THE explosion made the ground shake for miles around, and flames erupted from 300 yards below. All around Barnsley – it was just before Christmas – “black snow” and burning wood fell out of the sky.
The apocalyptic scenes of December 1866 claimed 361 lives in England’s worst coal-mining disaster. The Oaks Colliery Disaster, which wrought so much devastation, was remembered yesterday as over a thousand people joined a huge procession, which bought the town to a standstill, for the unveiling of a new memorial.
In a poignant connection with the past, a steam buzzer, used to alert people of a disaster, was sounded before 20 descendants – including a Texan Sir William Jeffock, who bought his family across from the US – stepped forward to unveil the sculpture. Its centrepiece is “Kitty” whose eyes are fixed directly on the colliery, as her child clings terrified to her shawl.
Underneath her is a miner working on a low seam – but is in fact digging his own grave. “She knows her husband is probably buried underground,” said sculptor Graham Ibbeson, whose own father worked down the pits.
While working on the project, Mr Ibbeson discovered one of his own relatives, George Ibbeson, died in the tragedy. “That sent a shiver up my spine,” said Mr Ibbeson. Modelled in clay in his Barnsley studio, and paid for almost entirely by public donations, Mr Ibbeson, who gave his services for free, added: “To me it’s about the community, it was built in the community, sculpted in the community and is now being placed in the community.”
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