May Days

Glowering and wet: Hemingfield Colliery 8th May 2021

Wet weekends are nothing new, but they do tend to rankle when they delay planned activities, and especially so when the sun somehow managed to shine late into the dying light of the working week. The Friends can wait another week to get back on site for some more socially-distanced outdoor maintenance work.

Meanwhile, back home sheltering from the downpour, the Friends and volunteers made good use of some extra hours of research and writing, and some went for a wander around Hemingfield and Elsecar…

Silent stones

Graveyards may be sombre,  mysterious and melancholic places;  hallowed fields scattered with stones, standing proud, sometimes sunken, toppled or simply missing; with gleaming gilt inscriptions and fresh flowers, or empty urns and faded names, gently eroding with the passage of time.

Elsecar Cemetery is set back behind the church, and runs along the rear of the school. It shelters many former residents, their stories once well-known but now perhaps unspoken, retaining the promise of re-discovery.

One such grave sits undisturbed in the bottom corner by the wall to the church graveyard. Its stone urn filling with rain water under the heavy grey clouds on this particularly wet Saturday.

Grave of Hilton and Jessie Summerscales in Elsecar Cemetery

Though hard to read at first, the letters SUMMERSCALES can still be read: Hilton Summerscales and his wife Jessie. No further details are mentioned, and yet this grave links us back in time to another day in May, almost 87 years ago, Thursday 10th May 1934 to be exact when a serious winding accident occurred at Elsecar Main Colliery.

Thanks to contemporary newspaper coverage in the South Yorkshire Times on 11th, 12th, 19th May and 6th October 1934 we can once more hear the voice of the past on that fateful day.

Elsecar Main winding accident 10th May 1934

Elsecar Main Colliery in an early view c.1912

At 2.30 pm that Thursday, a group of 7 miners descended the shaft together to carry out some reguar mines rescue practice under the direction of Albert Sanderson (35, of Birdwell), employed at the rescue station there.

The Tankersley Joint Mines Rescue Station at Birdwell (taken in 2017)

The party included 3 deputies and 3 ordinary miners. They had descended the shaft at 2.30pm. They completed their exercises, wearing helmets and carrying up to 40lbs of kit over the next 2 hours down in the Silkstone seam, before returning to the shaft, entering the cage and signalling up the winding engineman, Joseph Walker, that they were ready to return to the surface.

In the cage were the instructor Albert Sanderson, Hilton Summerscales, 46, a deputy from Elsecar, Joseph Burdin, 40, a deputy, and his brother Sam Burdin, 47, also a deputy, both from Hoyland, Charles A. Sanderson, 41, miner from Hemingfield, and Reginald Waddington, 40, and George Maltby, 47, both miners from Elsecar.

An honest mistake

In the winding engine house was Joseph Walker who had 26 years’ experience and had made 300 draws of coal and 26 containing men that day. He later reported in all honesty “I must have failed to use the reverser in the proper direction. I made a mistake. The cage struck the headgear at a fair speed.”

As Sam Burdin also recounted: “Suddenly there was a crash, we were flung upwards to the roof of the cage, and I fell on a man. I learnt afterwards that it was Hilton Summerscales. Both his legs were broken.” The winding rope had broken, and the emergency safety mechanism engaged, firmly holding the cage in place in the headgear, but around 7 feet above the normal coal landing level, leaving it dangling over the shaft which was over 350 yards deep.

First to reach the men in the cage were the pit manager Albert Naylor and deputy John Pursloe. Local doctors Fairclough and Mills climbed to tend to the casualties. All 7 men were injured to a greater or lesser degree, with head, back and leg injuries. All but Charles Sanderson were sent to the Sheffield Royal Hospital for care.

Sheffield Royal Hospital in an early Twentieth Century view (it had been rebuilt and opened in 1895, now replaced by the Royal Hallamshire Hospital further up the hill)

Sadly Hilton Summerscales was seriously injured, with two broken legs, severe bruising and loss of consciousness. Despite months of care, Hilton sadly passed away from bronchial pneumonia as a result of his injuries on 30th September 1934.

We remember him and are reminded of the real daily dangers of mining work.

One thought on “May Days

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