Mining was one of the biggest local industries in Midsomer Norton and the colliery at Norton Hill had one of the best safety records. But in 1908 a pit explosion left the community in mourning. Radstock Museum examines the disaster 100 years on.
David's father became a putter at 15
Radstock Museum volunteer David Shearn comes from a long line of miners in Midsomer Norton.
“My father (Harold) was a carting boy at 15. His father worked in the mines and his father before him too.”
Harold used to pull a hundredweight of coal on a wooden sledge. The sledge was pulled by a rope tied around his waist that chaffed his bare skin as he dragged the coal out of the seam on his hands and knees to the pit bottom, where it was loaded into a cage. He used to rub copious amounts of urine into sides to make the skin tougher and suffered from back ache in later life.
Shearn is a traditional surname in Midsomer Norton. David thinks it means someone who comes from a dirty area, which possibly refers to his family’s mining background.
He never worked in the mines but started volunteering at the museum when he retired, as a way to pass on his mining knowledge. The exhibition of the Norton Hill Pit Disaster 1908 is a tribute, in part, to people like David whose family and friends worked and died in the mines in Somerset.
At around 10pm on April 9, 1908 an explosion was heard at the colliery in Norton Hill. It killed10 miners in the Slyving Vein and shook the roofs off buildings near the pit.
Harold Shearn was eight when the disaster happened.
David's surname Shearn could be linked to mining
David said: “I remember him telling me about the funerals and all the crowds of people who were at the pit on the night, waiting to hear news of the trapped men. The memory stuck with him his whole life.”
Among the dead was newly-wed, 25-year-old Gilbert Jones who had been married only five weeks as well as Ernest Jones and his 16 year-old brother Stanley. The youngest victim was 14-year-old Harry Sage, a powder boy who had just left school to work down the pits.
Rescuers, including the colliery owner Frank Beauchamp and a relay of doctors, toiled overnight to evacuate the trapped workers, risking their own lives. Many of them collapsed in the process, overpowered by toxic fumes.
Of the 29 workers in the mine 19 were saved. Incredibly more people were not killed in the accident, thanks mainly to the heroic efforts of the rescuers and the modern cable system that allowed men to be transported swiftly to the surface in cages.
The Museum is holding an exhibition on the Norton Hill Pit Disaster from April 6 and Radstock Museum President Charles Chillcott is giving a talk on Wednesday, April 9 on the 100th anniversary of the disaster. To reserve a ticket contact the Midsomer Norton Society secretary on 07768 632483.
last updated: 28/03/2008 at 19:12