On Monday 8th December 1862, three underground explosions at Edmunds Main colliery killed 59 local men and boys. Three of them lived at Jarratts and the widow of another one subsequently lived there with her second husband. Several other residents or future residents were also caught up in the carnage.
Worsborough lay on the Barnsley coal seam. Thick and of good quality, it was known to harbour methane gas. At certain concentrations, methane can explode in a fireball if it comes into contact with a source of ignition, producing a toxic cocktail of poisonous gases including carbon monoxide.
The working practices at Edmunds Main needed to be safe. This meant using explosives underground to blast coal loose only as a last resort. If blasting was necessary it should have been performed by experienced men in controlled conditions. To minimise any risk of combustion, the use of safety lamps should have been enforced, even though many miners preferred candles despite their unprotected flame.
When pit owners had scant regard for safety, it was impossible for the managers on site to enforce safe practices. In early October, the managing partner, Joseph Mitchell, decided to excavate a couple of underground passages to connect the pit with Swaithe Main, about a mile away. The under-steward George Lawson, initially banned the use of explosives, but after Joseph Mitchell offered the men who were digging the tunnels a bonus of a sovereign a fortnight for those teams which made 50 yards progress, his hands were tied. The target was impossible to achieve by wedging, a safer method of working, so gunpowder was used.
George Lawson feared a major incident, but could not predict what or when. On 6th December, a small fire in the passage had taken over an hour to extinguish. It was probably not the only incident.
Around 7.30am on 8th December, a shot was fired. As rocks split, a pocket of gas was released. It ignited. The small explosion started a fire and blew down an air wall. Air walls were a means of ensuring good ventilation as they forced the air to circulate through the mine in a specific direction, introducing fresh air to dilute and move any dangerous gases, keeping the air safe to breathe.
George Lawton was not in the mine; he was also responsible for the Swaithe Main and was there when the fire started. Lawson was sent for, men who were in the burning passage tried to smother the flames and others arrived to try to rebuild the air wall. Although it seems incredible that no-one gave an instruction to evacuate the mine, or even inform the 240 or so men who were at work of the problem, the pit deputies lacked the authority, knowing that the owners would see this as an over-reaction. By 10.30am, some miners working close to the blazing passage realised that the fire was getting worse and began to alert colleagues informally, when they had any opportunity.
One of these was Joseph Briggs Howson, a timber worker who lived at 21 Jarratts for many years and had only worked at Edmunds Main for three weeks. A few days later, in his evidence to the inquest he stated that as he saw the fire spreading he told any pit boys who came by to tell their masters to get out of the pit. Some of these men took their teams to the shaft and were hauled out, initially in groups of six. Thomas Lockwood of No 13 Jarratts was one of those who received and took the warning seriously. James Scaife, a long term lodger at Jarratts also heeded informal warnings and left.
The first inkling of trouble in the community, and in the more distant parts of the pit came around 11.30am. A build-up of gas caused an explosion which was audible above ground. In the more remote workings, men realised from the change in the air-flow and the presence of gas that something was wrong. Some began to make their way towards the pit shaft. Others decided to stay, hoping that the problem would soon be dealt with.
James McQuillan, a 25 year old miner who lived at No 49 Jarratts was one of these workers. His was one of the earliest accounts. It featured in newspapers two days later. James had been in the south workings, a considerable distance from the shaft. He became alarmed when he realised that gas was present and went to find colleagues. He met Peter Blacker and suggested an immediate retreat, but Blacker was too frightened to leave his work place, so James continued towards the shaft, but had to make a half mile detour through the workings to find purer air. En route he met Edward Hunt who was searching for his young brother. He went with Hunt to the passage where the boy had been working, but finding the air too full of gas to progress along it, James struggled on towards the pit shaft, where he found a number of anxious men and boys waiting for their turn to ascend. He joined this throng and was eventually drawn out of the pit uninjured and probably shocked, though capable of answering questions from a reporter.
