Clifton Hall Colliery (known locally as Lumn’s Colliery), was situated on Lumns Lane Clifton, a short distance from Clifton Junction Station on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The proprietors were Messrs Andrew Knowles and Sons Ltd and it had been open for more than 50 years. The depth of the shaft was 540 yards and it had three main seams: Doe mine, Quarters mine and Trencherbone mine. Jonathan Hall, a certified Colliery Manager, was in charge. The “Patent Safety Lamp” was used by miners, although naked lights were still permitted when the ventilation was “remarkably good” i.e. when there was no danger of gas accumulation.
At 9.20am on Thursday 18th June 1885, a massive explosion occurred. The ground shook for half a mile around, guardrails on two sides of the pit mouth were blown away and the cages were rendered useless. It was thought that around 200 men were underground at the time. As the cages were out of action, Jonathan Hall, William Hindley (Blacksmith), and Aaron Manley (pit man) were winched down the shaft in a kibble. They saw that the cages had blocked the shaft and could proceed no further. They returned to the surface for a smaller kibble in which Manley, Hindley and Peter Horsfield descended and managed to loosen one of the cages. Just then the surface bell rang to indicate that someone was alive down below. The kibble was wound to the bottom of the shaft. The scene at the bottom was horrendous with dead bodies, men badly burned and men suffering the effects of “afterdamp” (carbon monoxide poisoning).
When the cages were working, the rescuers brought up 75 men, including 13 bodies, one of whom was William Reynolds age 20, who would later be buried at Weaste Cemetery. The dead men were conveyed to a stable close by and laid out for identification, which in some instances was difficult. “There were no extravagant demonstrations of grief, but the subdued sobbing of children, the blank dismay depicted on the faces of the women and the settled melancholy visible in the men, that told how deeply they felt the losses they had sustained”.
Miners working the Doe seam were able to escape by walking along a connecting road to Agecroft Colliery about half a mile away. This was a torturous route, flooded in parts and air full of “afterdamp” sapping their strength. It was said that some men were overcome and fell into the water and drowned. Luckily 122 men and boys made it up the Agecroft shaft and 9 bodies were recovered including Thomas Worsley age 28. At 4 pm another rescue party descended the Clifton Hall shaft to search the Trencherbone seam. Suddenly the smoke coming up the shaft changed colour indicating something had happened. Communication with them ceased and they feared the worst. Another small rescue party descended, but could only go down 150 yards as a dense volume of gas prevented further progress. They noticed that a wall had collapsed before getting back to the surface. Fortunately the first group had reached the Doe Seam and were able to make their way to safety via the Agecroft shaft. Some of the injured men and boys (including William Lycett, aged 16), were taken to Salford Hospital or to their homes and some died of their injuries. In all, 178 men and boys died in this disaster.
The disaster victims were buried at many of the local churches and six were buried at Weaste Cemetery. On Monday 22nd June, William Lycett age 16, of Franchise Street, Pendleton and Thomas Worsley, aged 28, of 12, Kent Street, Pendleton, were buried in the C of E portion by Rev. H. Gore-Booth, Rector of Sacred Trinity Church. William Reynolds, aged 20, of 183, Jane Lane, Swinton and Thomas Slattery, aged 34, of 77, Jane Lane, Swinton, were buried in the Catholic portion by Rev Father McIntosh of the Salford Cathedral.
On Tuesday 23rd June, George Hall, aged 42, and his stepson Leonard Charles Barter, aged 13, both of 9, Oldham Street, off Church Street, Pendleton, were buried in the same grave in the C of E portion by Rev. W.H.Stevenson, Curate of Sacred Trinity Church. George Hall had previously “seen 21 years service in the army and enjoyed the pension appertaining to the rank of Farrier Sergeant of the 11th Hussars”.
The Inquest, held at Pendlebury Mechanics Institute, opened on 30th June and lasted 9 days. It concluded that an “explosion of a large amount of inflammable gas emitted from a goaf (old workings) in the Trencherbone mine to the east side of No.2 level, had ignited at a lighted candle placed against a chock in the working place of John Dyke”. Also that 159 found in the Trencherbone mine died from burns, suffocation or injuries; 9 died in the road to Agecroft shaft from carbon monoxide suffocation; 7 died in their homes due to shock from burns; 1 died at home from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning; and 2 died at Salford Hospital from shock caused by burns.