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From: Steve Barker
Sent: 20 Nov 2009
Roachburn Pit Disaster

Hi Fionn,
Thanks for your email and including my Oaks article on your webpage. You can add my email address if you think it relevant; take what precautions you see fit.

I have been exploring your informative website; it is very good. I like the concept of sharing information and pooling knowledge. That leads me to your list of disasters. When does an accident become a disaster (that is a rhetorical question)? As with the trenches of the First World War the total of men who died individually, or in 2s and 3s, was more than the total of those who died in the big disasters. Of course there are too many to record in a list such as yours but you may wish to include the Roachburn Pit Disaster. Roachburn and Blenkinsop (covered in your pages) are part of a small coalfield east of Carlisle and near to where I live. Briefly the story is:-

The Roachburn mine employed 300 or so men which was about 95% of the working population of the district; on 28th of January 1908 an inrush of water, from a tarn above, flooded the mine. There would be about 120 men in the mine when the inrush occurred but because the water was not ‘clean’, it was more of a sludge of peat, sand and clay the men had time to evacuate. One of the hewers, James Wharton aged 21 was unaccounted for.

It was stated at the Inquiry that “His kneecap had frequently come off and when it did he was absolutely powerless”. The Banks Overman, Matt Hilliard aged 53 and deputy Overman, Robert Pattinson aged 35, went back into the mine to search for him. They were never seen again and the 3 bodies were never recovered.

After the disaster two thirds of the workforce had to be laid off and in 1912 the mine finally closed, devastating the local community.

A memorial to the disaster stands at the near by hamlet of Coal Fell. A booklet “January 28th 1908” by Alastair F. Robertson is published by Hundy Publications, Alston, Cumbria and tells the full story.



Roachburn Pit Disaster
28th of January 1908

on the
Causes and Circumstances attending the Accident which occurred at
Roachburn Colliery, Cumberland
on the 28th January, 1908,
From an inflow of Clay, Sand, Moss and Water,
J. B. Atkinson, M.Sc.,
One of H.M. Chief Inspectors of Mines.

Thanks to The Durham Mining Museum


About noon, on Tuesday the 28th January, 1908, at Roachburn Colliery, situated on the eastern border of the County of Cumberland, and owned by Messrs. Thompson and Sons, a private firm of long standing, of which Mr. Charles Lacy Thompson is now the sole surviving partner, the roof or face of an excavation driven up to the outcrop in a highly inclined coal seam under moorland in the neighbourhood of two small tarns gave way, and the surface deposits, consisting of moss or peat, sand and clay, accompanied by water, poured into the mine and caused the deaths of the three persons described below, who were imprisoned by the inflow, and whose bodies have not been recovered :—

The Edward Medal (Mines), in Silver (or 1st Class)




Matthew Hilliard


Back Overman

Robert Pattinson


Deputy Overman

James William Wharton



Matthew Hilliard, Overman
Roachburn Colliery
2nd Class, 28th January 1908

There were about 120 other persons in the mine at the time of the inflow, all of whom escaped to the surface without injury by two different routes to be described hereafter.

Operations to rescue the imprisoned men, or to recover their bodies, were at once commenced and prosecuted vigorously without success until the rise of the inflowing materials prevented any further effort being made.

Owing to the fact that no inquest could be held as none of the bodies had been recovered, coupled with the exceptional character of the accident, you were pleased to appoint me to hold a formal investigation into its causes and circumstances.

Mr. R. Sheriton Holmes, Solicitor, of 145, Pilgrim Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne, was appointed to act as legal adviser to the Court.

After advertising the time and place of the Inquiry in the "Carlisle Journal," the "East Cumberland News," the "Newcastle Daily Chronicle," the "Newcastle Daily Journal," and the "North Mail," and after written notice had been given to the owner of the colliery and to the representatives of the miners, the Inquiry was held in the Village Hail, Hallbankgate, near Brampton Junction, on 13th March last.

The owner of the colliery was represented by Mr. T. S. Strong, solicitor, of Carlisle; Mr. W. Straker, Corresponding Secretary of the Northumberland Miners' Association,* appeared on behalf of the relatives of the deceased James William Wharton, and the miners; and Mr. S. Coulthard, Secretary of the Northumberland Deputies' Association,* appeared on behalf of the relatives of the deceased Robert Pattinson, and the Deputies.

Mr. A. D. Nicholson and Mr. H. A. Abbott, Assistant Inspectors of Mines in the district; Mr. J. Cairns and Mr. T. Hall Scott, of the Northumberland Miners' Association; and Mr. Miles Baldwin, Secretary for the Roachburn Colliery Lodge, were also present.

Thirteen witnesses were examined, including the manager, undermanager, master shifter, four deputies and some of the workmen, and outside expert evidence was given by Mr. Austin Kirkup, Agent for the Lambton Collieries in the County of Durham, and by Mr. John Rogers, Agent and Manager of the Widdrington Colliery in Northumberland, who had some years ago been professionally connected with Roachburn Colliery.

On the evidence given at the Inquiry, and from inspections of the mine and investigations made by myself, by Mr. A. D. Nicholson (to whom I am much indebted for the preparation of the plans accompanying this report) and by Mr. H. A. Abbott, Assistant Inspectors, I beg to submit the following report.



Pit Terminology - Glossary




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