Part of the Jackson Family History
Alternative web address: www.hilarymaryjackson.co.uk/abraham_thompson.htm
Updated 10 October 2010
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Abraham Thomson was the first husband of my Great Grandmother Mary Hickling. Abraham and Mary Vaughan were married on 25 September 1848 and more information can be found by following the above Vaughan family link.
Abraham was one of the 52 victims of the Warren Vale Colliery disaster which took place in the Colliery, situated between Rawmarsh, Wath and Swinton on Monday, 20 December 1851.
I sent for my great grandmother's first husband's, death certificate (note the crossing out of 'Warren Vale' and the initial - does this mean Abraham died as a result of his injuries; did he die later at home? It looks as if this version superseded a previously recorded death certificate.)
CERTIFIED COPY of an ENTRY of DEATH
Given at the GENERAL REGISTER OFFICE
Registration District - Rotherham
1852 DEATH in the Sub-District of Kimberworth in the County of York
When and where died
Name and surname
Cause of death
Signature, description and residence of informant
Signature of registrar
Twentieth December 1851
Accidentally killed by an Explosion of Fire damp in Warren Vale Colliery
Thos Badger Coroner Rotherham
Sixth February 1852
John Wright Registrar
I have found a brief entry in Volume 1 of "The Yorkshire Miners" written by Frank Machin in 1958 - a book about the Yorkshire miner in the Nineteenth Century. Frank writes -
Many accidents and deaths occurred not only because of the incompetence of colliery officials but also because of their negligence. In 1839, and again in 1847, we are told that it was a common practice in Yorkshire for miners to enter the pit, early in the morning, to explode gas which had accumulated in headings and bord gates during the night. One of the most common forms of neglect was the failure to examine working places before they were entered by the men. This was a particularly serious omission where candles were used because if gas was present an explosion might, and often did, occur. In some instances the guilty person might escape scot free, in others he might be dismissed, fined, or imprisoned, but other men would lose their lives.
Occasionally such neglect had very serious results. There was an explosion in December, 1851, at Warren Vale Colliery, near Rawmarsh, when fifty-two persons were killed. This pit was new and one of several belonging to the same owners. The men worked with candles. The general manager visited this particular mine once a week and the "underground steward whose age, infirmity, and deficient knowledge incapacitated him for the duties which devolved on him . . . was assisted by a labourer who acted as a fire trier in a morning, but the other men without waiting for any report from him as to the state of the works followed him down the pit immediately." * The underground steward had occupied his position for eight years, was unable to read or write, was sixty-six years old, and rarely arrived at the colliery before 8 a.m. There were no printed rules at this pit.
* Report of Mines Inspector for Yorkshire, 1854, p.99
Obtaining copies of the "The Times" newspaper reports of the inquest, I was intending to transcribe them completely, however they are rather lengthy and there just might be a problem with the copyright as The Times does have an Archive website.
Here is a short report based on the Times articles:
The pits in the area took a steady toll of life over the years. It seems strange that men went to work with the knowledge that any one, or several of them could be killed on their shift.
Warren Vale Colliery, Rawmarsh, suffered an explosion in 1851 which took 52 lives – this was not uncommon.
1841 – 15 killed at Mount Osborne Colliery, Barnsley;
1847 – six killed at Darley Main, Worsborough; 73 at the Oaks Pit, Barnsley;
1849 – another explosion at Worsborough Dale took 75 lives;
the tragedies go on and on.
The explosion at Warren Vale was due to ‘fire damp’ or methane, which is a highly inflammable hydrocarbon gas.
In Victorian times candles were still used to illuminate mines, though there were some Davy lamps. At the inquest it was revealed that the fire at the bottom of the shaft had been allowed to die down over night. This was to provide a through draught in the pit and suck out bad air. It seems a rather crude and dangerous practice, but this was the method of the time.
Someone responsible for touring the mine with a Davy lamp before work commenced, didn’t on this occasion. Although many miners testified it was a ‘safe’ pit, a roof fall released gas, which, ignited by the miner’s candles caused an explosion.
The verdict of the inquest was that it was ‘accidental death’.
A long letter to The Times from “One Who Lives Among Colliers” comments that “Such calamities are made to appear as mainly attributable to the recklessness or carelessness of the workmen”. He goes on to say “that it is never hinted that it may arise from want of proper caution of the owner of the pit to remove the gas”. At the end of the lengthy letter he gives his own remedy of using ‘syphon pipes’ to remove such gas.
