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Yorkshire Mining History, Silkstone, Barnsley, 1836.
I may have mentioned elsewhere, that both women and children were employed in Mines. This fact was always denied by the mine owners in this region, but there was no getting away from the truth in this next tale.
It was not uncommon, to combine two seperate mines in the past, as they followed the coal seams. The second shaft would be used for ventilation, as in the Dolly the Engine story. The Husker and Moorend Colliery, in the then village of Silkstone, Barnsley, Yorkshire, was just such a mine. The ventilation shaft had been part of a drift mine, and as such sloped up to the surface. On the morning of the 4th July,1836, the workforce consisted of 22 Adults, and 68 children, 30 of them Girls. About 2 pm, there was a violent thunderstorm, which didn't stop until 4 pm. It deposited between 2 and 3 inches of rain, causing flash floods, one of which put out the fire in the Boiler, of the mines Engine House, shutting down the winching system in the main shaft, which hauled coal to the surface up the incline of the shaft. Being informed of the problem, the deputy assembled the entire shift at the foot of the main shaft, and ordered them to walk to the surface. He well knew the danger of flooding, as it had happened before. 40 children however, who had already been underground for 9 hours, decided to wait for the engine to be restarted, and save themselves a long walk. Mother nature however would not wait, and water, from a swollen surface stream began to swirl around their feet, and they made another decision, this time to use the sloping ventilation shaft. This had a door that only opened outwards, and all 40 now went through and started up the shaft. The water from the overflowing stream, turned into a torrent, and now began to come down the shaft in waves, washing several small children off their feet, and panic became the order of the day. Most of them turned back, not realising, that with so much water up against the doorway, this would prevent the door being opened. It built up at a frightening rate, and in the dark and dirty rising water, for all the candles had been put out, 26 youngsters were drowned. The rest escaped down a side tunnel, back to the Moorend part of the mine, where they decended the main shaft without any further problems. Fifteen Boys, one aged 7, four aged 8, three aged 9, three aged 10, two aged 11, one aged 13, and the eldest,15, all lost their lives in the dark and swirling water. Eleven Girls, three aged, 8, one aged 9, one aged 10, one aged 11, two aged 13, two aged 15, and the eldest 17, despite frantic efforts to open the door, also perished. The entire area, not unsurprisingly, went into mourning.
It was claimed, that there had never been an incident like it since the mines had opened, but some doubts were raised, when the mines overseerer claimed no man could prove otherwise. That stream had most certainly overflowed before, hence the deputies order to get out. The verdict was inevitable, " Accidental Death ", but as Queen Victoria had expressed her concerns at the loss of such young lives, it resulted in a Royal Commission. This forbade the employment of girls and anyone under the age of 10, from working underground. Too late though, to save these 26, and they still continued to employ women underground. There is a memorial in Silkstone Parish Churchyard, with a rather moving epitaph attached.
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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