Englandís Worst Mining Disaster

Barnsley, South Yorkshire The 12th of December 1866 AD

British history is littered with pit disasters, among them Blantyre in 1877 and Hartley in 1862 . In 1866 Englandís worst mining tragedy occurred at The Oaks Colliery near Barnsley, remaining Britainís worst until the Caerphilly catastrophe in 1913 . Politicians with pristine hands who rail about health and safety red-tape would do well to remember such events.
The Oaks Colliery had already suffered a devastating explosion in 1846 when 73 died. It was known to have major problems with firedamp (pockets of flammable gases, including methane, easily ignited during mining operations), but work there continued, indeed after the 1866 events it was re-opened, finally closing in the Sixties. At about 1pm on Wednesday December 12 1866 a huge explosion ripped through the pit. Seventeen men and boys made it out alive, but 334 died in the workings. The tragedy had not ended: the following day a party of 27 engineers and rescuers was in the mine when a second explosion killed all but one of their number, adding another 26 to the list of dead. A fund was raised to support the widows and orphans, Queen Victoria as ever a contributor.

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