Lundhill Colliery Disaster, 19th February 1857

Engraved view of Lundhill (or Lund Hill) Colliery after the disaster, showing crowds assembled at the surface buildings (Illustrated London News, 28 February 1857, p.195)

On this day in 1857, a horrific underground explosion of firedamp occurred at Lundhill Colliery, between Wombwell and Hemingfield, claiming 189 lives, including 120 adults and 69 children.

Snippet from the Lundhill Colliery entry in Mines Inspector Charles Morton’s Report of the Working of the Coal Mines Inspection Act (18 & 19 Vict. c.108.) in Yorkshire, for the Year ending the 31st December 1857, HMSO, 1858, p.134

The impact on families in the community was catastrophic, leaving 90 widows and a total of 220 children without a father. We remember the victims and the devastating impact on the local community, and is a reminder of the serious dangers of working gaseous coal seams underground with the rules, practices and tools available at the time.

This commemorative piece is produced as part of the research underway for our Hemingfield’s Hidden History project, enabled by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, looking into the working lives and conditions in and around Hemingfield Colliery.

Hemingfield Colliery (also know as Elsecar Low pit) was working the same Barnsley seam, and employed the neighbours of Lundhill miners, so it was a community tragedy. Hemingfield Colliery itself had only too recently (Dec 1852) experienced its own loss of life via a underground explosion.

Detail of a map indicating where the victims were eventually found. Charles Morton’s Report of the Working of the Coal Mines Inspection Act (18 & 19 Vict. c.108.) in Yorkshire, for the Year ending the 31st December 1857, HMSO, 1858,

The full story of the explosion, the subsequent fire underground and its grim aftermath which required the pit to be flooded, will be returned to at another time. For now we remember the impact of that day.

Lund Hill Colliery

Detail of Old Series Ordnance survey map (1 inch to the mile). Surveyed in 1838, prior to either Lund Hill Colliery or Hemingfield being sunk, though both were located close to the Dearne and Dove Canal, and both later connected to the railway network.

Lundhill Colliery was established in March 1853 by Messrs. William Taylor junior & Co. who took out a lease on the coal under land belonging to Mr Samuel Swift of Hemingfield.

Detail from a printed letterhead from Lundhill Colliery, note the name at the time of “Low Elsecar & Lund Hill Colliery” (Courtesy Private Collection)

The colliery was simply ‘Lund Hill’ initially, but to emphasize its connection with the Elsecar coal trade ‘Low Elsecar’ was added for a while – not to be confused with Earl Fitzwilliam’s own Low Elsecar Colliery, just over the hill in Hemingfield – the name was mostly used to tie in with other Elsecar pits and the quality of the local coal. Lund Hill had ready access to the Dearne and Dove Canal, and also constructed a connection to the South Yorkshire Railway.

No.93 – dot indicating location Lundhill Coal Company, detail from Map D in F.W. Hardwick’s ‘Colliery Handbook for the Counties of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire’, published by Pawson & Brailsford, Sheffield, 1900.

Sinking operations were undertaken by contractor John Jebson and took around two years, going down over 200 yards. On 22nd August 1854 there had been a serious accident involving the sinkers whose use of naked candles caused an explosion that killed 5 workers. The inquest at that time decided that “the proprietors and contractor are exonerated from all blame with respect to the explosion” (cited in Leeds Mercury,16 Sept 1854, p.7).

After 1856 the firm took on the name of the ‘Lund Hill Coal Company’ following rearrangements in the owning partnership: William Taylor junior, a linen manufacturer had run into financial difficulties. His original partner Thomas Spicer Galland, a London Barrister helped secure extra finance from Edward Thornhill Simpson, of Walton, near Wakefield, and William Stewart, of Wakefield. The disaster would eventually lead to bankruptcy for Taylor.

It was just as the new firm had got into operation in 1857 that the tragedy occurred.

Hillies Golf course, site of former Lundhill Colliery

The shafts are now hidden beneath the greens of Hillies golf course, Wombwell.

Hillies View: a new housing development between the canal and Hillies, just across the field from the site of Lundhill Colliery (now Hillies golf course). The colliery railway line skirted the bottom of this development, by what is now Greenlands farmland, but previously was the site of a Greenland shaft for Lundhill Colliery. The railway then crossed the canal at what was known as Intake (the field name) or later Lundhill Bridge.

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