DARLEY MAIN. Worsborough Dale, Yorkshire. 24th. January, 1849.

This was the greatest disaster in Yorkshire since the Oaks Colliery in 1847. The Darley Main Colliery was in Worborough Dale about a mile south-east of Barnsley and two miles from the Oaks Colliery. The explosion occurred in the Barnsley Coal which was about eight feet thick but not very deep. There were two shafts at the colliery, near to each other on the south side of the workings. One served as a pumping pit and the other as a winding and downcast pit. There was at third shaft a little distance away which served as the upcast but was also used for drawing water for at least 12 out of 24 hours. The depth of the pumping and winding shafts was 393 feet and that of the upcast shaft, 325 feet. The downcast and upcast shafts were nine and a half feet in diameter.

The coal was worked by an intermediate system of bank work which was the custom in the district. The bank faces were about 25 to 30 yards wide and the system made many closed goaves which could harbour reservoirs of firedamp. The excavations covered about 120 acres at the time of the accident. All the banks to the rise of the level had been exhausted with only pillars left to support the roads until the coal in the dip banks was worked and this was the work that was going on at the time of the disaster.

The ventilation current was provided by a furnace but its effects were minimised by the fact that water drawing operations went on in the upcast shaft. The air went round the faces of the banks but all the goaves were not covered with the exception of a small hole that was formed by taking a brick out of a stopping to let in a little air. No accurate measurements of the quantity of ventilation had been made but it was thought that about 9,000 cubic feet of air per minute was entering the mine but other accounts put the figure as low as 6,000 cubic feet. The emission of firedamp was small and the colliery possessed about two dozen safety lamps but naked lights were in general use throughout the workings. Some times, a shovel was placed as a sign that candles were to be kept low, as the upper air was known to be dangerous.

There had been a small explosion at the colliery. In April 1843, two persons were injured, one of whom died and in February 1847, six died. As a result of another explosion in July 1847, two men were badly burnt and later died. On this occasion, the jury expressed their opinion that the numerous accidents reflected the bad management of the colliery.

The day before the explosion there had been a violent storm and the men had been brought to the surface because the banksman was unable to continue his work because of the strength of the wind. On the morning of the disaster, the pit was thought to be in a satisfactory state in the opinion of the bottom steward and between 5 and 6 a.m., 101 men and boys descended and started work. All went well until 11.20 a.m. when the explosion erupted at the surface and a dense jet of smoke and coal dust came from the shaft.

As soon as the blast had subsided, measures were taken to go down the pit. Mr. Broadhead, the engine tenter and Mr. Armitage, a labourer were the first to get to the scene of the explosion. It was good fortune that the ventilating current after the accident passed along the main level from the pit bottom to the underground engine house, abut 260 yards inbye. Messrs. James Beaumont and Mr. G.P. Maddison who came from neighbouring collieries were at the pit within half an hour and continued to work with Mr. Locke, the viewer of the Darley Main Colliery, who did not get to the until midnight and they continued with their dangerous task until all the victims of the explosion had been brought to the surface. Many of the victims were carried out of the pit dead from the effects of afterdamp and some later recovered at the surface. Even so seventy-five lost their lives and eight of the horses employed underground were lost.

An account of the disaster appeared at the time in a newsletter in Barnsley:

On Wednesday, January 24th, 1849, at about 11 o’clock, a most dreadful explosion took place at Mr. G. Jarratt’s colliery called the Darley Main Colliery at which time 100 persons were working in the pit. The sacrifice of life which followed is the greatest which has taken place in any colliery since the great explosion at the Oaks Colliery in March 1847.

The explosion was perceptibly felt on the surface of the ground in the locality of the place soon caused hundreds of persons to hurry to the scene amongst the foremost of which were to be seen the almost frantic wives, parents and friends of the unfortunate miners for whose safety the worst apprehensions were felt.

The most effectual assistance was immediately rendered by the prompt help of those on top of the shaft and as quickly as possible the descent was made into the pit where the most awful condition was presented by the sufferers that can possibly be imagined. A considerable number of maimed and burned and what few were miraculously preserved unhurt were in or near the bottom of the shaft, fearfully and anxiously waiting for deliverance from their dreadful position and who was promptly extricated.

It was unhappily too soon ascertained that the greater part of the miners and others employed in the pit were buried in the devastation caused by the explosion and up to Thursday night, the 25th. inst., not less than 75 dead bodies were lying in the adjoining houses and buildings contiguous with the place, the greater part of whom were found dead in the workings at the bottom of the pit.

The following is a list of names of those who have been sacrificed in this appalling calamity.

The married men were:

    • Henry Firth aged 34 years who left a wife and four children.
    • Joseph Sager aged 29 years, who left a wife and six children.
    • John Burton aged 26 years who left a widow.
    • William Hunbley aged 35 years who left a wife and four children.
    • Edward Utley aged 36 years, who left a widow.
    • John Winder aged 31 years, who left a wife and four children.
    • George Guest aged 41 years, who left a wife and one child.
    • George Loy aged 40 years who left a wife and five children.
    • Amos Harper aged 37 years who left a wife and seven children.
    • Charles Brook aged 37 years who left three children.
    • Edward Atkinson aged 36 years who left a wife and two children.
    • George Field aged 32 years who left a wife and two children.
    • George Barraclough aged 36 years who left a wife and four children.
    • John Taylor aged 26 years who left a widow.
    • George Tetley aged 23 years who left a wife and one child.
    • James Seddons aged 26 years who left a wife and two children.
    • John Beevers aged 56 years who left a wife and two children.
    • Edward Hammond aged 20 years who left a wife.
    • Thomas Darwin aged 28 years who left a wife and two children.
    • David Brown aged 37 years who left a wife and two children.
    • John Parsons sen. aged 48 years who left a wife.
    • Thomas Hammond aged 39 years who left a wife and four children.
    • John Smith aged 36 years who left a wife.
    • John Darwin aged 36 years who left a wife.

