Mining tribute to honour 139 killed in historical Dewsbury blast

A lasting Dewsbury memorial is to be built in memory of 139 men and boys who died in one of the UK’s worst coal mining disasters.

By Alison Bellamy
Tuesday, 14th January 2020, 4:13 pm
Updated Tuesday, 14th January 2020, 4:21 pm
Mining Combs Colliery
Mining Combs Colliery

In 1893, a naked flame ignited gas causing the horrific underground explosion at The Combs Colliery, in Thornhill, where only seven men survived.

All the victims were put in unmarked graves in Thornhill Parish Church during a mass burial, but 127 years later, their memory will be marked in history with a mining wheel monument to commemorate the tragedy, as well as a roll of honour for those who died.

Dewsbury Chamber of Trade president Paul Ellis, said: “Out of the 139 dead, 46 of them were under 16. And seven of the 46 were only 12.

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Miners from Thornhill in 1920s

“The victims have never been officially remembered. This has been a project of more than 20 years in the planning and it’s something which runs deep for relatives of the dead.

“It was an unprecedented disaster at the time, on such a huge scale, leaving the community in shock.”

A huge mining wheel, rescued from Denaby Main Colliery in South Yorkshire, is to be installed in the centre of Dewsbury later this year, on the Longcauseway.

A funding bid has been submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund to finance the project, which will cost £40,000.

Councillor Eric Firth, (Lab, Dewsbury East) Marilyn Shaw, of Dewsbury Forward and Paul Ellis, President of the Dewsbury Chamber of Trade, look at plans for the mining monument.

The names of everyone killed on July 4, 1893, will be listed on the roll of honour, to be unveiled at Dewsbury Town Hall.

Mr Ellis has been working on the project for two decades alongside Dewsbury East councillor Eric Firth, with support from businessman Andrew Hutchinson, who salvaged the mining wheel, along with backing members of Dewsbury Forward, which promotes business and positivity for the town and Kirklees Council.

Coun Firth said: “This explosion had such a devastating impact on communities in Thornhill and surrounding areas such as Whitley, Briestfield and Middlestown, Horbury, and into Dewsbury.”

One half of the wheel will be used in a semi-circular design, put onto a Yorkshire stone plinth, with plans for a new pavement area and benches installed around it.

The seven miners who survived the Combs disaster in 1893


Twelve was the age deemed suitable for youngsters to go down the pit to earn a living. This was because smaller boys could crawl into tighter spaces; into seams of coal.

Of those who died, 110 were buried in the Thornhill Churchyard, 16 at Whitley, three at the Baptist Chapel churchyard, Thornhill, one at Dewsbury, one at Flockton, one at Middlestown and one at Outwood.

Most of the men had died not as a result of the explosion, but as a result of inhaling the after-damp, which every miner feared.

Mining wheel monument plan for Dewsbury

As news of the disaster spread, a crowd of around 20,000 gathered on the Combs in Thornhill as the bodies were brought up from underground, one by one, until 139 were laid out on the hillside.

The pit owner had arranged for them to have coffins, but no name markings.

An inquiry later revealed the explosion has been caused by a naked light igniting a small amount of gas which accumulated at the bottom of the pit shaft.

A trust fund was set up nationally and around £30,000 was collected, equivalent to almost £4m today.

The pit shut down in 1971.

By Alison Bellamy

The names of the 139 dead miners