New memorial to pit disaster victims

A NEW memorial will be unveiled today to mark the 150th anniversary of one of the worst underground explosions to rock South Yorkshire.

A total of 189 men and boys were killed in the the Lundhill Colliery disaster, an explosion which took place just after midday on February 19 1857. The oldest miner was 58 and the youngest just 10 years old.

The tragedy left 90 women widows and 220 children were orphaned after a flame ignited gas underground. So powerful was the blast that an enormous sheet of flame shot up through the pit shaft, illuminating the countryside for miles around.

A nearby brook was diverted to put out the fires, flooding the mine and making it impossible to recover the bodies until it was drained. This took two months.

Despite the risks, rescue teams went back down the pit to try to find survivors and brought out 19 men and children although two died later from their burns.

The scene created such interest that huge crowds estimated at between 10,000 and 15,000 people arrived at the site to look at the mourners and watch the flames still spiralling out of the pit.

The nation's grief was so intense that a special disaster fund was set up with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert making substantial donations.

A memorial obelisk was built, not at the colliery site but in the grounds of nearby Darfield Church, where 146 of the victims were buried.

The location of the pit is now a nine-hole golf course, and there is nothing to commemorate what happened there so many years ago.

Now thanks to a 10,000 donation from Heritage Lottery, Wombwell Heritage Group and the Lundhill Memorial Project, a new monument has been created.

Sue Riley, a member of the Lundhill Memorial Project and Wombwell Heritage Group, which received funding for the monument, said: "The memorial will serve to remind us all of the human cost of which early miners and their families were only too aware.

"We hope to ensure this and future generations are also aware of the very high cost so many people paid to provide the nation's coal."

The sculpture features mining symbols, and the central feature is a large piece of coal trapped within twisted metal.

Doncaster artist Mike Johnson said: "Although it was a disaster where so many people died I did not want to do a standard disaster piece just portraying the people involved.

"It is something to make people think about what happened on that day 150 years ago and for them to interpret it in their own way."

The memorial will stand in front of the clubhouse at Hillies golf course in Wombwell, and will occupy a vantage point from which the site of the mine can be viewed.

The unveiling ceremony will feature the Dodworth Colliery Band, Mayor of Barnsley councillor Margaret Morgan, and a song written and performed by Wombwell High School pupils.

Poignantly it will also include a direct descendent of one of the people killed in the disaster.

Coun Morgan said: "Prior to the opening of Lundhill Colliery, Wombwell was mainly a farming area. The pits boosted the Wombwell economy and its population, and became the hub of local life.

"It is fitting that 150 years after one of the biggest industrial disasters in the country's history, mining is once again bringing the community together, young and old, to honour those who lost their lives."

robert.sutcliffe@ypn.co.uk