RSS Feed

1951 Explosion

Part 1: An overview of Easington Colliery Explosion

Easington Colliery

Easington Colliery is situated on the coast in the County of Durham, between the ports of Seaham Harbour and West Hartlepool, nine miles north west of the latter.

There are two principal shafts, both circular and both 20 feet in diameter. The North Shaft, the downcast, was sunk to the Hutton Seam at a depth of 1,430 feet, the present winding level being at the Main Coal Inset at a depth of 1,130 feet. The South Shaft, the upcast, is 1,500 feet deep to the Hutton Seam. Both are used for winding men, mineral and materials. A third shaft, the West, 470 feet deep, is connected to the South Shaft by a drift at the 164 feet level. Although sinking was started in 1899, coal drawing did not begin until 1910 because of difficulties encountered in passing through water-bearing strata. [1]

Easington Disaster of 1951

The explosion happened at 4.35 a.m. on Tuesday, 29th May.

At 4.20am the picks of the coal cutting machine cutter, which was working in the Duck Bill district of the Five Quarter seam, struck pyrites causing sparks which ignited firedamp causing an explosion which brought down 120 yards of roof and entombed 81 men.

The explosion took place 900 feet below ground. 38 men were coming to the end of their shift and were to be replaced by 43 men who were working the fore-shift.

The cause of the explosion was the ignition of firedamp triggered by the picks of a coal cutting machine, operating on a retreating longwall face, when they struck pyrites.

The explosion spread through 16,000 yards of roadway and caused the deaths of 81 persons. Two persons died in the ensuing rescue operations.

The Inquiry was opened at the Easington Colliery Welfare Hall, Easington, on 30th October and terminated

on 15th November. Evidence was taken on 13 days and 75 witnesses were examined.

The death toll rose when two rescue men were killed, taking the death toll to 83. [4]


[1]  Explosion at Easington Colliery, County Durham: Report on the causes of, and circumstances attending, the explosion which occurred at Easington Colliery, County Durham, on the 29th May, 1951, Great Britain, Minister of Fuel and Power, Stat. Office, 1952

[2] Original Picture:

[3] Original Picture:

[4]  “Easington Colliery Disaster”, Gerry Burnham, Durham County Council 


Part 2: Narrative of the explosion

Discovery and Preliminary Exploration:

Unfortunately, there was no direct evidence of what happened on the shift of the disaster.

 The men on the stone-shift, who were due to leave the district at about 5.0 a.m., had been engaged in coal cutting on the retreating longwall face, in erecting permanent supports in the duckbill headings, in building an air crossing at No. 22 stenton and in stone dusting. The fore-shift went underground at 3.30 a.m. and in the ordinary course of events the fillers would have arrived at the face before the explosion occurred. The fact that none had done so suggests that they had been kept hack because the conditions on the Third South longwall face were not normal, but, whatever the reason, it does not seem to have given rise to any great alarm for those outside the district received no appeal for help. The first intimation of disaster was a loud bang followed by a cloud of dust.

Mr Fothergill wearing mines rescue equipment. He was involved in the Easington Colliery Disaster of 1951.

Mr Fothergill wearing mines rescue equipment. He was involved in the Easington Colliery Disaster of 1951.

Frank Leadbitter, a shaft wagon-way man, who was just outside the shaft bottom stables, acted promptly and, though the dust was so thick that he could not see, led the men working with him to the shaft bottom, and within a few minutes had telephoned a report to the under-manager, Mr. Emery, at his home. He then returned to the West Main Curve and tried to get in touch with the Duckbill District by telephone, but getting no response telephoned a warning to the men at the South haulage junctions. Soon after he was joined by William Cook, fore-overman in the Seven Quarter and Old Five Quarter Districts, who had heard a sound like a heavy fall when he was in the Seven Quarter engine house and had come 500 yards through a thick cloud of dust to investigate. After hearing Leadbitter’s story Cook telephoned to Mr. Hopkins, the manager, and arranged for the withdrawal of the men from the rest of the mine. Then very gallantly he and D. Smith, a head wagon-way man, went along the Main Coal West Haulage Road in an attempt to get to the Duckbill District. About half way to the main loading point they heard what they thought was another explosion and felt the air current reverse. Not unnaturally they started to go back but, as the ventilation soon resumed its normal course, turned again.

