Treasure of the month - May 2012
Felling Pit Disaster 1812
This Treasure of the month was provided by Owen Brittan one of this year's Robinson Bequest Students.
This May marks the 200th anniversary of the accident of the Felling Colliery which claimed the lives of 92 workers when an explosion ripped through the two pits. It was one of the worst ever known disasters in the history of coal fields with a survival rate of only 24 percent of the workforce who were an average age of 22.
|The tragedy took place years before any sort of regulation on child labour as evidenced by the large amount of children who died in the explosion. Of the 92 left dead, 11 of them were 10 years of age or younger. The story of the accident comes to us through the publication of Reverend John Hodgson's funeral sermon on behalf of the fallen miners.|
In October of 1810 Messrs. John and William Brandling, Henderson, and Grace each acquired a fourth share of the Felling colliery located in the parish of Jarrow, about a mile and a half east of Gateshead. The colliery consisted of two shafts, the John Pit and William Pit, which were both over 200 yards deep. Two shifts of men were constantly employed, except on Sundays. From its opening in October 1810 to 25 May 1812, the date of the explosion, the mine had had only one accident, which resulted in slight burns to two or three workmen, while excavating over 25 acres of coal.
|At about 11:30 in the morning an explosion occurred in the colliery which caused the ground to tremble within a mile and a half vicinity and could be heard for up to four miles. The John Pit emitted a subterraneous flame and with it ashes and coal in a cone-shaped cloud. According to Rev. Hodgson's sermon, family members and friends of those employed in the mine immediately rushed to the scene and there was a great commotion: people cried out and crowded around as men and boys slowly managed to exit the mines. By noon everyone who would survive the explosion had already exited the mine and no more survivors would come forth. Despite their best efforts, any sort of rescue attempts were thwarted by the noxious gas that filled the pits, known as choke damp, which kept rescuers from walking further than a few yards from the shaft. Hoping the gas would clear out, another attempt was made two days later but with the same result.|
|It was not until July 8, after diverting a current of water into the pits for over a month to make the air breathable, that any further rescue attempts could be made but by then very few people had any hope of finding anyone alive. Over the course of the next 44 days bodies were recovered and identified. Most were too scorched or putrid to be identified by physical features so friends and family had to identify them by belongings found on their person.|| |
At 9:00 A.M. on 19 September the last body was recovered and by 11:00 AM the colliery was back to work as normal. The body of the 92nd victim has never been found.
All but four of these victims were buried together in the Heworth Chapel Yard in a single trench with brick partitions between every four coffins. In response to this tragedy several benevolent and prominent Newcastle citizens began taking up subscriptions for the families of the deceased. Additionally, this mining accident prompted safety improvements throughout the coal community. In correspondence to the inadequacy of lamps in a noxious environment new safety lamps were invented. The Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Coal Mines was also created shortly thereafter.
Hodgson, John.The funeral sermon of the Felling Colliery sufferers : to which are prefixed, a description and plan of that colliery : an account of the late accident there : of the fund raised for the widows and suggestions for founding a collier's hospital
Newcastle [England] : Walker, 1813.Clarke 1833
A "billhead" from the Ephemera Collection
History of Felling on Tyne
a file of ephemera from the Clarke General Collection