THE OAKS. Barnsley, Yorkshire. 24th. January 1847.

The pit was the property of Mr. Micklethwaite of Ardsley and was known as Ardsley Main Colliery. It had recently been sold and at the time of the disaster, was the property of Messrs. Smith, Barber and Company. It had cost the present proprietors a great deal of money to sink a shaft, 283 yards deep, to the Barnsley Seam and a great deal of water had to be raised. There were two shafts at the pit, one was a drawing pit which wound men and materials, the other was a ventilation shaft which was being repaired after a fire on the 4th. December 1845 which damaged the headgear. At the time of the explosion there had been scaffold in the shaft for about four or five weeks while this work was being carried out.

The pit was considered safe except for one part which was known to give off gas and men were urged to take great care when passing the place with naked lights. At about 3 a.m., the people at the surface heard a loud explosion and saw smoke, burning timbers and stones come out of the shaft. It was described at the time as being “like a volcano”. At the time, there were two or three men at the pit bank moving corves and about ninety men working in the pit. The explosion was of such terrific violence that it blew the corves out of the men’s hands and tore away iron plates around the top of the shaft. The effects of the explosion were heard a great distance from the pit.

George Hartley and William Eyre were working on the scaffold, repairing the shaft. Hartley was killed by falling stones but Eyre escaped with his life. Hartley’s body was later recovered. At the upcast shaft, several men, including George Northrop, the banksman, were moving coal and they escaped injury.

People from the village of Ardsley, Gawsently, Worsborough, Barnsley, Monk Bretton and other places near to the pit ran when they heard of the disaster and the pit bank presented a scene of weeping wives, friends and relatives. No one believed that there could be anyone alive in the pit but as soon as the smoke cleared there was no shortage of volunteers to go down. The friends and family who had rushed to the pit, were among these and there was a great deal of work to be done and danger to be faced to get into the pit and search for the victims.

Up to Monday the 8th, about 66 dead had been brought to the surface and there remained seven known to be in the pit. Great efforts were made to find these men.  The mutilated remains of William Walton were not recovered until the 15th and those of Abraham Matthews not until the 18th. Many of the bodies were scarcely recognisable as hey were severely burnt and mutilated. It was reported at the time that, “the dead were a fearful spectacle as they had been roasted to death”

Thought turned to the cause of the disaster and the dangerous place was suspected. Minutes before the explosion, George Armitage, the bottom steward and Joseph Lillewood, the fireman, had come to the surface and reported that all was well in the pit and that there were no signs of danger. Immediately after the blast, they descended the drawing shaft in an iron bucket and as they descended they heard cries. At the pit bottom, they found some survivors. Every effort was made to get them to the surface and many of them were burnt and injured and all were suffering from the effects of the gas. Twenty-six men were got out of the pit alive but three, James Gallowan, Charles Hough and John Jessop, died later from the effects of their injuries and there was little hope for Barras, Frost and Symonds.

Efforts to improve the ventilation in the  pit were progressing and over sixty bodies had been recovered and brought up. Fumes later filled the pit and it was impossible to go down. It was thought there were still three in the pit, Abraham Matthews, John Wroe and William Walton.

The bodies were taken to a public house in Hoyle Mill for identification which was harrowing and difficult but once the victims had been identified, they were taken home on carts. The proprietors of the colliery said they would pay for the funeral expenses and the coffins. The Sunday after the thousands of visitors came to the pit and there were rumours that the explosion had been caused by the two men whose bodies had not been recovered, Abraham Matthews and William Walton.

