mudstone. The face lies some 220 yards below the surface and two seams above it were worked 120 to 130 years ago. They were the Gawthorpe, (Warren House), at a depth of 50 yards and the Top Haigh Moor at a depth of 120 yards. The Silkstone seam some 80 yards below the Flockton Thin was worked around 1914. Access to the South 9B district from South 4 loader gate was gained by a cross measures intake drift dipping at 1 in 6 through faults of 48 feet vertical displacement. A 216 yards long single unit conveyor face was formed in the seam, with the return airway connected by an overcast to a roadway leading to the Wrenthorpe shafts. A slit at the air crossing, with two wooden air lock doors, provided a connection between intake and return. Production commenced in December 1971, coal being won on three shifts per day by a double ended conveyor-mounted trepanner taking the full thickness of the seam and 2 inches of floor dirt. The trepanner took a 26 inches web; the average weekly advance of 20 yards and the face had gone to the rise of 1 in 24 for a total of 1060 yards when inrush occurred. At the main gate of the face an advance heading 4ft 6 inches high was taken 18 to 25 feet ahead of the general face line and a stable at the same height extended 12 ft along the face. At the tail gate there was an 8ft long stable at seam height. Rigid bars and hydraulic props were used in the road head areas and powered supports throughout the face. Both gates were formed by conventional ripping and packing, with the main gate supported by arch girders 10ft wide and 8ft high set at 3ft intervals and the tailgate similarly supported by 8ft wide by 7ft high arches. The district was ventilated by a separate split giving an air quality of 11,700 cubic feet per minute on the face. Methane drainage was practised from the tailgate with holes 120 ft long spaced at 120 ft intervals at right angles to the gate and inclined at 45 degrees over waste.

The state of the district before the incident

With the methane drainage in operation the methane content of the return air at the statutory measuring point was of the order of 0.3%. The amount of water in the district was small and systematic pumping was unnecessary. Although there was a small fault on the face 80 yards from the main gate and weight breaks were evident from time to time the roof was well controlled by the five legged powered supports. Work on the afternoon shift of 20 March was normal and operations ceased as usual at 7.30pm, by which time the trepanned had taken two webs from the face and was at the tailgate end.

The night shift of 20/21 March 1973

The district had a complement of 27 men on this shift and E. Finnegan, the deputy, made the pre shift inspection commencing in the tailgate and reported to B Oldroyd, the over man, when they met in the main gate at about midnight, that the face was normal. Work then commenced on coal filling, advancing the heading and stables and ripping both road heads and proceeded without incident apart from the usual brief interruptions. With the work well underway the men were disturbed as follows;

  • At the tailgate road head there were four rippers, two stable hold men and a shot firer.
  • On the face near the machine there were four face men and the deputy who had returned there from the main gate. Forty yards or so towards the tail gate there was an electrician.
  • In the main gate road head the area there were two men in the advance heading, a supports man in the stable, four rippers and a shot firer near the ripping lip and an over man at the stage loader with a fitter, who had arrived from the face.
  • Along the conveyor roadways there were four transfer point men, two in the South 9B district main gate and the other two further out bye.

At about 2am the trepanner, which had cut to powered support no 60, approximately 70 yards from the main gate, was stopped together with the face conveyor because large stones were being broken at the main gate roundhead. The face conveyor never restarted. The inrush was sudden and violent and water flowed in both directions along the face. It is therefore, impossible to set down briefly in correct chronological order the events which followed.



The inrush

At approximately 2am T Denton, the electrician, traveling along the face from the tailgate, was examining the power loader cable near mid face when he heard a bang, looked up and saw water flowing towards him from the direction of the trepanner. He made his way immediately to the tail gate with water at conveyor height, about seven inches, flowing alongside him. By this time it had also become apparent to those at the tailgate road head that something was amiss and R Barrett, the tail gate shot firer, attempted to make contact by telephone with anyone who might be available but got no reply. Also, at about 2am, B Kus was in advance of the face near the main gate road head when he heard a rumbling noise, looked along the face and saw lights at what he estimated to be 30 yards distance. He then heard a loud crack and saw his workmates at the road head start to run out bye, where upon he shouted a warning to C Barnaby who was in the advance heading. As Kus made his way out past the ripping lip he was overtaken by a wave of water at full height of the seam which knocked him against the side of the road. He dragged himself upright and ran out bye.

