The New Hartley Colliery Disaster on 16 January 1862 was the first large-scale mining incident of Victorian times.
The scale of the calamity, coupled with the speed of news transmission by rail and telegraph, brought a tragic accident in rural Northumberland into the drawing rooms of families throughout the kingdom on a daily basis.
Just before 10.00 am on the bitterly cold morning of Thursday 16th January disaster struck as shifts at the ‘Hester’ pit were changing over, resulting in the instant death of miners travelling towards the surface in their ‘cage’ and the later death by gas inhalation of the remaining colliers underground.
The reaction from the public, as well as the concern shown by Queen Victoria, maintained the story in the press for over a month. Much like the 2010 Chilean mine rescue, the public were fascinated by the idea of men trapped underground and the herculean efforts made to rescue them.
‘Never before in the annals of mining had there been a disaster of such magnitude, and although greater since occurred, none made so profound a sensation or laid such a hold upon the public sympathy.’
A change in legislation
The event was instrumental in the bringing forth of legislation in August 1862 requiring all mines to have alternative means of access, in effect two shafts, to prevent a further tragic occurrence of this nature. The Coal Mines Act of 1872 made it a requirement that no persons should be employed in a mine unless there were more that one shaft and means of escape.
St Albans Church
At the time of the disaster St Alban’s church was the place of worship for Earsdon Parish which included the village of New Hartley. The church was the scene of the service for the victims of the disaster on 26th January 2012. Earsdon graveyard and land provided by the Duke of Northumberland became the final resting place for the majority of those killed in the disaster.