Transcribed below are four eyewitness accounts of what happened. The first two are taken from interviews with Charles Day by the Atherstone Herald. Henry Sanders’ statement was forwarded to the Relief Fund committee by Reuben Smallman. The fourth is an extract from a letter sent by Samuel Marsh.
Charles Day 1
Charles Day 2
Henry Sanders’ statement
Mr Marsh’s letter
Day Account 1
Extract from Atherstone Herald dated 6 May 1882
INCIDENTS AT THE EXPLOSION
The following thrilling narrative of the fearful explosion was given by Charles Day, the brave deputy, who descended the pit several times in search of his fellow workmen and who was the last person who spoke to the imprisoned miners. He has three sons, all of whom were very dangerously wounded by the explosion, and who have since this narrative was related, expired. Day made several attempts, although half choked by the damp, to relieve his companions. He says "I went down the deep about half-past six on Monday evening and examined the works, and was returning to the incline when I met the nightshift men, who were just coming to work. I sat down a little while in the incline, and we talked about the work to be done", Joseph Orton said "Mr Parker said we must lower the rails," I said “Very well, you have got no wagons to put the dirt in". I considered a bit and then I said, "I think I know how we can act now". I took Bill Blower, and he went up the incline with me to the stables, and we brought the horse down to fetch Joseph Orton and some wagons back. I never saw Joseph Orton after that, nor the man who took the horse down. My watch stopped at seven, so I could not tell exactly what the time was when the horse came back. John Ross and another stopped on the bank, sending timber down. I believe that one of the men said it was 20 minutes past eight when they started from the top, and they had to draw all the timber out from the bottom. I told them they had better go to the workings when they had finished their task. I expect it would be about half past eight when they went down the incline. They would have to travel by Joseph Orton on the road. I never saw them any more. My son shifted me at ten oclock. When he came down the Upcast, and had reached the bottom, he said "Did you see the smoke in the shaft?" After explaining to him what work he was to do, I got on the cage and went up. When I got into the air I nearly fell. My son had told me there was smoke in the shaft, and as I was ascending I was nearly suffocated, and rammed my scarf in my mouth. When I got to the top of the incline the smoke was coming from the shaft. After I recovered I tried to let the others know about it, but could not get near them for the damp. I have since been down several times, and was down during the explosion. Several men near me were severely injured, but I was untouched, and though I was knocked down and my lamp hurled from my grasp, no other injury as done me. I have three sons badly burnt about the legs, thighs hands and face. When I was down with Mr Dugdale, I heard a shouting in the incline. When Mr Dugdale was taken out, I wished to go again, but was prevented by those around, who caught hold of me and kept me from going. It was Rowland Till, the carpenter, who is now dead, who shouted to me.
A striking instance of piety and heroism is recorded of one of the deputy managers. He had been down the shaft twice, with the view of proceeding to the aid of those entombed, and was expostulated with before going a third time. He declared, however, that he would make the attempt, even though his life should be sacrificed, and after offering up a prayer on the pit bank, he descended with renewed energy but without success.
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Day Account 2
Extract from Atherstone Herald dated 10th June 1882
THE COLLIERY EXPLOSION AT BAXTERLEY
As the pit at Baxterley, in which the disastrous explosion recently occurred, will probably be re-opened in the course of a short time, the following narrative, from the lips of the last man who spoke to the ill fated colliers who are still entombed, will no doubt be interesting to our readers: - Charles Day, the man in question, on being interviewed said: - William Blower, one of the entombed colliers, was engaged down the pit doing odd work; two others were employed with him and the remainder of the poor fellows were stallmen or timbermen. I met them when they were down the incline, and when I spoke to Blower he was nearly at the top of the incline, not above a 100 yards from the bottom of the shaft. Blower was the man employed to lade the water. The last time we spoke together we were talking about some flower roots, which he had promised me. I said, "Bill, you promised to give me some "gilliver" trees." He said, "I will give you some but they are not ready to draw yet." I knew of no fire down the pit at that time. There have been what are called "job" fires, but no regular fires. When I parted with the men we had not the slightest idea of danger. I was speaking to Orton who said, "I didn't like coming to work tonight; we might as well work tomorrow, as well as tonight. The pit is going to play tomorrow, and there was no necessity for us to have come to work at all." William Knight said: "I was waiting, and thought they would have sent me word not to come." I left them to go to the south workings. There was nothing found out till we got to the shaft. When my son came down at 10 o'clock on Monday night, he said, "Father there's smoke in this shaft." I said "Is there?" He said "It won't hurt you going up; get on, and I will ring the bell." So I got on the cage, and as soon as I had done so I thought I should have tumbled. I had an old scarf on, and I rammed it into my mouth. It seemed just as if the cage was standing still, though I was ascending all the time. Nothing seemed to make any noise, for it was as though the smoke deadened the sound. I was confused, and thought the cage must be