Morley mining disaster
Nearly 50 people gathered on a Sunday afternoon last year at the former Caphouse Colliery in West Yorkshire, now the North of England Mining Museum.
They were there as the guests of Morley Community Church and the International Miners Mission (IMM), to take part in a unique evangelistic service to commemorate the deaths of 34 local miners, exactly 140 years after they lost their lives.
Members of the church had discovered there has never been any memorial stone, plaque or event to publicly record the disaster in the town since the gas explosion ripped through the galleries at Morley Main Colliery.
With the support of IMM, they devised this special service to reverse this silence of history and create an outreach opportunity.
Retired local miners and representatives of a range of local organisations were in attendance, including the Mayor of Morley and shadow chancellor Ed Balls MP. The local history society, local schools, ex-miners, local political parties were there, as well as members of a local pensioners craft group.
The latter created a memorial tapestry, which was unveiled during the ceremony. This displayed the winding gear of Morley Main Colliery, around which all the names and ages of the victims were stitched carefully into the canvas.
After sharing lunch together, the participants descended in the cage to the coal face, where they gathered for the memorial service at just after 2.00pm — the exact time of the explosion.
A retired local miner read the roll of the victims. Also in attendance were descendants of the victims. One lady was there to remember her great-great grandfather, one of the miners who perished in the disaster and left a widow and two children.
Morley Mayor Cllr Andy Dalton accompanied some of the pensioners who were in their 80s to the coal face, along with the other worshippers. In the service he recounted that the disaster killed 34 men and 11 pit ponies, while 30 others were injured.
A quarter of the victims were teenagers. Two were brothers, two were father and son. Thirteen women were widowed, 50 children left fatherless and five elderly dependents were left unsupported.
The memorial service was led by Ian Dring from the UK committee of the IMM, and he shared the gospel, as people listened with rapt attention several hundred feet underground in one of the galleries.
He gave tribute to those who perished all those years ago. In the darkness of the pit he was able to commend the One who is the ‘light of the world’. He reminded everyone that the death of Jesus was God’s great rescue plan for those entombed in sin and darkness.
Rev. Captain Stephen Wright, minister of Morley Community Church, said they had been amazed at the interest and response to the event, which included regional and national media coverage. He expressed his thanks to the staff at the Mining Museum who had helped in organising the commemoration service.
IMM Hon Secretary David Shillitoe also attended. He was invited to erect the IMM display by the mine manager in the entrance area and this resulted in profitable conversations on the work of IMM with the general public, guests and museum staff.
Captain Wright concluded by thanking the UK committee for helping to organise and deliver this unique outreach opportunity. He said, ‘This was an awful disaster. The town has been able to come together to pay respect to the memory of those who perished. We have also reminded our town of the great sacrifices made by previous generations during the course of their daily work’.
The church is planning to circulate the memorial tapestry around Morley schools, so it can be used in local history studies. It will then be put on permanent display in Morley Town Hall.