Above ground, anxious wives and mothers gathered, along with miners who were not on shift that morning. All knew and feared the potential scenarios; that a loved one had been blasted apart by the force of an explosion, or crushed by falling debris, or flesh burnt to a cinder after being touched by a fireball, or lungs starved of oxygen by the noxious gases which circulated after an explosion. For the women, the wait was agonising. Men plotted means of rescue and volunteered to be part of a rescue party. Anxiety soon mixed with anger as unhurt survivors being hauled out of the mine began to give their personal impressions of what was happening.
As small groups periodically stepped out of the pit cage, visible relief spread amongst family members. Susan Christopher of No 18 Jarratts was probably amongst them, overjoyed when her eleven year-old son, John, walked towards her with no injuries to his body. Out of respect to those still waiting, relieved relatives tried not to celebrate in an effusive manner.
Joseph Howson was also hauled to safety. He was one of the last few uninjured miners to reach the pit shaft. Their 900 yard journey was a difficult one as the air by now was unbreathable and on several occasions the group fell over the bodies of the dead or dying. One of the party stuffed a cotton cap into his mouth to keep out the gas. Joseph arrived at the pit shaft almost insensible through the effects of the gas he had inhaled.
As the cage operators worked tirelessly to bring men out after the second explosion, a few men stayed or went back underground, to search for injured survivors. William Ibberson, of 21 Jarratts was one of them. On hearing a shout for help he had gone to assist with the rescue of William Davey who was lying burnt in a passage. He then went back and helped to get George Pickering, No 30 Jarratts into a coal cart which was hauled out of the mine. George had been badly burnt by a flame which had flashed over him. He was pushed back to Jarratts in the cart, where Dr Smith visited and tried to deal with the burns and Reverend Banham tried to offer spiritual comfort. The emotions of George’s wife Eliza and their children must have been very mixed that evening as George had only gone into the pit workings to try to help smother the fire.
George was one of the last men to come out. A little after 1.00pm, there was a third explosion, which killed the rescue party, including George Lawton, the under-steward, and created gases that made it impossible for anyone to penetrate more than a few yards from the pit shaft. William Ibberson was in a group which went down after the third blast, breathed the gas and concluded that no-one could be alive in that poisonous atmosphere. After he and the others returned to the surface with their sombre assessment, two young wives, Mary Ann Hitchin from No 27 and Martha Ratcliffe of No 50, probably returned to Jarratts in the late afternoon, aware that the third blast had sealed their widowhood. Both women were living in the same house as their parents, and at least had someone who could support them through the pain as they waited for the bodies of John Hitchin and James Radcliffe to be recovered.
William Davey died at the pit head. George Pickering lingered in agony, moving uneasily on the temporary bed had been made for him on the couch at home. He had severe burns on his face, hands and legs and it seems that his clothing and his hair had been burnt off when the flame flashed over him. Tending to him were his wife and older daughters, Ann and Elizabeth, who provided whatever pain relief they could. It seems likely that a neighbour had taken the younger children out of the house.
In the evening, a group of grimy colliers stood around his couch. Some had been in the pit, others had come to give any practical help they could. “I can’t lie, I can’t sit, I can’t stand, what shall I do?” were his reported words. “Pray God to help you through,” said one of his daughters, whilst a colleague used encouraging words, “Thou’ll weather it yet, George.”
Everyone must have known the reality. Pickering groaned and moaned, becoming ever weaker. He sent word to any friends who wanted to see him to come now. After an agonising night and day of pain, he died around 5.00pm on 9th December, surrounded by his family.
On 23rd December 1862, an inquest on George Pickering and William Davey concluded that the root cause of their deaths was unsafe working practices condoned by George Lawton. However, as Lawton was dead, his version of events was unknown. The mine owners were careful to portray themselves in as good a light as possible and may have induced some of the witnesses who gave evidence to implicate the under-steward. One piece of information that was absent from the hearing was the fortnightly sovereign that Joseph Mitchell had offered.
