Dangers of Mining


Reluctance to mine the lower lying northern land of Whickham Parish was due to water on higher ground there was natural drainage or underground water courses could be constructed to draw mine water towards the lower lying valleys.   These man-made drainage tunnels were known as watergates driven under the coal seams near to the surface keeping then dry, the water flow relying on the force of gravity.


Methods of draining water:

Bailing with buckets – limited to rate of flow.

Adits – Link mine to deepest local valley.

Pumping – to surface water courses.

Physical barriers – to minimise water ingress to shaft and workings.


Mine water quality:

April 1620 – 200 acres of farmland spoiled with mine water.

Mine water contained iron.

Deep mine water was also rich in barium.

Shallow water rich in sulphate.



Black damp:              also known as choke damp.

Fire damp:                 lighted carburetted hydrogen, inflammable.

Stink damp:               sulphuretted hydrogen, extremely poisonous but rare.   Easily detected.

Carbon monoxide:   colourless, odourless, and tasteless, but highly toxic. Caged canaries were used in mining as a simple way of detecting carbon monoxide.



Caused by igniting of fire damp.   Becomes explosive when air contains 6% of the gas.    Maximum explosive point at 10%.   This type of gas explosion is fairly common but only extends over a small section of the mine with few victims.   However most mines that give off large amounts of fire damp are also deep, dry and dusty.   The explosion ignites the dust and can then pass through the mine.   The greatest danger of fire damp is therefore the ease with which it causes a dust explosion.   If fire damp explodes alone the gases produced are carbon dioxide, steam and nitrogen.   This combination does not support respiration and the combination is called after damp.   Coal dust will ignite if no fire damp is present.   The after damp then contains large quantities of carbon monoxide.

Spontaneous combustion.     Finely divided coals under pressure in the waste with limited air develop heat and will catch fire.





23rd January 1926             Robert Wheatley, age 51                              Killed by a fall of stone

26th April 1926                   Thomas Dickinson, age 44                         Struck by a runaway tub and killed

14th June 1926                    William Watson, age 34                              Accident caused by hook falling down the shaft

22nd June4 1927                 William French, age 15, a rope lad            Death caused by a crush

27th October 1927              Henry Little, age 26                                     Killed by a fall of stone

16th October 1931               J Teasdale                                                     Killed by a fall of stone

21st October 1931               Alexander Thompson, age 31

28th November 1931         C Thompson, age 20                                   Crushed by tubs

13th July 1935                      Joseph Ross                                                Killed by falling stone

8th December 1938            H Knox, age 16                                           Run over by tubs

11th April, 1941                   T N Kelly, age 39                                        Killed by fall of stone

13th November, 1945        W Ledger, age 45                                       Killed by fall of stone

3th July, 1947                     William Anthony Hopper, age 47          Killed by explosion while attempting a rescue

Henry Morgan, age 47      Killed by gas explosion

9th January, 1948               J W Watson, age 27                                  Killed by runaway tubs