Even with all the modern safety devices used in the pits until they closed, lives were still lost. You have only to look in your local churchyard or cemetery to find miner’s graves.
- oOo -
The site of the Colliery has now been designated as a Local Nature Reserve, see Rotherham MBC web page:
- this site confirms that this area was the site of the former Warren Vale Colliery, formerly the Rawmarsh Colliery Victoria Pit, sunk in 1837 and worked until 1897.
The black/white picture on the left is of Old Warren Vale - this road is still there, with the newer Warren Vale Road, running alongside it. The colour pictures above were taken in May 2005, this area is, of course, vastly different from 1851 when the Colliery explosion occurred, in fact it has been smartened up from when I was a child. We used to play in the stream and on the hillside all round this area, there were signs of the old Colliery, shale from the colliery, old buildings, and derelict railway lines and the area was known as Piccadilly fields. I have a 1930 map and alongside Collier Brook, ran the Warren Vale Colliery Tramway and where these pictures were taken was marked "Warren Vale Incline". This area has been used as a landfill site and there seems to be nothing remaining to show exactly where Warren Vale Pit was. There used to be a factory on the site, but that was ruined by a serious fire - there are still a few small brick buildings which belonged to the factory, but they are just filled with old chairs and other rubbish. Part of the site is occupied by the Rotherham Council Dumpit Site. The table below identifies the pictures.
|1||The site of Warren Vale Colliery 14 May 2005|
|2||Barry is walking along the current footpath which was probably where the Warren Vale Tramway ran|
|3||Collier Brook - this was a good place to find tadpoles and sticklebacks|
|4||Concrete slabs and rubble, probably from the old factory|
Warren Vale - for many years this was called the "New Road" by many local people. In the 1940s my brother, Roy and his friends used to "do the ton" on their motor bikes. After many accidents the Council added a round-a-bout in an effort to slow down the traffic. This is the A633 to Swinton looking quite pretty these days due to the planting of flowers on the verges.
|6||The Rotherham Borough Council Dumpit Site - the Colliery pumping station is shown here on my map|
|7||I have been told that this Cottage used to belong to the Colliery, I need to get that verified though.|
Old Warren Vale, showing a tram in the distance - Colliery Buildings can be seen on the left and also on the left just over the hedge can be seen railway wagons.
Mike Logan, an Ex-NCB employee, in part responsible for monitoring the extent and impact of old workings in the old No 3 Area has contacted me. Mike also knows the area well from his childhood. He informed me that the Upcast Shaft was 383 yards east of the modern Warren Vale Road bridge from where I took Photograph 6, and 85 yards south from the old road leading down to the Colliery - now sadly under many tons of Rotherham's refuse waste.
The Downshaft or fresh air to the mine was provided via an Additt (Drift) positioned approximately 87 yards South-West of the now recent Swinton, Wentworth, Kilnhurst roundabout. The fresh air, being supplied initially to the Parkgate seam (97 yds) and then onto the Barnsley Seam (127 yds) via fresh air Drift from the Parkgate seam. The Barnsley Seam became infamous for it's high methane content along with the problems associated with spontaneous combustion (Goaf fires).
The following notes about the Warren Vale Collier disaster were forwarded to me by the originator of the Coal Mining History Resource Centre website, Ian Winstanley, following my query about the name of Abraham Thompson not appearing on the list of miners killed in the database on the website - http://www.cmhrc.co.uk/cms/document/1850_54.pdf - see page 13.
Yorkshire. 20th. December, 1851.
The colliery was owned by Messrs. Charlesworth and the explosion claimed the lives of fifty two men and boys. The colliery had two shafts that were a few yards apart. The downcast was twelve yards in diameter and 127 yards deep to the Nine Feet Coal and the upcast was nine feet in diameter and 65 yards deep to the Five Feet Coal. The down cast shaft took air to both the mines and there was furnace, nine feet long and seven feet wide at the bottom of the upcast shaft which carried the air from both the mines. The air was split at the bottom of the downcast and sent to the Five Feet Coal and then on to the deeper thick coal mine. From here it returned through a staple pit that was only six feet in diameter. In the mines, single ventilation doors were fixed where double ones should have been. Brattices were used in some of the bordgates and even during the day there was not a permanent furnaceman. At night the furnace was not attended at all. The mine was lit with candles.
The colliery was comparatively new and there had been about two acres of coal worked and the thick coal, in which the explosion occurred, had not been driven more than three hundred yards in any direction and the goaves were limited. On the west side, where the gas fired there were three banks numbered 1, 2 and 3. They varied from thirty to forty yards in width and the roads into them were supported by pack walls, six feet thick that had been built from the material that had fallen from the roof.
