I’ll admit with a degree of shame, that I knew nothing of this significant historical event upon embarking on this latest piece. Of course, one can not be expected to know everything about everything, but a disaster of such significance ought to have formed part of my local historical knowledge.
I’d argue that local history ought to be taught in every secondary school, should we wish to instil a sense of community into our children – though that is a discussion for another time.
On the 12th January 1918, 250 men and boys, entered the bowels of Minnie Pit, located in Halmer End, North Staffordshire.
Most would not return.
An explosion, the result of firedamp (a flammable gas found below ground) caused several mine shafts to collapse.
156 miners perished that day.
It was the worst mining accident in the area.
This year, the Minnie Pit Centennial Commemoration. asked local artist Holly Madew and I, to create pieces to mark the 100 anniversary of the disaster.
The One Five Six
by Dan Weatherer
An industry built on graft and sweat,
Did fuel an empire hurtling towards technological advancement,
And towards war.
None so ordinary about the men and boys who worked the pits back then,
Willingly risking life and limb,
To provide a future for their loved ones.
Mining was less a job,
More akin to a way of life.
Towns flourished because of the black gold buried beneath,
And the hardy souls who braved the constant risks of collapse and gobstink,
Were admired and respected.
The men would dig (as they always had),
and the women would plan for the night ahead,
A party for the old folks of Halmer End,
Where all were welcome,
Young and Old alike,
Once the working day was done.
Two hundred and fifty descended into Minnie Pit that day.
Most would not return.
An explosion tore through Banbury Dip,
Carrying with it chaos and death.
Shafts collapsed and noxious gas filled the air,
Claiming the lives of the those trapped beneath the ground.
Men and boys,
Sealed in darkness absolute,
The air laden with death,
Knowing that they would never see the light of day again.
A town sat atop a smouldering hole,
Its people numb and stricken with grief,
Struggling to comprehend the enormity of the disaster,
One which history would later report as the worst in the area.
The Choirmaster perished clutching his bible.
A Father, with his teenage soon held tight in his arms.
Forty-eight boys below the age of seventeen were killed.
Twenty months to remove the one hundred and fifty-six from Minnie Pit,
From darkness into light.
A community destroyed in a fraction of a second,
The effects of the blast were felt long after the last of the miners was laid to rest.
Having lost loved ones to the pit,
And to the war,
Their livelihood gone,
Those left behind did suffer.
One hundred years on,
We remember their loss,
And their resolve.
Those bold souls,
Who lost their lives working a job fraught with unquestionable danger,
So that they might support their families and their community,
We shall never forget.
The piece was read at the Minnie Pit commemoration event and was published in the Audley News.
It shall feature as part of a permanent exhibition alongside Holly’s paintings.
For more detailed information regarding the disaster, visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnie_Pit_Disaster