Oldroyd, the over man, who was at the stage loader, heard a heavy rumbling noise and thought the ventilation had reversed. He saw the main gate men running towards him and heard someone shout that water had broken in. He then tried, without success, to contact the face men over the loud hailer system. The water was now at knee height in the main gate and he hurried into the out bye to the conveyer tandem point, where he tried to contact the surface by telephone, but was unable to do so. Oldroyd then tried to ride out on the gate belt conveyer but this had stopped almost immediately so he jumped off and ran. He passed C Cotton, a main gate ripper, and made his way to the top of the 1 in 6 drift where he again attempted to contact the surface. Ultimately he succeeded in doing so from South 4 loader.

K Stone, a fitter, who had traveled along the face with the trepanned to No 60 powered support, was at the main gate road head when warned that water had broken in. he ran out bye and was passing 9 South C development heading looked in but saw no one. Stone switched off the electric power to the development and continued out bye passing and warning S Wojeck, the attendant at the conveyor transfer point, at the out bye end of the main gate. He continued out bye and switched off the electricity supply to the main gate at the transformer house at the overcast, then ran onto the top of the1 in 6 drift, where he picked up a telephone and found Barrett the South 9B tail gate shot firer on the line. He told Barrett who was still at the in bye end of South 9B tail gate, what had happened and was advising him to withdraw his men when Willoughby the main gate shot firer arrived, took the telephone, and told Barrett to withdraw his men immediately.

Barrett’s conversation with Stone and Willoughby took place some time after his earlier unsuccessful attempt to make contact by telephone but, in the first interval, no men had come off the face. On replacing the telephone he instructed Denton to cut off the electricity supply to the face and after G Firth, the tail gate stableman, had gone back and looked along the face but could see nothing, all the men at the tail gate road head made their way out bye. 

When this party of 8 men arrived at the slit at the air crossing, Denton opened the first door and saw that the second door was bulging towards him with dirty water seeping through it. He retreated to the return and the party then traveled over the air crossing through South 9A gate and ultimately to South 4 gate. Had they delayed a little longer this escape route would have almost certainly have been blocked. Subsequently, a check was made by Willoughby on the number of men who had escaped to the South 4 gate.

At approximately 2.35am, K Furniss, the night shift over man, who was at the pit bottom, was told from the surface control room that that water had broken into South 9B district. He gave instructions for the manager, the assistant manager and Wakefield Rescue Station to be contacted. Furniss was later instructed by T Mapplebeck, the manager, to return to the surface to check on the number of missing men. It was established that Frederick Armitage, Colin Barnaby, Frank Billingham, Sydney Brown, Charles cotton, Alan Haigh and Edward Finnegan were missing. All with the exception of Charles Cotton and Colin Barnaby, were last known to be working on the South 9B face line. Barnaby was in the advance heading when the inrush occurred and Cotton was last seen making his way out bye down the main gate.

The emergency procedure was instituted by the manager shortly after 2.35am, and a telephone call was received at Wakefield Rescue Station at 2.45am. Led by W Cave, a member of the permanent rescue brigade, the first team went below ground to the South 4 gate then to the 1 in 6 drift, where at 4.15 am the water was seen to be blocking the roadway 60 yards from the drift top. Subsequently, the team traveled towards the South 9B district by the return airway where, at the junction with South 9A return, the roadway was also blocked with water. The inspection proved that the south 9B district was completely sealed off.

The rescue and recovery operations

T Wright, the acting Area Director and his senior officials were soon at the colliery and were quickly joined by A Harley, H M Senior District Inspector of Mines and Quarries, and a member of his staff. Shortly afterwards N Siddall, the National Coal boards Member for Mining, arrived.

After an assessment of the situation it was decided to install pumps in the 1 in 6 drift to lower the water level and regain access to the district. It was also decided to install a submersible pump in the Silkstone shaft at Wrenthorpe as it was apparent that the water would drain to this point. Concurrently, alternative methods of rescue were discussed and a decision was made to bore from the surface to contact South 9B tail gate.

The borehole which was intended to be about 6 inches in diameter when it reached the roadway was commenced at 11.15pm, some 21 hours after the inrush occurred. This considerable operation, which involved the dismantling, transporting and re building of a large drill rig, was carried out with commendable speed.


