Tyne and Wear
Mining, Social Reform
Memorials to pit disasters, an all too frequent occurrence in the 1700s and 1800s, may seem out of place in a list that celebrates creativity and innovation in the North East. However, the impact of these disasters stimulated innovations that improved safety across the country and beyond.
The explosion at Felling Pit in May 1812, which killed 91 people when an open flame lamp ignited methane gas found in coal seams, was the catalyst for John Hodgson, Rector of Heworth, to establish the Society for the Prevention of Accidents in Coal Mines. This in turn led to the development of the miner’s safety lamp by inventors including Sir Humphrey Davy and George Stephenson.
The memorial of this tragedy, restored in 2011, is a simple sandstone obelisk on a square plinth with four plaques recording the names of the dead – the youngest aged only eight years.
A similar memorial can be seen at St. Alban’s, Earsdon in North Tyneside.
This marks the even more calamitous Hartley Pit Disaster of 1862, where 204 men and boys died after being trapped when the mine shaft became blocked by a broken beam engine. Significantly, this tragedy resulted in legislation requiring all mines to have at least two means of escape.
The devastating loss of life amongst individual families recorded here – one alone losing nine members - makes this the most moving and eloquent of memorials.