(From the second edition of the Sunderland Northern Times of Friday)


            Shortly after our first edition had gone to press this morning, the lamentable intelligence of an explosion having taken place in Thornley Colliery was communicated to our office. We hastened to the spot, a distance of about 14 miles from this town, and on our arrival we found the town of Thornley enveloped in gloom ; and at the corners of the streets were to be seen groups of the colliers congregated together in whom countenances were depicted gloom and dismay ; and everywhere was manifested that  consternation and distress which have invariably marked those severe visitations to which the colliery districts are so peculiarly liable.

Thornley is an important colliery, which has been in operation about six years ; and this, we understand, is the first serious explosion which has occurred.

To give to our readers a better idea of the nature of the locality of the accident, we must premise that the Thornley Colliery contains three seams. The first is called “the five-quarter seam,” and it's depth is 35 fathoms ; the second is the Hutton seam, which is situated at a depth of 145 fathoms; and the third is the seam in which this most melancholy and unfortunate accident occurred, viz., the Harvey seam, which is at a depth of 166 fathoms. This is certainly a great depth, but is only trifling when compared with the Monkwearmouth Colliery, which is upwards of 270 fathoms.

The catastrophe took place at 15 minutes past 4, immediately after the principle part of the workmen in the Harvey seam, the hewers, to a number of 50, had left the pit, and the putters and trappers above were left to attend to the ventilation, &c. We may here explain, that the trappers are usually boys and are employed in watching the trap-doors, which regulate and direct the ventilation of the pit. We have said that the putters and trappers alone were left in the pit, but we must except from this category one unfortunate individual, Thomas Haswell, hewer, who is lame, and who has on two occasions been most seriously injured.

Information was immediately given at Thornley Colliery office that a serious accident had occurred, and Mr. Heckles, the resident viewer, Mr. Carnes, together with the underviewer and overman, immediately resolved on descending the shaft, in order that every assistance might be given to any parties who had escaped the explosion, which was only known to the workmen in the other seams by a rushing of the air in staple, which led them to the conclusion that something was wrong in the Harvey seam. In the mean time the news of the fatal accident spread like wildfire through the village, and even to the adjacent district, and the whole population had assembled at the bank of the pit, for few could be certain that they had not suffered some melancholy bereavement.

Mr. Heckles and the gentleman who had descended the pit had by this time ascertained that the accident had originated in a north-west direction from the shaft. Mr. Heckles, however, dispatched parties in different directions, himself and the overman examining the district where the accident had occurred ; and, accordingly, his party found the first bodies of those who had been killed, confined to a space of 200 yards in the north-west district of the Harvey seam. Two horses were also found dead. The villages remained in anxious suspense for the period of one hour, during which Mr. Heckles and his party were engaged in bringing the bodies up the shaft. It must not be imagined, however, that those who had been only injured remained so long down the shaft ; for it is due to the activity of  the parties concerned to say that in a quarter of an hour they were all “at bank.” They were all able to walk to their respective homes, excepting Jonathan Gardener, who died in about five hours after leaving the pit.

The following is a correct list of the unfortunate sufferers:-

Killed – Thomas Haswell, overman, 42; Peter Graydon, driver 11; George Ord, flatman, 17; Robert Gardener, trapper, 9; Thomas Hall, 18, Joanathan Graham, 16, George Graham, 17, John Armstrong, 15, and Jonathan Gardener, 16, putters.

Seriously Injured – George Crozier, wayleaver; James Maudlin, overman; Thomas Pile, trapper.

The following, though in the same division of the pit, escaped uninjured :-

John Humble, trapper; George Gillings, driver; R. Palmer, putter; J. Wilson, trapper; W. Willis, trapper; M. Gardener, hewer; Thomas Welch, putter; W. Eltringham, putter; Andrew Bones, water-leader; W. Woollett, water-leader; George Hogan, shifter; and Thomas Atkinson, shifter.

With respect to the condition in which they found the pit, little difference was observable in its aspect. There were a few board-end stoppings, or wood partitions, which had been violently knocked out of the ends of the galleries which they enclosed. These were immediately restored, in order to renew the ventilation, and this was effected in about three quarters of an hour.