The single men and boys were:

    • Edward Rennison aged 18 years.
    • John Sykes aged 18 years.
    • George Fisher aged 23 years.
    • Charles Wood aged 17 years.
    • Hugh Burkinshaw aged 22 years.
    • William Billington aged 11 years.
    • William Hutchinson aged 24 years.
    • Abram Sykes aged 25 years.
    • Robert Winter aged 28 years.
    • William Guest aged 15 years.
    • James Burkinshaw aged 19 years.
    • Edward Billington aged 24 years.
    • Francis Batty aged 15 years.
    • John Charlesworth aged 13years.
    • Joseph Charlesworth aged 14 years.
    • George Harper aged 10 years.
    • John Loy aged 15 years.
    • Ralph Taylor aged 25 years.
    • Joseph Swift aged 25 years.
    • john Gilliatt aged 11 years.
    • George Turner aged 21 years.
    • Isaac Holland aged 15 years.
    • Charles Hammond aged 25 years.
    • Patrick McDonald aged 19 years.
    • William Hiland aged 11 years.
    • Thomas Firth aged 45 years.
    • William Goldthorpe aged 13 years.
    • Thomas Utley aged 12 years.
    • John Hartley aged 25 years.
    • William Brook aged 14 years.
    • Joseph Guest aged 16 years.
    • John Parsons Jnr. aged 20 years.
    • Thomas Mooney aged 15 years.
    • Thomas Gilliatt aged 19 years.
    • John Kaye aged 18 years.
    • William Holland Jnr. aged 11 years.
    • Joseph Sells aged 10 years.
    • William Parsons aged 13 years.
    • William Hinchcliffe aged 2 years.
    • Samuel Goodliffe aged 19 years.
    • Isaac Swift aged 23 years.
    • George Winter aged 19 years.
    • William Hardisty aged 11 years.
    • James Ashton aged 17 years, alias  “Lancashire Jim.”

The funerals of the sufferers took place at Worsborough and Barnsley churches on Sunday the 27th. and presented a scene of the most solemn and overpowering description. The train of mourners was immense and the number of people who were present to witness the interments was very great. The church at Worsborough could scarcely accommodate the numbers of the families of the deceased.

Several praiseworthy efforts are being made to relieve the wants of the suffering families of the deceased miners.

A Relief Fund was opened to which the Colliery Company donated £200, Mr. F.W.T.V. Wentworth Esq., £100, John Jeffock, Esq., £50, Earl Fitzwilliam £50, Joseph Locke, Esq., £50 and H.R.H. Price Albert donated £25 for the relief of the widows and orphans.

The mine was examined after the disaster by many of the eminent mining engineers of the day. Mr. Nichols Wood of Hetton and Mr. Birham, the viewer to Earl Fitzwilliam had been summoned by the Coroner to examine the workings. Mr. Goodwin of Messrs. Charlesworth’s Collieries and Mr. J.T. Woodhouse of Ashby-de-la-Zouche were also called. Mr. Tremenheer, Commissioner under Lord Ashley’s Act and Mr. Warington Smyth, mining engineer to the Geological Survey attended on behalf of the Government.

It was found that the explosion had taken place in the goaf furthest from the shaft to the north but a fire of less intensity had taken place nearer the shaft which led to the conclusion that there had been two explosions. The main explosion was thought to have been caused by firedamp that oozed out, or had been driven out by a fall of roof and had come into contact with a miner’s naked light.

The inquest into the disaster was conducted by Mr. Badger, Coroner, in the house of Mr. Harrison, The Mason’s Arms in Worsborough Dale on Saturday 26th January for the purpose of identification of the dead. The full inquest was reconvened on the 8th of February. At the request of the Coroner, Mr. Tremenheer addressed the jury and put forward the desirability of the Government to inquire into coal mines and put this in his report to Sir George Grey. He also pointed out the necessity of a higher standard of education among those entrusted with the management of mines. Mr. Warington Smyth pointed out the various sources of danger which, he believed might have been foreseen and perhaps corrected by a properly qualified Government.

After hearing the evidence and the CoronerÕs summing up, the jury returned the verdict:

We find a verdict of Accidental Death on the seventy-five bodies we have viewed caused by one or more explosions of carbureted hydrogen gas or inflammable air, which took place on the 24th. January last in the Darley Main Colliery, and we strongly recommend to the proprietors, that a better mode of ventilation be adopted before they recommence work at the mine as a preventative against any similar occurrence and we think, from the evidence given before us, that the removing of the machinery used for drawing water out of the upcast shaft is essentially necessary, also as to allow the air passing out of the mine to have a better free outlet. And we also desire that Mr. Badger, the Coroner, report to Sir George Grey, and that we make it known that Her Majesty’s Government, that we think it is advisable that they should appoint a scientific and practical person, to occasionally inspect the collieries in this district and see that there is proper ventilation, and hear any complaint by the workpeople employed therein.

The subscription fund for the dependents of the victims soon reached the sum of £1,300.


Annals of Coal Mining. Galloway. Vol.2, p. 374-7.
Mining Journal. Vol. xix, p.58.
Tremheere’s Report. p.1.
Smyth’s Report. p.1
Lodge’s Almanack, 1915.
A Newsletter published in Barnsley.
The Report of the Select Committee on Accidents in Coal Mines, 1853.

Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.

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