Home Industry and Commerce Industrial Deaths Houghton Main Disaster – December 30th 1886

Houghton Main Disaster – December 30th 1886

January 1892

Mexborough and Swinton Times January 1, 1892

I recollect well what took place about four years ago at Great Houghton, where, on the eve of the New Year, twelve poor fellows were killed in company by being thrown down the shaft.

The occurrence through the village of Darfield into mourning, changed sounds of joy into wild notes of lamentation, and caused the whole countryside to echo with one grand note of sympathy.

I was told off to write a “special” report, of the proceedings on that day, and never shall I forget the sorrowful scene. More terrible than an explosion because of the entirely unforeseen nature of the accident, the event cast an added gloom upon the life of the miner.

Of no other class of workmen can the words “In the midst of life we are in death” be used with greater aptness.


From Coal Mining Records

Houghton Main, Barnsley, Yorkshire. 30th December, 1886.

The colliery was about seven miles from Barnsley. Many of the afternoon shift had been raised to the surface in a three deck cage when Allen Beresford, the engineman was winding men up the shaft at 7.50 a.m. When the cage was about 150 yards from the surface he heard a crash on the drum and that was the last he remembered as a piece of wood hit him on the forehead and knocked him out.

The wood had come from the roof of the winding house which had been shattered. The cage had gone into the head frame and fallen 535 yards down the shaft with the men in it. The rope had broken and 15 inch square timbers had been demolished.

Two men, Elliot and Dawson went down the shaft and found that the conductors were all right and John Gerrard, the colliery engineer and Elliot supervised the recovery of the bodies from the sump.

Those who died were:

WALKER Joseph 49 Collier Widower With Family

WALKER Samuel 20 Trammer Son of Joseph

WALKER Charles 19 Trammer Another son of Joseph

HARDCASTLE James 49 Collier Widow & grown up family

HARDCASTLE Alvin 18 Trammer Son of James

PEARSON Joseph 47 Collier Married

PEARSON Joseph Jnr 20 Trammer Son of Jospeh

BAXTER Edward 29 Collier SINGLE

MANNING William 40 Trammer of Snape Hill

BARTON William 17 Pony driver

At the inquest a man named Charles Atkinson, the hanger-on at the pit bottom, said that he signalled the cage to go up and a short time later he heard it coming down at great speed. He ran away but saw the cage go through the sump boards. Albert Holdsworth, the banksman who was on duty at the time said that the usual signals were received and returned. As the cage neared the surface, he saw a flash in the shaft. There was a crash and the engine house was damaged.

Holdsworth worked the lever at the pit bank that placed the stops in position to stop the cage going down the shaft, said that he did not get them in position and after the accident it was found that this was so. It was stated that even if they had been in position, they would not have stopped the cage falling down the shaft. he saw Beresford coming out of the engine house and was told that he had been hit by a piece of wood.

The jury deliberated for about four hours and returned the verdict that-

“The men had been killed by falling down the shaft when they had been overwound by Beresford.”

Allen Beresford was charged with manslaughter and bound over for two weeks on bail. Indicted for manslaughter of the 10 men but the jury ‘after 3 minutes’ deliberation found him not guilty.