Having ascertained the number of killed and injured, we were induced to visit the houses in which were the bodies of the two unfortunate Gardeners. It was indeed “a house of mourning,” and the scene which presented itself was truly heartrending. In the first room were stretched on the humble but cleanly-looking bed the corpses of the two unfortunate youths, side by side; and in the adjoining room were the unhappy parents and the surviving children – the mother inconsolable for her loss, and expecting her accouchement hourly. In fact, the cheer which had been provided in anticipation of that event has been made available for funeral purposes. The little boy, Robert Gardener, had left school but ten days previously ; and his twin brother, who is also engaged in the colliery, had fortunately been detained at home in consequence of having sustained a trifling accident, and thus escaped his brother's fate. There were five of this family in the pit at the time of the explosion, but the father and two other sons escaped without injury.

Jonathan and George Graham, who were also brothers, were the principle support of a large family of 13, who had only been resident in Thornley since the last “binding,” having removed from Southchurch, near Auckland.

George Ord was an interesting and very intelligent young man; he was an orphan, and had previously been at sea, but left it, assigning as a reason that as a collier he thought his life would not be so much in jeopardy as at sea.

Thomas Haswell is the only married man who has suffered; he sustained a fracture of the leg about a year ago, and was very lame in consequence.

As soon as the individuals were brought to bank, Mr. Seymour, of Wingate, the visiting viewer, and Mr. Heckles, the resident viewer, proceeded to ascertain the exact spot where the accident had occurred, and to investigate its cause. The result of that examination was, that the explosion had originated at or near a trapdoor under the charge of Robert Gardener, one of the boys killed by the accident, and that the neglect of this door, by leaving it open, had caused an accumlation of gas in the waster, which being driven down the passage, had ignited either at the open candle of the boy, or the candle of some individual working at that part – most probably the former. Early on the following morning they again went into the pit, and their second examination more strongly confirmed their previous impression.

The excitement which prevailed in the district on the subject was intense ; hundreds were instantly on the spot anxious to learn the fate of their relatives and friends engaged at the colliery, and some of them came from remote districts, it being currently rumoured that from 50 to 100 lives had been sacrificed. Sad as the accident is, it would have doubtless been far more fearful had it occurred at any other time.




On Saturday morning an inquest was held at the Thornley Colliery Inn, before Mr. T. C. Maynard and a respectable jury. The first duty of the jury, and a painful duty it was , was to view the bodies of the suffereres, which were lying at their own homes; many of these were shockingly disfigured by the ravages of the fire, and presented a melancholy spectacle.

On their return, witnesses were called and examined by the coroner.

The first witness called was Thomas Shipley, an overman, who went down into the pit immediately after the accident. He learned that it had occurred at the north-west flat. He then proceeded a short distance, and found he could not reach the flat in consequence of the after-damp being so severe. On his return he met Mr. Heckles and others ; they had the board-stoppings by which the current air is directed, and which were blown out, replaced, and they then went on to the flat. On their road they saw the bodies of five boys, whom he identified by name, and had them taken to bank. To the best of his judgment the fire had originated at the “sheth” trapdoor, at which Robert Gardener was stationed, for the purpose of shutting it after persons went out. He could not account for the explosion, except by supposing that the trapdoor had been left open. If such had been the case the ventilation would be stopped, and the accumulated inflammable gas might ignite at a candle which the boy had usually with him. The man Haswell appeared to have been coming out of the pit at the time of the accident, as he had the whole of his clothes on. The men worked with candles, and not Davy lamps.

John Usher, the overman of the Harvey seam, stated, that when he left the pit, about 10 o'clock in the forenoon, the workings were in a perfect state of ventilation. He left the seam in charge of Maudlin, another overman. Lamps are used in the stow-boards where the ventilation is interrupted, but in the other parts candles were always used, and he considered they were perfectly safe ; he never had the slightest apprehension of danger. This witness assisted in removing the bodies of two or three individuals to bank. He could not swear distinctly as to the cause of the accident, but his opinion was the same as that expressed by the preceding witness. The air would be sure to have gone back into the courses, if the door had not been neglected. The accident might have occurred if Davy lamps had been used; workmen are not so cautious with the lamps as with candles; and there was no necessity for lamps in this district if proper care had been used at the trapdoor.

