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Thirteen children among 68 killed in pit disaster

HAROLD TOOTLE outlines the grim events at Altham's Moorfield Colliery on 7 November 1883.

A SKETCH of the Moorfield Pit shortly after the explosion
A SKETCH of the Moorfield Pit shortly after the explosion

ON THE morning of 7 November 1883 a terrible explosion ripped through the underground workings at the Moorfield Colliery, Altham.

The explosion resulted in the death of 68 men and boys, with numerous more receiving serious injuries. Over the following years many of them died prematurely as a direct result of their injuries.

There wasn't a borough in Hyndburn that wasn't affected to some degree on that fateful day. Some families lost several members. Brothers died with brothers, fathers died with their sons. Whole families were torn apart with grief.

Mrs Almond, a widow, lost two sons that day - John, aged 20, and Cuthbert, who was just 12. The following May another son George, who had been badly burned in the explosion, died in hospital after suffering an overdose of chloroform while having a tooth extracted.

David Cronshaw had the heart-rending task of identifying his three sons, Jackson, James and Thomas. He also had a son badly injured. James was married with three children. This was not the first time that tragedy had struck the Crowshaw family. They had already lost one son in a pit accident, another son was drowned in the local canal and in the previous year their daughter Jane died.

James Clegg was helping to wash the bodies so that they could be identified. He failed to recognise his own sone William who had been badly burned. His wife was called in to help. She recognised a scar on his chest where she had recently applied mustard plaster. Mrs Clegg also lost another son George and two brothers.

Thirteen of the dead were mere children under the present school-leaving age. Eleven-year-old Henry Crossley died on his third working day. Thirteen-year-old Michael Mahon survived the explosion and was on his way out of the pit when he turned back to search for his 15-year-old brother John. Both boys were later found dead. Thomas Edge, aged 14, was carried out of the pit by his father, only to die three days later. His older brother John, who was 16, was also killed.

One of the saddest episodes was to come many years later. The hero of the day was James Macintosh, the under-manager at the colliery. He was the first man down the mine after the explosion. He spent the next 24 hours underground helping the injured and searching for the dead, one of whom was his father, Thomas Macintosh, the colliery manager.

James was later offered the management of the colliery, which he declined. He never went down the mine again. He later became the landlord of a nearby Greyhound Hotel. On the morning of the 10th anniversary of the disaster, James came downstairs into the public bar and committed suicide.

Miners from Moorfield and Whinney Hill collieries led the funeral cortege on its journey to Altham and the shops along the route remained closed as a sign of respect.


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist