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Cumberland Coal Field - Page 5 - Mining Memorial

Patrick Robertson

Workington’s Mining History

Information Document

Patrick Robertson

24 June 2020

Solway Colliery

Solway Colliery and Pit Offices Moss Bay (circa 1950’s, GH Edwards)

INTRODUCTION

The ultimate aim would be to see a statue/memorial placed in Workington town centre to remember and celebrate our rich mining heritage and culture. Due to the 2020 Lockdown I have expanded the previous information document, I did not intend to write a thesis and I have tried not to bore the reader. I intended to give an informative view not only on our rich mining culture and heritage and the differing views between Whitehaven and Workington on promoting and celebrating these. I must confess that my primary objective is to help facilitate a fitting tribute to the men, women and children of Workington’s past mining community.

I would like to thank Workington town council Culture committee, Emma Chapman, Chris Bagshaw , Tony Wareing, Stephen Stoddart and the Workington’ Heritage group for their important work on the Jane pit project. Jane pit is a visual testament to our mining past, a reminder for the future and must be preserved for later generations.

Today there are no deep coal mines working in Britain and the last generation of miners is now dying away. As a result, the disconnection with “King Coal” has grown to such an extent that many children from ex mining towns and villages today could not identify a piece of coal if shown it.

This disconnection will only increase because, although this industry has dominated the Workington’ area for over four hundred years, now it is almost entirely forgotten in the town. It appears that, at least in terms of heritage, the soot and coal stains have been cleansed from Workington’s history.

Given the politics of the area over the last hundred years I’m at a loss to understand why this issue was not raised or addressed earlier. We need to close this gap in our heritage and culture; this will inform and educate future generations and visitors alike.

To quote the Prime Minister Boris Johnson; “let’s get this done, it’s the right thing to do.”

I have also added information on the Mines Rescue Service, initially based at Brigham prior to moving to Winscales, Workington. The former station is now the Hunday Manor hotel...  

The mines were nationalized in 1947 and the NCB administered the coalfield from Bankfield in Workington.  In 1947 after Nationalization 10 pits were still operating in the area, as listed.

Jane-Pit1
Jane-Pit2

Jane Pit Website

WE OWE IT TO PAST GENERATIONS. WE OWE IT TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.

The Cumberland coalfield was one of the smaller coalfields consisting of about 25 miles from north - east to south - west and roughly about 6 miles wide at its widest extent. The Lord of the Manor of Workington, Henry Curwen started exploiting its coal reserves at the end of the 16th Century.

The Curwen family was largely responsible for developing the coal and iron trade in the Workington area, using Workington Harbour as their main outlet and started sinking pits at the start of the 17th Century to exploit the Irish coal trade and to supply local salt-pans and lime-kilns. The Whitehaven pits were owned by the Lowther family and competition was intense between both families. The Lowther’s leased all their pits in 1880.

The Cumberland coal seams were difficult to work due to faulting and explosions firedamp (methane) was a common problem.  The worst disasters occurred at Wellington pit (Whitehaven) in 1910 when there were 136 fatalities; Haig colliery had explosions in 1922, 1928 and 1931 with a total loss of life of 79 persons. In August 1947, a further 104 miners died in the William pit disaster, sadly there were also deaths in the normal daily work routines that were not caused by explosions.

In the 1920s there were over a million coalminers working in over 3000 collieries across Great Britain, and the industry was one of the most important and powerful in British history. It dominated the lives of generations of individuals, their families and communities, and its legacy is still with us today many of us in Cambria will have a family coalmining connection.

Coal miners formed one of the most important and distinctive occupational groups in British society and mining villages and mining society have been subject to much public and literary interest for hundreds of years. The fascination with miners and their society is linked to the place of coal in the history of the country’s industrial economy and past and, in particular, to miners themselves and the forms of solidarity that they have historically displayed suggests that the interest in miners and their society is not so much to do solely with just the mining industry but with the fact that the pit, and the work done there, dominated community life in a way that few other jobs did.

You can look at it both ways. There was a strong sense of community, but many families didn’t want their sons to go down the pit. It’s tempting to put on the rose-tinted glasses and look back to a time of close communities, brass bands and guaranteed work, but that does no credit to those men, women and sadly children who risked their lives and long-term health hundreds of feet below the surface to keep the country’s lights on and the wheels of industry turning.

Understanding of the history of mining in the Cumbrian area not only allows contrasts and comparisons to be drawn between the differing coalfields, both seaward and landward workings within the country.

In addition, it raises central questions as to why the mining past might still be valued, how it comes to be remembered or celebrated through heritage representations, and what impact these representations may have.

MELANCHOLY LOSS OF LIFE AND PROPERTY IN WORKINGTON

Most distressing accidents are of frequent occurrence in mining districts.

We were never before called upon to record so unfortunate and melancholy an occurrence, either with respect to loss of property or human life, as the one which took place in the coal mines of Mr. CURWEN, at Workington’, on Friday night last. The principal workings in Mr. CURWEN's collieries extend a long way under the sea. In Lady Pit, the Camper down band runs rapidly towards the surface in the direction of the shore, and it was here the miners had for a long time been employed. As they proceeded onwards with their labor, the thickness of the covering between the sea and the workings was daily reduced by their operations, until at the time the accident occurred it is supposed to have not exceeded 15 fathoms, only four fathoms of which were freestone, the rest loose gravel and sand.

The coal having been thus cut away to within so short a distance, and the excavated seam being so great - 11 or 12 feet, added to the removal of some pillars, the super incumbent strata gave way, the water rushed in from the sea, and three valuable mines - Lady Pit, Isabella Pit, and Union Pit, were almost instantaneously filled, and rendered forever useless. At the time the sea broke in there were 57 men and boys in the mine, 30 of who escaped by the bear-mouth, but 25 men and two boys were overtaken by the water and perished. In addition to this, 28 valuable horses also perished. It was fortunate the accident took place at the hour of changing the shift, when comparatively few men were in the pits, otherwise the loss of life might have been much more extensive. Several of the survivors were within 300 yards of the place where the water broke in, which had the effect of not only instantly changing the current of air in the mine, but of rendering it comparatively cold. This at once convinced them all was not right, and they made the best of their way to what is called the bear-mouth and escaped.

The current of air, as the men ascended the inclined plane was so great from the pressure of the water that the men experienced the greatest difficulty in keeping their footing, and, had the trap-doors not been uncommonly good, it is thought very few would have escaped with life. As a man named BLAND, who had gone down to render assistance, was returning, the outer door was closed by the violence of the current, and, opening inwards, he tried in vain to move it. At length, however, he succeeded in breaking one of the boards of which the door was formed, and such was the rush of air through the aperture, that he was carried with tremendous force through the opening, and thus escaped.

The place where the water broke into the pit is nearly a mile and a-half from the shaft, between Salterbeck and Harrington, and about 40 or 50 yards below low water-mark. The three pits were filled with water by half-past 10, an hour and a half from the time the roof gave way. A vessel sailed over the opening on Saturday, the captain of which supposes the aperture to be little short of an acre in extent; but as his conjecture was formed from the extent of the discolored water, the probability is that his surmise much exceeds the actual extent. Owing to a considerable body of water having for nearly 12 months past made its way into the pit at the place where the accident happened, the experienced workmen frequently cautioned the viewer of the danger; but their counsel was disregarded. The men were daily working at the place, removed the coal to the full extent of the band, and occasionally took away part of the pillars, and had therefore ample opportunity of judging for themselves.