What these two men thought was a second explosion was, in fact, an extension of a fall that they reached shortly afterwards. But they believed it was an explosion and it is to their great credit that they went on in spite of what they must have felt about the risk of further explosions. About 150 yards from the loading point they came to a large fall and quite properly decided that it would be foolhardy to attempt to get over it by themselves. They therefore returned to report, and near the West Curve met the under-manager, Mr. Emery.

Meanwhile, amongst other emergency measures taken on the surface a call had been made on the Central Rescue Station at Houghton-le-Spring. At 5.30 a.m. when the first team arrived underground they were sent almost immediately to examine the fall. Finding it impassable they returned and were sent to explore the West Main Coal Return. It was, however, thought unlikely that rescue operations would be possible by this route and when Mr. Fry, the Area General Manager, arrived it was decided to employ colliery workmen to make a road through the fall with the utmost speed and to explore the airway from the Seven Quarter Second South District, for this connected with the Duckbill District return drift where it passed through the Seven Quarter Seam. This road proved to be quite travelable and though some props and doors had been blown out, Mr. Fry, Mr. Emery and Station Officer A damson reached the Duckbill Drifts without much difficulty. Further progress was impossible without the use of rescue apparatus. The air was quite still, indicating that the air crossing at the foot of the intake drift had been damaged. The separation doors in the stenton connecting intake and return had been destroyed and the air was so foul with afterdamp that the canaries carried by the party were overcome almost immediately.[1]


Cause and Development of the Explosion

Easington Colliery, Five Quarter Seam. Plan of Explosion Area.

Easington Colliery, Five Quarter Seam. Plan of Explosion Area.[2]

Due to the thickness of the seam and to the fact that the roof caved in very large blocks, cavities of considerable volume existed behind the longwall face. As the waste was not ventilated, a large volume of firedamp slowly accumulated. When the roof weight, itself a consequence of the incompleteness of the caving, began during the night of 28-29th May, firedamp in the waste area was pushed nearer to the face and began to be emitted into the air current at roof level near the return end of the face. Roof fractures extending upwards led to influx of firedamp from the upper strata. At least to the point where disturbance was created by the air leaking through the stentons, the firedamp largely remained as a layer near the roof. Probably within half an hour before the explosion the emission was intensified. Falls in the waste caused surges of firedamp which would travel along the return as gradually dispersing concentrations.

Then, possibly not for the first time during the cutting operation, the cutter picks struck pyrites. The firedamp ignited by the consequent sparks may have been part of a surge from the waste. It might be more probable that it was firedamp released into the undercut as a result of the weight.

Then flame would emerge from the cut behind the machine and would alarm the machinemen who would naturally make for the adjacent roadhead without waiting to stop the machine. The flames, however, would lick towards the roof and there meet the under-surface of the flow from the waste.

The inflammation probably proceeded quietly to No, 28 stenton where its contact with a more inflammable mixture created explosive violence. The explosion passed backwards towards the face and forwards along the return, where it blew through to the intake at No. 26 stenton and at the extension of the West Belt Road. It continued along the return bursting southward at successive stentons to about No. 18 stenton. At No. 22 junction extra violence developed, possibly because the current then passing that point was highly inflammable. Thus into the lengths of the West Belt and Materials Roads between the Second South and Third South roads, where there were two double transfer points, flame came in two directions. I conclude that the explosion then became one of coal dust and that it spread as such, obtaining fuel mainly from the conveyors, the conveyor structures and the stentons.

The reason for its providential cessation on the West Main Level is uncertain. Dr. Tideswell suggested that it was checked because the outbye length of the fall on to this road had occurred before the flame reached that point. It may be, however, that as this was not a conveyor road but was in regular use as a haulage road, the coal dust and stone dust were more intimately mixed and therefore the stone dusting measures proved effective.

Rescue and Recovery

The rescue operations covered a period of 257 hours, during which time 11 officers, 48 permanent corps-men and 291 trained colliery rescue workers were engaged. Between them, these men wore apparatus 1,168 times and 13,277 pounds of liquid air was used.

It may be that the temperatures were not excessive nor travelling conditions unduly arduous, but the work was prolonged, the distances travelled considerable and the atmosphere so lethal that anyone making a mistake or raking a liberty was likely to pay for it with his life. Nevertheless, and in spite of the death of two of their comrades, these men never faltered and their morale throughout was maintained at a level that reflected the greatest credit on them as individuals and on the system in which they had been trained.

Crowds waiting in the streets for news of the colliery disaster, Easington, 1st June 1951.

Crowds waiting in the streets for news of the colliery disaster, Easington, 1st June 1951.

Easington Colliery Disaster. Tuseday 29th May 1951 - waiting for news outside the Colliery gates. 81 miners and two rescue workers killed.

Easington Colliery Disaster. Tuseday 29th May 1951 – waiting for news outside the Colliery gates. 81 miners and two rescue workers killed.

Tribute must also be paid to the large number of colliery workers who manhandled supplies to fresh air bases and with each move forward removed bodies, strengthened stoppings and cleared paths. Their work, though not so dangerous as that of the trained rescue teams, was arduous, unpleasant and not without strain. [3]


[1]  Explosion at Easington Colliery, County Durham: Report on the causes of, and circumstances attending, the explosion which occurred at Easington Colliery, County Durham, on the 29th May, 1951, Great Britain, Minister of Fuel and Power, Stat. Office, 1952

[2] Original Picture:

[3] Original Link:


Part 3: Comments on the explosion

Management of the Colliery

shot firing

It was admitted that the provisions of the Explosives in Coal Mines Order were not complied with in that some at least of the deputies had not been instructed as to the maximum number of shots they were permitted to fire in any one hour or any one shift. Moreover, no tests had been made since 1948 to determine the time required to fire a shot.

After the disaster 11 pounds of explosives were found buried under dirt in No. 21 heading. It must have taken some time for such a quantity to be accumulated and, evidently, not only was there a breach of the provision of the Order requiring that any explosive unused at the end of a shift should be brought out of the mine, but also the methods of control must have been woefully defective.

Evidence was given by two deputies that they had neither been given a copy of the Explosives in Coal Mines Order, 1948, nor had they been informed of the prohibition of the firing of shots in the roof at a longwall face other than with the permission in writing of the agent and manager.

ventilation and detection

As regards matters other than shot firing, there was evidence that auxiliary fans had been started by unauthorised persons contrary to the requirements of the Coal Mines (Ventilation) General Regulations, 1947 ; the stoppings between the main intake and return airways in the Duckbill District did not conform with the requirements of General Regulation 91 ; a man in charge of an electric drilling machine had not been provided with a firedamp detector as required by the Regulations; and on one occasion electrical apparatus which had been removed and re-erected in a new position had not been tested.

Officials in charge

Officials who are in charge seemed to lack the ability to anticipate events and that comprehensive knowledge of what was happening at the colliery which is characteristic of good management. This happened due to weaknesses in the organisation. The manager appeared to be so fully occupied himself in day to day details of administration that he was unable to exercise effective supervision and direction of the mine as a whole. Still less had he time to think out all the possible consequences of a major change of policy such as the decision to adopt longwall retreating with full caving in a district originally planned to be worked by other methods.

The grief-stricken faces of Easington Public Band standing in front of the colliery banner in North Road, Durham City. The bandsmen on the far left is Billy Winter, behind the young mascot on the right is Richard Black. Two other members are Tommy McGarry and Tommy Scott.

