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Minutes of evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Mines online

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like to say 7 — ^No,

Mr. William Sbwsll, called and examined^

Mr. William

24146. {Chairman.) 1 understand that it is the wish of
the Derbyshire Miners* Association that you should give
evidence before us ?— That is so.

24147. You belong to the same Association as the last
witness 7— That is so.

24148. Where are you employed 7 — At Holbrook, J. and
G. Wells, Ltd., Eckington Collieries.

24140. Have you worked there always 7— No : I have
been there something like 36 years.

24160. You have been a stallman for 34 years 7— Yes.

24151. At the same mine 7— Not exactly the same mine,
but the same Company.

24152-4. You have always worked under the same
Company 7 - Yefl.

24155. What other experience have you, except under
that Company, of practical mining 7— Ihave worked at other
ooDieries besides. I did not have such a great deal of
practical mining, because I maintain you do not get
practical knowledge until 21 years of age.

24156. Since 21 years of age you have worked under
this company 7 — Yes.

24157. You are still working now 7— Yes.

24158. At the coal face 7— Yes.

24150. We know you are a stallman. How big is your
staU 7 How many men are working in jrour stfUl 7— We
vary at our collieries in stalls. Sometimes we have a
longer staU and a larger number of men, and sometimes
wenave a shorter stall and a smaller number of men.

24160. How many stallmen are engaged in looking after
the timbering 7— Chiefly three. That is a rule in our
particular coUiery.

24161. {Mr. Ratdiffe EUm.) In what distance 7— The
distance of the stalls.

24162. Yes ; what is the distance 7— They vary : per-
haps 40 yards.

24163. There is a stallman in each stall 7— Yes. 40 or
50 yards, and sometimes a little less.

24164. One of these men looks after the timbering 7—
Every man is responsible. Each stallman is supposed to
take his share of responsibility and take any comer he is
asked to take.

24165. {Chairman.) Has your stallman any particular
responsibility with regard to drawing or putting up timber 7
Every stallman is supposed to either set timber or with-
draw it.

24166. Every man working in the mine 7— No, every
responsible stallman

24167. There are three responsible stallmen in every
StaU 7 — ^Not in every stall : they vary according to distance,
and how it is worked, whether night or day.

24168. How many men would be working under the
three stallmen at the same stall 7 — ^They vary ; sometimes
more and sometimes less.

24160. Ten or a doasen 7 — ^We do not work so much on
that long butty system. We work two stallmen or three
day-men, or three stallmen and two day-men, just as
oiroumstances permit.

24170. The staUmen are responsible for puttiuj
drawing the timber so as to prevent accidents 7 — '~

up and

24171-2. I understand that you wish to point out the
danger of working more than one seam in a shaft 7 —
Yes. As far as our county is concerned, the men seem to
have more fear now of riding up and down than they have
of working at the coal face. We must admit when we see
the large amount of coal that is drawn now and the small
number of accidents, that it is remarkable, when you come
to look at it in that light, but we think they might be
brought down to a minimum. We think in the near
future that we shall have a big disaster ; we have such
fast running and big loads and more than one seam worked
in a shaft.

24173. Take the last first. With regard to more thaa
one seam worked in a shaft, what are the dangers you are
afraid of 7 — I have a plan which I could Slustrate to
anyone. Why we have objections to more than one seam
in one shaft is having men drawn out of various seams
at one time.

24174. {Mr. Enoch Edwards.) You would not object to
10 seams if all brought to one level 7 — That is my point.
We have had a serious shaft accident in our district — I am
bordering on the Derbyshire line — at Orgreave, where we
had three men killed and one seriously injured through
having more than one seam in one shaft.

24175. (Mr. Ratdiffe BUis.) When 7— That waa four
months ago.

