Royals’ pit stop in grieving community

During the 1912 Royal visit to South Yorkshire, King George V and Queen Mary shared unexpected periods of sheer joy and deep sorrow with the local mining communities.

Arriving in the luxurious Royal train at Doncaster station on the afternoon of Monday, July 8, the purpose of the visit was said to be to “acquaint themselves with the lives, work and homes of their industrial subjects”.

The Royal cavalcade motored in style through streets bedecked with bunting and thronged with cheering, flag waving crowds, before beginning a journey westwards to Earl Fitzwilliam’s Wentworth Woodhouse. Along the way the King repeatedly raised his hat and the Queen bowed her head.

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A brief stop was taken to view and walk round the unique 12th century castle at Conisbrough. The King, resplendent in a grey suit, brown bowler hat and a red and black tie, and with white spats over brown boots, was shown the most remarkable features of the keep, dungeon, the armoury, the fireplaces, in which he was especially fascinated, and other objects of antiquarian interest.

This was the first time the castle had been visited by a reigning English monarch since King John visited in 1201.

An estimated 30, 000 witnessed the event of 1912.

After taking tea in the royal pavilion, comprising a small, beautifully fitted tent, with ivory muslin and festooned with flowers, the King and Queen left shortly after five and continued their journey to Wentworth, staying overnight. While at breakfast, the King heard of the disaster at Cadeby Colliery, only a short distance from Conisbrough castle, which he had visited the previous day.

The news did not deter him from carrying out his intention of descending the Elsecar mine later in the day. Rumours that he had abandoned his intentions were rife, and there was great enthusiasm amongst the miners when they found the rumours were unfounded.

The King and Queen began their day by motoring to Clifton Park, Rotherham, and there they shook hands with a disabled boy, Ambrose John Rowe.

Two years earlier, having lost both legs, he wrote to the King for help.

He had since been provided with limbs funded from the Royal purse.

A short drive was undertaken to nearby Silverwood colliery. First, the Royal party watched the coal emerging from the shafts at the rate of three hundred tons an hour and then being weighed before it was transferred into the screening house. Into the latter building, the King descended amid the roar of machinery for sifting and sorting the coal.

Meanwhile, the Queen mounted a platelayer’s trolley, accompanied by Lady Fitzwilliam, hostess at Wentworth Woodhouse, and Lady Eva Dugdale. Workers pushed the trolley along a track, giving the Queen a ride to the winding engine house, where the King re-joined her. Almost an hour was spent at the colliery.

The Royal party then headed eastwards through Rawmarsh, Swinton, Mexborough, High Melton, Sprotbrough and on to Woodlands, a model village inhabited by miners at Brodsworth colliery, Doncaster.

They were greeted by Charles Thelluson, of Brodsworth Hall, who was also the High Sheriff of Yorkshire. The purpose of the visit was to view a collier’s house and they toured round the home of coal getter William Brown, at no. 33 The Park. The entourage then drove away to begin a short journey westwards, through Brodsworth village, to Hickleton Hall, the seat of the Viscount Halifax, where they took lunch.

Later in the afternoon, Elsecar colliery, owned and worked by Earl Fitzwilliam, was their next stop. The King descended to a depth of 350 yards in just over a minute and spent forty minutes underground. Cheers resounded up the shaft on his arrival. He was supplied with an electric hand lamp, the other members in the party with ordinary safety lamps.

In the pit the King borrowed a miner’s pick and did some hewing.

The Elsecar visit made King George V the first British King to descend a coal mine.

At about 7pm, the Royal couple returned to Conisbrough and visited Cadeby Colliery, where 88 men had lost their lives as a result of two explosions.

This showed, it was loudly trumpeted in the Press, that the King and Queen shared in the sorrows as well as the joys of the nation.

In a low-key arrival, the couple did not go to the pit where the disaster had occurred, but to the colliery company’s offices, situated a few hundred yards from the pithead.

As the Queen came into view, it was seen that tears were trickling down her cheeks. The King was also touched. The gathered crowd seemed to be struggling between loyalty and a sense of grief. A faint cheer broke out, but the King raised his hand as if to say “Don’t.”

Once they had left, the colliery management issued a message from the couple: “They command me to say to all those who have suffered a loss of any who are dear to them their deep sympathy with them in their grief.”