The coroner and jury then went to the house of James Maudlin, for the purpose of taking his evidence. He lay in a distressed condition, his face and hands being dreadfully burnt. He stated that he was about 40 yards from the flat when he felt an explosion but how or where it originated he could not tell. He thought it was perfectly safe to work that seam with candles, and that there was no necessity for the Davy lamps. Davy lamps, he said, were safe things, but he did not know they would have prevented the accident. None of the men ever complained to him that there was any danger.

John Farrer, mater wasteman of the colliery, stated that his examination of the pit led him to agree with the previous witnesses that the explosion arose near the trapdoor kept by Robert Gardener. The reason of that opinion was that the stoppings east of that part were blown west, and the stoppings west of that part were blown east, and he also thought there had been neglect of the trapdoor, which had caused an accumulation of gas in the waste, ignited by the candle of  the boy. The colliery owners did not find him with a candle, but he is allowed to have one if he provided it himself, and there has usually been a light at the trapdoor when witness has passed through.

Mr. Heckles corroborated the testimony as to finding the bodies, and the cause of the accident. He added that he considered it would be safer to work with the Davy lamp than with candles, provided the ventilation was kept in as good state. After one or two other witnesses had been examined.

The Coroner intimated that there could be no doubt the explosion had originated accidentally, and this being also the opinion of the jury, they returned a verdict - “That the deceased were accidentally killed by an explosion of inflammable gas in the Harvey seam of Thornley Colliery, but how or by what means such explosion was caused the jury could not say.” The jury were of opinion that the accident had arisen from neglect at the trapdoor, but the deemed it best to return a general verdict.




On Saturday evening the whole of the bodies were conveyed to the adjoining village of Kelloe, and interred in the churchyard. Several hundred of persons from the village and district accompanied the long and mournful procession. The shops were closed, and business was entirely suspended. A catastrophe of this nature never before occurred at the village of Thornley.



    1917 14th March (Wednesday)








All are privates, except where otherwise shown. The town shown against each soldier's name is the home of his next-of-kin, except when followed by the abbreviation “Enlt.,” when it is his place of enlistment.




Yorks R – Lamb, 21092 Act Cpl. J.H.. (Thornley Colliery)




Yorks R – Hall, 13686 T. (Thornley)




      1956 24th November (Saturday)






Sir. - Long experience as a colliery cashier in the county of Durham leads me to believe that the slightest suggestion by the National Coal Board to pay miners' wages by cheque would be laughed out of court. Indeed I do not think the Board would for a moment consider the suggestion.

            A large colliery can pay out the whole of its weekly wages in a couple of hours and the miner does not necessarily draw his own wages. He may be in the wrong shift for pay-out hours, or he may be in bed after a night shift. This means that his wife or one of his sons or daughters or friends takes his paynote to the office and “queues up” at the pay corridors. (Some retired miners make quite a useful amount of pocket money from drawing wages of a number of workers)

            Only five or six colliery communities in the county have full day-by-day bank facillities. Others, like my village, have a few hours each week. Some Co-operative Societies cash monthy cheques for teachers and weekly cheques for the comparatively small number of council employees. Both banks and “Co-ops” would take the proverbial fit if they were faced with the pit queue, being entirely without the paying out amenities. The small shopkeepers would not be able to help to any great extent in the weekly rush.

            Nobody cashing a miner's cheque could be sure that he himself had made the endorsement. “Thoo sign it, “ he would say to his wife, and she would do it readily enough. Endorsements, we hear, may go out. They have never come in so far as the miner is concerned. Were he to receive a large cheque from one of the football pools he would not mind his wife writing his name on the back of it. And what about the safety of the money in bulk? The N.C.B. takes the risk of hauling it from town to village now. The banks or “Co-ops” would have to do the same. Either way it seems to be a case for the  police.


                                                            Yours faithfully,

                                                                                                T.H. HOLDER

                                                                        1, The Gables, Thornley, Durham