South Yorkshire pit explosion killed more miners than first thought

News.
News.

England’s worst pit disaster - at Oaks Colliery in Barnsley - killed more people than first thought, according to new research.

The study of the explosion on December 12 1866 has produced a new list of those who died to mark the 150th anniversary of the tragedy, with the death toll believed to have been underestimated over the years.

The blast happened as 400 people were working underground, according to volunteers from the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (DVLP).

The death toll was originally recorded at 361 but new archive research has shown the total was 384, including 91 children.

Another 27 people died when rescuers were caught in another explosion a day later.

The DVLP said burial records suggest that 169 bodies were never recovered and remain in old pit workings beneath the Hoyle Mill, Ardsley, Kendray, Monk Bretton and Stairfoot areas of Barnsley.

DVLP community officer Stephen Miller said: “We are really pleased with the outcome of this research project. The volunteers have done sterling work in identifying those killed.

“Sadly, we knew that poor record-keeping and the chaos in the aftermath of the disaster meant that the exact number of people killed at Oaks Colliery has never been properly revealed and it has long been known that the figure of 361 was only based on an estimate by the mine owners.

“Our aim from the outset was to try and find a more accurate figure and find out more about the individual stories of those that died.”

Mr Miller said: “It seemed wrong that after 150 years the best list we had was produced by the Barnsley Chronicle in 1867, and that only named 337 of the 361 death toll.

“Our first aim was to identify and find out about the unnamed victims. The overall number was never the most important thing for us, but it was very interesting to see our list of names go beyond the 361 figure that has been accepted for so long.”

The DVLP, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, put out a call for volunteers 10 months ago and provided them with training in studying historic records.

They have collectively spent more than 3,000 hours going through records online.

Volunteer Noel Shaw said: “This research presented an unmissable opportunity to delve into the lives of those who perished and their families, whilst also working to produce a more accurate list of fatalities.

“I was surprised to see how many people travelled the length and breadth of the country to Barnsley for employment in the dangerous coal mines.

“I think I can speak for all the volunteers in saying that it has been a privilege and pleasure to contribute to this project.”

The DVLP has published its findings online at www.discoverdearne.org.uk and would like anyone with further information about the lives of the listed men and boys to come forward.

Commemorations of the disaster will culminate in an exhibition at the Experience Barnsley Museum in December.

The Oaks explosion was the worst pit disaster in the UK until the 1913 Senghenydd explosion in South Wales, which killed 439 miners.