The drill rig that was brought in to bore a hole into South 9B

In the meantime, a surface visit had been made to the site of the Old low Laithes Colliery, where it was found that the bye pit was exposed and water could be heard falling down. Before mid day it was reported that the Engine Pit and Bull Pit were exposed and that the water could also be heard falling down them. There was little doubt that there was a direct relationship between the inrush of water in the Lofthouse workings and the water pouring down the old shafts, and a decision was mad to seal and fill them. Hardcore, baled straw and clay were used to obtain a water tight seal near the bottom and filling to the surface was completed with hardcore. This work, which required care to avoid further loss of life, was finished by 11.30pm on 23rd March as was also the filling in of a large depression between the Engine and Bye Pits. After the filling in had commenced, the bye Pit was plumbed and found to be 541.5 feet deep to the top of the filling. It was subsequently calculated that the depth of the shaft was approximately 660 feet.

At Lofthouse in the late afternoon of 21st March because pumping of the water from the 1 in 6 drift was making very little progress it was decided that a mines rescue team from Hednesford, Staffordshire, the members of which had been specially trained as frogmen, should make a trial dive for 25 yards. This was carried out during the evening but the water was found to be too badly fouled, opaque and full of material in suspension to risk a longer dive. On 23rd March, after the level of the sludge had been lowered , frogmen were again used to dive the 1 in 6 drift, near the air crossing, in an attempt to locate the slit between intakes and return. In the event, the conditions were too difficult and the attempt was abandoned.

Although several pumps coupled into various pipe ranges were in use difficulties arose and progress was slow, due to the high proportion of solid material in the fluid being pumped. In consequence, on 24th March, work began on a small piggy back roadway over the arches at the foot of the 1 in 6 drift to gain access to the slit and to the tail gate over the wooden doors. When this was done on 26th March work was suspended on the borehole. At 10.20am on 26 march the Lofthouse Colliery No 2 rescue team started from the 1 in 6 drift to inspect the South 9B tail gate. Passing through the small piggy back roadway the team dropped into about 4 ft of sludge and water, which persisted for some 30 yards, after which it was possible to travel up the tailgate without hindrance. At five yards beyond No 20 methane drainage hole there was silt and rubble reaching about 3ft 6 inches from the roof. The team crawled on top of this for a further 44 yards to a point 1067 yards from the air crossing where further progress became impossible. Air samples were taken by this team at approximately 160 and 760 yards in bye of the air crossing. The first, when analyzed, gave methane at 6%, oxygen at 13% and carbon dioxide at 4%. The second contained 31% methane, 6.6% of oxygen and 2.9% carbon dioxide and would not have supported life. J Coxon, the area chief Scientist, said that although the sample amounts were small the oxygen analysis were accurate. At 12.45pm a Glasshoughton Colliery rescue team attempted to explore the intake roadway beyond the silt, but there was water and sludge to within one foot of the top of the arches and the slit junction, and after a few yards the underlying sludge became very soft. The team sighted a body some seven yards further in bye before they withdrew. Later that day r Williams HM Inspector of mines and Quarries, recovered the body which was identified as that of Charles cotton.

On 28th March at about 10.00am A Rollinson, an assistant superintendent at the rescue station at Doncaster, made an assessment of the possibility of exploring along the intake gate in bye the slit junction. Although the water level was within 14 inches of the roof at the out bye end, he found conditions improved in bye. At 11.33am the Ledston Luck Colliery rescue team carried out an exploration and after some difficulty at the transfer point traveled 490 yards beyond it. Samples were taken at 490 yards and when analyzed contained 26.2% methane, 9% oxygen and 1,3% carbon dioxide. Subsequently, the Savile Colliery rescue team made an inspection along the same route, and after encountering a number of small obstructions found the road blocked with debris at about 917 yards in bye. At 6.25pm on the same day the Walton Colliery rescue team traveled in bye to the South 9C development heading and examined it completely.

No survivors were found on any of these explorations and after consideration of the air sample results and the reports of the team captains it was agreed by representatives of all interested parties that there was no further hope of finding anyone alive.


South 9B district Tail gate after the inrush

The recovery of the district

Work was now directed towards recovering the district. As part of the rescue operation auxiliary ventilation, a power supply and pumping equipment had been installed in the old South 9 and South 9A main gates to remove water and restore a ventilation circuit as far as the air crossing at South 9B tail gate. This was finally achieved when water blocking a swilley in old South 9A main gate was removed on 28th March.

The removal of the accumulation of sludge at the foot of the 1 in 6 drill enabled auxiliary ventilation to be installed in both of the South 9B gates by rescue teams wearing breathing apparatus but, because of very high methane concentrations in the gates, this work could not be hurried and was not completed until April 17th.

