Hemingfield Low Elsecar Pit Colliery Disaster

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Date: 22 Dec 1852
Location: Hemingfield, Barnsley, South Yorkshiremap
Surnames/tags: England Mining_Disasters Disasters
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Worldwide Disasters | Mining Disasters | England Mining Disasters | Yorkshire Mining Disasters | Low Elsecar (Hemingfield) Colliery

Contact: Joan Whitaker

History and Circumstances

  • Date: 22 December 1852
  • Location: Low Elsecar (Hemingfield) Colliery, Hemingfield, Barnsley, Yorkshire, England
  • Victims: 10 lives lost, 7 Injured
  • Cause: Colliery Explosion
Area Histrory

Hemingfiled is a village in the, West Riding of Yorkshire; 4 miles South East of Barnsley. Before the coming of the coal mines in the mid 19th century it was a small faming village. Legend has it the village gets its name from a viking named 'Heming' who settled and established a farmstead. Hence, it was 'Heming's field'.

Mine History

Hemingfield Colliery, also known as Elsecar Low Colliery, opened in 1840 when work began to sink the shaft. It was about 8 years later when the first significant coal was being mined, and in 1848 about 1000 tons a day were being excavated. It was developed for Earl Fitzwilliam and formed part of the Earl's Elsecar Collieries which consisted of Elsecar High, Mid and Low pits. Delays in getting production stated were caused by a number problems with gas and water. The shaft from which the coal was wound was locally called the " Bicycle Wheel Pit " as the two pulley wheels were mounted one above the other resembling a bike.

When the colliery opened it already had a connections to the Elsecar branch of the Dearne and Dove Canal, with a loading basin, the Hemingfield Basin, which still survives today. Later the colliery was connected to the South Yorkshire Railway, by the Elsecar branch which opened in 1850.

Hemingfield Colliery ceased drawing coal for Earl Fitzwilliam on May 15th 1920. It continued to be used until 1989 as a pumping station, to prevent water from disused mine working flooding the working collieries in the area. Today the site has two small concrete headgears, the Pumping Engine House, a winding engine house, an electricity sub-station for later electric pumps and a very nice row of pit cottages

Mine Disaster Circumstances

Three days before Christmas, at 1.30 pm on 22nd December 1852 an explosion underground claimed 10 lives and injured a further 12 miners. 130 men and boys were underground when the explosion of "fire damp" occurred caused by some colliers who removed the tops off their safety lamps in order to get a bigger light from the naked flame.

Benjamin Biram was Earl Fitzwilliam's estate manager. He was an accomplished and innovatory engineer who ran the pit. He was one of the first engineers to introduce fan assisted ventilation into the mines and Hemmingfiled had an underground fan of 8 feet diameter. Biram was probably over-confident with this new technology, and as a result not enough was done do ensure safety. At Hemmingfield, "Door Trappers" were not employed, as they were in many other mines. Instead "Trammers" who pushed or "trammed" the tubs of coal were expected to open and close the doors themselves.

Hemmingfield was known to be a fiery mine and Davy lamps were supposed to be used. Two ‘fire-triers’ were appointed to inspect the pit in the morning and to overlook the operations during the day. At middy on the day of the accident the ‘triers’ were not on duty. In their absence a boy propped open a trap-door upon which the ventilation of the west bordgate depended. It remained open for about half an hour. During this time, gas collected in the upper parts of the bordgates. When the ventilation was restored and the door shut, the air collected the gas and it reached a point where a man was working with the top of his lamp unscrewed and the explosion occurred.

Investigation Report

The inquest was conducted by Coroner Thomas Badger, and the Mines Inspector for Yorkshire, Charles Morton. They admonished the management and the men. The concluded that the accident was caused by two reckless acts of disobedience; first, the leaving open of a door; and second, the removal of the top of a safety-lamp; and the two combined led to a catastrophe which destroyed ten persons and injured twelve others. It was noted that the effects would have been significantly worse had the ventilation of the workings not been well devised by Earl Fitzwilliam’s agent Benjamin Biram. Printed rules were thereafter required for the safety of the miners.

The Legacy

The colliery is now preserved as a heritage attraction by the Friends of Hemingfield Colliery


Name Sourced Bio Connected Category
Addy, Henry (1835) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cooper, John (1834)
William Dickenson (1822) Yes Yes Yes
Fletcher, Benjamin (1824) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hirst, Thomas (1810) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Jowitt, Joseph (1768)
George Mallinder (1824) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Joseph Rawson (1821)
Stenton, Joseph (1822) Yes Yes Yes Yes
Walker, Jonathan (1805)
Thomas Hutchinson (1826)

Name Sourced Bio Connected Category
Bullison, John
Guest, John
Hutchinson, Thomas
Lindley, George
Mares, R.
Moultain, James
Rigby, John
Waller, Isaac

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