Moorfield Colliery Explosion 1883

On that dreadful morning of Wednesday 7th November 1883 an explosion occurred at 8-50 am in Altham at Moorfield Colliery. Unfortunately, it took the lives of 68 men and boys the youngest was only 10 years of age and 39 were seriously injured in the blast many from the same families. It was one of two pits owned by Mr Alderman Barlow of the Altham Colliery Company the other was at Whinney Hill which had been operating for twelve years but the Moorfield colliery had only been operating for two and half years.

Moorfield had been sunk to 293 yards to a coal seam which was 24 to 26 inches thick. The pit had been sunk on the most up to date principles and one shaft that had two main drifts one being on the eastern section on an incline and ran for about 180 yards and one to the North on a decline. The main chain way was on the eastern section and the coal was wound by double cages which was able to bring eight tubs to the surface at once.

The pits were worked with safety lamps and there were variable amounts of gas in the mine. At Moorfield there was three firemen employed and would start work around 5am. On the day of the explosion they went to work as normal at 5 am. They reported nothing unusual in the mine at the time, so the men and boys descended down the pit between six and seven o’clock in the morning and there were a total of 111 men and boys started their shift. Mr Macintosh who was the manager at the colliery was in the habit of descending into the mine at 6-30 am but on that fatal morning he was late going into the mine and did so at 7 am. At the inquest the hooker-on gave evidence that Mr Macintosh along with a fireman went straight to No.1 level. On his return to the pit bottom he herd the alarm in No.2 level but there was no reason to suppose that he saw gas.

The explosion took place at 8-50 am and fortunately the workers on the surface were a short distance away emptying wagons full of coal that was extracted from the mine into boats on the Leeds-Liverpool canal which ran beside the colliery. A report described a loud and sustained rumbling that was felt and blew out all the lamps and rolled along the floor. At the time of the explosion the cage was sixty yards from the top and the other a similar distance from the bottom. No damage was done to the top cage however the bottom cage was stopped and blown back and one part came off the conductors tore up the framework and became firmly embedded in the shaft.

News of the explosion soon carried to the Whinney Hill pit and since the Moorfield shaft was blocked this was the only way that miners had to escape. The hookers-on at the bottom of the shaft soon ascended and parties were made to search the mine. The grime task of recovering both the living and the dead began. Amongst the dead was the colliery manager Mr Thomas Macintosh. The explosion was so violent many of the bodies were unrecognisable and most of the causes of death were from burning and suffocation. The exploring party continued work until one o’clock on Thursday Morning by which time a total of 21 bodies had been recovered from Moorfield pit and eighteen from Whinney Hill. The cause was thought to be a large blower of gas that was ignited by passing through the gauze of a Davy safety lamp. There were no naked lights allowed in the mine and there was a lamp station at the bottom of the downcast shaft. The Pit finally closed in 1949 but Moorfield colliery continued as a coking plant more on this later

A list of those who lost their lives can be found on a special memorial on the A678 Altham in front of the original colliery post code BB5 5TX

Altham Coke Works

On the 22nd of January 1949 Moorfield pit ceased extracting coal from the mine however, Moorfield continued producing a by product of coal known as coke, the process of coke was made up of small bits of coal known as coal dust and It had been producing coke for many years and was the only coking plant for miles around.

At that time there was a large number of pits still operating within an 8 miles radius to Moorfield and those were Scaitcliffe Accrington, The Calder Simonstone, Huncoat, Thorney Bank Between Accrington and Hapton, Hapton Valley at Hapton, Bank Hall Burnley, Cliviger {open cast} near Burnley but to name a few.

All these working pits brought their coal dust to Moorfield by road and rail, and was loaded it massive ovens were it was heated up to a very high temperature producing gases and every batch that was produced the ovens had to release and burn the gases off, this caused massive flairs that could be seen for miles around. In the second world war in the darkness of the night the alarm was sounded to alert everyone there was an enemy aircraft approaching. At the time, the ovens were due to release gases and could not be delayed so the decision by the duty manager was to release gases, and of course the

enemy aircraft spotted the flairs and released a bomb aiming for the ovens, fortunately it missed but sadly it landed onto a house in Altham West destroying the house and killing the occupants.

Altham Coke Works was decommissioned in the late sixties early seventies and now is known as Moorfield Industrial Estate.

Altham School

Altham has had a School dating back to the early Victorian times and the original stone-built building is still the main area of the School, however it has been modernised inside to meet the modern day needs for pupils. Up until the early seventies the school still had only two classrooms and was one of the schools on the governments list of school to close. With strong resistance from the Governors and residents of the Parish, thankfully, the school was able to keep open.

Since then the school has grown from strength to strength with modernisation and new classrooms being built. The school is an Aided School provided by the Church of England trustees, originally to admit children from the Parish and outlying areas.

Outside area has been recently improved the EYFS playground and an outdoor classroom along with two hard surface yards, and adventure playground, games field and green area which had new drainage recently paid for by Altham Parish Council  and an area allowed to grow wild as an environmental space plays a very important of school learning. Altham School has currently 63 pupils. The Chair of Governor’s is Cllr. Rennie Pinder JP the head teacher Mrs Carol Woods BSC{Hons} PGCE supported by Mrs Jill Jones Vice Chair, Mrs Angline Whittingham Clerk to the governors along with Ten other governors.

Altham Church

St James' church, on Burnley Road, has long been a focus of worship for over 500 years

Altham's historic church of St James is a MUST to visit for both young and old

The church, on Burnley Road, has long been a focus of worship for the people of Altham Parish

It dates from 1512, the time of King Henry VIII, although an older church once stood on the site which was built in around 1140, during Norman times.

The lovely church of St James has been a special place of prayer and worship for the people of Altham and beyond for 500 years.

Visits can be arranged of up to groups of fifty and the tour can take up to one hour and a half. This Church is a Real Jewel in the Crown for Altham and beyond. It is built near to the banks of the River Calder and has Fantastic Views and a place of tranquility.

To arrange a visit you can contact the Vicar Rev. Toby Weber on 01254 384321

Accrington Bricks

In 1887 Accrington Bricks or Noris started to be produced at Whinney Hill in Altham and and very soon it went from strength to strength due to the type of iron-hard engineering brick that was produced, again Altham was a Parish that was proud of the industry. The history shows that the word IRON was written on the chimney of the brick works because of the grade of brick that was produced however the letters IRON accidentally was placed back words in the brick moulds which of course spelt NORI and Nori bricks were born.

Nori bricks played an important part in the building industry all around the world and on the 29th of September1891 the Blackpool tower laid its foundation stone which was a NORI brick for the entertainment three story complex and comprises of The Tower Circus, The Tower Ballroom and the Roof Gardens. This complex took Five Million Nori Bricks to complete and can still be seen today

Another major build that Nori Bricks were used was The Empire State Building in New York City, also nearer to home other famous building Nori Bricks was used Barry Power Station, Battersea Power Station, Fiddlers Ferry Power Station, University of Birmingham, Sellafield  Power Station and many more.

The clay that was used make the bricks were quarried at Whinney Hill and up until the late sixties there were quarry's on both sides of Whinney Hill Road feeding the Brick Works. Another major industry along with mining and farming in Altham.

Media Coverage

The ward and parish of Altham attracts media coverage throughout the year with its rich history and prime location in the Borough of Hyndburn.