see caption
Huskar Pit disaster memorial in Nabbs Wood
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Background


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.[1][2]

Disaster


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.[1][2]

The twenty-six children were taken to Thostle Hall before being taken to their homes in carts. Fifteen were boys; the youngest was 7, the oldest 16. The eleven girls were aged from 8 to 17.[1][2]

Legacy


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 ActThe Mines and Collieries Act 1842 (5 & 6 Vict. c. 99), usually known as the Mines Act 1842 is an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that prohibited 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.[3]

A memorial to the children who were victims of the disaster stands in Silkstone churchyard.[4] Another was erected in Nabbs Wood in 1988.[3]

Citations



Bibliography


The Husker Pit disaster, 1838 – why 26 children died. (n.d.). BBC Radio 4. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/making_history/makhist10_prog8a.shtml
Historic England. (n.d.). Huskar Pit Disaster Memorial, Silkstone, South Yorkshire [Database]. Retrieved from https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/huskar-pit-disaster-memorial-silkstone-2901
Staff writer. (1838, July 7). Devastating Storm Loss of twenty six lives at Silkstone Colliery. Sheffield Independent.
Winstanley, I. (n.d.). UK Mining Disasters 1820–39. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20160304171805/http://cmhrc.co.uk/cms/document/1820_39.pdf