Groups at odds over plans to create pit disaster memorial

Groups at odds over plans to create pit disaster memorial
Residents Shaun Maddox, Paul Hinchcliffe and Simon Reed 

CAMPAIGNERS in Thornhill say they are willing to join forces in order to create a permanent memorial to the victims of a mining disaster – but only if it’s in the village.

It was announced last week that community group Dewsbury Forward want to build a lasting tribute in memory of 139 men and boys who lost their lives after an underground explosion at the Combs Colliery in Thornhill in 1893.

It was proposed that a mining wheel monument alongside a roll of honour for those who died would be installed on Longcauseway in Dewsbury town centre, opposite the United Reformed Church.

However the group was met with strong opposition from people in Thornhill who believe the memorial needs to be in the village where the pit stood and 110 of the dead miners are buried.

Shaun Maddox, a 51-year-old construction manager who has lived in the village all his life, started a petition to “urge Kirklees to rethink its location”. Over 360 people have already signed.

He said: “It’s the history of Thornhill, those lads came from here, they didn’t come from Dewsbury. They walked up this street (Valley Road) to go to work.

“It’s like a kick in the teeth to the history of Thornhill.

“When this disaster happened Thornhill had their own council so we weren’t part of Dewsbury then anyway, it wasn’t until 1910 that it was amalgamated with Dewsbury council.

“I don’t want to lose the history of the village because we’re quite tight up here.”

Paul Ellis, president of Dewsbury Chamber of Trade, says the group has been working on the project for the past 20 years.

They have submitted a funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund to finance the work, which they say could cost up to £40,000.

But the Thornhill Community Group claim that last week was the first they’d heard about the project.

And Paul Hinchcliffe, an ex-miner who lives on Wells Road close to the former pit site, said they’d be able to complete the project for around £5,000.

He said: “Where’ve they got the cost of £40,000 from? There’s no cost for the wheel.

“If the council gifted us the land there’d be no cost there. The only cost involved is securing the monument into the ground and having the plaques made.

“I know a lad who would dig it out, I know a lad who would get rid of the muck – if I told them what it was for they’d do it for nothing.

“There’s been no consultation about it, there’s been no advertisement that I’ve seen.

“If we could all work together it would be better for what’s happening at the end of the day, getting everybody involved rather than fighting against each other.”

Mr Maddox confirmed he’d emailed the Dewsbury Forward group regarding his petition, but is still waiting for a reply.

Instead Mr Ellis released a statement which said: “If the people signing your petition are really serious about their desire to have it in Thornhill, we would be happy for them to take over the project. We will gladly give it over to them and we will step back. Let them put in for a lottery grant and find the right location for it.

“It was always planned that this new memorial would be erected in the churchyard where most of the men were buried, but after many years of working on the plan the church decided it couldn’t be done because it would have meant disturbing unmarked ancient graves.

“I can assure you this small committee, which included a highly-respected Thornhill man, Herbert Wood, who had worked at the pit but who has since passed away, did everything possible to keep it in Thornhill churchyard.

“Despite repeatedly appealing to Thornhill people to come forward and help us work towards a memorial for Thornhill and for donations, only a handful of people came forward to help and only £4,000 was raised.”

Mr Maddox said he is willing to put together a committee and work to ensure the memorial is built in Thornhill.

Several places for the tribute have been mooted by the public, including at the bottom of Frank Lane, in Rectory Park or somewhere on The Common.

A public meeting will be held in the coming weeks.

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