The Huskar Pit disaster occurred on 4 July 1838 when twenty-six boys and girls who had been working underground were drowned by an overflowing stream. The disaster had consequences far beyond the local community. It came to the attention of Queen Victoria, led to a Royal Commision and a law prohibiting all females and boys under ten working underground in the pits.
The Huskar Pit in Silkstone near Barnsley in Yorkshire was owned by R. C. Clarke of Noblethorpe. The pit’s shaft was used to wind coal and workers to the surface using a steam engine, and a drift in Nabb Woods was used for ventilation. The pit was connected to Clarke’s nearby Moorend Colliery.
On the afternoon of 4 July 1836, two to two-and-a-half inches (5–6 cm) of rain fell during a violent thunderstorm, extinguishing the fire for the steam engine’s boiler. A message was sent down the pit telling the miners to make their way to the pit bottom to wait; they had been underground for nine hours. Forty children decided to leave the pit through the ventilation drift in Nabbs Wood. They went through the ventilation door at the bottom of the drift but as they headed up towards the entrance, a stream that was dry for most of the year but had been swollen by the torrential rain overflowed down the drift. The children were swept towards the ventilation door and the water rose against it, trapping twenty-six of them who were drowned; the rest escaped along a slit into Moorend Colliery.
The disaster had consequences far beyond the local community. It came to the attention of Queen Victoria, who took an interest in the loss of so many children, and led to a Royal Commission to investigate the employment of women and children in coal mines. As a result parliament passed the 1842 Mines and Collieries ActAct of the Parliament of the United Kingdom prohibiting all females and boys under ten years of age from working underground in coal mines. prohibiting women and boys under ten working underground in the pits.