Christmas 1862 would have been an unhappy one at Jarratts. Many men were out of work as the mine had had to be sealed off and flooded to help put out the fire raging underground. Added to this, there was immediate disquiet at the inquest verdict as workers knew that the full story had not been told. The bereaved waited in limbo as no bodies could be recovered until the fire was out. Nor did they receive much financial help. It was reported that the relief fund totalled around £800, which would have been a bitter disappointment, given that £80,000 had been donated by the public earlier in the year following a disaster at a pit in the north east.
The ordeal of Mary Ann Hitchin, Martha Radcliffe and Mary Gawthorpe, who subsequently became Mrs William Winder and moved into No 54 Jarratts was a protracted one. Barnsley Board of Guardians paid the following sums in January 1863 to widows and children under fourteen. Mary Ann Hitchen and child, one shilling, Mary Gawthorpe and five children, five shillings, Eliza Pickering and six children, two shillings, Martha Radcliffe and child, one shilling. There is no obvious logic to these payments.
It took until the summer of 1863 before the bodies of 57 missing men could be recovered. Mary Gawthorpe’s husband, Thomas was discovered on 8th August and John Hitchin a day or so later. James Ratcliffe was found on 9th October 1863.
Mary Gawthorpe was particularly vocal in challenging the decision of the coroner not to hold a further inquest on the bodies that were recovered in 1863. In this she may have been supported by William Winder, a widower who became her second husband, as members of the Winder family were involved with the Miners Association.
After public pressure, the coroner reluctantly convened a second inquest in October 1863, which heard evidence about the bonus payment. This jury reached a different conclusion, deciding that the responsibility lay with the firm’s owners who should not have permitted the mine to be worked with poor regard to safety. It was a decision which paved the way for dependents of the dead to claim compensation.
In March 1864, and with no admission of liability, the owners settled the claims out of court. Widows received £20, and was £8 paid to children under twelve. Based on this, it is likely that Mary Gawthorpe received £68, Eliza Pickering £52, Mary Ann Hitchin and Martha Ratcliffe £28 each.
The memory of Edmunds Main must have remained strong in Jarratts for many years. Too many people had been affected by it and the hurt was not over. In June 1864, John Christopher died. Physically uninjured, he had been so frightened by his underground ordeal that he gradually faded away.
To support herself and her younger children, Eliza Pickering became a charwoman. Martha Ratcliffe married John Taylor (aka John Beevers) in Summer 1864. Mary Gawthorpe married William Winder a few months later. Mary Ann Hitchin left her son George, with her parents and took a job locally as a live-in servant. In the 1871 census she was recorded as housekeeper to widower Thomas Prescott at 28 Jarratts, having borne him two sons. The couple finally married in October 1901.
It is not known whether Peter McQuillan, No 49 Jarratts, was in the pit on the morning of 8th December. It seems likely that the explosion was the reason why he set sail for the United States in the summer of 1863 at the height of the Civil War. Originally a weaver, he swapped life down the pit for factory work in New Jersey.
Edmunds Main was unlike any of the other mining disasters that affected Worsborough in that the deaths were entirely avoidable. The men in the distant workings could have walked to safety had anyone told them to leave when it became obvious that the fire could not be put out. Those who lost their father, husband, son or brother would have remembered this for the rest of their own lives.
Account compiled from the Accident Investigation Report, articles in the British Newspaper Archive and BMD and parish records.
The Thorncliffe Riot 1870
On 21st January 1870, around 7.30 am, a riot took place at Thorncliffe Colliery. This was one of the worst incidents in British industrial relations in the nineteenth century and it was reported in newspapers across the country. It is relevant to Jarratts because several occupants were either accused of involvement, or gave evidence for the defence.
Thorncliffe Colliery was situated at Tankersley, about three miles from Worsborough Dale, and an hour’s walk away. In 1869, Thorncliffe’s owners sacked their workforce and then offered to re-employ them on lower wages. When the men refused, the owners encouraged workers from other areas to take the jobs and built some cottages which could be let to men who were prepared to move some distance to Tankersley.
