Remembering the lives lost in Barnsley mining disaster

10 November 2016

The lives of almost 400 people lost in England’s worst mining catastrophe are to be remembered in a series of commemorative events in Barnsley in December.

Research suggests the 1866 Oaks Colliery Disaster at Hoyle Mill, Barnsley, claimed 383 victims when two underground explosions devastated the mine. Monday 12th December 2016 marks 150 years since the disaster and events observing the anniversary will take place across the town to remember the 294 men and 89 boys killed.

A formal gathering at the Town Hall on the evening of 12th December will include talks, readings and the showing of a film.  Present will be ancestors of those who died, dignitaries, and the local community - along with volunteers and groups involved in the anniversary. Members of the public are also invited to attend.

Ian McMillan, Barnsley’s Poet Laureate, is writing a special poem to mark the occasion, which he will read at the event. On 21st November he will lead a free writing workshop themed around the disaster, which is part of the Hear My Voice project led by Barnsley Museums. Places can be booked on this workshop.

‘When the Oaks Fired’, an exhibition that focuses on the human stories of the disaster, will run at Experience Barnsley from 30th November to 8th February.

The evening event and exhibition are being delivered by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (DVLP) and Barnsley Council. The DVLP is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund – thanks to National Lottery players.

Over the last year, research organised by the DVLP has suggested that more people were killed in the Oaks Disaster than first thought. Volunteers discovered the names of 383 victims – 22 more than the official death toll at the time. The youngest was aged just 11.

The DVLP has worked with the Barnsley Council Central Area Team to organise volunteer groups to clear the area around Barnsley Main Colliery, the site of the explosions, ready for events next month. The DVLP has also been delivering guided walks around areas linked to the disaster, telling the story of the catastrophe and those who were killed.

The newly formed Barnsley Main Heritage Group will be lighting a beacon from the spoil tip at 1:15pm on 12th December, the time of the first explosion, and placing wooded crosses naming the victims.

Alongside this, People and Mining and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have been working to raise funds to commission local artist Graham Ibbeson to create a lasting memorial sculpture to mark the lives lost. The group have raised thousands of pounds for the memorial to be placed in the town centre.

A memorial to all those killed was raised at Christ Church, Ardsley, in 1879 and for the 150th anniversary, a team of specialists will be restoring the stonework. A special memorial service will take place at the church on Sunday 11th December at 3pm and a reading of the names will start at 1:15pm on 12th December.

Commemorative events will close with a talk at St. Edward’s, Kingstone, at 2pm and a special service at St. Mary’s, Barnsley, at 7pm on Wednesday 14th December.

Stephen Miller, community officer at the DVLP said: “For years the Oaks Disaster had not received the attention it deserved but many more people are now aware of its significance. The events to mark the 150th anniversary are the culmination of years of intense work for many people.

“The community effort has been an inspiration, from volunteers undertaking thousands of hours of historical research to the amazing clearance at Barnsley Main. We’re looking forward to the people of Barnsley, and beyond, coming together to remember the men and boys who lost their lives.”

Cllr Sir Stephen Houghton CBE, Leader of Barnsley Council said: “The Oaks Disaster was a terrible tragedy that shocked not just the local community, but the whole world. 150 years on it’s a testament to the people of Barnsley that this anniversary will not be forgotten. It is of particular poignancy for me as my Great, Great Grandfather, John Riley, was one of the volunteers who risked his life to search for survivors.”

To find out more about the events taking place, and how you can get involved, visit and


Notes to editor

Attached images show Stephen Miller, a contemporary newspaper illustration depicting the rescue effort, and the Oaks Disaster logo. Further images are available.

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

Other events are due to take place during the day on 12th December, with details to be confirmed.

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 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 

View current news