The married men who died were:

  • Robert Jessel aged 31 years who left a wife and two children.
  • James Kelly aged 40 years who left a wife.
  • William Wroe aged 41 years who left a wife and four children.
  • John Hough aged 30 years, who left a wife and three children.
  • James Brown aged 50 years, who left a wife and four children under nine years of age.
  • Peter Day aged 45 years, who left a wife and three children.
  • William Addy aged 26 years, who left a wife and two children.
  • Richard Cooke aged 25 years, who left a wife and child.
  • Abraham Holland aged 32 years, who left a wife and four children.
  • George Hartley aged 43 years, who left three orphaned children.
  • Isaac  Lindley aged 30 years, who left a wife and two children.
  • James  Galloway aged 26 years, who left a wife and child.
  • Ezra Winter aged 27 years, who left two orphaned children.
  • Joseph Steel aged 24 years, who left a wife and two children.
  • Samuel Lindley aged 28 years, who left a wife and three children.
  • John Littlewood aged 23 years, who left a wife and two children.
  • George Dyson aged 37 years, who left a wife and a child.
  • George Billington aged 22 years, who left a wife and two children.
  • Joseph Turton aged 36 years, who left a wife and two children.
  • Richard Hodgson aged 32 years, who left a wife and two children.
  • George Gilberthorpe aged 24 years, who left a wife.
  • George Mattewman aged 28 years, who left a wife and four children.
  • James Whiltey aged 42 years, who left a wife.
  • William Walton aged 30 years, who left a wife and child.
  • Abraham Matthews aged 45 years, who left a wife and six children.

The single men and boys who died:

  • Thomas Brown 18 years.
  • William Kirk 21 years.
  • Francis Birtles 12 years.
  • George Bedford 17 years.
  • William Wroe 11 years.
  • Vincent Matthews 15 years.
  • George Parker 13 years.
  • John Cooke 20 years.
  • John Woodcock 15 years.
  • Thomas Beardshall 13 years.
  • James Chadwick 17 years.
  • John Gelder 11 years.
  • Aaron Hobson, 26 years.
  • Joseph Gilberthorpe 18 years.
  • George Sedgwick 13 years.
  • Robert McLear 19 years.
  • George Steel 27 years.
  • James Lee 17 years.
  • George Hinchcliffe 28 years.
  • Edward Stanfield 22 years.
  • George Clayton 23 years.
  • William Whiltey 18 years.
  • John Riley 23 years.
  • Matthew Lindley 23 years.
  • Matthew Denton 15 years.
  • William Carlton 10 years.
  • Thomas Foundhere, 15 years.
  • John Day 15 years, son of Peter Day.
  • John Galloway 22 years.
  • Joseph Fearnley 20 years.
  • John Hitchen 14 years.
  • John Buckley 24 years.
  • Richard Beardshall 18 years.
  • Joseph Woodhead 13 years.
  • Charles Haigh 23 years.
  • Charles Haigh 23 years.
  • James Turton, 13 years.
  • John Wainwright 11 years.
  • David Woodhead 11 years.
  • John Harper 16 years.
  • Daniel Mellor 16 years.
  • William Rushforth 19 years.
  • John Peach, 17 years.
  • John Jessop 17 years.
  • John Wroe 15 years.
  • George Whitley, 16 years.

The funerals took place on the following Monday when fifty victims were interred at the Parish Church. The procession was half a mile long, shops closed and the church bells pealed.

The inquest was held at the White Bear Inn, at Hoyle Mills which was the property of Mr. Robert Whitley., before Mr. G.D. Barker, the Deputy Coroner. Joseph Norton, the banksman at the pit, was the first witness. He had identified many of the victims.

The fireman, Shuttleworth, went down the pit to test for gas before the men went down. He got down at 3 a.m and there were only him and the cupola attendant in the pit. He tested for gas holding his lamp in front of him as he went from place to place but he found no gas on the morning of the explosion. He said the furthest parts of the workings were half a mile from the shaft and there had always been gas in the coal after it was taken down. After the explosion, the partition between the air shaft and the workings was blown out.

After hearing all the evidence and the Coroners summing up, the jury brought in the following verdict:

Accidental Death, and added, the jury agree of the opinion that efficient regulations are not enforced in the district to prevent the use of naked lights in those parts of the mine where there was inflammable gas known to exist and are of further of the opinion that the occurrence of accidents involving so great a loss of life, demands the immediate attention of Her Majesty’s Government and would justify Parliament in framing such a code of regulation as would give greater security to persons employed in mining operations and request the Coroner to forward these sentiments to the Secretary of State for the Home Department.


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

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