This weekend sees the anniversary of the 1866 Oaks Mining Disaster in Barnsley. This was the worst colliery disaster in England.
On 12 December 1866, men and boys were working at the Oaks Colliery, near Stairfoot, when a huge explosion ripped through the workings. The following morning, the shaft exploded for a second time, killing rescuers who had volunteered to help the trapped and injured.
In total the explosions killed 361 workers – including boys who were handling the pit ponies – and 27 rescuers. Sadly a number of the victims’ bodies were not recovered and remain underground to this day.
The Dearne Valley Partnership, which aims to commemorate the tragedy in in the local community, is holding an illustrated talk on the disaster by Stephen Miller on Saturday 12 December at Christ Church, Ardsley, between 2.00pm and 3.00pm.
Local campaigners have long argued that the disaster deserves a permanent memorial. That’s why earlier this year I was honoured become a proud patron of the Oaks 150th Anniversary Disaster Memorial Fund Campaign.
Created by a small group of ex-miners and supported by the NUM, the campaign is raising money for a statue, designed by Barnsley sculptor Graham Ibbeson, to be erected next year during the 150th anniversary of the disaster.
Last year I visited the Welsh National Mining Memorial and Garden in Senghenydd. Located at the former pit head of the Senghenydd Colliery, this beautiful memorial was unveiled to mark the centenary of the worst mining disaster in the UK.
Campaigners here in Barnsley are equally determined that an Oaks Memorial will also be seen as an important monument of national significance. In that way future generations can not just remember our mining heritage, but also reflect on the huge sacrifices that were made by our people in that industry.