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In the latter half of the 19th. century there were many mining disasters in the coalfields of the country. Explosions of firedamp killed hundreds of men and boys, taking away the family breadwinners and leaving many widows and orphans.
Death and destruction were the results of these calamities but they were usually heralded by the continuous sounding of the pit hooter signaling death underground. The women waiting at home would hear the sound and there would begin a rush to the pit head, anguish etched on their faces.

Blantyre Explosion 1877

Blantyre Explosion 1877

The rescue work continued night and day and as the bodies were recovered they were brought to the surface, usually at night, out of sight of the large crowds which had gathered at the pithead.

Pemberton Explosion, Wigan 1877


The bodies were taken to a temporary mortuary, often referred to as 'the death house' and it was that the women of the village gathered to wash the broken bodies with love and care and lay them out in coffins with the belongings carefully folded at the foot.
With the dead cared for it was time for the harrowing process of identification. Wives, mothers and sweethearts made the tragic journey to the death house to try to identify their own. They could make several visits and view many terrible sights before they found their husband, son or lover.

Once identified they would have to make arrangements to take the body home often in a handcart or barrow and make arrangements for the funeral.

A list of the victims would be posted and updated at the colliery.

Women would help with the nursing of the injured and provide refreshments for the parties of rescuers who risked their lives recovering the bodies in the hell that was below.

Risca Explosion

All that was left was for widows to comfort each other.

Blantyre Explosion
Following the Hartley disaster in the North East of England in 1862 a relief fund was set up. At a meeting in Newcastle it was thought that a sum of 17,000 would be required for the permanent relief of the widows and orphans but this sum was exceeded by the generosity of the public, particularly miners from other coalfields and private donations of eminent people including the Queen, who donated 200 and the Duke of Northumberland 300. Several thousand pounds had been subscribed in Northumberland alone and by the time the inquest into the disaster started was started, the Fund had reached 30,000 and subscriptions were coming at a rate of 1,000 per day and eventually totalled near 80,000. Mr. W.F. Barymorean was appointed actuary for the Fund.

The relief was apportioned thus:-

7/- per week was assigned to each widow and 10/6d. to a widow and child, 13/6d. for a widow and 2 children, 15/6d. for a widow and three children, 17/6d. for a widow and 4 children, 19/6d. for a widow and five children. The allowances would continue with no misconduct on the widow's part as long as they remained unmarried and the children to age 15 years for girls and 12 years for boys. Infirm adults received 7/- per week. The widows would get 20 on remarrying and 3 for funeral expenses on dying with 1 for the death of a child.


Details of many British mining disasters are available at the COAL MINING HISTORY RESOURCE CENTRE

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