No-one from Worsborough Dale was reported to have worked at Thorncliffe. Although the community was not directly affected by the dispute, men and women alike would have been deeply worried. If one local pit could successfully cut wages, why not others? With plenty of miners now in a union, there were ways to discuss matters of interest and plan responses.
There is little doubt that when hundreds of men converged on Thorncliffe Colliery from the surrounding areas it was pre-planned. It is too co-incidental that half a dozen pits all developed problems that prevented many staff working the morning shift. Nor is it likely that groups of workers from all of these pits would spontaneously decide to walk to Thorncliffe in the dark.
Estimates of the number of men who marched towards Thorncliffe at what would have been first light vary between 600 to 1,000. Anticipating that trouble would break out at some point, there had been a police presence at Tankersley for several days. The marchers arrived at the time when the police guard changed, probably hoping to exploit the changeover and attack the workings. However, the police managed to keep control and drove the noisy crowd back, though three policemen were injured in the struggle.
A crowd of up to 100 protesters splintered from the main group and went to the cottages at Westwood Row, where the ‘blacksheep’ workers lived. Although reports had been circulating for an hour that a mob was marching towards the pit, it would have been a very unpleasant experience for everyone in the houses when their homes were attacked. Money was stolen and household goods and clothes smashed, torn or set on fire. It seems that no actual violence was used towards the occupants, although verbal threats were made and makeshift weapons brandished. The intention was to intimidate the ‘blacksheep’ into quitting their jobs.
The riot provoked a wave of anger across the country with newspapers and men of authority demanding that those responsible were found and punished. Although the rioters had come from several areas, the police focussed on Worsborough Dale and made a series of arrests.
It would have been hard to identify those involved in the riot. Some men were reported to have masked their faces or rubbed them with soot. Most would have been unknown in Tankersley, but attention was drawn to Worsborough for two reasons. One was the absence of workers from the Darley Main and Oaks pits in particular. The second was that one of the injured policemen had worked in the village for seven years. Constable William Goodall was a conscientious officer, but he was probably under pressure from his superiors to provide leads and his evidence has to be treated with caution on this occasion. How much Goodall would have seen in the early light of a winter morning is questionable, as is how much he would have remembered of a fast-moving incident in which he was injured. When arrests had been made, witnesses from the cottages at Westwod Row were invited to view and identify the suspects and police officers could consider whether they recognised any of the men.
Within a week of the riot at least thirty men were arrested and in early February twenty nine of them were taken to Barnsley courthouse. A six day hearing by the town’s magistrates determined whether the evidence was strong enough to send the prisoners for trial. Those with a present (or subsequent) connection to Jarratts, either as tenants or lodgers were Joseph Baxter, John Beevers, William Beevers, Cornelius Carr, John Gee, Joseph Briggs Howson, William Ibberson, William McDonald, William Penny, George Pickering, Joseph Pratt, William Pratt, James Williams and Thomas Williams. William Winder had also been arrested but appears not to have been charged.
The only defence which anyone accused of being at Tankersley could hope to succeed with was to prove that they were were somewhere else at the time of the trouble and could not have been involved. The authorities, though, were very sceptical of alibis, considering that they were a put-up job. One of the criticisms of the alibis was that they were too precise, indicating that the various witnesses who appeared for each man, had agreed their stories in advance. Alternatively, they were criticised for being given by relatives, who naturally had a vested interest in the defendant walking free.
It is probable that witnesses had agreed their evidence beforehand, because the details stated in court were very precise. Collating evidence though, does not indicate that any witnesses were conspiring to defeat justice. They would have been anxious to see justice done and to contribute any information which would help their neighbours. As the alibis were put forward within days, and sometimes hours, it is not surprising that people could recall the morning of the riot with accuracy. After all, it was unusual for men to return almost immediately from the morning shift. Those providing alibi evidence faced robust cross-examination from educated and experienced solicitors and barristers, who failed to shake them on any material points, which suggests that the testimony was accurate.