24176. This year 7— Yes.

24177. {Chairman.) How did the accident occur 7 — ^They
work the Silkstone and the Parkgate in one shaft. The
Silkstone is 00 yards below the Parkgate. It is usual to
let men down to stop at either of those places, either
ascending or descendmg. On this particular day there
was one man ascending to the Parkgate from the surface,
which was 00 yards ofl the Silkstone bottom. He gets
on at the top, two more men get on at the Silkstone at
the bottom to ascend. When &e engineman receives the
signals he goes on to the Parkgate and collects two more
men. That means that there are four men hanging in


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the shaft 90 yards oS the bottom, and one hanging 90 yards
from the top. He gets his signal to go on again, and the
engineman goes on while he gets his descending man to
the Parkgate. He leaves that man there, and his fonr
men in the shaft 90 yards off the top. When he receives
the signal to go on he goes on, and the consequence is
men are into the pulleys in a twinkling of an eye : from
loss of memory, through some cause which I am not pre-
pared to explain, in half a second he knocks their skulls
in and permanently injures others. We say if there had
been one shaft in one seam he would have started from the
bottom and gone to the top with his load in a successful
manner. That is one reason why we object to more than
one seam to one shaft. We think it could be worked by
bringing it to one particular level. In our collieries we
have three seams in one shaft. There is such a complica-
tion of signals it is an easy thing for an engineman to forget.
You are forced to have one on-setter to look after these
three shafts They do not draw coal out of these three
seams in this shaft, but they take the men up and down.

24178. (Mr. Enoch Sdwarda.) Where do they get the
coal ? — ^The coal is drawn out of either shaft. They have
a drawing shaft for the Parkgate, and they draw Flockton
and Silkstone from this particular shaft where they raise
and lower the men. They have two shafts : one is down
to the Parkgate only, the other down to the Silkstone 90
yards below the Parkgate, and then there is the Flockton
three seams in one shaft to draw men out. The Parkgate
coal goes to that particular shaft where the bottom is
permanent, but the men have to be drawn out of the
Silkstone shaft ; that means three lots of men drawn out.

^24179. (Mr, Batdiffe EUts.) Which is the bottom of all,
the Parkgate or the Silkstone 7 — The Silkstone, above the

24180. What depth is that from the surface ?— I tliink
about 290 yards.

24181. Next to it coming up is the Parkgate T — Yes.

24182. What is the distance ? — 90 yards between the two.

24183. Is there another seam 7 — Yes : I believe that
is 120 yards from the surface.

24184. What is the name of that 7— The Flockton.

24185. In this pit they do not wind any coal at all 7 —
Yes, out of Silkstone and Flockton.

24186. They wind coal from these mouthings 7 — Yes,
but there is a permanent bottom to the Silkstone.

24187. Where do they wind Parkgate 7 — Another draw-
ing shaft some distance away.

24188. The Silkstone and other seams are wound where
you are speaking about 7 — ^Yes.

24189. Your objection is to winding men from two or
three mouths 7 — ^Yes.

24190. (Mr, F, L. Davis.) It is rather confusing: it is
not the number of seams woriced, but the number of levels
worked you object to 7 — ^The number of mouthings.

24191. For handling men 7 — ^Yes,

24192. (Mr. Batdiffe EUis.) How would you alter it in
that particular pit 7 Where would you wind the men 7 —
I should have them brought to the one level.

24193. How 7— By drifting down to it.

24194. It is 90 yards 7 — It is done at some places. It is
not a question of cost : it could be done. It is not a
question of cost with me : it is a question of safety.

24195. You can drive a down brow 7 — I should have
drift to down to one, and up to the other.

24196. That is an incline. Instead of a perpendicular
shaft you would have to have an incline ? — Yes.

24197. What would the inclination be 7 — I have not
worked that out. It ia not my practical experience to
work that out.

24198. That is the alternative 7— Yes. The gradient can
be got. It ifi very steep. They are drifting down to one
particular seam now which is very steep.

24199. Would there not be very much danger in a steep
gradient 7 — "So : the further the distance the gradient
would not be so steep.

24200. You have no idea of cost 7 — ^No. Cost has nothing
to do with me : it is a question of safety.

24201. Not even if it was so much that you would have
to stop working these mines altogether 7~T do not think
the employers from their side study the coet. They are
willing to co-operate with the miners' leaders for safety
at the present time. That is my opinion. I know a
colliery in Derbyshire which works upon that principle.

I have been there to make an examination, and they have Mr. WiUimm
drifted down. They take a longish distance and the gra- Sewell.
dient is not so steep. ^6 J^ 1907

24202. The object is to prevent an accident such as you ^
have described 7 — ^Yes.

24203. That arose from a momentary loss of memory 7
— Of the engine man. Had he not had those two shafts
to collect from and to collect and deliver men, he would
not have made the mistake.