The pits were amply furnished with every necessary article; the outlays for improvements were liberal and upon an extensive scale, and the number of men employed was greater than for several years past. The loss to Workington will be almost irreparable, as the pits are rendered for ever useless. Upwards of 300 men and boys are for the present thrown out of work, but Mr. CURWEN has expressed a wish to give as many of them employment as possible in his collieries at Harrington. This melancholy affair has cast a gloom over the town which will not speedily be removed, and must necessarily check that onward course of improvement which the inhabitants seemed to have in view. The Rev. P.VON ESSEN read the burial service at the mouth of the Union pit yesterday in the presence of an immense concourse of people, amongst whom were many sorrowing relatives and friends of the unfortunate sufferers.


Memorium

Workington - 6 miles [9 km] NNE of Whitehaven

Map Ref: (Sheet 89) NX994277, 54° 38' 3" N, 3° 33' 31" W
Pits: Buddle Pit, locn: (Sheet 89) NX993277
Isabella Pit
Jane Pit, locn: (Sheet 89) NX995277
Owners: 1860s - Irving & Co.
  Catalogue of plans of abandoned mines for Workington Colliery

Disasters (5 or more killed)

 

28th

Jul

1837

 

Inundation, 27 lives lost 
(Click Here for More Information About Individuals at Durham Mining Museum)

Individual page  Allison, Thomas, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster - (inundation), left a wife and a large family
Individual page  Anderson, Joseph, 03 Aug 1825, Miner 
Individual page Armstrong, -, 08 Mar 1820, Miner
Individual page Batey, Joseph, 20 Nov 1833, aged 24, inundation
Individual page Benson, Fletcher, 06 Feb 1835, aged 36, Miner, explosion 
Individual page Brennan, Daniell, 21 Sep 1833, aged 14, explosion of fire-damp, three Brennan brothers were killed
Individual page Brennan, John, 21 Sep 1833, aged 19, explosion of fire-damp, three Brennan brothers were killed
Individual page Brennan, Nicholas, 21 Sep 1833, aged 12, explosion of fire-damp, three Brennan brothers were killed
Individual page  Brough, John, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a large family 
Individual page  Brough, Jonathan, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left three orphan children 
Individual page Cain, Hugh, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), unmarried 
Individual page Campbell, Angus, 04 Mar 1824, aged 9, killed by a tram falling down the shaft 
Individual page  Carr, John, 20 Nov 1846, Banksman, fell from the shears in a high wind
Individual page  Craney, Richard, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a wife and family 
Individual page
Creen, Daniel, 21 Sep 1833, aged 16, explosion of fire-damp, two Creen brothers were killed 
Individual page Creen, Thomas, 21 Sep 1833, aged 18, explosion of fire-damp, two Creen brothers were killed 
Individual page  Darling, Martin, 28 Jul 1837, aged boy, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation) 
Individual page Davidson, John, 07 Feb 1842, aged 20, killed by a fall of stone
Individual page Ditchburn, James, 21 Sep 1833, aged 10, explosion of fire-damp 
Individual page Ditchburn, Robert, 21 Sep 1833, aged 55, explosion of fire-damp
Individual page  Ditchburn, Thomas, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), unmarried 
Individual page Ditchburn, William, 25 Aug 1853, overcome by foul air
Individual page  Dobson, Philip, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left three children 
Individual page Donald, James, 21 Sep 1833, aged 27, explosion of fire-damp
Individual page Edward, William, 17 Nov 1823, Miner
Individual page Ellwood, Robert, 06 Feb 1835, aged 68, Miner, explosion 
Individual page  Frill, Daniel, left a wife and family
Individual page Furness, Benjamin, 03 Aug 1825, Miner 
Individual page Gallantree, -, 03 Aug 1825, Miner 
Individual page Gallantry, William, 20 Nov 1833, aged 13, inundation 
Individual page  Gambles, James, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a wife and a large family 
Individual page Gibson, Walter, 23 Jan 1867, aged 27, Manager, fell down pit
Individual page Graham, William, 26 Aug 1848, fell down the shaft
Individual page  Green, Robert, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a wife and four children, son of Thomas and father of Thomas
Individual page  Green, Thomas,28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), son of Robert and grandson of Thomas 
Individual page  Hardy, Thomas, 28 May 1836, aged 12, fell between seams, Buried: St. Michaels, Workington
Individual page  Hayton, William, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), unmarried 
Individual page Higgins, John, 21 Sep 1833, aged 33, explosion of fire-damp 
Individual page Hindmoor, Thomas, 09 Nov 1866, aged 22, Hewer, fall of stone when setting timber
Individual page Hines, James, 14 Mar 1832, Miner, killed in the pit in a fight with John Carr
Individual page  Huids, Thomas, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a wife and family 
Individual page Jelly, Andrew, 21 Sep 1833, aged 10, explosion of fire-damp 
Individual page  Johnstone, Thomas, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a wife and family
Individual page Kenyon, William, 31 Oct 1860, killed by a fall of stone, left a widow and four young children
Individual page  Magee, John, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a wife and two children 
Individual page McCarton, Peter, 10 Apr 1832, aged 14, Miner
Individual page McGarry, James, 06 Feb 1835, aged 36, Miner, explosion 
Individual page  McKitten, George, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), unmarried 
Individual page Millican, James, 21 Aug 1819, aged 48, large stone fell from roof, Buried: St. Michaels on 22 Aug 1819
Individual page  Mountjoy, Robert, 28 Jul 1837, aged boy, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation) 
Individual page  Mulligan, John, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a wife and family 
Individual page  Mulligan, Robert, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), young man 
Individual page Mulligan, Samuel, 21 Sep 1833, aged 22, explosion of fire-damp 
Individual page  Murrow, Jeremiah, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), unmarried 
Individual page Nicholson, James, 06 Feb 1835, aged 30, Miner, explosion 
Individual page Nutter, George, 20 Nov 1833, aged 23, inundation, recently married 
Individual page  Sharp, Joseph, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), unmarried
Individual page  Sides, John, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a wife and a large family 
Individual page  Stubbs, William, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a large family 
Individual page Thompson, John, 21 Sep 1833, aged 24, explosion of fire-damp 
Individual page Watson, John, 21 Sep 1833, aged 10, explosion of fire-damp 
Individual page Wear, Jonathan, 20 Nov 1833, aged 20, inundation
Individual page  Wilkinson, William, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a wife and eight children 
Individual page Wright, William, 06 Feb 1835, aged 21, Miner, explosion 
Individual page  Young, John, 28 Jul 1837, killed in the 1837 disaster (inundation), left a large family 
Individual page  Young, Thomas, 04 Mar 1824, aged 9, killed by a tram falling down the shaft 

