On Thursday, 16th February, 1882, at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, there was an explosion in Trimdon Grange Colliery in County Durham. 135 men and boys were working underground.
The explosion sent flames and rubbish flying up the shaft to the Harvey Seam. The cage jammed 30 yards from the bottom. It took some time for the rescue party to rig a kibble (a large bucket big enough to carry people) to descend the shaft.
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In total 74 lives were lost – 67 in the explosion and its aftermath in Trimdon Grange Colliery, one man who was rescued and died later, and six died in the neighbouring Kelloe Colliery.
Herman Carl Schier, aged 25, was Underviewer (Deputy Manager) at Kelloe Colliery. The two neighbouring pits of Trimdon Grange and Kelloe were linked underground – locked doors usually prevented movement between the two.
Herman Schier led a rescue party along an underground tunnel from his own colliery towards the explosion site. They were caught by afterdamp – a poisonous mixture of carbon monoxide and other gasses produced by the explosion.
At the inquest following the explosion, one of the other rescuers describes Herman Schier lying on the floor of the tunnel struggling for breath, but still giving instructions for the rescue attempt.
In this church a brass plaque commemorates Herman Schier.
The 1871 census lists him as a 15-year-old living with his family in Lovaine Terrace, a street formerly near here.
We presume that his parents dedicated the plaque to him in his local church – perhaps particularly because he is buried 25 miles away, in Croxdale. We think that Mr Schier lies there since he was related through his sister's marriage to the well-known Salvin family of Croxdale Hall.
The Church of St Thomas the Martyr
This church does not appear to stand in a pit community, but the Victoria Tunnel runs under this church.
It was dug in 1842 to carry coal from the Leazes Main Colliery at Spittal Tongues to the Ouseburn Valley for shipping out from the Tyne. Mining was a foundation of this region’s industrial development.
When we wanted a name for the former choir vestry now much used as a meeting place, we chose to mark the importance, dangers and heroism of mining by calling it the Herman Schier Vestry.