Seventy men and boys worked in the lower coal and they were supervised by a steward who was old, infirm and had very little knowledge, all factors that worked against him doing his job efficiently. He had a ‘fire trier’ who was labourer to help him in the morning but generally the men went down the pit in a morning without any report from him.
John Roebuck was the engine tenter at the colliery and went to work at 5 a.m. on the morning of the disaster. The men started to arrive at the colliery about an hour later and it was at this time that the ‘fire trier’, Thomas Sylvester arrived and he was let down the pit first. He did not take a lamp but had a piece of lighted tar rope. The mine was not worked with lamps but considered safe for naked lights. Four or five men went down with Sylvester. Roebuck stated that he had never been told not to let men down until Sylvester had inspected the mine and said it was safe. The practice at the colliery was for the men to go down after him.
Roebuck was in the engine house when the explosion occurred at about five minutes to seven. Two corves of coal were in the deep shaft about ten yards from the bottom. They weighed about two tons and were blown out of the shaft into the headgear where they stuck. The enginehouse was filled with dust and smoke and metal plates at the pit head were blown up. He then heard a very loud report.
John Hague, a collier, who had two sons in the mine-
“I and my son went to work on Saturday morning in the deep level. We went down at a quarter to six and began to work in our usual place. We found no difference in the air. Joseph Shaw and his brother and Joseph Cooper were in the level above. Charles King, Samuel Pearce and Eli Barker were in the back bord and John James and William Dodson were in the centre bord. We filled two corves, and had started to fill a third corf when the blast came. We had the been working an hour. The blast knocked out all out lights but one. We walked to the shaft and fourteen of us got out there, but with great difficulty, on account of the sulphur. There was a great wailing from those who were dying. We were 240 yards from the shaft when the explosion took place. It was nearly spent when it reached us. I assisted in getting men out of the pit.”
Charles Burgin worked in the pit as a packer and started work at 6.20 a.m. on the bank at the dip side. he had been there half an hour when the disaster happened.
“As soon as I felt the blast I dropped down to hide myself. I hear others crying out, and I told them to throw themselves down. as soon as I thought it was over in about half a minute) I proceeded into the horse-road towards the shaft. I had gone only a few yards when I stumbled over George Lindley. I shook him, but he made no answer. I left him, supposing him to be dead. When I got to the shaft I found seventeen or eighteen others. I told them to remain quite and I went to the north level. I had not got more than ten yards before I found a dead body. A little further up I found another. I then went to the first bordgate to see if the trapdoor was up, but it was blown away and shattered to pieces. Thinking it unsafe to go further I returned to the shaft, and we all remained there until assistance came from above ground, about an hour after the explosion.”
Mr. Burgin went down the pit again and gave an account of the operations that went on to recover and inspect the mine and to recover the bodies.
“We then got some tarpaulin sheets and nailed them in place of the trapdoors and stoppings, which were all blown down. We continued on the level where we found six bodies. We then went to the No.3, or far most bank, and found Thomas Knapton, Henry Gothard, Joshua Bugg, Charles Sylvester and Benjamin Lane. They were all dead. we then entered the No.2 or middle bank and found John Pursglove, Abraham Cooper, Henry Pursglove, Thomas Burgin, William Schofield and James Shepherd. On going into the No.1 bank we found Henry James, Thomas Johnson, William Ashton, Henry Ward and William Hobson. we went up the bordgates and found two other bodies we did not know who they were, they were so bruised and discoloured. At the bottom of the air pit I found Henry Thompson. I then came out and after resting four hours I went down again and was down until three o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Charles Bailey went into the Five Feet pit after the explosion with his brother. At the inquest he said-
“We found two boys dead one in the level and one under the bars of the furnace. There were no others left in the five feet pit. We them went into the deep pit, and assisted in getting out forty two dead bodies. Thomas Sylvester, the ‘fire trier’ was found dead in the No.3 bank. He was elevated about six feet by the stones and coal that had fallen from the roof. There was a very heavy stone upon him. I think Sylvester had crept upon the rubbish after the explosion. The furnace was swept clean out by the blast.”
Mr. W. Goodison , the superintendent of the Charlesworth Collieries, gave an account of the operations at the colliery immediately after the disaster. He said-
“After the explosion we immediately began to search for bodies. I and Thomas Cooper made a brattice to convey the air into it’s regular course. Continued until we found dead men and boys in the level. We were then obliged on account of the afterdamp to ascend and we had a steam jet put down to improve the ventilation, after which we descended again and found a dead boy in the level. We were so fatigued that we obliged to desist, after being down for five hours.”
