Hamstead 1908

At Hamstead Colliery, (South Staffordshire), on 4th March, 1908, a fire broke out in the inset, close to the bottom of the downcast shaft. This was attributed to the ignition of a quantity of candles stored in a wooden box, and resulted in the loss of 25 lives; and on the following day, John Welsby, one of a rescue party from Yorkshire, succumbed to heat stroke while exploring the mine.

Attempts at rescue were hampered by a catalogue of circumstances that were, to say the least, unfortunate.

  • The manager had only been in charge for some six weeks and had not got to know his men or the details of the mine;
  • The Under Manager had been killed in an unrelated accident only 5 days previously;
  • The main winding engines on the downcast shaft, at which all the coal drawing was done, had broken down two days previously and as a result coal drawing was suspended, nothing was being done at the downcast bottom, and the cager usually in attendance there had been transferred to the upcast;
  • Owing to the heat in the upcast shaft, due to the furnace, the signal wires from the shaft bottom were led to and up the downcast shaft and they were subsequently destroyed almost at the first outbreak of the fire, therefore there was no proper means of signalling in the upcast.

Rescue teams were called in from Tankersley and Altofts in Yorkshire and these were supplemented by miners from Hamstead who were unhesitant in their willingness to volunteer.

The rescue attempt was one of the first to use self contained breathing apparatus; the Altofts brigade used the WEG and the Tankersely brigade used DRAEGER sets.

It seems likely that the death of John Welsby, reported as being through heat stroke, was contributed to by the relatively poor quality of the breathing apparatus in use, together with poor discipline by the team with him.

Commemorative postcard produced shortly after the disaster. Walter Clifford can be seen, holding the canary cage, with the Tankersley rescue Brigade team on the top right hand side. Next to him are team members Joseph Outram and John Henry Thorn. Seated is the brigade instructor Sgt Arthur Thomas Winborn

(photo reproduction courtesy of Peter Appleton)

The 25 miners killed :-

Howell, Joseph, 35, Deputy,

Guest, John, 27, Deputy,

Charles Summerfield, 34, Stallman,

William Underhill, 48, Stallman,

Samuel Mitchell, 44, Stallman,

Enoch Burton, 39, Loader,

Joseph Titley, 25, Loader,

Ernest Jones, 31, Loader,

Samuel Turner, 40, Loader,

Edwin Johnson, 30, Loader,

Henry Watts, 47, Loader,

Thomas Cole, 34, Loader,

Alfred Thomas Curtis, 34, Loader,

A. Williamson, 44, Pikeman,

John Hodgkiss, 17, Timekeeper,

John Hodson, 29, Minding Dams,

William Lawley, 27, Minding Dams,

John Summerfield, 26, Driver,

Henry Underhill, 17, Driver,

James Hancock, ??, Driver,

Arthur Merrick, 23, Driver,

James Bradley, 45, Haulage Man,

Thomas Hollyoak, 39, Haulage Man,

Richard Ashton, 33, Haulage Man,

Walter Summerfield, 21, Haulage Man

and, on 5th March, John Welsby, Rescue Man.

EDWARD medals were awarded to :-

1st Class :-

Walter Clifford, (Tankersley Rescue Brigade);

James Cranswick (Altofts Rescue Brigade),

James Hopwood (Altofts Rescue Brigade) ,

John Henry Thorne (Tankersley Rescue Brigade), Thorne was later one of only two men ever to receive a bar to the medal for disaster at Wellington Colliery in 1910
James Whittingham

2nd Class:-

John Welsby {Posthumous} (Altofts Rescue Brigade) 
Joseph Outram (Tankersley Rescue Brigade).
In addition to the Edward Medals, some 4 months after the disaster, 40 special medals were struck, 24 in raw unpolished gold, 16 in silver and a further 2 in bronze. The medals were engraved with the words :-


The centre medal on Walter Clifford's lapel is his Gold Hamstead medal and is currently held at the National Coal Mining Museum, Caphouse Colliery, Wakefield, Yorkshire.

The medals were paid for out of the disaster fund and were awarded to:-

GOLD Medals awarded to :-

Arthur Thomas Winborn, Tankersley Rescue Brigade

John Henry Thorne, Tankersley Rescue Brigade

Walter Clifford, Superintendent, Tankersley Rescue Brigade

Joseph Outram, Tankersley Rescue Brigade

James Hopwood, Altofts Rescue Brigade

James Cranswick, Altofts Rescue Brigade

Whittingham, Altofts Rescue Brigade

John Welsby, (Posthumous), Altofts Rescue Brigade

Mr Waterhouse (Colliery Manager, Hamstead)

A.W. Grazebrook (Director, Hamstead Colliery)

Lawrence Holland (late manager, Hamstead)

Rose, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Wright, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Latham, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Jones, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Warner, Miner, Hamstead Colliery 

Griffith, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Oakley, Miner, Hamstead Colliery 

Outridge, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Westwood, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Hugh Johnson (His Majesty's Inspector of Mines)

H.R. Makepeace ( His Majesty's Inspector of Mines)

John Cadman (His Majesty's Inspector of Mines)

A.M. Henshaw (General Manager, Talk 'o' the Hill Colliery)


SILVER Medals awarded to :-


Summerdin, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Horton, George. Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Ballet, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Poynton, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Bailey Jnr., Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Evans, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Wilkes, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Nock Jnr., Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Dolan, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

House, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Frank, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Adams, Miner, Hamstead Colliery

Haigh (Tankersley Rescue Brigade)

Taylor (Tankersley Rescue Brigade)

Thomas Fox (Altofts Rescue Brigade)

Anderson (Tankersley Rescue Brigade)

BRONZE Medals awarded to :-

No information available at this time. If you know of these awards and who received them please advise Philip Clifford.  In addition to the above awards, the widow of John Welsby received the sum of £262 from the special disaster fund.

The above information was obtained from the HM Inspector of Mines Report and the book

"THE ENTOMBED" by Jack Boddington (private publication, Canada), with additional input from Peter Appleton