On July 28, 1837, Workington Colliery, on the coast of Cumberland, was inundated by the sea, and the Isabella, Union, and Lady pits submerged. The workings had been carried to a distance of 1,500 yards under the sea, and rising rapidly towards it, until only 150 ft. of strata intervened. Up till ten months previous to the date of the accident, Mr. Matthias Dunn had the management of the colliery. After Mr. Dunn's departure, a considerable robbing or removal of the pillars under the sea was carried on; a proceeding, the danger of which was a matter of common talk about the town. Disaster was foretold by many. A number of the colliers left the work. A correspondence on the subject took place between those on the spot and Mr. Dunn, who, on account of the imminence of the danger, submitted the matter to a north of England coal-owner, and induced him to write to Mr. Curwen, the owner of Workington Colliery, drawing his attention to the risk that was being run. But no steps were taken, till eventually a crush ensued, and the sea burst in on the evening of the day above mentioned. Had the accident occurred during the day, the number of lives lost would have been greater. As it was, it is variously stated at from twenty-seven to forty human beings, and an almost equal number of horses (Dunn's Coal Trade, p. 102; Win. and Work., 2nd ed. 198; Child. Employ. Com., Append. i., pp., 300, 307, 878; 1849 Report, pp. 494, 609).

If you know of any fatalities missing from the above list then please contact Durham Mining Museum with the details and they will add them to their database.

Source: 

Annals of Coal Mining and the Coal Trade by Robert L. Galloway. Published in 1898.

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