standing. By the time I got to the top it was almost too much for me. As soon as I reached the top, I told the engine man that there was something the matter. I had the next cage brought up to the top: then I got on that and followed my son down. When I got to the bottom I ran after him to catch him. I saw his light, and he stopped when he heard me coming. I said "Joe, what's the matter?" He said "The smoke is here; it is coming right up the hill." Then we sent for Parker; I didn't go up myself. Mr Smallman worked very hard; he never left the work when he began it until after the explosion. The place was full of smoke, and at first we got on well and took the smoke down a good way. Then it got too strong for us, for we had pushed it until we couldn't push it any further. We could see no fire then; only smoke. I was lying down, with my face on the floor, and so managed to escape the fire. Another man, (William Saunders) says he was with me. All those down the pit are married, except the lad (who is, I believe, 13 or 14 years of age). If I feel as well as I do now, I will be there when the pit is opened, for I want to see the whole thing through now, if I can. There are 11 horses down the pit, about 100 yards away from the bottom. I felt so bad before the explosion that I thought I should have died, for I had the smoke down me. I think I was saved by a man bringing me a drop of brandy and a bit of victual. He had just given me this. After taking a little of the brandy, I put it in my pocket, and had just moved away when the explosion happened. It was Charles Albrighton who brought it to me, and I forgot that I had it until after I had reached home. It was a lucky job for him- he just escaped; his son, Charles, died. He, and two of my lads were together. I didn't think my three sons would have died so quickly; I was at the pit when two of them died. One was a very stout young fellow, and I had good hopes of him. It has been such a blow that I will never overget it. George Ball and his son seem to be getting on very nicely. Henry Saunders got out of his road a good bit when he was trying to make his escape after the explosion. He ran about wildly, and travelled a long distance, but, owing to the great darkness, he found himself after some time at the same place as when he started. He was on his hands and knees a lot of the way. When he came to the bottom, he felt about with his hands and found the wires that go down to the deep, and when he felt these he knew where he was. He could not tell where he was until he reached the wires, and then made for the bottom. Seeing some men standing there, he spoke to one of them. He did not know who it was then, but afterwards found it was Mr Pogmore. Saunders said "Can we get up?" Mr Pogmore was under the impression that the explosion had wrecked the cage, for he said "We can't get up, for it has knocked the bottom of the cage right out." It was not so, but he thought it had. The poor chap Saunders said "I must go up; I can't be here; let us try to get on." He persuaded Mr Pogmore to get on the cage, and got on himself. He put his arm around Mr Pogmore, and both came up together. One of the mining engineers, after the explosion, when going down with the rest, said he wanted some young ones to go down with him, but I told him I thought I could manage. Some that were round said," Let him go, he knows the mine." I have been employed as a miner ever since I was a boy, and I have worked for Mr Dugdale during the greater part of the time. Nobody could have had a better master, and I have never heard anyone speak ill of him. If he had lived, he would always have looked after his miners.
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Henry Sanders' statement
I, Henry Sanders, Baddesley, Atherstone,on May 2 went down a few minutes before 8 o’clock to assist if I could, to try to get those nine persons out who were there. When I got down we waited a minute or so and then went to the top of the deep landing where Mr W S Dugdale was, when I said what a bad job it was, and he said he was very sorry, then I went on farther, and there I saw Mr Pogmore, the Agent, Mr Parker, the manager, and Joseph Ball, the Engine-wright, who were at the bell, then I went on down the steep to where Mr Smallman was, and Rowland Till who were nailing a cloth across the arch. When I reached them I said "Good Morning" to them, just the they were changing shifts, and one of them Edward Collins, when he came back under the clothsaid, he thought it would be very awkward if anything were to happen to get under the cloth. So then Mr Smallman had it unnailed at one corner at the bottom, and placed Richard Archer there, to mind it, and lift it up if any one wanted to pass under it either way. Then the bell rang and Mr Smallman said "Lads, they are ringing" and then I said "It is not them that are ringing, it is something that has fallen on the bell wire", for instead of the wire pulling down and back again steady it bounced up towards the roof. I shouted up to Joseph Ball at the bell and asked if he thought anyone were ringing and he shouted back and said "No for it has pulled the hammer of the Bell right back out of place". And Joseph Ball and William Bates had to pull 3 or 4 times before they could get it back into its place again. Then Mr Smallman said “This cloth is not high enough I should like it a bit higher”, and he asked me if I would get on the ladder and hold it up while Rowland Till nailed it, and I said I would, so I and Rowland Till went up and nailed the right hand side up, and then Mr Smallman says "Shift the ladder across and nail the other side up". While Mr Smallman stood at the foot of the ladder, and when I came down the ladder, he stepped on one side while I got off, and I put my foot on while Rowland came down. We hardly had time to speak after we got off before the smoke came over the top of the cloth, like coming out of a furnace, and somebody shouted "Run lads" and