The rescue attempt and recovery operation took place in conditions of extreme difficulty and discomfort. Nevertheless, despite the arduous periods of duty and the disappointments which followed their valiant efforts, the rescue workers demonstrated throughout the admirable quality’s characteristic of the Mine Rescue service.

On 18 April both gates were inspected in fresh air by HM Inspectors Mapplebeck, the Manager, and P Wood, the surveyor, accompanied by a National Coal Board photographer. It was noted that the water level in the 1 in 6 drift had been 18ft above floor level of South 9B cross gate, so that the roof of the intake at its lowest point would have been submerged to a depth of 10ft. An accumulation of silt and debris had gathered at the bottom of South 9B main gate where the water level had reached to within 1ft 3inches of the roof.

Throughout the main gate marks were observed on the sides of the roadway which indicated that water had flowed down the gate at a depth of about 2ft 9inches , but had been deeper in places where localized blockades had occurred. Mud and debris which had been carried down the gate by the water contained pieces of broken pottery, the remains of old footwear, bricks, dressed sandstone blocks and old mining timbers, which included sections of old shaft cribbing. The cribbings were of a size corresponding to a shaft about 9ft in diameter. A build up of debris commenced at a point 894 yards in bye, where the water mark was at roof level, and 23 yards further in bye the road was completely blocked by a fall.

In the tail gate, the silt had been filled with mud and silt to a depth of 5ft but 50 yards in bye the road way was clear. There was evidence that water had flowed down the gate at a constant depth of about 12 inches and the floor had been washed clean. It was not until a point 827 yards in bye the air crossing was reached that the first evidence of foreign material was observed and from this point parts of old shaft cribbing, bricks and sandstone blocks were seen. Debris had accumulated from 1017 yards in bye and at 1067 yards was only 3ft from the roof. A fall had occurred at this point and it was not possible to go any further.

On the following day representatives of the interested parties made an inspection of the district. Mapplebeck, in evidence, spoke of the violence of the inrush and stated that water was still seeping through the debris which blocked both road ways at the time of the inspection. He also spoke of the artificially low level of the surface water table after the incident and referred to the possibility that the natural restoration of the water in the strata and old workings would impose an increasing hydraulic pressure on the debris which blocked South 9B face and the in bye ends of the main gate and tail gate. Because of the opening up of the Bye, Engine and Bull Pits to the surface, the flow of water down these shafts, and the old shaft lining material found in the district after the inrush, there was no doubt that physical connection had been made between South 9B face, at of near the trepanned, and old workings in the Flockton Thin seam from one or more of the old shafts. When these factors were considered by all concerned it was realized that any attempt to recover the bodies would necessitate clearing the debris from the gates and face and would invite the possibility of a further inrush. It was decided that the risk was too great and the evidence which was brought before me supports the decision.


Much of the evidence presented at the Inquiry was concerned with factors which might have been interpreted as indications that old workings were being approached and that the possibility of inrush could have been foreseen. These were;

  • Water in the South 9B district.
  • The presence of water in shot holes.
  • The smell in the South 9B district.
  • The subsidence at the bull pit in September 1972.
  • Plans and records available.

Water in the South 9B district

A number of witnesses commented on the presence of water in the district weeks prior to the inrush and it seems probable that there was an increase in the amount coming through the strata. It was evident, however, that the amount was too small to require systematic pumping and water was never more than a nuisance.

Men who work the same district every day are not readily disturbed by minor changes which can be easily interpreted as being brought about by the use of dust suppression water or by leakages in water ranges and hydraulic hose pipes. Similarly, officials may well come to accept that a slight increase in water is the result of natural geological disturbances or breaks in the strata caused by inter connection. Someone less accustomed to such minor variations may well have been disturbed or possibly perplexed, as was the case with Oliver who had only recently taken over responsibility for the district.

Rapid face advances allied to the mining of large tonnages of coal tend to mask the presence of water and in this case the face advanced approximately 40 yards in the fortnight before the inrush. Because of this any warning signs that danger lay ahead were not impressive enough to be properly understood in the time available.

The presence of water in shot holes

Evidence was given about the presence of water in shot holes drilled in south 9B district during the weeks preceding the inrush. The occurrence varied from water filling some holes if bored downwards to slight trickle if a hole was inclined upwards. This is not unusual in many coal seams and the phenomenon had, in fact, been observed elsewhere in the seam. No significance was attached by the officials to the appearance of water in this way.

