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19th Century Industry

Foxholes Colliery

Foxholes Pit Explosion

The following appeared in the Wakefield Express dated August 26th 1877. ‘Great excitement prevailed in the Methley district on Wednesday morning when it became known that about 3.30 that morning there had been a serious explosion of firedamp at the Foxholes Colliery, belonging to Mr William Wood of Oulton. The explosion took place at a part of the pit about one mile from the bottom of the shaft. When the explosion occurred there were only 14 men and boys in the pit.

Two men named Henry Howe and Peter Nelson, and two youths named Oliver Hartley and Joseph Cookson were working at the spot when the gas ignited. Howe who is about 26 years of age was slightly burned about the face, and the others were burned about the legs and back. The four were attended by Dr Taylor of Methley who did not consider the injuries of a dangerous nature.’

Death of a Boy

The very modest memorial headstone adjacent to the roadside in St Oswald’s churchyard was placed there in 1896 by Robert Benjamin and Anna Mary Shaw in memory of their son Harry. This young man who was only 14 years of age was killed in a tragic accident at Foxholes pit on 30th July that year. Engraved on the headstone is the simple message ‘Thy will be done’.

Little imagination is required to figure out that Robert and Anna were by no means wealthy, the fact that their son Harry had taken employment at the pit certainly confirms the view that the family had experienced or been near to hardship throughout their lives.

The grief and distress at the loss of their son must have driven those parents to have a headstone placed to his memory totally out of proportion to their means and indicates the great sacrifice made by them for this memorial. In many ways it is one of the biggest memorials in the churchyard.

The incidence of coal mining disasters during the 19th and early 20th centuries are well documented, what may be less well remembered were the individual accidents which occurred with equal certainty and effect during these times.

Examination of records produced by researchers from Sheffield University regarding mining fatalities from 1860 to 1914 add much more to the tragic loss of Harry Shaw.    During the 20 year period from 1881 to 1900 there were 13 fatalities at Foxholes 3 of which were to workers of 15 and under.  During the same period 3 men died in accidents at Savile Colliery and 1 at Methley Junction, a total of 17 – almost one death per year in the coal mines in this village.