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Object in Focus: No. 37 The Ashington Miners’ Memorial

The Ashington Miners' Memorial, ASHMM 1991/50

Woodhorn Museum

Every year a memorial service is held for Northumberland miners who have lost their lives in service, which takes place on, or around, picnic day.

The annual Miners’ Memorial Service for Northumberland uses the Ashington Miners’ Memorial at Woodhorn as a focus for commemorations, with attendees paying their respects and laying wreaths at the foot of the plinth in memory of relatives, friends and workmates. Originally the memorial commemorated the Woodhorn Colliery disaster of 1916 but it has come to symbolise much more to the communities of the area.

 

The Ashintgon Miners' Memorial statue adorned with wreaths on Picnic day, after the memorial service, at Woodhorn Museum.

The Ashington Miners’ Memorial adorned with wreaths on Picnic day, after the memorial service. Credit Richard Kenworthy for Museums Northumberland.

The Ashington Miners’ Memorial was commissioned and paid for by mining unions and the Ashington Coal Company. It was erected in 1923 and located on Sixth Avenue, Hirst Park, Ashington. It was designed by William Henry Knowles (1857-1943), a renowned Newcastle Architect, and sculpted by John Reid (born c. 1890), Master of Sculpture at Armstrong College, Newcastle. It was moved and re-erected in 1991 at Woodhorn Colliery Museum.

Black and white postcard image of Ashington Miners’ Memorial. Front view. The memorial stands on a grassed lawn within Hirst Park, colliery housing visible behind a line of trees. Wording beneath the image reads: ‘Clarance-Wilson, Consett / Woodhorn Colliery Disaster Memorial / This disaster occurred on August 13th 1916, there being a loss of 13 / lives. Unveiled on August 18th 1923 by Mr Robert Smillie, M.P.’

Ashington Miners’ Memorial in its original location on Sixth Avenue, ASHMM 1991/50, copyright Woodhorn Charitable Trust.

 

The instinct to commemorate mining disasters and the tragic loss of life associated with these terrible events is not new. The tradition of memorial glasses attests to this phenomenon, but the erection of a large, accomplished sculpture however, is more unusual.

Wide bottomed glass pitcher or jug inscribed ‘Woodhorn Colliery / Disaster / Aug 13 1916 / 13 lives lost’. Decorated with etched with trailing leafy plant design and a simple 16 point star.

Memorial glass jug, inscribed ‘Woodhorn Colliery Disaster Aug 13 1916 13 lives lost’, ASHMM 1991/49, copyright Woodhorn Charitable Trust.

The grade II listed memorial is in the style of a World War One war memorial but, unusually, it is dedicated to a civilian accident. It features a bronze figure of a mining deputy holding a safety lamp in an outstretched hand. The figure stands on a white granite plinth and pedestal with low relief bronze panels and two drinking fountains.

The dedication inscription reads ‘ERECTED BY/ THE MINERS AND/DEPUTIES TRADE-/UNION BRANCHES IN THE ASHINGTON GROUP/OF COLLIERIES (ASSISSTED/BY DONATIONS FROM THE/ASHINGTON AND CO. LTD., THE NORTHUMBERLAND/MINERS ASSOCCIATION, THE NORTHUMBERLAND/DEPUTIES ASSOCCIATIONS AND FRIENDS)/IN MEMORY OF THEIR FELLOW WORKMEN WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN THE WOODHORN COLLIERY EXPLOSION ON SUNDAY, AUG. 13 1916.’

The memorial was unveiled in a ceremony on 18th August 1923 by Scottish born Labour M.P. Robert Smillie.

Dig Deeper: Woodhorn Colliery Disaster

Woodhorn Colliery was one of the five Ashington Coal Company collieries.

White porcelain statuette, made in one piece. The miners deputy has lost his outstretched arm holding the safety lamp. His remaining arm rests on a pick axe. The figure stands on a large plinth decorated with a laurel wreath, near the base of the plinth is a black and white image of a colliery, presumably Woodhorn Colliery, showing a large chimney, two heapsteads and pit wheels, and some ancillary buildings enclosed within a fence in the foreground.

White porcelain statuette of the Ashington Miners’ Memorial, ASHMM 1991/50, copyright Woodhorn Charitable Trust

 

A repairing shift set to work in the main seam at Woodhorn Colliery on Sunday 13 August 1916.  The men were installing steel girders as roof supports. However, ventilation of the area they were working on, via an air compressor and fan, had not been operating correctly over the previous 24 hours.  Instead of safety lamps, the miners worked with naked flame candles, with inevitable results; there was a massive explosion, killing eleven men outright while two others died later, having never regained consciousness.

The Journal newspaper reported “The belief at first was that a belated Zeppelin had come on the scene, but it was soon known that a disaster had occurred in the mine.”

The list of casualties:

David Armstrong: deputy, 47, father of six

Thomas Armstrong: (David’s brother) deputy, 43, father of three

George Blair: stoneman, 46, father of five

Daniel Harrison: deputy, married, no children

Joseph Harrogate: putter, 29, single

Robert Hindmarsh: deputy, 46, father of three

Joseph Hodgson: deputy, 38, married, no children

Ralph Howard: deputy, 44, father of five

George R Hudson: deputy, 38, father of two

Walter Hughes: stoneman, 38, father of four. Sergeant in 7th Northumberland Fusiliers. Gassed in France. Spent several months in hospital and had only just returned to work the week before. He received military honours at his funeral.

George Marshall: deputy, 43, father of one child

John George Patterson: stone cutter, 21, single. Sunday school teacher at Hirst Primitive Methodist Church

Edward Walton: stoneman, 48, father of nine.

Incredibly, in the wake of the disaster, seven bereaved families, left destitute without a wage, were evicted from their homes.

Twelve of the men are buried at Seaton Hirst and one at Ashington.

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