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Dukinfield’s Mining Past
Not to be set apart from other northern towns, Dukinfield has a very strong and proud mining tradition. The two main pits in the town were Dewsnap Basin and Astley Deep Pit. They were developed by Francis Dukinfield Astley and owned by his company the Astley Dukinfield Colliery Company. Dewsnap Pit was sunk in 1845/46 and situated opposite the Globe Lane. By 1896 Dewsnap Pit was employing three hundred and forty seven workers underground and forty eight overground.
Astley Pit was sunk in 1847, and was on a slightly bigger scale with a larger workforce of four hundred and eighty seven underground and one hundred and twenty three overground. Astley Pit held the honour of being the deepest coal mine in Britain. It was sunk to a depth of 686.5 yards or 2060 feet by the time it was properly opened. Both pits were closed around 1901 – and were closed well before their time, they were initially sunk with a view to hewing coal for a period of one hundred years, but only ended up working for forty three each. These two pits together were known as “Dukinfield Collieries”.
Mining life was hard; the working time of colliers was generally cramped, hot, unpleasant and back breaking whichever pit they worked in, in whatever town they lived. Not for them an easy life with the home comforts like televisions, stereos and a recliner sofa to sit on in the evenings. They worked long hours without many breaks and were often injured or laid off for long periods. In this period in Victorian Britain there was no such regard for Health and Safety the same way we have today. Accidents, cave-ins and explosions were just more or less considered the norm and just an occupational hazard that miners had to put up with. There simply wasn’t the breadth of employment choice we have today – you either worked in the mines, the mills or starved. Even so terrible accidents were a dreaded occurrence and Dukinfield wasn’t spared.
Astley Pit Disaster
In April 1874 Astley Pit suffered a dreadful accident in which fifty four men and boys lost their lives, there were eighteen survivors who were left stranded in the rubble until they were rescued. The cause of the accident was a fallen roof – caused by little pockets of gas, a very dangerous thing to happen in those times as miners worked with flame lamps that were open to the atmosphere and thus constituted a terrible hazard. It wasn’t the first accident of such a nature to happen there, a smaller explosion had occurred four years or so earlier in which nine miners lost their lives. In July of the same year “A Motion For Address” was called in Parliament by the Right Hon. Member for Stalybridge, A Mr Simpson to discuss this particular accident– and to assess whether measures for safety in collieries were sufficient and also whether the inspection system used was good enough.
Three Other Accidents
Besides the two accidents already mentioned, there were three others that took place between 1855 and 1862, also in the same pit. Firstly in July 1855 four men were being wound out of the mine when they were thrown over the machinery at the top of the shaft which brings the cage up and down. Nine men were killed altogether in the incident. Secondly in March 1857 falling stone killed a worker and five years later in 1862 a similar incident killed another miner.
Dewsnap Pit Accident
Neither was Dewsnap Pit so lucky in escaping accidents either. In 1898 just three years before it’s final closure in 1901 a terrible mishap occurred involving a man named James Winterbottom – who was aged sixty three (a great age to still be working down the mines – indeed a great age to still be living in Victorian Manchester were life expectancy wasn’t much more than forty years!). Winterbottom had failed to prop the space he was working in properly. You were supposed to set three or four of these props for maximum strength and security (such as it was in those days), but because he didn’t the roof collapsed and crushed him. He had worked in the mines since he was nine years old. It was a sad and perhaps needless end to probably one of the older residents of Dukinfield at the time.
Dukinfield’s coal history came to a somewhat early and abrupt end in 1901, the mineshafts of Astley Pit were finally filled in with concrete in the 1980s and have now (like so many other sites in the industrial north) been built over with housing estates eradicating what little there was left of them. Nevertheless, the townspeople played a big part in the history of mining and colliery, the achievements and survival of their workers in the aftermath of such terrible accidents should never be forgotten.
Mining life was hard; the working time of colliers was generally cramped, hot, unpleasant and back breaking whichever pit they worked in, in whatever town they lived. Not for them an easy life with the home comforts like televisions, stereos and a recliner sofa to sit on in the evenings.