On this day, 22nd December 1852

1852 – Disaster strikes at Low Elsecar Colliery

At 1.30 pm on 22nd December 1852 an explosion underground at Hemingfield Colliery (also known as Low Elsecar Colliery) claimed 10 lives and injured a further 12 miners.


An inquest followed, led by Coroner Thomas Badger, and the Mines Inspector for Yorkshire, Charles Morton admonished the management and the men, later writing:

Here was a concurrence of 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.

Reports of Messrs. Dunn, Dickinson, Morton, Williams, Wynne, and Mackworth, inspectors of coal mines, to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State. 1855, p.44

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.

In Memoriam

The list of casualties included:

Died immediately in the explosion:

  • Benjamin Fletcher, 28, from Wombwell
  • Joseph Stenton, 32, from Jump
  • William Dickinson, 29, from Kitroyd, Jump
  • George Mallender, 37, from Jump
  • Jonathan Walker, 47, from Stubbin (Elsecar)
  • Thomas Hurst, 33, from Elsecar
  • Henry Addey, 14, from Elsecar
  • John Cooper, 17, from Jump

Died from injuries:

  • Joseph Rawson, 31, from Hoyland
  • Thomas Hutchinson, 26, from Broomhill

The Friends of Hemingfield Colliery produced a small booklet commemorating the disaster, including details of the victims and their families, as well as explanations of the conditions in Victorian coal mines and working for the Earls Fitzwilliam.

The booklet, priced £2, is available from the Friends at site Open Days and at local events including the Mates of Milton Gala and Barnsley Heritage days. Alternatively contact the Friends (hemingfield.colliery@gmail.com) for further details.

2 thoughts on “On this day, 22nd December 1852

  1. Dear Sir or Madam re 22 December 1852 colliery disaster. The coroner and mines inspector are very much ‘down’ on the miners. We’re there other factors at work in which other people were culpable? Thank youMark Roberts


    • Hi, thanks for your message. It is certainly true that official accounts whether from coroners, or from inspectors were often rather critical of the behaviour of the men. It should be said that at Elsecar it seems several of the miners underground at the time also gave evidence which blamed inaction from the youngest workers in not closing a ventilation door, and of careless behaviour in adjusting a safety lamp underground as the critical factors in the explosion itself. However the absence of the underground undermanagers (referred to as firetriers) was also criticised and Charles Morton the regional inspector of mines complained of indequacies both in the safety lamp gauze density and of the volume of air being ventilated. Earl Fitzwilliam sought and obtained a thorough description of the accident and victims from the Superintendent of his collieries Ben Biram. The Elsecar collieries manager James Utley also tried to submit his resignation soon after but it was not accepted. Printed rules though not present would realistically not have prevented the accident.


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