The smell in South 9B district

Smells are common when minerals are worked and many coal seams and even individual districts have an odor which is peculiar to them. Sulphurous smells are not uncommon where bands or even lenses of pyretic material are broken by coal cutting. Persons who are regularly exposed to such smells become accustomed to them and loose the ability to identify changes in intensity. The response of witness to persistent questioning about this unpleasant smell in the district appeared to be inconsistent and this may have been because of the stress placed on identifying it with the smell of rotten eggs. However, there would seem to have been two smells in the district, one associated with the cutting of coal on the face and the other associated with water welling through the strata. It is unlikely that workmen who have been exposed to a particular smell for a long time will suddenly complain about it and the complaints almost certainly arose from the different smell coming from the water percolating through the strata. In the circumstances it is hardly surprising, however, that their complains, perhaps tentatively expressed, were not considered significant by officials familiar with the odor of the Flockton Thin workings.

The subsidence at the Bull pit in September 1972

Many old shafts have been completely filled with debris but are only filled above wooden platforms sited at a short distance below the surface. Variations in the level of water table caused by the weather can have a considerable effect on the fill material, and in time, wooden platforms rot away. This could explain the subsidence at the bull Pit in September 1972. The Flockton thin seam workings were 350 yards away at this time and would not affect the shaft or its filling.

Plans and records available

At no time during the inquiry was any documentary information produced to show that workings existed in the Flockton thin seam in the vicinity of South 9b face. The only plans of the area which were available were old estate plans, not certified and likely to be incomplete and unreliable. The information available, the efforts made by surveyors to find out all that they could about workings adjacent to south 9b district and the decisions which they reached are described in the following paragraphs.

Managerial functions

The planning and the investigation for the proposed development of South 9B district

The planning procedures were outlined by R P Hollis in his evidence. He said that a set of plans were prepared for each colliery showing proposed workings for five years ahead. The plans indicated surface features and other matters of particular interest. The proposed workings for each year were shown in a different colour and the plans were approved by a list of signatories similar to those who approved a detailed layout plan. When the time approached to construct a detailed layout plan, it was originated at area by the senior surveyor. In reply to a question as to the nature of his investigations into development of a new face E R Radcliffe, the senior surveyor, said:

“I start off with a surface plan. I then investigate that plan in the following manner, and these are not necessarily in the order of importance:

  • Surface inspection to ensure that all properties likely to be affected are shown on the plan.
  • Visits to the local authority offices to find the lines of public utility services- gas, water and electricity
  • That all is working right in respect of leases governing that particular area
  • The old workings that are shown on the plan either above or below

If it is a new area I ask the colliery surveyor to make a composite plan which is done on transparency, which can be fitted over that particular plan which shows every seam that has been worked in that area. These are built up and taken from every plan that we have in our possession. And again, if we have not got them, plans in the catalogues of mines. We then look at the geological sheets and check these. We put on all the old shafts which are recorded; adits if necessary; opencast sites with areas of backfill, with information either in a report or on the plan relative to those particular items”

L J Mills, Area Director when the district was planned, said in evidence that shortly after becoming Director he formalised this planning procedure by instituting a system of signatories, and by causing a summary report to be made and attached to he plan for the information of the signatories.

For the area worked by Lofthouse Colliery there were available to the surveyor’s old estate plans which were kept at the Colliery. These plans showed old workings in Gawthorpe and Haigh Moor seams in the Low Laithes area and also the location of some of the old shafts from which these seams had been worked during the 19th Century. They were not the abandonment plans required after 1873, and were not complete. They did not show the depths of the shafts.

On 8th October 1970, in the course of his investigation to ensure that there was no danger from old workings, wood the colliery surveyor, made a visit to the Mining Records office at Rawmarsh, near Rotherham, to inspect abandonment plans. He inspected all available abandonment plans relative to the are of coal proposed to be worked by South 9B face and found no evidence of any workings in the Flockton Thin seam or of old shafts sunk below the Haigh moor seam.