Following the hearings by the magistrates, William Ibberson, George Pickering and William Pratt were amongst a small group who walked free. The magistrates decided not to send anyone for trial when there was only one witness. In this case the only witness to identify those three was PC Goodall. The remainder were sent to the gaol at York Castle to await trail at the next assizes. Ostensibly, the reason was that it was better for public order that their trial was not held locally, but sending the men to York, rather than Wakefield gaol would have thundered out a powerful message that the authorities were treating the matter very seriously.
The trial of the twenty-three prisoners was held in early March, and for convenience, the prisoners were split into three groups. The first group contained six alleged rioters who had attacked the cottages. It included John and William Beevers (No 52) and William Penny, a lodger at No 44. Penny did not have to make any defence. The judge ruled that the evidence against him was too slight and instructed the jury to find him not guilty. The other five were convicted and John Beevers was sentenced to five years penal servitude for his part in leading the riot. William Beevers was jailed for fifteen months.
The second group included Joseph Baxter, (No 45) Cornelius Carr, (No 7) William McDonald and Joseph Pratt. The cases against Baxter and Pratt were dropped at the judge’s request after he told the prosecution that their evidence was too weak to put before a jury. Despite offering credible alibis, Carr and McDonald were convicted and both were sentenced to fifteen months hard labour.
The final group contained John Gee (No 11), Joseph Briggs Howson (No 21) and James and Thomas Williams (No 44). Of these, only Gee, a 17 year old youth was convicted. His alibi which was from his mother and three next door neighbours was not accepted by the jury. He was sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour, the lenient sentence being passed because of his age.
The case against Howson was effectively quashed by the evidence of the doctor who had treated his wife on 21st January in Jarratts Buildings. Interestingly a senior and a junior police officer had identified him as taking a leading part in the riot and shouting encouragement to others.
The issue did not end with the passing of the sentences. Convinced of the innocence of William McDonald, his barrister petitioned the Home Secretary for his release, pointing out that McDonald had the same alibi as others who had been acquitted. At the end of June 1870, he was released from jail and returned to Worsborough. By the time of the 1871 census, John Gee had served his time and was back at Jarratts with his parents. Cornelius Carr served his full time before returning home.
A public petition with at least 7,000 reported signatures was submitted to the Home Office early in 1872 about the plight of John Beevers and two other rioters who, like him, had been sentenced to five years penal servitude. In March 1872, all three received a free pardon and came back to Worsborough Dale. The owners of Thorncliffe Colliery supported their release as a gesture of good will to the workers after the industrial dispute was resolved.
Looking back a century and a half, the evidence against most of the twenty three prisoners who stood trial in York was unsatisfactory. That twelve of them were acquitted by the jury or on the instructions of the judge, after such a high profile riot demonstrates that the cases against them were weak. The only safe convictions were of two men who were arrested at the scene. One came from Pilley, a village close to Thorncliffe. The other worked at the Oaks colliery, a mile or so from Worsborough Dale.
The attack on the cottages was appalling and inexcusable. The prosecution witnesses who endured the destruction of their homes probably gave honest evidence about the event, but there were flaws in their identifications of the rioters, which were pointed out by defence lawyers at the time. In the panic that must have ensued that morning, it would have been difficult to be positive which strangers had burst into their homes.
Police officers had opportunities to discuss and co-ordinate their accounts and mention the same names. At least one admitted visiting the cells where the suspects were being held. The authorities appear keen to convict and make an example of a large group of men on charges of felony as a warning to other workers. From the pattern of the verdicts, which were given in groups, jurors may have felt morally obliged to convict some of the defendants, because of the high profile nature of the trial, and the seriousness of the crimes. Despite the arguments of the prosecution, they declined to convict the first batch of rioters for felony, substituting the lesser offence of misdemeanour. This reduced the severity of the sentence which could be imposed. In the second and third trials no attempt to bring charges of felony was made.
