Barnsley comes together to remember 150-year-old tragedy

13 December 2016

People across Barnsley came together this week to remember the hundreds of people who died in pit explosions in 1866.

Monday 12th December marked 150 years since the Oaks Disaster, when underground explosions at the Oaks Colliery near Stairfoot claimed the lives of 383 men and boys. It remains the worst mining catastrophe in English history.

Events took place across Barnsley to remember those who were killed, including a formal gathering at the Town Hall on Monday, organised by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (DVLP) with Barnsley Council.

Writer and broadcaster Ian McMillan recited a special poem he crafted to mark the anniversary and commemorative talks and the showing of a film brought the stories of the disaster to life.

The Mayor of Barnsley, Cllr Linda Burgess, formally opened ‘When the Oaks Fired’, an exhibition telling the tales of those involved in the catastrophe. It will run at the Experience Barnsley museum until 8th February.

The event was attended by community groups involved in the anniversary commemorations and descendants of those caught up in the disaster. They included John Timms of Wath Upon Dearne, the great grandson of John Riley, who was the youngest volunteer rescuer to help after the first explosion fired.

John, 77, said: “My great grandfather was just 17 at the time and I’ve grown up hearing stories about what happened, passed down the generations. It’s been touching to see how much effort has gone into making sure the events of that day are not forgotten.”

On Sunday 11th December, the day before the official anniversary, 383 crosses were planted at Barnsley Main, to remember each of the lives lost. Afterwards, a memorial service took place at Christ Church in Ardsley, led by the Bishop of Doncaster.

Stephen Miller, community officer at the DVLP, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund thanks to National Lottery players, said: “The lives of those lost in December 1866 should never be forgotten. The events to mark the disaster were a fitting tribute and are testament to the people of Barnsley.

“It’s been a privilege for the DVLP to have been involved in these commemorations which were the culmination of years of hard work for many people.”

Barnsley-based sculptor Graham Ibbeson has been working with People and Mining and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to create a lasting memorial to the victims. A fibreglass replica was displayed to mark the anniversary, and the finished sculpture will be installed in Barnsley in May next year, with support from Barnsley Council.

Cllr Roy Miller, Cabinet Spokesperson for Place at Barnsley Council, said: “The people of Barnsley have worked extremely hard to remember the Oaks Disaster and those who were killed.”


Notes to editor

Attached images show Stephen Miller speaking at the Town Hall event and John Timms at the ‘When the Oaks Fired’ exhibition at Experience Barnsley.

Stephen Miller is available for interview. He can be contacted on 01226 773110 or at

For more information about the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership, contact Sally Gawthorpe on 01226 772139 or

The Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (DVLP) is a five-year scheme, running until June 2019 focusing on the historic buildings and landscapes of the Dearne Valley, working with the local communities to protect, preserve and enhance the area. The DVLP is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund with a grant of almost £1.8m. For more information visit

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. @heritagelottery @HLFYandH

The lead partner of the DVLP is Barnsley Council with a partnership that includes Rotherham and Doncaster Councils, the RSPB, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Garganey Trust and Groundwork South Yorkshire. The DVLP is hosted by Barnsley Council and is based at Elsecar Heritage Centre.

Additional media contact: Mary Ferguson on 01226 766900 or at

This press release was prepared by Capital B Media, a public relations and media training agency based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. For more information, please visit 

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