Queen sent telegram of support after town’s loss

DEEP SADNESS: The Duke of York and Princess Mary, the Royal couple who were married shortly after the Combs Colliery Disaster in 1893, but as was to be expected, there were no celebrations of the Royal marriage in Dewsbury. Also pictured is Queen Victoria, who sent a telegram to Dewsbury expressing her deep sorrow, and sending condolences to the bereaved families. (d105a227)
DEEP SADNESS: The Duke of York and Princess Mary, the Royal couple who were married shortly after the Combs Colliery Disaster in 1893, but as was to be expected, there were no celebrations of the Royal marriage in Dewsbury. Also pictured is Queen Victoria, who sent a telegram to Dewsbury expressing her deep sorrow, and sending condolences to the bereaved families. (d105a227)
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THERE may be many readers wondering why a photograph of three Royal personages, with no obvious connection with Dewsbury, should appear on this page today.

But in 1893 these people did play a part in Dewsbury’s history, albeit it a small one, during a period when the town was hit by its greatest tragedy ever – the Combs Colliery Disaster when 139 men and boys lost their lives.

The tragedy occurred on July 4, just a few days before the marriage of the young couple pictured here, the Duke of York, later to become King George V, and his wife Princess Mary, later to become Queen Mary.

The couple in 1912 were also to become the first monarchs to visit Dewsbury, and Queen Victoria, also pictured, celebrated 60 years on the throne.

Dewsbury had planned lavish celebrations for the marriage of the Duke of York and Princess Mary, but in view of the appalling tragedy which had befallen Thornhill, these celebrations were abandoned.

Queen Victoria sent a telegram to Dewsbury expressing her deep sadness at this terrible catastrophe and desired that all particulars be furnished to her as soon as possible. She also sent a donation of £500 to the Relief Committee.

Within hours of the tragedy, a hastily convened meeting of the subscribers to the fund for celebrating the Royal marriage was held in the Mayor’s Reception Room, Dewsbury Town Hall.

The purpose was to consider the advisability of giving up all rejoicing and instead send the money raised for the celebrations to the Colliery Relief Fund.

The Mayor, Alderman Pyrah, said all their hearts and sympathies went out to those who had lost their husbands and children, and he thought steps should be taken at once to reconsider the question of the rejoicings in honour of the Royal marriage the following Thursday.

He failed to see how they could carry out such festivities under the cloud that had been cast over them.

Alderman Pyrah received many letters and telegrams stating that the celebrations should be abandoned and the money donated towards the relief of the poor widows and those bereft of their loved ones.

Mr M W Machell said his committee had already bought and cooked 500lb of meat and tickets had already been given to the poor. He did not see why the aged poor should be deprived of their meal.

Mr W W Yates felt the treat for the aged poor should go ahead, for there were many old people to whom even one good meal was a matter of great importance. He moved that the meal for the poor should go ahead and the money not used on other planned celebrations be subscribed to the Thornhill Colliery Relief Fund.

Members agreed unanimously.

THE Combs Colliery disaster in Thornhill was one of the worst colliery disasters in history. The explosion underground happened shortly before noon just as the winders at the pit top had stopped the engines to take their dinner.

Everything was as usual, and there was not the slightest suspicion that anything was wrong. A muffled sound was heard, but the men believed it to be thunder because there had been terrific storms.

A second report followed and this time there was no doubt it had come from underground, and it flashed upon them that a terrible catastrophe had taken place.

Rushing to the drawing shaft and seeing flames and smoke, they knew at once what had happened.

Crowds of people were soon gathered together and cries of woe were heard. The men standing at the pit head, themselves heartbroken, witnessed many bitter scenes of anguish that day.

The news spread further and women from Thornhill Edge, Lees Moor and Middlestown, Whitley and Briestfield, rushed from their homes with deep misery prevailing in their hearts, for each one had a father, son, husband or brother down there.

In just over an hour news had reached Dewsbury from Thornhill Lees, and on to Ravensthorpe, and Batley and Heckmondwike, Soothill, Ossett and Horbury and over to Emley, Flockton, Grange Moor and beyond.

Cabs, waggonettes and other vehicles left Dewsbury and by 4pm 15,000 people had gathered, which rose to 20,000 and more as the day wore on.

This terrible calamity left almost every house in Thornhill bereft of a loved one, and many of the women-folk were left widows and their children orphans.

The grief of the proud community of Thornhill was inconsolable, especially so for those who had suffered the double loss of both husband and sons.

But there were some glorious rescues and seven miners, after being entombed for 30 hours, were brought out alive, the first to be brought to the surface being Friend Senior of Thornhill.

One of the miners killed was a young man from Thornhill, Benjamin Milnes, who was due to be married on the Saturday to Miss Jessop, a young woman living at Thornhill Edge. Benjamin had got the house he intended to live in newly painted and decorated.

He was buried on the day he was due to have married, and the cab which had been ordered to convey his young bride-to-be to church, was the one which took her to his funeral.

The Milnes family was also mourning the loss of Benjamin’s brother and his father, George Milnes.

An inquiry into the disaster revealed the explosion had been caused by the ignition of an accumulation of a small quantity of gas which went off like a trail of gunpowder.

It had been ignited by open lights at the shaft bottom which were permissible in pits in those days.

The unanimous verdict of the inquest jury was that the miners had been accidentally killed as a result of an explosion in the pit.

They were also of the opinion that the pit should not be worked in future with naked lights at the bottom of the shaft.

THERE was little display at Dewsbury on the following Thursday in honour of the Royal wedding, not from any want of loyalty, but because the feeling was that under the sad circumstances anything festival would have been out of place.

• Readers may recall that some years ago a fund was set up for a memorial containing the names of all those killed in the Combs Colliery disaster to be erected in Thornhill Churchyard. More than £4,000 has been raised and anyone wishing to make further donations please make cheques payable to the Carve Their Names with Pride Appeal and send to Margaret Watson, Reporter Office, Wellington Road, Dewsbury, WF13 1HQ. Email tresham3@gmail.com for further information.