At the time, the issue of wrongful conviction was raised in only one case. It would have been too provocative to challenge all of them, and some of the shorter sentences were not as harsh as they could have been. Given the undoubted flaws in some of the identification evidence and the reasonableness of the alibis they put forward, up to eleven men may have been punished for crimes they did not commit.
Jarratts residents and future residents who appeared as witnesses either at York or at the magistrates court in Barnsley include:-
Sarah Beevers, Patrick Brannan, Charles Buckley, Mary Carr, Sarah Carr, William Carr, William Cauldwell, Susan Christopher, Sarah Cox, William Fleetwood, Ann Gee, Ann Glover, Andrew Grimshaw, Thomas Grist, Joseph Harper, George Hodgson, Mary Ann Kilburn, Harriet Lomas, George Siddons, Mary Ann Siddons, William Stanley, Ellen Taylor, George Taylor, John Taylor, George Vickers, Jane Vickers, James Wildgust, Hannah Wildgust, Mary Williams, William Winder, Ann Winter, Henry Winter and John Winter.
Their statements are scattered across several newspapers and give fascinating insight into daily life in a mining community.
Now largely forgotten, Thorncliffe in the nineteenth century was similar to the General Strike of 1926 and the Miners Strike of the 1980s, polarising opinion, arousing passions and creating wounds which were hard to heal. Interviewed in 1927, William Winder a member of the Miners Union since 1858 mentioned Thorncliffe alongside several mining disasters as powerful memories.
Compiled from newspaper reports in the British Newspaper Archive.
The Swaithe Main Disaster 1875
The sixth of December 1875 was cold. Around 240 men and boys arrived for work at the Swaithe Main Pit on the east side of Worsbrough Dale. Another sixty or so treated themselves to St. Monday, the traditional but unofficial workers weekly holiday, and stayed away. They were the lucky ones.
For those who went down the mine that morning there was no hint of the disaster that shortly followed. The night foreman had inspected the workings and declared everything safe. There had been a small amount of gas for the last six weeks but the safety procedures of not blasting coal when men were underground and working with locked safety lamps were in place. This was thought sufficient to guard against trouble in a pit that was known for its fiery seams.
The first indication of trouble came at 9.40 am when a loud bang was heard on the surface, followed by the hiss of gas rushing up the pit shaft. An investigation team quickly formed to check what was happening at the coal face. They quickly discovered that the pit cage stopped nine feet above the passage to the main workings as its conducting rods had been destroyed. The team improvised a makeshift ladder to clamber down. There they discovered a small group of terrified men. The rescuers managed to get them to the surface but further progress was impossible because of roof falls, and the fear of fire and gas which had already affected some of the rescuers. Not until the evening when emergency repairs had been made to the damaged shaft was it possible for anyone to get into the mine.
During the long day there was only one piece of good news. Swaithe Main pit was linked by an underground passage to Edmunds Main about a mile away. Around eighty men and boys managed to struggle into this passage and to safety. One was George Swift. Two men of this name lived at Jarratts and it is not clear which man this was. Sixteen other survivors were brought directly out of the mine on this first day but many were seriously injured and did not survive. With them came confusing scraps of information about what had happened and rumours that gunpowder had been fired underground.
Crowds rapidly gathered at the top of the pit waiting for any news at all. Miners arrived from other pits to offer their services as rescuers. Most would have realised that their role would be to bring out bodies. The hope that the missing men, estimated at 120, were trapped in air pockets and could be rescued alive was forlorn. A bitterly cold winter night fell but the crowd of waiting women remained, refusing entreaties to go home. In the darkness many huddled in colliery outbuildings, but as the first glimmers of light returned they resumed their silent vigil by the pit shaft. Amongst the watchers were probably two women from Jarratts. Esther Bower's eldest sons, Alfred aged fourteen and Edwin who was twelve were pony drivers and both were missing. Mary Ann Bennett's husband Benjamin had also not returned home.