The grief-stricken faces of Easington Public Band standing in front of the colliery banner in North Road, Durham City. The bandsmen on the far left is Billy Winter, behind the young mascot on the right is Richard Black. Two other members are Tommy McGarry and Tommy Scott.

Because of their duties in connection with the two other large mines in the group under their charge, the activities of the agent and his assistant were too widely dispersed to permit of their giving any effective help and guidance to the manager or, indeed, to allow them to gain the close knowledge of the conditions at the colliery which would have enabled them to do so.

In short, nobody seemed to be in a position either to see the situation as a whole or to think it out if he did.


News Articles about the explosion

The King’s Message

The National Coal Board announced to-night that the King had sent the following message to Mr. Skinner :—

“The Queen and I have learnt with the deepest distress of the explosion at Easington colliery and of the severe loss of life there. We send our heartfelt sympathy to all those who have lost husbands or sons. — George R.”

imagesMr. Skinner said he had sent the following reply to the King’s message :— “The people of Easington colliery are deeply grateful for your Majesties’ gracious message of sympathy in our sorrow. I deep0ly regret to say that hopes are dwindling, but I assure your Majesties that rescue operations are being tirelessly pursued.”

— The Times, the 30th May 1951

63 Are Still Missing in Pit

Lord Hyndley and Mr. Shinwell at Easington Pit-head

‘Won’t Give Up Hope’

As rescue workers battled grimly on in Easington Colliery to-day through a tangle of twisted girders and masses of debris in search of their 63 comrades, missing since yesterday’s dawn explosion in the pit, Mr. E. H. D. Skinner, Chairman of Durham Division of the N.C.B., said: “Hope will not be given up until we know they are dead.” The bodies of 16 men have been found, one rescue worker died at the pit yesterday, and a man who was rescued alive yesterday died later.

Relations of the missing men who had kept a ceaseless vigil at the pit-head since the explosion were still waiting for news as dawn broke to-day. They were joined by anxious crowds from cottages where lights had burned all night. Mr. Skinner’s statement told them that rescue work is necessarily slow, and that it would be late to-day before any of the bodies which have been located can be brought out.sunderland-echo-jobs-big-19885-0
Lord Hyndley, Chairman of the N.C.B., and Mr. Emmanuel Shinwell, M.P., Minister of Defence, arrived at the pit to-day. Standing on the steps of a miner’s home opposite the pit gate, Lord Hyndley, surrounded by miners and their wives, expressed his sympathy.

Lord Hyndley said: “The rescue teams have worked magnificently. The organisation on the management side has been splendid and the machine has worked as well as anybody could possibly have expected, and that is very satisfactory.”

Mr. Shinwell spoke to people in the crowd at the pit gate. He was almost in tears as he turned from the men and chatted to individuals rather than groups. He said later: “This is not the time for making speeches.”

— The Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette,
the 30th May 1951

Easington Colliery prepares to mark 60th anniversary of pit disaster


THE seaside community of Easington Colliery will this weekend unite to mark the 60th anniversary of a pit disaster – one of the blackest days in County Durham’s mining history.

It was just before dawn on May 29,1951, that a pit explosion wiped out the lives of 81 men and boys from the village.

Two rescue workers would also die during the harrowing retrieval of the bodies.

Easington Colliery Parish Council chairman Ange

la Surtees said last night: “Sixty years ago Easington Colliery Pit was the site of a terrible disaster that affected the whole of the community. “Even today the events of the day are remembered by people – especially the families of the 83 who lost their lives.

“We may not have the colliery any more but we do have the community. The 60th anniversary services allow us all to remember these men.”

A service will start at the Community Memorial Garden, on the site of the former colliery, at 11am on Sunday.

The garden will be rededicated by the Bishop of Jarrow The Right Reverend Mark Bryant and an address will be given by Alan Cummings, Easington National Union of Mineworkers Lodge Secretary.

A procession, accompanied by Easington Colliery Band, will then make its way to the Church of Ascension for the Commemoration Service, starting at 11.30am.