At the north Yorkshire Area headquarters of the National Coal Board there was a journal of Sinkings and Borings, collected by Joseph Tolson White, a mining engineer well known in Wakefield in the 19th century. This journal gives detailed sections of a number of shafts and boreholes in the Yorkshire coalfield starting with the Bye Pit at Low Laithes Colliery. Both Wood and Radcliffe examined this journal and paid particular attention to the Low Laithes Colliery Bye Pit log. They formed the opinion that the log showed the Bye Pit to be sunk to the Haigh Moor seam with a borehole below this through the Flockton Thin seam to the Silkstone seam. Both men agreed under examination, however, that there was another possible interpretation. In this connection the evidence given by E H Francis, the Assistant Director of the Institute of Geological Sciences, Leeds, is important. He said that while there is a broad standard for recovering information from sinkings and borings in a note book, there can be individual idiosyncrasies. On examining, in the witness box, the record made by Tolson White of the sinking and boring at the Bye Pit he said that in the light of his considerable experience in the coalfields, although not specifically in Yorkshire, he would have inferred that the boring started where the log was given in detail and in colour.

In reply to later questions he agreed that there were inconsistencies in the colouring of various boring and sinking sections and that he could not say with certainty where the sinking sections and the bore hole started. I find it significant however, that his impression on seeing the journal for the first time-this is, when he entered the witness box-was that the shaft was sunk to where the coloured detailed section commenced at the Flockton Thin seam at a horizontal depth of 218 yards.

In furtherance of their investigation of the known old shafts in Low Laithes area the surveyors paid a visit to the Institute of Geological Sciences at Leeds. The visit was in September 1970 by appointment which Radcliffe made by telephone.

There is a conflict of evidence as to whether Wood and Radcliffe saw a qualified geologist at the Institute and this matter was not resolved. However, it is clear that Wood and Radcliffe inspected the hand engraved plan from which the 1878 edition geological map was produced, A H Greens geological field slip and geological survey sheet number 94 which shows a section across the Yorkshire coalfield passing through the bye Pit. They also saw the field slip used in the geological survey for the 1932 publication of the geological map.

Green was a geologist employed by the Ordinance survey in the middle of the 19th century. In examining his field slip wood and Radcliffe did not attach any significance to the reference XIII p.74 marked alongside Alverthorpe colliery and at Barrons Pit. Although Green cross referenced his note books and page numbers on his field slip both surveyors said in evidence that they did not know this and had not heard of Greens field note books prior to the inrush.

The geological section, of which they already had a copy, shows the bye Pit sunk as far as the Haigh moor seam and it does not show the borehole recorded by Tolson White Francis, in commenting on this, made the following significant remarks:

“There has been an implication which I would like to correct, sir, that because a geological section shows a pit or bore hole like this with its bottom at any particular level that is definitive. What I want to say is that geological maps and sections are designed to show geology, and mining data which goes on to maps and sections in general are put there to illustrate the geology, so that the geological map is not a precise catalogue of mining. It attempts to be a good catalogue of the rocks, but it is in no way-I say this as a warning to mine people who may be listening-they should not regard mining data put on geological sheet as definitive data for mining purposes. The sheet is intended for geological purposes.”

The two surveyors left the Institute of geological Sciences with no more information than they already possessed in the geological memoirs of 1878. they had, however, satisfied themselves that there was no further relevant information available and were convinced that the shafts only went down to the Haigh Moor seam, with a hole bored below the Bye Pit through the Flockton Thin seam to the Silkstone. They constructed the development layout plan and placed 50 yards warning line round the Engine Pit and Bye Pit setting face line to keep clear of this line. On the plan alongside the protective pillar thus formed Radcliffe placed the comment:

“Bye Pit believed sunk to Haigh Moor seam at 141 yards deep and bored to Silkstoone seam at 302 yards dep. Flockton thin seam at 219 yards deep.” It was in this form he signed the layout plan on August 4th 1971 and initiated its progress through the chain of planning responsibilities.

As already stated the surveyors were completely unaware of the existence of Greens field note book number XIII with the entry on page 74 which states: “Low Laithes Colliery: Sunk 80 yards below Haigh Moor and bored 38 yards lower at the Bye Pit.”

Had they seen this entry when they visited the institute it might have altered there interpretation of the Tolson White log of the Bye Pit. As it was, the entry did not come to light until after the accident when a member of Francis’ staff, a qualified geologist with many years of service in the Yorkshire coalfield, was instructed to search the records and found it from the reference on the field slip.


Extract from the field note book of A H Green

I must emphasize that in his evidence Francis said that some of the less experienced members of his staff could very well have failed to appreciate the significance of the Roman numerals on greens field slip.

While it can only be conjecture, I consider that green did not have direct information about the Bye Pit and did not transfer the information on page 74 of field note book number XIII to the field slip because he was in some doubt as to its accuracy.

