A third pit disaster in the space of 2 years fell upon Dixons Collieries this time on the 2nd of July 1879, with the loss of 28 lives.
The 1879 disaster occurred in the ell coal, the shallowest of the three seams. The coal was worked from number 1 pit, which was the downcast. There was a “blind pit” down to the main coal, which was no longer being worked, and a communication mine down to the splint coal at the foot of pit number 3.
Air came down number 1 pit and the current was split to ventilate the north and south workings respectively. The south current passed along the south level for 770 yards (700 m) to the southern extremity. It passed through the longwall workings there and returned via the older stoop and room workings before joining the north current return and passing up the upcast, number 5 pit.
The inspectors report concluded “1 That the arrangements for the ventillation of this pit were sufficient, and that the quantity of air sent in was ample under ordinary conditions”. Although the owners banned the men from opening lamps or from taking smoking materials below ground, several prosecutions had occurred for breaches of the rules. The last such was the day before the explosion when a miner was fined £2 (equivalent to £182 in 2016[f]) for opening his lamp.
The explosion was first noticed on the surface as a “sharp retort” at 21:00 on Wednesday 2 July 1879. Once John White, the oversman, had been summoned an attempt was made to lower the cage, but it stuck. White then descended number 3 pit and found that the men there were unaware of the explosion. He, a group of men, and shortly afterwards Mr Watson (the manager) proceeded up the communication mine into number 1 pit’s workings.
Parties descended the blind pit into the main coal and other parties searched the north workings and both reported all was well. Exploration of the south workings was stopped by falls and afterdamp.
Various attempts were made to recover the bodies during the Thursday, but it was 04:00 on Friday before the whole workings could be reached and recovery completed. Not all the safety lamps were found, however one was found that was unlocked. Smoking materials including matches were found in the clothes of the deceased, one man was found with a half full pipe in his hand. Several men had unofficial (and therefore illegal) lamp-keys on them. In the immediate vicinity of the seat of the explosion little burning was seen, the supposition was that a firedamp explosion had raised dust in the passageways and the coal dust had exploded.
The official investigation tentatively suggested that shot firing had displaced the gas towards the area where men were smoking and that a naked flame there triggered off the explosion.