we did try to run, but we had not run many yards before there were like a gust of wind, and it roared like thunder. And the fire followed with the rapidity of lightning and then there were the horrors, the anguish, and the tears and cries for mercy, it was beyond description. I ran as well as I could up the steep along the landing where Mr W S Dugdale and Mr Pogmore and Mr parker were, and while going along there I remember saying "This is awful, when you can hear the flesh frizzling on your own bones, and then there seemed to be a lot of us falling over one another there, for I remember falling over some that had fallen before me, and when I fell I dropped on to my hands and knees, and then the fire seemed to be gone out, for I rose up and it were like swallowing boiling hot fluid, so I dropped down again and with falling about at the corner I had made a turn somewhere for I thought that I was creeping up towards the bottom, and kept going on my hands and knees until I came to a door, then I knew that I were wrong and thought that I must give myself up, so I lay down a bit and asked the Lord to give me strength and show me the way, then I thought I must not give up as long as there as a bit of life. So I started back again on my hands and knees until I thought that I had gone too far, and turned back and got to the same place again. Then I felt determined to find the road if possible, so I started back again and kept on going until I could hear the wires going it were that which told me where I was, and I felt about till I could feel that one wire going down the deep and then crept across the road to feel for that going to the bottom, and when I found that, I knew I could find the way, that was close to the place where we fell, as I had turned and gone the wrong way. So then I got up and shouted 5 or 6 times, as loud as I could, and asked if there were anybody lying anywhere about there that could no get to the bottom, but nobody spoke, so I did not know what to think whether they were all dead, or gone to the bottom and gone up. I listened but could hear nothing, only the wire going, so I started to the bottom, when I got almost to the bottom I saw a man standing, so I went to him, not knowing who it was. And I said "Can we get up sir" and he said "No there has been an explosion" then I knew it was Mr Pogmore, and I said "Yes sir, Ive got my share of that, but we must try to get up now", and then he said "Its no use talking about going up, we can't, it has blown the bottom of the cage out to all to smash so I said "Well if there is no bottom in the cage we must hold ourselves on the side of the cage. He said to me "You must sit down, we cannot go" but I said to him "Thats no use at all, we must get up", so I walked past him to the bottom and shouted up the shaft, "Can we come up", and somebody spoke to me, and said "Yes, get on as soon as you can", So then I went to Mr Pogmore and said to him, "Come on , let us go up" and he said How can you hold you? And I said to him "I can hold me, and I will hold you if you come on" and he said, "Can you hold me? And I said, "Yes, I will, if you will come on". So I got on the cage, and put my right arm around the upright side of the cage, and my left arm round Mr Pogmore, and shouted, "Go on," and the engine-man started and brought us up. When we reached the top somebody took hold of him and led him off the cage, there was such a lot I could not say who it was, but Mrs Pogmore was there and she said "Thank the Lord, he has come at last", and I never saw him any more, but he told his wife the very same words that I have wrote here about the bottom of the cage being blown out.
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Extract from Mr Marsh's letter
The pits were found to be on fire nearly a mile from the surface and still further in were nine men and a boy who could not get past the fire in consequence of the smoke, so a party of 36 explorers went to find them and help them out. But whilst doing so a terrific explosion of gas occurred some distance away, but the flames completely filled the roads and there was nothing to breathe but one dense mass of flame. All were horribly scorched and burnt. It was just at this time I arrived at the pit with the Inspector and we volunteered to go down and get them out but just as we were starting down the pit another mass of gas exploded and filled everywhere with flame. But by stuffing our caps in our mouths we managed not to breathe any of it and burying our faces in our sleeves were not burnt except a little hair. So we made another attempt and got out possibly, easily 33 of the explorers all alive but terribly burnt. Nearly all had their eyes burnt quite out and their tongues were all shrivelled up. We then went down for the remaining three and after going (without lights of course) some 100 yards we stumbled on another man who proved to be the owner of the mine, Mr Dugdale. We got him out and just as we got to the top of the pit there was another explosion, and after waiting about 1/2 a hour we went down again and in time got out the others quite dead. So then we knew the nine men and a boy could not possibly be alive, so we closed them in and shut up the pit, where they will be for some weeks yet, as well as eleven horses that were burnt. It was the most sickly sight to be imagined. My arms were all covered with large pieces of skin, with flesh and blood on and I was completely saturated with blood through carrying the men who in most cases were badly mangled and felt more like jelly than anything else. All have since died including the owner, the manager and two other mining engineers and there does not seem to be a single woman in the whole district around who is not in mourning.
The letter is signed Fred. L. Marsh and is addressed to Miss Gilbert at Mound Vernon in Nottingham. The original letter is held at Warwick County Record Office.
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