Home Industry and Commerce Industrial Deaths The Colliery Disaster at Houghton Main

The Colliery Disaster at Houghton Main

January 1887

Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Monday 03 January 1887

The Colliery Disaster at Houghton Main

New Year’s Day at Darfield.

The pleasantly situated village of Darfleld, which was thrown into mourning by the catastrophe which occurred at Houghton Main Colliery on Thursday, never wore a more mournful aspect than on New Year’s Day.

The signs of jollity associated with the first day a new year were absent, for the terrible cage accident seemed have brought home to the population of Darfield and the surrounding district, with painful vividness, the hazardous nature the miners’ occupation. The interiors of the cottage homes in the neighbourhood are warm and cosy, and many them were on Saturday decorated with evergreens, for no class more of the few great holidays of the year than the section of the community whose lives are mostly spent in the gloomy recesses the mine, and who only have the opportunity of enjoying the daylight and the fresh air for few hours at the most every week. Side by side with the comfort of the homes, even an utter stranger would have noticed that there was a feeling of uneasiness in the minds of most of the miners who greeted him with the customary compliments of the season, and that, mixed with the heartiness of the wish, there was something that grated harshly and seemed strangely out of place.

In Darfield especially was this noticeable, for the whole of the ten unfortunate miners whose mangled remains were then lying crushed beneath the cruel wait off a cage weighing upwards of three tons, were residents in the village. It is doubtful whether even an explosion of gas in a fiery mine like Main would have produced such consternation as the deplorable accident of Thursday night. More homes might have been rendered desolate by the former than the latter event, but the feeling of alarm would not have been intense. The miners, on hearing of the sad event, looked at each other amazement, as mutely asking whose turn would come next.

The substantial nature of the winding rope at Houghton Main, which will easily bear a strain a hundred tons; the almost total immunity from accident which has made Houghton Main a by-word among the hardy dwellers in the valleys of the Don and Dearne; and, above all, the confidence which every man and boy felt in the skill and courage the brakesmen employed the pit had led the men regard their occupation less dangerous than that of their neighbours. The shaking of their confidence, owing to the accident on Thursday, will have done for more harm than an explosion, for here already the fearful risks which mineers are exposed even when their work is done have been brought home to their very doors. Nine men and one boy who had finished their occupation before the majority their fellows Thursday, hurried to the pit bottom in order be conveyed to the surface, full of high hopes and anticipations for the coming year. They stepped on the cage, which was swung out the blackness of mine into, clear, starlit air above. They knew who was at the brake in the engine house, but at the same time it is extremely doubtful if any thought of accident crossed their minds as, each instant they gained speed. It is indeed a matter of doubt if ever they became aware their frightful position. The cage dashed upwards, upwards, until the safety apparatus above the shaft was reached. This proved powerless to avert the disaster, and the cage then flew downwards, its track being marked by a lurid light from the flames which burst forth, owing to the excessive friction. Those who were looking towards the shaft say that they heard a sudden crash, and that this was followed by fierce flame which for instant like a lightning flash illuminated the engine-house and the pulley wheels round which the rope revolved. The light died out suddenly as it made its appearance. The forked flame which shot high into the air was the death signal of ten poor fellows who the moment previous had been of active life, and at the instant the men in the mine heard the roar and crash their comrades were lying torn literally limb from limb at the bottom the sump, the cage itself being twisted as if it had been pinwire.

By the catastrophe several homes were thrown into mourning, and a whole community was shrouded in gloom. The blinds of many of houses m the village were drawn, and the spirit of desolation seemed to brood over an entire district New Year’s Day, which ordinarily is one of best enjoyed holidays of the year, coming as it often does mark the commencement of a new and better era in the lives off men.

Darfield is one those old-fashioned Yorkshire villages which seem to improve like good wine with age. Its bridle roads and highways skirted by gigantic trees and paved with substantial stone, its strongly built stone walls dividing the roadway from the fields contrast strongly with those of the colliery district which have been brought into prominence of late years.

Before the collieries were commenced in the neighbourhood, darkening the air with smoke, the village must have been truly beautiful, and indeed much of its beauty still remains. On New Year’s day the gnarled limbs the forest giants, which are frequently met with in locality, were resplendent with the mist particles, which, in the quaint language a native, had been “floored” and frozen during the night. Each twig sparkled in the ray of the sun if it were decked with diamonds. The earth wore a covering brilliant whiteness, and each blade grass glittered the warm sunlight. The pretty view be witnessed by the traveller who walks from station the highroad the fields was more than ordinarily beautiful. The trees and hedges which link the footpath were lovely then white robes. Not breath of wind stirred the branches and the whole scene was impressive in its very silence, only sound to heard was the gurgling the water in the streamlet below, which danced along as if the futile efforts of the Frost King to enchain its bonds. The old grey church which crowns the hill, and from the tower which there is a delightful panorama of hill and valley, town and village, observed, grimly frowned over the scene, which, lovely as it must be in the height summer, seemed far more lovely its white robed silence.

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