After the church service, the congregation will proceed to the Miners’ Mass Grave site, in Easington Colliery Cemetery, for a further Memorial Service at 12.45pm. Floral tributes will be laid and another miner’s lamp will be unveiled to representing the 60th

anniversary. The service will end at 1.15pm followed by refreshments at the Colliery Club.

Meanwhile, Glenedene School and Community Arts College and Easington Colliery Primary School held a concert yesterday (Thursday, May 26) to mark the anniversary.

The event was the culmination of a project that children from both schools have been working for the last few weeks.

Some of the children helped make silk painted panels for a large banner specially- commissioned by Beamish Museum, near Stanley, for the anniversary.

The work will form part of a display on show at the Easington Colliery Welfare Hall, from 10am to 3pm tomorrow (Saturday, May 28) The display will also feature personal memorabilia and collections from the disaster a drama piece by Shotton Hall Academy and an animation film made by the two schools depicting the events around the disaster.

Glendene headteacher Eric Baker said: “The heritage of the area is very important to all of the community and we are proud to have been able to contribute to the commemoration.”

— The Northern Echo, the 27th May 2011


In Memory Of those Who Died

Anson, John
8 Thomas Street, Easington
Armstrong, William
6 Barwick Street, Easington
Bedding, Mark Smart
84 Wordsworth Road, Easington
Brenkley, George
Not Known
Brenkley, Thomas
24 Dean Avenue, Easington
Brennan, Louis
3 Cuba Street, Easington
Brown, George Miller
14 Cook Street, Easington
Burdess, Henry,
Overcome by noxious gas.
Died 1st June 1951
Deputy, also
Rescue Worker
Brancepeth Colliery
Burn, Bertram
12 Thorpe Street, Easington
Cain, Emmerson
22 Ashton Street, Easington
Cairns, Frederick
72 Station Road, Easington
Calvert, George
5 Clifton Street, Easington
Calvin, James
Conveyor Maintenance
1 Laburnum Crescent, Easington
Carr, Frederick
5 Leachmere Terrace, Ryhope
Carr, George William
Timber Drawer
5 Cook Street, Easington
Carr, James
Timber Drawer
7 Vincent Street, Easington
Challoner, John Edwin (Teddy)
10 Boston Street, Easington
Champley, Richard
29 Hazel Terrace, Shotton
Chapman, Albert Kerr
48 Attlee Crescent, Easington
Charlton, Joseph
Brother in law of John Lamb
Master Shifter
15 Baldwin Street, Easington
Clough, John
2 West Crescent, Easington
Dryden, William Arthur
13 Tower Street, Easington
Ellison, John
2 Wear Terrace, Easington
Fishburn, Charles
7 Cardiff Street, Easington
Fishburn, Henry
111 Station Road, Easington
Garside, Thomas
49 Oak Road, Easington
Godsman, Joseph
41 North Road, Wingate
Goulburn, George
Mason’s Labourer
54 Station Road, Easington
Gowland, Albert
Leaves a widow and three boys
20 Bradley Street, Easington
Goyns, Ernest
20 Stokoe Crescent, Easington
Goyns, Herbert
1 Fifteenth Street, Wheatley Hill
Harker, John
30 Glebe Avenue, Easington
Henderson, John William
The Cottage, Hawthorne
Hepple Thomas 31 Filler 16 Easington Street Easington
Hunt Daniel 54 Datal 8 Castle Street Easington
Hunt Stephen 24 Filler 5 The Crescent Easington
Hunt William 43 Datal 29 West Crescent Easington
Hutton Arthur Chambers 42 Filler 72 Oak Road Easington
Jepson Frederick Ernest 68 Shifter 11 Abbot Street Easington
Jones Lawrence 36 Filler 1 Attlee Crescent Easington
Jones Thomas Edward 35 Deputy 62 Station Road Easington
Jopling Herbert Jeffrey 57 Shifter 11 Ashton Street Easington
