Unique Item Transferred to Barnsley Archives & Local Studies

14th May 2022

Back in 2016, Barnsley Museums commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Oaks Colliery Explosion with an exhibition at Experience Barnsley; a short film; and a volunteer project to produce a detailed and definitive list of the many victims.

On that fateful morning in December 1866, well over 300 workers started their shifts at the Oaks Colliery in Hoyle Mill. During the afternoon there was a huge explosion. Many volunteer rescuers were still down the pit the next day when another explosion, bigger than the first, took place. Rescue attempts were then halted. The death toll was recorded as 361, although detailed research undertaken in 2016 puts that figure as high as 383.

The impact was enormous on the local communities. Virtually the entire adult male population of several streets in Hoyle Mill was eliminated in just one afternoon. Indeed, the Oaks Colliery explosion has gone down in history as England’s worst mining disaster, and one certainly never forgotten by the people of Barnsley.

The Barnsley Registration Service have had in their custody since 1866 a volume labelled ‘Particulars of Deaths: Oaks Colliery Explosion, 12-13 December 1866.’ During April, they took the decision to transfer it to Barnsley Archives to ensure its long-term preservation and also to make it accessible to researchers. The information provided in the volume includes the initials of the person registering the death (colliery clerk, coroner or relative); the age of the deceased; the trade of the deceased; and details of parents/spouse (if known). 

A note inside the volume, written by the Registrar, states, “All the Particulars contained in this Index & registered by me were with 4 Exceptions obtained from the Coroner, Widow, Father, Mother, Brother, Sister or Relative of the deceased & therefore can be relied upon. No other list can be relied upon, not even that issued by the Colliery. Persons employed at Collieries having one, or more & some several Alias’ & no account being kept at Collieries of the Hurrieres they being paid by the Miners. And such was the state of anxiety & confusion on the 13 December 1866 it is impossible to say accurately who went down on that day into the pit as volunteers.

The Particulars of Deaths volume is accompanied by a copy of the Leeds Mercury from 14 December 1866 which details the initial explosion and the aftermath. We’re so pleased to add the volume to our collection – an original item produced in those few weeks following the tragedy. However, 156 years have taken their toll on this precious record, so we hope to commission some specialist conservation work this year before we make it fully accessible to researchers.

Find out more about Barnsley Archives or explore the collections on our website.

Unique Item Transferred to Barnsley Archives & Local Studies