Posted by: Graham | September 6, 2009

1862 Jan 16th Wed Hartley Pumping Beam broke 215 lost

In an era when pit disasters were all too frequent, the Hartley Pit Disaster stood out and resulted in some changes in the industry.

The disaster was caused by the pumping beam breaking and falling into the pit shaft. The problem was that New Hartley Pit only had one shaft, which acted as both an up and down shaft. The pit was also subject to flooding and had a massive pump, the fracture of which started the disaster. The broken beam plunged down the one shaft and crashed into lift bringing eight men to the surface. The mass of broken metal and wood blocked the shaft which was only 12 feet wide.

Single Shaft at West Hartley

Single Shaft at West Hartley

To add to the misfortune, the accident happened during shift changeover, so almost double the number of men were in the pit than normal. So over 200 men were trapped. Initially it was thought that they could be freed and had enough food and air to last them. However, as so often poisonous gas had a deadly effect. It slowed the rescue efforts and in the meantime killed all those trapped in the mine.

After six days of work the rescuers finally reached the trapped men. All were dead. On the body of one miner a note was was found, written in pencil on a torn newspaper: “Friday afternoon, at half-past two Edward Armstrong, Thomas Gledston, John Hardy, Thomas Bell, and others, took extremely ill. We also had a prayer-meeting at a quarter to two, when Tibbs, Henry Sharp, J. Campbell, Henry Gibson and William Palmer. Tibbs exhorted us again, and Sharp also.

One young tally boy had the grim task of identifying the men and boys after they were brought to the surface.

Tally Boy

Tally Boy

The verdict of the inquest into the deaths stated that: “The Jury cannot close this painful inquiry without expressing their string opinion of the imperative necessity that all working collieries should have at least a second shaft or outlet, to afford the workmen the means of escape should any obstruction take place.” Following this and the national outcry a Act of Parliament was passed which made it compulsory for all new mines to have two shafts, and all existing mines had to have another shaft sunk before 1st January 1865.

Another result of the disaster and the realisation of the effect it had on the widows and orphans left without breadwinners was the creation of a Miner’s Permanent Relief Fund. This fund would based on contributions from miners and mine owners and was designed to provide assistance for all dependents of miners who had an accident at work.

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