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Felling mine disaster was one of the first major Mining accidents or mine disasters in Britainmarker, claiming 92 lives on 25 May 1812.

The colliery was situated in Felling, Tyne and Wearmarker part of Gatesheadmarker in what used to be County Durham, and had two shafts about 600 feet deep. It was extended in 1810 by the opening up of a new coal seam, the Low Main seam, and it was here that the explosion which engulfed the pit occurred. As with so many other coal mine disasters, the accident was caused by ignition of firedamp (methane) which then triggered a coal dust explosion. The explosion traveled through the galleries, and ended by erupting from one of the shafts. At that time, lighting in the pits was hazardous. Open flame lamps could easily ignite the gas, so steel mills were often used to provide weak illumination, but these too could set off a gas explosion. The alternative was to deliberately destroy gas accumulations in a dangerous operation conducted by a "monk", actually a foolhardy miner shrouded in a wet blanket who poked a candle on a long pole into gas pockets. His life must have been short, but probably well paid when successful.

Safety lamp

A Davy lamp, an early example of a safety lamp
The disaster became famous because it stimulated an unknown engineer, one George Stephenson, to design a safety lamp with air fed through narrow tubes, down which a flame could not move. It also led and an eminent scientist (Humphry Davy) to devise another safety lamp where the flame was surrounded by iron gauze. The gauze had to have small spaces so that a flame could not pass through, but could admit methane, which then burned harmlessly inside the lamp. The height of the luminous cone above the flame gave a measure of the methane concentration in the general atmosphere. The disaster is thus remembered for stimulating inventive minds to tackle the problem and save lives as well as maintain productivity and confidence in a growing industry.

Unfortunately, the lamps did not prevent further disasters because there were other sources of ignition, such as sparks from metal tools such as picks and shovels and later, electrical equipment and explosives used to blast tunnels. Moreover, both of the lamps could set off explosions if the gauze rusted through (very likely in the wet environment of a pit bottom), or the glass on the Geordie fractured which also happened. Later devices such as the Mueseler lamp were better protected, but all such lamps gave very poor illumination. It was one cause of nystagmus, a disorder of the eyes common among coal miners. It was not until electric safe lamps were introduced at the end of the Victorian period that miners had adequate and safe lights.

The Victims

Inscription on memorial states: "In Memory of the 91 Persons Killed in Felling Colliery 24 May 1812"

Surname Forename Age
Adams Phillip 17
Allan Jacob 14
Allan Andrew 11
Anderson Jos 23
Bainbridge Tho 53
Bainbridge Matt 19
Bainbridge Tho 17
Bainbridge Geo 10
Bears Thomas 48
Bell George 14
Bell Edward 12
Boutland John 46
Boutland Will 19
Brown Matt 28
Burnitt John 21
Comby James 28
Craigs James 13
Craggs Thomas 36
Craggs Thomas 9
Cully Chris 20
Cully George 14
Dixon William 35
Dixon William 10
Dobson John.A 13
Dobson Robert 13
Dobson -
Fletcher Paul 22
Galley Will 22
Galley Greg 10
Gardiner Mich 45
Gardiner Will 10
Gordon Robert 40
Gordon Joseph 10
Gordon Thomas 8
Greener Isaac 65
Greener Isaac 24
Greener John 21
Hall Ralph 18
Hall Robert 15
Harrison Ra 39
Harrison Rob 14
Harrison John 12
Haswell Rob 42
Haswell John 22
Haswell Edw 20
Haswell Ben 18
Hunter Will 35
Hunter John 21
Hunter Mich 18
Hutchinson Rob 11
Jacques Will 23
Jacques John 14
Kay James 18
Kay George 16
Knox John 11
Lawton Geo 14
Leck Rob.C 16
Mason Chris 54
Mitcheson Geo 18
Pearson John 64
Pearson John 38
Pearson Geo 26
Pearson Edw 14
Pearson Rob 10
Pringle Matt 18
Pringle Jos 16
Reay George 9
Richardson Edw 39
Richardson Will 19
Richardson Tho 17
Ridley Thomas 13
Ridley George 11
Robson Thomas 18
Robson George 15
Sanderson Will 43
Sanderson Matt 33
Surtees John 12
Thompson John 36
Thompson Benj 17
Turnbull Jere 43
Turnbull John 27
Irwin Nich 38
Wilkinson John 33
Wilson John 52
Wilson John 50
Wilson Jos 23
Wilson Char 20
Wood Joseph 39
Wood John 27
Young Joseph 30
Young Thomas 34


  • Helen and Baron Duckham, Great Pit Disasters: Great Britain 1700 to the present day, David & Charles (1973)


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