On 23 December 1911, the miners worked their last shift before the Christmas holidays. A small staff worked to feed the pit ponies and keep the ventilation fan and pumps running. Clouds of smoke were seen issuing from the upcast air shaft, and management were alerted. A raging fire was found 30 yards from the upcast air shaft pit bottom, presumed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion. The miners of Galley Common were sent for, as well as all the mining engineers in this area of the coalfield. Teams of miners were organised to fight the fire, and the H. M. Inspector of Mines ordered that the 16 pit ponies be brought to the surface. This operation took six hours, but all 16 ponies were unharmed.
Fought through the night
]The teams of miners fought the fire throughout the night but were unable to get it under control, so the mining engineers decided to seal off that area of the mine. Work continued throughout Christmas Eve and the seals were completed around 10am on Christmas Day, and everyone believed the pit to be saved. By 3am the next morning, it was found that the fire had travelled through the solid coal seam and was now burning in the side of the pit bottom. The density of the firedamp being distilled from the coal by the heat of the fire was now reaching explosive proportions. The H. M. Inspector gave the order to evacuate the mine and seal the shafts, leaving 1012 miners unemployed.
Impossible to re-open
In May 1912, the shaft seals were removed and the ventilation fan switched on. There was no sign of fire, but the gases issuing from the heating deep inside the coal seam ruled out the possibility of opening the pit for production. A new upcast air shaft pit bottom was developed 50ft away, and the old pit bottom sealed off permanently. The colliery reopened for production in December 1912, and by 1920, the colliery employed 1254 men underground and a further 408 on the surface.
Durham Mining Museum. (n.d.) ‘Haunchwood Collieries Ltd.’ [Accessed 12 March 2021].
Fretwell, L. (2005) ‘Haunchwood Tunnel Colliery’, The Warwickshire Coalfield, Vol. 3, pp. 33-42.
Fretwell, L. (2005) ‘Nowell’s Haunchood Colliery’, The Warwickshire Coalfield, Vol. 3, pp. 25-32.
Northern Mine Research Society. (n.d.) ‘Warwickshire Coalfield‘. [Accessed 30 March 2020].