24204. If it was a loss of memory the mischief might
happen whatever you have 7 — Yes, but I am not going to
say that he would have lost his memory if he started from
the bottom. It looks very dangerous when he has to start
90 yards from the bottom and stop three times on the
journey. We say that it is a dangerous experiment.

24205. (Mr. F. L. Davis.) Is that the only case of an
accident in that mine 7 — It is all I know of of that par-
ticular character. There was also the Shirebrook disaster
which caused men in our county to feel very much about
riding up and down the shafts.

24206. (Mr, SnUUie.) An engine winder will have three
different bells 7 — ^Yes, three different signals. If he had
to go from the bottom to the top he wo Id ring seven to
the engineman to ascend to a certain seam of coal : then
ho would have to give three other signals that a man is
ascending. Then he would have to ring off : then he gets
to his particular coal mouth, and he has to give oUier
signals for the work to be performed, either running on
coal or sending men out.

24207. (Mr. Enoch Edtoards.) Have you had any expe-
rience of men falling down from those insets 7 — We have
had no one fall down, but there comes another danger
which I shall be able to explain.

24208. (Chairman.) That is all you want to say about
the seam. Then you say it is dangerous to allow men to
get on the swinging cages 7 — ^That is to say, at these
mouthings. You are compelled to have your cage a ^^
certain (Sstcmoe off the side, and when men have to get on

that cage you are entirely in the enginemon's hands. He
has to hola you by his brake, or some other process. We
say, when we get on that cage and the steam brake, or what-
ever he holds us with, goes wrong, it would dash Us down into
the bottom. We cannot have props in, because it would
be such a danger to have props for the cage to drop on. If
the props were left in and the cage caught them, you know
what the result would be, if there were men on the cage.

24209. (Mr. Wm. Abraham.) What is there to help the
man stepping from the mouth on to the cage ? — At this
particular shaft, about 15 inches from the mouth to the cage,
there is a kind of boai^i about 8 inches broad, dropped down
for them to step on to. It is held by a chain. The Com-
pany do all they can to prevent anyone falling down. I
have no charge to make against them whatever.

24210. It is not a question of charging. We want to
know the system 7— The system is dropping a board down
about 8 inches.

24211. (Mr. Batdiffe EIUb ) There is a guide on the
shaft 7— Yes, the conductors but that does not stop the
swinging cage.

24212. The guides are swinging, too 7—1 am not pre-
pared to say they are not.

24213. If they ore not swinging, the cage is not 7 — They
are supposed to be tight. If they get a little slack they
might swing. I know a case a little while ago where the
rods got slack, and by the men getting off at that partioolai
station it twisted the cage, and wh^ the engineman had
to start his engine his chiwis and the rope dropped on top of
hk cage. He shoves his steam brake on to catch the cage,
but as soon as he does that the cage drops. Had there bmn
men on it it would have broken their legs or thrown them
off, unless there was something acroes to stop them.

24214. (Jfr. F. L. Davis.) With all this danger, I think
you said just now that there has never been a case of a man
falling down 7 — I have never knoMH one.

(Mr. Enoch Edtoards.) lliey have fallen nevertheless, to
my knowledge.

(Mr. F. L. Davis.) In that partioular pit 7

(Mr. Enoch Edtrards.) In the system.

(Chairman.) How do you propose to remedy that 7

24215. (Mr. Batdiffe Ellis.) Bring them on to one level 7
— ^Yes : one level is the remedy. I may illustrate this as it
IS in a colliery I know. There may be a lot more in opera,
tion. I know a good many workmg on the system I have
suggested. I am making no charge of any neglect against
any particular man.


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MINUTES OF evidence:


Mr. Williain 24216. (Mr. Wm. Abraham.) How is the coal put on the

Sewell. caj^e ? — On this cage here there is a door they orop down,

.,« - which drops it on to the cage and runs the trams on, and it is

Lo June 1907 worked by a weight and pulley, and when he has done

sending coal out of that particular shaft he pulls his door

up, and has a clear run for the cage.

24217. The cage is hanging in the shaft all that time ? —
All the time they are running coal on.

24218. {Mr. RakUffe Ellis.) Your danger is stepping on
and off the cage at the mouthings 7 — Not altogether : it is
the swinging of the cage.

24219. You do not mean when the cage is swinging at the
mouth : it is the danger of getting in when it is not steady?
— I do not mean that the only danger is getting on, but
you are swinging, and there is nothing to prevent you
falling if the engineman lowers ihe cage

24220. It is getting on and off the cage at these points
where the danger is 7 — Yes.

24221. When once in the cage you are all right 7 — Y€«,
without the engineman lets you go before he gets his
signal, or unless his steam brake was to let you go.

24222. A man winding the wrong way at the top 7 — He
has to hold us by a brake, and if his brake did not work
we should have to go against his will or his wish.

24223. (Chairman.) You want to tell us something about
the danger of lowering a large number of men down the pit
at the time 7 — We think the time has come when there
should be some limit put on large numbers of men riding up
and down the shaft at the time.

24224. That not more than a certain number of men
ought to ride up and down the shaft 7— We think that
it should be a question for the inspector, and that
he should have some power over that. Now the
manager puts a board up, and says 20 men must ascend
and descend this shaft at once, and we are compelled to
comply with his orders. I can remember, in my own
experience, when we did not have more than four, but I do
not want to go back to that time. We think some limit
should be put on what numbezs should ascend and descend
a shaft at one time. We are afrrjd in the near future that
we shall have such a disaster that it will be as bad as a ship
going down.

24226. Do you mean that the cages ought not to accom-
modate more than a certain number of people 7 — We
believe that more than a certain number of people should
not be allowed to ascend and descend at one time.

24226. In a cage 7— Yes.

24227. Do you mean that they ought to be built not to
accommodate more than 10 or 12 people 7 — I do not care
how large you build them as long as you restrict the

24228. As long as you restrict more than a cei-tain
number of men coming up or going down at one time 7 —

24229. Why do you consider that would conduce to
safety 7 What is the objection to having a cage holding
16 men 7 — Because we tlunk thare will l^ a greiat loss of

24230. If there was an accident, 16 men would be killed 7
— Yes. We think it would be sufficient if ycu h§d a certain
number fixed. I am not gc ing to place the number. It is
a serious thing to have 40 men on the cage and all bo dashed
down at once. It is, of course, a serious thing if you only
have one

24231. Do you think that 16 or 18 should be about the
largsst capacity of one cage 7 — I believe there are some
many more thui that. They load more than one deck.

24232. They have two decks 7 — Two or three decks.

24233. 8o that there are as many as 40 or 50 in the same
cage 7 — ^In our particular colliery we lower 18 down at the
time. There are collieries not far off where thev let 24
down at a time, and I have heard it said that there are
places where there are 40 who go up and down at a time,
but whether that is so I do not know.

24234. There may be as many as 40 7 — Yes, and we
think that it is getting tco large a number wh^n we see the
deep mines and the fast running which we have.

24236. Would you prevent more than a certain number
being carried up at one time, or only have so many men to
work in the seam served by the sr.m«t shaft 7 — ^We do not
wish to interfere with the seams at all : it is the riding up .
and down.

24236. The msn working the seams mxiBt be brought up
and down somehow. Do you suizgest that here should be

a limitation of the numbers of men who could work in a
seam served by the same shaft 7 — We do net wish to put a
limitation on the working : we wish to put a hmitation on
the number going up and down.

24237. When you ere working ycu must ascend and
descend. I want tc know what you mean 7 — ^It would only
add a little on the time.

24238. (Mr. Batcliffe EUis.) You want to limit the hours
the men may be down and at the same time let them take
longer to go down 7 — No, I am not discussing that.

24239. I thought the two had some relation 7 — I am not
dealing with that.

(Chairman.) I do not understand what you mean.

(Mr. Ratcliffe EUis.) You must take a longer time to
bring the men up and down that you do now 7

24240. (Chainnan.) You would not interfere with the
number of men that might be working all together in the
same seam 7 — ^No.

24241. But you would say that not more than 10 or 12,
or some specified number, should be taken up at one time 7

24242. Directly you have taken up one lot you would
take up another lot, all through the day 7 — Yes.

24243. (Mr. Smillie.) In a colliery employing 600 men,
if you limited the number to eight on the cage, would it
make more than 15 minutes' difference in getting them
down 7 — I do not think it would take much longer to get
them down.

