A few minutes after five in the afternoon on 24 August 1908, a terrific fire engulfed parts of the Cannell Mine of the Maypole Pit (of Pearson and Knowles Coal and Iron Company) just outside (famous1) Wigan at Abram. It would claim the lives of 72 miners in a wicked, horrific way. Part of the scene at the mine was covered by the great British weekly magazine The Illustrated London News (28 August 1908), and, though of course largely sympathetic, the article mentioned very little about the heroic attempts to save the lives of the trapped miners. Perhaps the scene was just too gruesome, though not so for the Liverpool Mercury (22 August 1908), which reported the situation with more full detail, with less of an eye, perhaps, to ensuring that the mine could re-open, which may have been part of the reason for the ILN’s less detailed storyline.
I say this even though the ILN's story included some heart-rending images, including this (1890's) Stieglitz-like photograph of miners' wives waiting for word on the fate of their men.
The Mercury painted a pretty bad image:
“The explosion destroyed the ventilation drift and blew the cage, rope and other accessories away. It was officially stated that 75 men were down the pit at the time of the explosion, three were rescued alive, William DORAN, SMITH and DRAPER, thus there were 72 men in the mine immediately after the catastrophe.”
“Men, Women and children in a seething mass waited in sorrow at the pit mouth for those, who but, an hour before had left their homes. Rescue parties were organized without delay equipped with rescue apparatus from the new rescue station at Atherton.”
“When the rescue parties entered the mine they found it filled with gaseous fumes. Those who witnessed the awful debacle, stricken with terror at the spectacle, and their first impulse was to rush wildly in all directions, it was as if the end of the world had come.”
Evidently the rescue parties worked to 10 o’clock in the evening, reaching some 2500’ down into the mine before they were stopped by lethal gas. Three men were found alive; 72 were found dead.
1) Wigan is a town in Great Manchester; Wigan Pier, as in the great George Orwell work The Road to Wigan Pier (about the living and working conditions of the living and working poor).