Kelly John
Father of William
Leaves a widow and two sons
57 Datal 11 Clifton Street Easington
Kelly William (Billy)
Son of John
28 Filler 11 Clifton Street Easington
Lamb, John, Edward, Armstrong
Brother in law of Joseph Charlton
43 Datal 15 Butler Street Easington
Link, Jesse, Stephenson 44 Datal 6 Anthony Street Easington
Lippeatt, Joseph, Fairless 37 Filler Oak Road Easington
Lynch, Peter 20 Filler 4 Stephenson Square Easington
McRoy, Denis 23 Filler 22 Bolam Street Easington
McRoy, William, James 31 Filler 9 Tower Street Easington
Milburn, Robert, William 26 Filler 37 George Avenue Easington
Nelson, Harold 49 Stoneman 27 Bradley Street Easington
Newcombe, Albert 67 Stoneman 13 Beatty Street Easington
Nicholson, Norman 29 Filler 51 Oak Road Easington
Noble, Robert 45 Shifter 24 Austin Street Easington
Parkin, William 24 Filler 31 Thorntree Gill Peterlee
Parks, William Edward Forbes 62 Shifter 7 Raby Avenue Easington
Pase, Robert 63 Shifter 16 The Crescent Easington
Peaceful, Stanley 37 Stoneman 6 South Street Thornley
Penman, Alexander 42 Cutter 71 Oak Road Easington
Porter, James 32 Filler 51 George Avenue Easington
Porter, John, Thomas 23 Filler 3 Alnwick Street Easington
Rice, Thomas, Valentine 53 Shifter 2 Beaty Street Easington
Robinson, John 50 Stoneman 5 Carol Street Easington
Robson, John, George 25 Filler East View Easington
Scott, George 53 Datal 1 Burns Street Easington
Seymour, Albert 64 Datal 32 Oak Road Easington
Sillito, Frederick 52 Shifter 10 Angus Street Easington
Stubbs, George, Henry 60 Shifter 21 Alma Street Easington
Surtees, Hugh Bell 36 Datal 4 Bevan Crescent Easington
Thompson, Laurence 54 Datal 2 Boyd Street Easington
Surtees, Matthew, White 61 Shifter 22 Alma Street Easington
Thompson, Thomas 28 Underground Bricklayer 2 Wickham Street Easington
Trisnan, Thomas 43 Stoneman 56 Oak Road Easington
Turnbull, Robert
Leaves a wife one son and two daughters (was due to retire in 3 months)
64 Master Wasteman 29 Ascot Street Easington
Wallace, John, (Jack) Young
Rescue Worker overcome by noxious gas. Died same day
26 Back Overman Deneside Seaham
Wilkie, George 63 Shifter 16 Argent Street Easington
Wilkinson, Reginald 40 Stoneman 33 Hart Lane West Hartlepool
Williams, Matthew
Fatally injured and
died the same day
18 Datal 6 Ashton Street Easington
Willins, Robert 45 Fore Overman 11 Byron Street Easington
W ilson, John 62 Hauling Engineman 23 Baldwin Street Easington
Wilson, Stephen 60 Shifter 9 Anthony Street Easington






[1] original picture:

[2] original picture:…/




                                              A special note to ED RAW

Page written by Mandy Jiang

Page written by Mandy Jiang

Dear my ED RAW family,

It’s hard to believe that it’s time for farewell.  Allison, Andrea, Carol, Claire, Ian, and Rob, thanks so much for offering me such a lovely and meaningful  experience. I feel as if i was not working with a local organization, but with a cozy family full of love, warmth, care and supports.

Indeed, the impact that ED RAW has exerted on me is immense. You not only taught me to be a responsible, caring, optimistic and tolerant girl, but also encouraged me to take pride and pleasure in my identity. “Be yourself and you’ll go far.” Claire, I will never ever forget your words. They are short but strong!

I sincerely hope that this memory book can give people some guidance about Easington’s mining history and help ED RAW in future community inclusion activities!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: