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Barnsley Tales: Dave Cherry takes a look back at The Barnsley Oaks Colliery disaster of 1847

The Barnsley coalfield grew in size due to the demand for coal to fuel the industrial revolution in the early nineteenth century.


The local population jumped from 10,000 in 1831 to 35,000 in1891. The lure of work in the new collieries brought a massive demographic movement of people.


The main coal prize was the eight foot thick Barnsley bed seam which came to the surface at Stainborough. The first collieries followed the seam eastwards towards Doncaster. However the seam was very gassy and led to a lot of explosions. Before the use of electricity, poor ventilation and the use of naked flames made a lethal explosive mix.


In 1849 in Worsbrough Dale, 75 miners were killed when the Darley Main exploded. Lundhill at Wombwell lost 189 men in 1857. In 1862 the Edmunds Main exploded killing 59 miners and Swaithe Main in 1875 lost another 143 men.


The biggest disaster was the Oaks explosion of 1866 when 361 miners were killed. This was the largest loss of life in England’s collieries and its anniversary is soon coming up on December 12th.


The first shaft was sunk in 1824 and the Barnsley bed seam was 290 metres from the surface. However in 1847 there was a lesser known explosion at the Oaks.


The pit exploded on Friday, March 5th 1847, killing 73 and there were 19 survivors. Astonishingly the funerals were held on the Monday, just 3 days later.


Jane Ainsworth, a local author, has written a fascinating book on the disaster called ‘Victims of the 1847 Oaks Colliery Disaster’(Pen & Sword 2021) Jane has transcribed a ledger that Paul Stebbing had acquired for Barnsley Archives.


It was from the committee of March 18th who met at at Barnsley Court House to discuss the explosion. It is written in handwriting difficult to decipher, in an old-fashioned style with outdated moral judgements.


The ledger contains the minutes of the relief committee, made up of local men of influence such as solicitors and colliery owners, who met to allocate funds raised to the widows, orphans and injured survivors of the explosion.

She discovered that the colliery owners "had no legal requirements to provide assistance to families of the employer".


The committee were in effect "judging upon themselves". Most of the dead were buried in the St Marys churchyard in a mass, unmarked, grave.


Jane follows the lives of some of the survivors.

Bernard Wogan, an Irishman living on Copper Street on the Barebones was 17 when he survived the 1847 explosion but was badly injured. He was then a shot lighter at the Rosa colliery on Wakefield Road but was burnt again at an explosion at Swaithe Main.


Tragically he committed suicide at Wood Street by hanging himself in 1885. His wife said at the inquest he was an alcoholic but was upset at his lad being summonsed for 8 shillings which equates to £202 in today’s money. He was 55 when he died.


With the help of Ben Saxon from 'D and I Windows' we managed to find where the Oaks Colliery was on the Oaks Business Park. It’s hard to imagine the grief and suffering that occurred there.


Brian Elliott the renowned mining historian who was originally from Royston explains;-


"Sadly, for bereaved individuals and families, nothing could really compensate for the loss of one or more of a loved one. The impact of the big disasters, where hundreds of men and boys – one or two generations – were lost, immediately, the impact was massive, and continued to be felt many years afterwards."



To watch my film click;-



Victims of the 1847 Oaks Colliery Disaster by Jane Ainsworth can be purchased on;-







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