On Tuesday bodies began to be recovered. Some were remarkably peaceful as though they slept. Other faces were contorted in agony, burned or severely lacerated. Each body was taken to a makeshift mortuary where it was tagged with a number and covered with a blanket except for the face which was washed. The bodies were laid out in one of many rows awaiting identification.
Alfred Bower was brought out on Tuesday night and became victim 49. The next day Edwin Bower joined his brother and received tag 88.
On 9th December, Wright Bower attended the Coroner's inquest to identify his young sons. When these formalities had been completed the coroner allowed the bodies to be removed for burial. Swaithe Main was owned by Messrs Mitchell and Co who provided carts for the bereaved to move their dead. In accordance with practices at the time it seems likely that Alfred and Edwin were taken back to Jarratts for a night.
As well as the teams of men working at the pit other teams were busy in local graveyards. The first funerals took place on Friday 10th December, twenty at St Thomas's Church, Worsbrough Dale. Despite the numbers and the grief of the village the internments seem to have taken place in an organised and respectful manner.
The last two funerals of the day took place after 4.00pm when the winter daylight was fading away. Alfred and Edwin's coffins were borne up the hill to the church and then into the graveyard. Some of the graves had been dug double width to enable relatives to be interred together. As night closed in around the little church the brothers were probably laid to rest side by side.
Victim 76, Benjamin Bennett aged 29 was the father of three young children. From March 1876 his widow, Mary Ann, began to receive 9s 6d a week from the Swaithe Main Relief Fund. She remarried a few months afterwards but continued to receive an allowance for the children. The weekly payment of 4s 6d ceased in December 1886 when the youngest child became old enough to work.
Two young unmarried men also died. Joseph Winder aged 20 (sometimes known as Joseph Pashley) lived with his mother, step-father and siblings at No 52 and John Pickering aged 23, lived with his parents and siblings at No 50. Thomas Lockwood aged 50, and his 16 year old son, Walter, who had lived at No 13 in the 1860's and then moved to Worsborough Common, also died. They were working together. Thomas left a widow and young family.
One hundred and forty three people died in the Swaithe Main disaster. (Some people were unidentified and other accounts put the figure at 146). An official enquiry established that two explosions had occurred but there was insufficient evidence to show what had caused them. One theory was that carpenters who were moving ceiling boards may have released trapped gas as they did so. How the gas ignited was not discovered. One shot of gunpowder had been fired that morning but it was said to have taken place well before the explosion and was unlikely to have caused it. There was little control over men taking small amounts of powder underground and blasting coal loose was a long-standing mining technique. Investigators had found caskets of gunpowder underground and some of the powder was of a type not supplied by the company. A miner who had died shortly after being brought out of the pit spoke of a gunpowder shot being fired which had caused the explosion but he never said who had fired it or whether it had been sanctioned by one of the pit deputies.
For the third time in fifteen years Worsbrough Dale spent Christmas in grief as a result of an underground explosion. Yet the trail of mining deaths to affect those who lived in Jarratts was far from ended.
An interesting light is shed on this disaster by an anecdote in a recent collection of reminiscences compiled by Worsbrough Local History Society. Lists of those who were killed were written up by locality and these reveal that a surprisingly large proportion of the victims came from more distant areas rather than Worsbrough Dale. A story handed down by Richard Swift, who was living in Jarratts at the time of the disaster, was that Arthur Booth, also an occupant of Jarratts, had a good running dog. Many Worsbrough miners had swapped a shift that day so that they could go and watch it race. Without this greyhound it seems probable that the local loss of life might have been much greater.
Account compiled from the Accident Investigation Report, Relief Fund Records, articles in the British Newspaper Archive and oral history.
Another young victim was connected to Jarratts. John Gibson was the 14 year old son of Israel and Mary Gibson who were living at Jarratts in 1881. It is not known whether the family lived there at the time of the disaster..