The Oaks, Barnsley 1866

Ranked as the 10th worst disaster (see table on The Early Years page) the Oaks Pit Disaster, (Barnsley, Yorkshire), of December 12th 1866 resulted in 361 deaths during two separate explosions. For nearly half a century this rated as the worst pit disaster in UK history, this unwanted title eventually being claimed by the Universal Senghenydd Colliery disaster in 1913.
 
The first explosion took place at about 1:20 pm on Wednesday 12th December. A loud 'report' was heard throughout and upto 3 miles away from the pit. Rescue attempts were hampered by dense smoke and the fact that both pit cages were destroyed in the blast. A new cage was hastily installed to No. 1 pit and surprisingly some 20-30 survivors were discovered huddled together at the foot of the shaft. The rest of the pit resembled a battlefield with bodies strewn everywhere.
 
Rescue attempts continued but on the following morning there was a noticeable change in the air current. Experienced miners immediately recognised the signs and, anticipating another explosion, urged the rescuers to leave. An estimated 90 men exited the mine very quickly as a result of these timely warnings and, at around 9.00 am, the pit exploded for a second time 'with great violence'.
 
At the time of this second blast there were known to be 27 rescuer/explorers in the mine but it was agreed that none would have survived the blast.
 
At 7.30 pm a third explosion occurred and it became apparent that the pit was well and truly on fire. With all hope for survivors being lost no one expected the event which then occurred on the Friday. At about 4.30 am the signal bell on No. 1 shaft was heard to ring! No amount of calling down the shaft could elicit a response so, in desperation, a water bottle (with brandy) was lowered down the shaft to see what happened. When the rope was recoiled the bottle was gone. With haste a temporary headgear was rigged and T.W. Embleton and J.E. Mammatt insisted on travelling into the shaft to effect a rescue.
 
After a perilous descent they discovered a sole rescuer, Samuel Brown, who had undoubtedly had the luckiest escape in mining history.
 
From 4:45 am on the Saturday (15th December) no fewer than 14 fresh explosions were recorded in the mine and operations to stop up the shafts to extinguish the fires were commenced with haste.
 
There was no complete record kept of who was in the mine at the time and it was subsequently the miner's union that compiled a list of the missing. Of the 340 men and boys who were in the pit on the Wednesday, only six ultimately survived. On the following day 27 others were killed, 23 of whom were volunteers from adjacent collieries.
 
The Oaks Colliery was eventually re-opened using new shafts and new workings. Some 80 bodies were still unaccounted for at that time.