(Mr. Ratcliffe EUis.) The Departm' ntal Committee said
it took an average of an hour taking the men up and down.
It would take two hours probably if your suggestion were

(Mr. Smillie.) Two minutes will run from the surface to
the bottom in any pit I know. If, instead of running 20
men on the cage, you limit the number to 10, it will double
the time it will take practically to put down 500 men.

(Mr. Raidiffe Ellis.) If it takes one hour, on an average,
for both journeys, it would double it.

(Mr. Smillie.) If an accident does take place, those men
want to limit that accident to eight or ten.

(The Witness.) We do not say at the present time that
it shall be eight or ten. It might be 20, but we do not want
to go further. We are rather afraid that we might increase
to 40 or 50.

24244. (Mr. Raidiffe EUis.) The statistics show that
travelling up and down a shaft is about the safest part of
working in mines 7 — ^Yes.

24245. Do you agree with that 7 — Yes.

24246. You say you want to provide in case there should
be an accident in the shaft, that there shall be as few men
as possible in it 7 — Yes.

24247. Why not also provide that in the most dangerous
part of mining, namely, in the seam itself, that there ehould
be a limit to the number employed for the same reason T
Our accidents are to a good many individuals. We do not
get many explosions. That would be only in the ease of an

24248. Are there not far more accidents from explosions
than even in the pits 7 — I do not think there are.

24249. You must look at the statistics. What reason is
there for reducing the number of people in a shaft in crder
to prevent excessive loss of life or injury in the case of a
winding accident, which is very seldom indeed, if you do
not at the same time propcse to reduce the number of people
employed in the mine where an accident is more likely to
arise, in order to secure the same result 7 — We are rather
afraid we are increasing in speed when lowering men up
and down.

24250. You do not answer my question T — I am not pre-
pared to say that we will restrict the number of men
working in the mine.

24251. Why not, except one is a good deal safer than
another. You propose to restrict the numbsr of men at the
safest part and leave it unlimited at the part which is
dangerous 7 — My point is this : I would rather have to look
after myself when I am at work and have a chance of
taking care of myself, but I have not that chance when I am
in the shaft. I would rather work at the coal face than
ride up and down the shaft.

24252. The effect of this would b?, if there is a limit to
the hours during which men may be down, and it takes
twice the time to get in and out, it would reduce the time
available for ooid getting. Would that not be the result 7
— It would taJse longer time.


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24253. Whatever time you did take off would still lessen
the time to get coal, and lessen the output of coal ? — It is
not a question of the output of coal, it is a question of

24254. Ton think it is only necessary to limit the number
in the shaft !— Yes, I do not say whether it should be 8, 10
or 20. I think that should be left to someone else to say.

24255. Do you say that the inspector should prescribe the
number ?— To a large extent. I think he should be a high
authority in that particular case.

24256. Should he have the last word or not ?— I do not
know. I think there ought to be a board.

24257. What sort of a board ?— County board, or some-
one to consult.

24268. Who is to be on the board ?— I do not know
whether I should not have the miners' leaders on, and have
a county board.

24259. For what purpose ?— To let them have a bit of
practical experience along with the inspectors' experience.

24260. Supposing they do not agree, what is to happen ?
— ^I think they would agree.

24261. Yes, but supposing they did not ?— They would
have to have someone to appeal to.

24262. Whom do you suppose ?— I am not prepared to
suggest whom they should appeal to; they would have to
appeal to Csesar, or someone.

24263. Who is to be CiBear ?— I am hardly prepared to
suggest, but there is a way out of that difficulty.

24264. Is this to apply only to the number of people to be
wound up and down the shaft at the time, or to the general
management of the colliery ?— I should have it apply to the
number going up and down the shaft.

24265. Solely to that ?— Yes.

24266. Do you know at the present time if the inspector
is of opinion that there is any dangerous practice upon the
mine he can require the coal-owner to go to arbitration as to
whether it shall be continued or not ? — ^The inspector has
not power to say now how many men should ride up
and down.

24267. He has not the power, but he has a right, if he
considers there is a dangerous practice, to require the coal-
owner to arbitrate 7 — Yes

24268. What more do you want than that ?— We want
I the numbers fixed. We are rather afraid that we are going

to get to bigger numbers.

24269. It is Section 42 of the Act. At the present time
if the inspector is of opinion that there is any dangerous
practice — ^if he thought they were winding too many men in

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