Village honours men who died in 1941 pit disaster

Miners were six hours into their shift at Crigglestone Colliery when a sudden explosion ripped though part of the mine.

Friday, 5th August 2016, 12:18 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 7:29 pm

A gust of wind was felt down the pit tunnel as timber supports were blown out at 7.20pm on Tuesday, July 29, 1941.

In the wreckage deep underground, 21 men were found dead from the explosion and toxic fumes. One later died in hospital.

Exactly 75 years on, a candle was lit for each of the men who died as villagers commemorated the disaster.

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More than 500 people visited Crigglestone Village Institute over the weekend to view old photographs and memorabilia from the colliery.

It was organised by Crigglestone Parish Council and historian Keith Wainwright, whose father Walter investigated the explosion as surveyor at the pit in 1941.

Mr Wainwright said: “We had more than 300 old photographs of the pit on display and literature on the old colliery at Crigglestone.

“We had a pit lamp which was in use at the time of the explosion. That was my father’s lamp.

“We lit the candles at 7.20pm underneath the memorial painting at the institute.

“We made sure that everybody who died in the explosion was remembered with a candle.”

Walter Wainwright was called into to help investigate the causes of the disaster ahead of an inquest at Wakefield Town Hall.

Keith Wainwright said: “He wasn’t at the pit when the explosion happened, but he was called straight away to get plans together for the inquiry.

“All kinds of questions were being asked.”

After the 1941 explosion, relatives of the dead were among volunteers who helped recover bodies.

A report to the secretary for mines said the alarm was raised by a deputy working 280 yards away who heard a “terrific bump”.

The report said: “The West Yorkshire Rescue Station Brigade was summoned from Wakefield and arrived at the colliery within 15 minutes of receiving the call. There had been no lack of able and eager volunteers for this hazardous work, some of whom had engaged in it without waiting to change into working clothes, and one at least of whom was closely related to three of the victims.

“The high reputation of the miners’ officials, workmen and union officials alike for coolness and courage at such times was fully maintained.”

Colliery safety was criticised:

Survivors gave evidence to a seven-day inquest which criticised ventilation and safety measures at the mine.

It found that “the men died as the result of extensive burns or injuries and carbon monoxide poisoning following an explosion of firedamp and that they met their death by misadventure.”

The coroner, Mr CJ Haworth, said: “Every precaution should be taken by management and men to see that all regulations are enforced.”