The Washington
Glebe Pit
A Brief History
by Audrey Fletcher
The Washington Glebe Colliery
In 1901 work began on sinking shafts at the Glebe Colliery, Washington to reach the Harvey Seam at
a depth of  720 feet. The mine was opened three years later in 1904 and the first coal taken out in
1905.  At this time the Washington Coal Company Ltd. owned the mine.

The 1908 Mining Disaster
On Thursday 20th February 1908 there was a great mining disaster at the Glebe Pit in which fourteen
men lost their lives. They were crushed and burned to death after a fire damp explosion. The only
survivor of the disaster was the pump man, Yeardsley.

Among the dead were James Wake (42), John Ambrose Maddon (49), Robert Cowan (45), and
Thomas Agar Errington (18), all of Washington.
Twenty-two thousand mourners formed a cortege to pay their last respects to James Wake, John
Ambrose Maddon, Robert Cowan and Thomas Agar Errington as they made their final journey to the
Washington Village Cemetery.
James William Wake
21 Middlefield Row
Robert Cowan
35 Glen Terrace
Twenty-two thousand mourners formed a cortege
to pay their last respects
The Washington Village Cemetery
Thomas Agar Errington
3 Home View
Jim Wilson, a pitman from the Glebe Colliery, provided this description
of the cause of the explosion:
“The Glebe Disaster was a coal dust and firedamp explosion caused by shotfiring.
The shot hole had been over charged. During shotfiring there is always a flame given off but there is
what is called the lag time. Any substance before it ignites, needs to be heated up,
and it is the period between being cold and igniting which is the lag time. Firedamp (a mixture of
methane and air) will explode if there are sufficient quantities of methane present, anywhere between
5% and 15%. The initial fire damp explosion at the Glebe Pit caused a
coal dust explosion that is much more violent; it can travel at 1000mph.
The preceding wind goes ahead of the explosion, kicking the dust up, and feeding it till its source of
fuel is exhausted. After this the great danger is carbon monoxide.
That’s why canaries are taken underground, they are about six times more susceptible to carbon
monoxide than a human being is, so if they fall off the perch
its time to withdraw to fresher air.”
The other ten miners who were killed in the explosion were:

Edward Ashman (41) who was buried at Houghton Cemetery.
Thomas Applegarth (33) and William Glendinning (32)
who were both buried at the Churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin, Sherburn,
Charles Chivers (25)
John Clark (29)
John Dixon (42)
Thomas McNally (48)
Harry Oswald (35)
William Henry Rollin (30)
Alfred Wood (50)
Edward Ashman
23 Middlefield Row
Charles Chivers
4 Middleham Street
John Clark
19 Hawk Street
Thomas Applegarth
11 Middlefield Row
William Glendinning
17 Middlefield Row
Harry Oswald
13 Bell Street
Thomas McNally
32 Glen Terrace
John Dixon
11 Beech Street
William Henry Rollin
17 Nelson Street
Mines Inspectors gave this description of the
Washington Glebe Pit after the 1908 Disaster
The damaged up-cast shaft after the
1908 explosion at the Glebe Pit.
The Closure of the Glebe Pit
Until 1960 there were four main seams worked at the Glebe Pit:
Main Coal, Maudlin, Low Main, Hutton. However by 1971 there were
only the Maudlin and Hutton in production, and in 1972 the Maudlin seam
was exhausted. The mine was closed on 4th August 1972,
leaving many miners with an uncertain future.
Jim Wilson observed that the closure of the Glebe Pit coincided with
the birth of the Washington New Town. Some miners transferred to the
coastal pits of Wearmouth and Westoe, while others found jobs in
the new industries moving into Washington.
When the Washington Glebe Pit was demolished,
it heralded the end of an era
in Washington's social history.
Updated 2017

Audrey Fletcher
Washington "Glebe" Colliery, usually known as the Glebe Pit, was established
only four years ago, the shafts being sunk through the surface deposits by the
freezing process, and is one of two collieries, the other and much older colliery
being known as the F. Pit, owned by the Washington Coal Co., Ltd.

There are two shafts at the Glebe Pit both sunk to the Low Main seam at a
depth of 114 fathoms, passing through the Main Coal seam at 94 fathoms and
the Maudlin seam at 104 fathoms. The downcast and principal coal drawing
shaft is 14 feet diameter, and is traversed by two cages between the surface
and the Maudlin seam; from the Maudlin seam to the Low Main seam, 10
fathoms below, it is fitted with ladders. The upcast shaft, surmounted by a fan,
is 12 feet diameter, and a single cage, with wire rope guides, runs in it between
the surface and the Low Main seam, by means of which the coal was raised
from that seam and the workmen passed to and from their work.

The top of the upcast shaft, above the level of the fan drift, is enclosed by a
square wooden erection carried up nearly to the pulley and closed at the top
except for a hole through which the winding rope, worked; a door in this
erection on the ground level afforded access to the cage. Added on to this
enclosure is a wooden porch, entered by an outer door, in which the
banksman works and where persons stand preparatory to descending the shaft.

Mines Inspectors Report into the 1908 Explosion
John Ambrose Maddon
15 Derwent Terrace
The Miners Grievances (an excerpt) by an unknown poet

No more in their mines we will work without air,
For to have ventilation we'll make it our care.
Two shafts they make sink for the down and up cast,
To prevent the hydrogen from making a blast.

The gas may ignite in the mine when we're under,
And cause subterranean lighting and thunder.
The choke damp it spares none that's left in the mine.
These things often happen in Tees, Wear and Tyne.
Alfred Wood
9 Margaret Street
The scene of the Washington Glebe Pit explosion
Photograph courtesy of Jim Wilson
The Glebe Pit
Memorial Verses on the
Glebe Colliery Disaster
The Wake Family
The following information and family photograph was emailed to me by John
Wake, a great-grandson of James William Wake
, who was killed in the 1908
explosion at the Washington Glebe Pit.
He was a Miner Stoneman.

James William Wake was also known as James William Bowman, after his
mother Dorothy married David Bowman in the 1870's. On the 1881 Census,
when he was 15 years old, he is referred to as James Bowman, but he changed
back to his birth name at a later date.

James William Swan Wake was born in Ocean Street, Westoe on 16th
February 1866. He married Sarah Swinburne on 6th July 1885 at
South Shields. They had eleven children.
The Wake Family
about 1907
James William Swan Wake is seated on the chair at the far right of the
picture. Sitting on the floor to his right, dressed in a sailor suit, is
Thomas Wake, who was born in 1901. Thomas Wake is the grandfather of
John Wake, who supplied this photograph.

Centre back is
Margaret Wake, who in the 1960s was referred to as "old
Mrs. Porter". She lived at 18 The Terraces, Washington, until she died in
1968. After my wedding ceremony in February 1968 I returned to see her.
She was lying very ill upstairs in bed, and I gave her my wedding bouquet.
Her daughter Emily was like a second mother to me.   
Audrey Fletcher
The headstone of James William Wake
at the Washington Village Cemetery