It is a matter for concern, however, that the evidence available to the surveyors in the Tolson White journal did not raise sufficient doubt in their minds about the depth of the Bye pit for the matter to be brought to the district attention of their superiors in the chain of planning responsibility. No plans showing old workings in the Flockton Thin seam were found before the inrush and, despite an intensive and widespread search none has been found since; but had it been suspected that the Bye Pit was sunk to the Flockton Think seam the collective opinion of mining engineers might have been that the utmost care was necessary as there was, at least, a possibility that the Flockton thin seam had been worked.

The layout plan constructed by Radcliffe was approved by Mapplebeck, the manager, then sent to Hollis, the Deputy Chief Mining Engineer, together with a summary report, prepared in the planning department, which stated that the Gawthorpe and Haigh Moor wastes were probably water logged. Hollis discussed the report and plan with Radcliffe and the senior planner for the group of collieries in which Lofthouse was included and accepted the information provided. He did not see Tolson Whites sinking and boring journal and although evidence was given that it was discussed there is no reference to it in the summary report. Having satisfied himself by these discussions, Hollis, the first person in the chain of command to carry responsibility under Section 1 of the mines and quarries Act 1954, signed the plan. W Forrest, the Chief mining Engineer, who signed it on the following day, relied on the information supplied to him in discussion with Hollis and did not see the Tolson White journal.

One week later T Wright then Deputy Director signed the layout plan. He did not see the Tolson White journal and was unaware of its existence at that time. He said in evidence that it was his usual practice to discuss new developments at quarterly planning meetings. Finally, a week later, Mills, then Are Director of the North Yorkshire Area met Hollis and discussed the layout plan. During the meeting the summary report was discussed and reference was made to the Geological Memoirs of 1878. Mills was told of the boring journal but did not examine it and signed the layout plan which was then cleared for work to commence.

The summary report was a bald and restricted statement in which no attempt was made to present documents investigated by the surveyors. It did not review the thinking which had influenced the acceptance or rejection of evidence which required interpretation.

None of the persons who held Section 1 responsibility saw, or examined, any of the information used by the surveyors in coming to their conclusion that the Bye Pit was sunk only to the Haigh Moor seam and, in particular, no other than two surveyors examined Tolson Whites journal. The senior signatories relied entirely on the summary report and oral assurances that all the necessary basic facts of the investigation had been property ascertained and considered. None of the discussions or meetings was minted.


Journal of J Tolson White

Precautions against external dangers to workings

Section 75 of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 states;

In the case of every mine, the owner thereof and the manager thereof shall each be charged with the duty

(a) of taking such steps as may be necessary for securing that he is at all material times in procession of all information which indicates or tends to indicate the presence of absence, in the vicinity of any workings carried on or proposed to be carried on in the mine of:

(i) any disused workings (whether mine workings or not):

(ii) any rock or stratum containing or likely to contain water (whether dispersed or in natural cavaties;

(iii) any peat, moss, sand, gravel, silt or other material that is likely to flow when wet; and

(b) of taking such steps as may be necessary for the purpose of sub standing any such information which comes into his procession (whether in consequence of the discharge of the duty imposed upon him by the foregoing paragraph or not).

In the case of every mine, the owner thereof and the manager thereof shall each be charged with the duty: 

(a) forthwith after any such information as it is mentioned in paragraph (a) of the foregoing subsection comes into his possession (whether in consequence or the discharge of the duty imposed upon him by that paragraph or not), of furnishing to the other particulars of the information; and

(b) Forthwith after taking steps in discharge of the duty imposed upon him by paragraph of the subsection, of furnishing to the other particulars of the steps taken and of any conclusion reached as a result of taking them.”

I have already indicated that even after a through search no plans of old workings in the Flockton Thin seam in the vicinity of South 9B district were found before or after the inrush.

I consider therefore, that in light of the information available to them when the layout plan was prepared and approved, mills and Mapplebeck were justified in thinking that they had discharged their duties under this section of the Act.

However, mills said at the inquiry that had he been aware of all the information he would have been very hesitant about working coal in the Low Laithes area and that a considerable amount of doubt has been sown in his mind as to the Flockton Thin seam as a whole.