The search was continued by other parties and the last man who was Thomas Sylvester was brought out of the pit about 8 p.m. All the doors in the pit had been blown out and repair work was put into operation.
Those who lost their lives were-
Thomas Sylvester, fire trier.
In the No.3 bank-
In the No.2 bank-
Thomas Burgin. Brother to Charles,
In the No.1 bank-
At the bottom of the air pit-
The inquest was held under the direction of Mr. Thomas Badger, the Coroner. Mr. John C.D. Charlesworth, the owner was present with his solicitor, Mr. William Smith of Sheffield. The proceedings were delayed because Mr. Charles Morton, Her Majesty’s Inspector and himself had been at York Assizes in connection with the trial of the underground steward at the Woodthorpe pit for culpable negligence.
The coroner opened the inquest by addressing the jury and expressing his deep concern of the frequency of explosions in the area and he referred to the disasters at Ardsley, near Barnsley when seventy people were killed in 1847, Darley Main, 1849 which claimed seventy five lives and the disaster at Woodthorpe colliery. He went on to say-
“Deep responsibility rests with the owners, who ought to employ vigilant and intelligent managers the duty of one of them every morning to go down and inspect the mine, and report on it’s safety before any of the men are permitted to work. It is desirable to have daily reports of the condition of the pits the variations of the weather should be noticed, and their effects guarded against. It is also important to make colliers fully acquainted with the principles the observance upon which alone, both as to light and ventilation, the safety of the whole body of workmen depends.”
Mr. Badger then went on to tell the jury in great detail, what the inquest into the deaths of the men would cover.
“The first would be, Was the pit in a safe working condition, and efficiently ventilated?
Secondly, How, and from what cause, did this terrible explosion occur?
Thirdly, Had the ‘fire trier’ been down on Sunday morning last, and reported as to the safety of the pit before the men were permitted to descend?
Fourthly, Did the top-steward, or the person whose duty it was to see that the men did not go down until the ‘fire trier’ had reported that all was safe, perform his duty in that respect?
Fifthly, Had there been any culpable negligence on the part of anyone connected with this pit by which the explosion was caused? And, if so -- who were the guilty parties?”
The Corner and the jury then left to view the bodies of the victims, a process that took several hours and when they returned, they started to hear the evidence of the witnesses.
Mr. W. Goodison, the superintendent of the Charlesworth Collieries, said Thomas Sylvester’s duty was to examine the workings before the men came to work and report to the men on the condition of the pit and no one else. Mr. Goodison was down the pit on the 13th. December and found everything satisfactory and the men had complained that there was too much air. Davy lamps were not supplied to the men but they were provided with candles which were deemed safe.
The Coroner asked Mr. Goodison how he thought the explosion occurred and he put forward the idea that perhaps a trap door had been left open by a boy. Lads of eleven or twelve years were employed to do this job and at least three were killed in the explosion. The trap doors were made of three inch deal planking and were constructed so that they would close themselves.
Thomas Hague thought the explosion had been caused by a fall of roof in the No.3 bank. It had been threatening to fall for several days and he thought that Sylvester had gone to examine the place for his body was found there. Thomas said in the morning the men were ‘neck break’ to get down the pit and if Sylvester had cautioned them they would have hated him and they had cursed the banksman many a time for delaying them getting down the pit. Sylvester was a labourer and managed the pit under Thomas Kaye who was the bottom steward who rarely went into the mine except to measure. Kaye was an old man of sixty or sixty five years. After questioning Mr. Hague, Charles Morton observed that there was no regular supervision in the pit and there were no written rules. When asked by the coroner about the cause of the explosion, Mr. Hague said he thought the third bank had broken down and had driven gas into the candles.
William Hague, the banksman at the pit, got to work at 6 a.m. on the morning of the explosion and found that all the men had gone down. He said there was no rule forbidding the men to descend before the ‘fire trier’.
A collier who did not go to work on the day of the disaster, Matthew James, worked in the Nine Feet coal with a candle and testified that the mine was in good condition the day before the explosion.
Thomas Kaye, the bottom steward, said he was sixty five years old who could neither read or write and had previously been a labourer. He never knew of any rules stating that colliers should be kept back until the pit was tested and some men always went down with Sylvester. On the day of the explosion Kaye went to the No.3 bank to see if things were all right. He continued-
“I observed that the No.3 bank was uneasy, and I feared that there would be a break down soon. I told them to beware, because it might break down and drive some sulphur out, which would be dangerous I told to keep their candles down.”
