Permanent tribute to pit disaster victims

Permanent tribute to pit disaster victims

A PERMANENT memorial is to be built in memory of 139 men and boys who lost their lives in one of the UK’s worst coal mining disasters.

The £40,000 monument in central Dewsbury will commemorate those killed in an underground explosion at the Combs Colliery in Thornhill in 1893. Only seven men survived.

A mass burial took place with all the victims buried in unmarked graves in Thornhill Parish Church yard and other nearby locations.

Now, 127 years later, their memory will be marked with a mining wheel monument to commemorate the tragedy, as well as a roll of honour for those who died.

Paul Ellis, president of the Dewsbury Chamber of Trade, who has been working on the project for more than two decades, said: “Out of the 139 dead, 46 of them were under 16. And seven of the 46 were only 12.

“The victims have never been officially remembered and a lasting memorial is needed. This has been a project of more than 20 years in the planning and it is something which still runs deep for relatives of the dead men and people in our town, which was once home to this mining community.

“It was an unprecedented disaster at the time, on such a huge scale, leaving the community in a state of shock.”

A huge mining wheel, rescued from Denaby Main Colliery in South Yorkshire, is to be installed in Dewsbury town centre later this year on Longcauseway, opposite the United Reformed Church.

A funding bid has been submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund to finance the project, which is expected to cost up to £40,000.

The names of everyone killed will also be listed on a roll of honour to be unveiled at Dewsbury Town Hall.

Mr Ellis has been working on the project alongside Dewsbury East councillor Eric Firth, with support from local businessman Andrew Hutchinson – who salvaged the mining wheel.

The project has backing from Kirklees Council and members of Dewsbury Forward.

Coun Firth said: “This has been a long time coming and it will honour those who died and the families affected.

“We have the full list of all names and ages with some local surnames we recognise. Descendants will have had great grandfathers and relatives lost in the explosion.”

The monument was initially supposed to be built in Thornhill, but it wasn’t practical or safe to locate it near the church or former colliery which closed in 1971.

One half of the wheel will be used in a semi-circular design on top of a Yorkshire stone plinth. Plans could see a new pavement area around it and benches installed.

The wheel has been in storage for more than 20 years after being rescued by Mr Hutchinson, a salvage and demolition expert from Dewsbury. It is currently being painted and restored.

What happened at Combs Colliery? 

• Twelve was the age deemed suitable for youngsters to go down the pit to earn a living. The smaller boys could crawl into smaller spaces into seams of coal.

• Of those who died, 110 were buried in Thornhill churchyard, 16 at Whitley, three at the Baptist Chapel churchyard in Thornhill, one at Dewsbury, one at Flockton, one at Middlestown and one at Outwood.

• Most of the men died not as a result of the explosion but as a result of inhaling the dreadful ‘afterdamp’ gas, which every miner feared.

• As news of the disaster spread, a crowd of around 20,000 gathered on the Combs in Thornhill as the bodies were brought up from underground, one by one, until 139 were laid out on the hillside.

• They were all buried in the village churchyard on the same day in unmarked graves. The pit owner arranged for them to have coffins but no name marking their existence.

• An inquiry later revealed the explosion was caused by a naked light igniting a small amount of gas which accumulated at the bottom of the pit shaft.

• A trust fund was set up nationally and around £30,000 was collected – equivalent to almost £4million today.

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