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Isabella, Union And Lady Pits, Workington, Cumberland - Disaster 1837

Flood, 24 died

Lloyd Boardman
20 March 2010
Flooding, Workington Colliery, 1837

Just been reading a copy of the Report of the Departmental Committee on the Prevention of Dangers in
Mines from Accumulations of Water or other Liquid Matter, HMSO, 1927. On page 40 it mentions that
the sea broke into Workington Colliery (Chapel End), Cumberland on 28th July, 1837, drowning the colliery and no bodies were ever recovered. No number of killed is mentioned.

This does not appear in your list of disasters and I thought you might be interested.



Thanks Lloyd for bringing this omission to my notice.

Up to ten months before the accident, Mr. Mathias Dunn was the manager of the collieries which were on the Cumberland coast and the workings went under the sea for a considerable distance. At about 1,500 yards from the shaft the strata rose rapidly so there was only about 150 feet of rock above. After Mr. Dunn departed there had been a considerable robbing of pillars and there was common talk of the danger in the town. Ralph Coxon was the manager and it was under his instructions that the pillars were robbed. There were many falls of roof but Coxon persisted. A number of colliers had refused to work and a man named Bowness had written to Mr. Dunn-
“Unless some interference can be made, a very few days or weeks will most assuredly bring down the waters of the sea and that opinion is now greatly expressed, that men are leaving the colliery every day.”

Dunn referred the matter to a north of England coal owner, who wrote to Mr. Curwen, a manager of a colliery, drawing his attention to the risks that were being run. No action was taken and the sea broke into the workings on the evening of the 28th July. Men standing on the shore could see ‘the swirl of waters’. A whirl pool, several hundred yards out to sea. No rescue operations were feasible but some men did escape from a day hole in the rise workings.

The disaster occurred in Mr Curwen's Lady Pit which extended a long way under the sea, the Camperdown B ran rapidly towards the surface in the direction of the shore and had been worked for a long time.  The workings had greatly reduced the thickness between the workings and the sea. When the accident occurred it was supposed to have been about fifteen fathoms with only four fathoms of rock and the rest of loose gravel and sand.

The roof gave way and the sea rushed in and three other mines, the Lady Pit, the Isabella Pit and the Union Pit were rendered forever useless. At the time the seam broke in there were fifty seven in the mine, thirty of whom managed to escape but twenty four men and two boys were overtaken by the water and perished.

Those who lost their lives were:-

  • Thomas Green, wife and family.
  • Robert Green, son of Thomas who left a wife and four children.
  • Thomas Green, grandson of the first.
  • John Magree left a wife and two children.
  • John Mulligan left a wife and family.
  • Robert Mulligan, a young man.
  • Richard Craney left a wife and family.
  • Daniel Frill left a wife and family.
  • George M'Kitte, unmarried.
  • Thomas Ditchburm, unmarried.
  • Joseph Sharp, unmarried.
  • Hugh Cain, unmarried.
  • William Hayton, unmarried.
  • Jeremiah Murrow, unmarried.
  • William Wilkinson left a wife and eight children.
  • James Gambles left a wife and family.
  • Thomas Allison left a wife and family.
  • Thomas Johnstone left a wife and family.
  • Philip Dobson left three children.
  • Thomas Huids left a wife and family.
  • John Sides left a wife and a large family.
  • Jonathan Brough left three orphan children.
  • John Brough left a wife and family.
  • William Stubbs left a wife and family.
  • John Young left a wife and family.
  • Robert Mountjoy, boy.
  • Martin Darling, boy.

Twenty eight horses also perished but it was fortunate that the disaster took place when it did, at the hour of changing the shift when there were comparatively few in the pit. Several of the survivors were within 300 yards of the place where the water broke in and it had the effect of changing the air and going suddenly very cold and many of them took the warning and started to try to get out of the pit. The air current was so great as they ascended the inclined plane that they had great difficulty in keeping their footing. The force was so great that a man named Bland who tried to get down to help found he could not get an air door open as he was returning. He persevered and at last removed a board. The rush of air was so great that it carried him out of the pit.

The place where the water broke in was nearly a mile and half from the shaft between Salterbeck and Harrington and about forty or fifty yards below low water mark. The three pits were filled with water by half past ten, about an hour and a half from the time the roof gave way. The hole was very large. A vessel sailed over the opening on Saturday and the captain supposes the aperture to be little short of an acre in extent from the discoloration there was in the water.

The workmen had frequently cautioned the viewer, Mr. Ralph Coxon of the danger but their counsel was disregarded. There was very strong feeling in the town against this man and Mr. Curwen dismissed him.

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