He thought the explosion was caused by a fall in the No.3 bank.
William Sellars, the book keeper at the colliery, stated that there were only two Davy lamps at the pit, Sylvester had been appointed twelve months before and that the were no printed or written rules at the colliery which Mr. Goodison visited once a week.
Mr. Benjamin Biram, who had been the mineral agent for Earl Fitzwilliam for twenty years, agreed that the explosion had followed a fall and that the management of the pit was lax. He did not think that criminal blame could be attached to anyone but the lapses in discipline arose from the opinion that there was no inflammable gas in the mine. He was questioned by the jury of the fact that the furnace was allowed to slacken during the night but he thought the pit was efficiently ventilated.
Mr. J.C.D. Charlesworth who was one of the proprietors of the colliery told the jury of the part that the owners took in the management of their collieries. Since they had a large number of pits, a personal management was not possible and they had great faith in the abilities of Mr. Goodison. He brought the court’s notice to a notice that had been printed. It read-
“NOTICE. RAWMARSH COLLIERY.
The proprietors direct that no person be allowed to descend the pits until the bottom steward, or a man that he has confidence in, has been down and examined the works, and reported them safe and it is likewise ordered that the engineman shall not allow any person to descend until the bottom steward has so reported them safe.
WILLIAM GOODISON, Agent.”
He said that the regulation would be in operation at all their collieries.
Mr. Charles Morton gave an account of his inspection of the mines after the explosion. He thought that the cause was a large fall in the newly opened No.3 bank which had been threatening to fall for some time, this was the place where Sylvester’s body had been found. The roof had fallen in while Sylvester was inspecting it and the gas that was liberated fired at their candles. It appeared that Sylvester and two others were attempting to go over the fall when they met their deaths.
He was critical of the general management of the mine and the fact that lamps were not used. The goaves should be ventilated and the furnace attended to day and night. He made many proposals that might be put into operation at the colliery. In conclusion to his evidence he said-
“I am convinced that these recommendations, if carried into effect, would much improve the general conditions and safety of the mine, and Messrs. Charlesworth, with advantage to themselves and their workmen, will act wisely in adopting them. I ought in justice to them to say, that they posses the power, and the inclination to effect these improvements in their works and I have reason to believe, from the manifestations which I have seen of their anxiousness to avoid accidents, that they will, as soon as practicable, carry out the suggestions I have offered and, so far as my humble aid will tend to promote this desirable object, I shall at all times be only too glad to give it.”
Three colliery viewers, Mr. T.D. Jeffcock of the Warren Vale Colliery, Mr. Charles Locke of Snapethorpe, near Wakefield and Mr. R.C. Webster of Hoyland, near Barnsley agreed with Mr. Morton’s views on the colliery and the cause of the explosion.
The jury deliberated for three and a half hours and returned the following verdict-
“We find that the fifty two men and boys, whose bodies we have viewed, were accidentally killed by an explosion of fire-damp, in the Warren Vale Colliery, in the Parish of Rawmarsh, on Saturday the 20th. December last.”
The jury also made the following remarks-
“Having agreed to the verdict of accidental death, we feel that although there is not sufficient legal evidence for us to find a verdict of Manslaughter against any particular parties, we should ill discharge our duty if we did not accompany our verdict with an expression of our strong disapprobation of the loose manner in which the works seem to have been conducted. We further regard the instructions hitherto given to the men as quite inadequate to their proper supervision and safety, and it appears to us desirable that there should be stringent rules and regulations at every colliery for its better and safer working. Further, that the proprietors of mines ought to be held, by the legislature, responsible for the efficiency of their agents and superintendents.”
The jury expressed their thanks to Mr. Morton and Mr. Biram for their valuable evidence and the proceedings closed.
The recommended improvements were adopted by the colliery to the ventilation and the management. A larger furnace was constructed for the lower mine and fed by fresh air. Three times as much air passed through the mine. The Inspector concluded his report by saying-
“The discipline is now stricter, and the superintendence more vigilant and efficient.”
(end of Ian Winstanley's notes)
However as can be seen by accessing the following Rotherham website Abraham Thompson did meet his death in the 1851 disaster at Warren Vale Pit:
Extracts from the Times newspaper report of the inquest can be seen on the following website:
If anyone wants to get in touch with me regarding anything on this site please please contact me at -
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10 October 2010