Bard does town proud

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Some 383 people killed in the 1866 Oaks Colliery Disaster have been honoured at an event to mark the mining disaster’s 150th anniversary.

The ‘Bard of Barnsley’ Ian McMillan spoke at the Town Hall earlier this week, reading his poem ‘Under December Skies, Under the Timeless Ground’ which he wrote to remember those who died in, what has been called, England’s worst mining catastrophe.

Ian, who was made Barnsley’s Poet Laureate earlier this year, said: “I’m proud to be associated with the commemorations for the Oaks Disaster; it’s an event of local, national and international significance and I hope my poem can do justice to my feelings and the feelings of the town.”

The disaster at Hoyle Mill in Barnsley, killed 383 people when underground explosions caused flammable gases to rip through the mine, killing hundreds of men and boys. The next morning, volunteer rescuers made their way down the pit and were hit by another explosion.

Monday’s event also included talks and the showing of a film in which the Oaks Colliery was recreated.

Alongside the formal gathering at the Town Hall, ‘When the Oaks Fired,’ an exhibition focusing on the human stories of the disaster, will run at Experience Barnsley until February 8.

The evening event and exhibition were delivered by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership and Barnsley Council. The DVLP is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund – thanks to National Lottery players.

Stephen Miller, community officer at the DVLP, said: “We’re really grateful to Ian for lending his support and creative mind to these commemorative events. It’s so important that those who died in this disaster are not forgotten and it’s fantastic to see how the people of Barnsley have come together to remember them.”

Barnsley councillor Roy Miller added: “It’s great to see so much going on to mark the anniversary of such a terrible tragedy and Ian McMillan’s involvement made the event even more special.”