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You are in: South Yorkshire > History > Local History > Dry stone walls for Huskar Pit Disaster, 1838

Huskar Pit disaster memorial, Nabs Wood

Dry stone walls for Huskar Pit Disaster, 1838

Twenty six children died at the Huskar Pit Disaster, June 1838. Barnsley dry-stone-waller Les Young repaired the walls in Nabs Wood near Silkstone as a tribute to them.

Les Young writes...

I'm a dry stone waller with a quest to restore the walls surrounding Nabs Wood at Silkstone Common where 26 children were tragically killed in the Huskar Pit Disaster of 1838.

Nabs Wood wall in disrepair

Nabs Wood wall in disrepair

I'm doing this so that the woods are maintained as a fitting memorial to those children and their relatives, of whom some of their descendants still live in the village.

To help fulfil this dream I am holding dry stone walling courses to rebuild the walls which are in a dilapidated condition. The Woodland Trust and an owner of land adjacent to the woods have kindly promised stone for the repairs, but I can envisage that in future I'll have to start fundraising to buy stone for the repairs.

:: To find out how you can help with the rebuilding of Nabs Wood's dry stone walls, click on 'Hadrian's Dry Stone Walls' on the right of the page.

The Huskar Pit Disaster, 1838

On a bleak day in June 1838, Nabs Wood was about to be written into history books as a tragic chain of events unfolded.

In the village of nearby Silkstone Common, black smoke rose from the engine powering the winch to the Huskar Pit where many of the local men, women and children worked at least 12 hour stints in the hot, damp and acrid coal seams which ran below the South Yorkshire village.

Dogs in a bluebell wood

Les's dogs among the bluebells in Nabs Wood

Early that afternoon a storm broke out, starting with a rainstorm making a hissing sound as it landed on the engine and then turning into a torrent of rain and hail up to four and a half inches in diameter.

The deluge caused havoc, flattening crops, smashing windows and dousing the fire which fuelled the winch's engine.

Disquiet broke out underground when the miners discovered they were without a winch to haul their corves of coal to the surface, which they would exchange for a token from the mine owner to be converted to goods in the mine owner's ‘Tommy shop’.

Panic set in, especially in the children when they found that their main way out of the mine via the winch was closed to them.

People repair a dry stone wall

People repair a dry stone wall

A group of children then had a bright idea. They would head through the mine for the day hole, a drift entrance to the mine in Nabs Wood.

They hurried through the pitch-blackness, relying on their base instincts and local knowledge to navigate their way through the rough passages.

They went through doors in the passages, usually operated by the escaping children which provided ventilation to the mine.

They passed through the final door on their escape, catching a glimpse of light from the entrance ahead of them.

Dogs and a wall

Dogs admire a half-repaired wall

At their feet a stream of water flowed past them. They hurried on. But a storm ditch next to the drift entrance burst its banks due to the sheer volume of rainwater gushing down it, and the children looked up to see a wall of water rushing down the shaft.

They turned and ran back down the drift but as they ran they were swept away by the torrent and slammed against the ventilation door the sheer volume of water pinning them to it.

Twenty-six children aged between seven and 17 drowned.

Men have a picnic

Dry stone wallers enjoy a well-earned cuppa

The villagers were distraught, and in an age when mining accidents were common, this tragedy made the London broadsheets. The newly enthroned Queen Victoria was shocked and the government of the day set up an enquiry, not specifically into the Huskar Pit Disaster but to working conditions in Britain’s factories and mines.

This enquiry was chaired by Lord Ashley (later to become Lord Shaftesbury), well known for his emancipated views. In 1842 this enquiry led to the 1842 Factory Act which was the first piece of legislation relating to working conditions in Britain.

Nabs Wood today

The Woodland Trust now owns Nabs Wood and the only visible sign of the terrible disaster which took place under its leafy mantle is a monument erected by Silkstone Parish on the 150th anniversary of the disaster, in 1988.

Men repair a wall

Much of the woods are as they were 168 years ago – except that the dry stone walls which form the boundary to the woods are in a serious state of disrepair. I reckon there's about a mile of walling to be repaired or rebuilt.

:: Find out about how you can get involved in rebuilding the dry stone walls in Nabs Wood - just click on 'Hadrian's Dry Stone Walls' on the right of the page.

Les Young

Originally from Sunderland, Les Young now lives in Barnsley.

"I was a soldier with Royal Signals and Queens Gurkha Signals and settled in Fulwood in Sheffield when I left. I had a dry stone wall around my garden and always wanted to know how to rebuild it as I knew it couldn't be a simple case of standing stone upon stone.

"Eventually I went on several courses which I really enjoyed and then started taking my Dry Stone Walling Association exams. I'm now in progress with my Advanced Walling Certification, I'm also an approved DSWA Instructor and the Secretary of the South Yorkshire Branch of the DSWA."

last updated: 05/08/2008 at 09:55
created: 20/07/2007

You are in: South Yorkshire > History > Local History > Dry stone walls for Huskar Pit Disaster, 1838

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