The approach to the Institute of geological Sciences

Francis outlined the alternative ways in which it was possible to obtain information from the Institute namely,

  • A written request for information relating to a specific area. This would receive a written reply which would be recorded in the institute files.
  • A telephone conversation or pre arranged personal interview with a particular geologist who would then prepare a memorandum of the conversations which would be placed in the appropriate file.
  • A visit to the Institute library, which is open to the general public, where the inquirer would make his own investigation. No record other than an entry in the libraries visitors’ book would be made. The librarian is instructed to ensure that if geologist information beyond the competence of the library information service is sought, the inquirer is to be referred to the relevant district geologist who would then prepare a memorandum of the interview and place it in file.
  • Francis was of the opinion that the first two methods would be most likely to reveal obscure information and emphasised that a written enquiry would receive the most thorough and comprehensive investigation. The success of a casual personal call would depend on the experience of the members of the staff available in the office at the time of the call. National Coal Board officials in Yorkshire have used all 3 methods of approach from time to time. However in recent years there appears to have been a change in the method of approach to the Institute for information and very few written requests have been received. It is apparent that, all approaches to the institute of geological Sciences for information about old mines or plans should be supported by a written request.

The appointment of under managers

The requirements of Sections 6960 and 15 of the Mines and quarries act 1954 regarding the appointment of under managers have never been in question but the Inquiry revealed that Bennett, the appointed under manager of the Flockton Thin seam, was replaced by Storey under a local arrangement without formal notification to the Inspector of the District. Later the under managers duties for south 9B district were similarly transferred to Oliver, who believed that he was statutorily appointed under manager, and accepted all the duties and responsibilities implicit in such an appointment. The suitability of Storey and Oliver for statutory appointment is not in question and the omission had no bearing on the standard of supervision at under manager level, but the act requires these appointments to be notified to the inspector so that there is no doubt as to who holds the responsibilities placed on an under manager by the Act and regulations.

Withdrawal of men following inrush

When the inrush occurred all production operations which used the main access routes to the South 9B district were suspended and the men withdrawn to the surface but production in other parts of the mine continued. While this did not contrive the regulations it was not in keeping with the spirit of the requirements for safety in mines. Withdrawing men from in bye positions and winding them to the surface takes time and should be commenced as soon as possible to avoid the difficulties likely to be created by a major incident.


I conclude that:

  • The disaster was caused by an inrush of water from old workings in the Flockton Thin seam into south 9B face at a point between 30 and 70 yards from the main gate road head;
  • The old uncharted workings probably originated from the Bye Pit, now known to have been sunk to the Flockton Thin seam, and the Engine Pit of the long abandoned Old Low Laithes Colliery;
  • The magnitude and violence of the inrush were due to shafts and associated wastes in the Gawthorpe and Haigh Moor seams being water logged over a considerable area:
  • The victims whose bodies were not recovered were probably killed instantly;
  • Important decisions relating to the safe working of the mine were taken at the planning stage by surveyors and were accepted by the manager and the Section 1 appointees who did not call for and examine supporting information;
  • the implications of the enviromental changes which took place in the district in the weeks immediately prior to the inrush were not fully appreciated

Blockage in South 9B District Main Gate


I recommend that:

In planning for the extension of any area of coal all the available evidence should be listed and attached to the layout plan. Minutes should be taken of all discussions and the final decision should be recorded and should be taken by a senior mining engineer carrying appropriate responsibilities under Section I of the Mines and quarries act 1954;

When an area of coal under consideration includes old shafts or workings prior to 1900, the utmost care should be taken during preliminary investigation to ascertain their position and extent. In the absence of positive information the coal should not be worked;

  • Approaches to the Institute of Geological Sciences relating to areas of coal which are intended to be worked should be accompanied by a written request for information so that the full facilities of the Institute can be utilised;
  • The National coal Board and the Institute of Geological Sciences should set up a small working party to consider the feasibility of preparing a catalogue of old geological field note books and other documents to ensure that these sources of information are not overlooked;
  • A national appeal should be launched by the Department of Trade and Industry for old mining plans held in private hands to be made available for copying;
  • The development of equipment capable of handling fluids with high solids content should be pursued.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the witnesses, especially to those of them who experienced the disaster at first hand, and to all who laboured so valiantly, even though in vain, in the rescue attempt during the anxious days which followed the inrush.

J W Calder


Lofthouse memorial, situated on Batley Road above the area where it is belived the six missing miners were trapped

Inrush Inquiry

Extracts from the Colliery Guardian July 1973


Video footage from the Lofthouse Colliery Disaster 

Footage by the BBC

Lofthouse Colliery Disaster (1973) Part

Lofthouse Colliery Disaster (1973) Part

Lofthouse Colliery Disaster 40th Anniversary Memorial Photos

All photos taken by George Parfitt

bottom of page