Object in Focus No. 3, looked at an oak bunton in the Woodhorn Museum collection and its role in the New Hartley Pit Disaster. This post considers the rescue attempt and the ways in which the rescuers were honoured and the dead remembered.
The rescue was coordinated by William Coulson, a master sinker, and a team of around thirty-eight others in addition to local help. One of the rescuers was David Wilkinson. At a ceremony held at Newcastle Town Hall, he received £30 as a reward for his part in the rescue attempt, and a cardboard version of a medal that was later cast in silver. (All rescuers received cardboard medals at first because the metal ones were not ready in time for the ceremony).
This photograph of the medal shows a dramatic scene. Two miners lie prostrate, entombed below ground, whilst men with a pick and shovel desperately try to clear a path towards them. Hovering above is a dramatic rendering of the Angel of Death, with billowing robes and sword. The Angel jealously claims the bodies of the two men – a reference to the unfortunate deaths of all 204 miners despite the rescuers’ best efforts.
In addition to these official medals and memorials, the communities involved also had their own ways of commemorating the dead. George Tait of Holywell organised a special memorial exhibition in the Primitive Methodist Chapel at Old Hartley in 1901, where he displayed “a candle, a clay pipe, a shot box containing two shots… picks, plates, … a harness, and the skeleton of a pony’s head”. All of these items had been recently recovered from Hartley after the water had been pumped out of the pit and accessed from a nearby mine. 43 pit ponies also died in Hartley Pit and it was conjectured that teeth from the ponies were mounted in gold and sold as relics for £2.
Woodhorn Museum has many artefacts associated with the Hartley Pit Disaster; this is the second in a series of posts on the subject on our Object in Focus page. If you have any items or stories relating to Hartley Pit, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org