Information and photographs submitted by subscribers are posted in good faith. If any copyright of anyone else's material is unintentionally breached, please email me

Steve Yates - Markham Colliery Disaster 1973 - William Yates
Jenny Martin - Memories Markham Colliery disaster July 1973 and William Yates

Email Pages   1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10     11  
  From: Steve Yates
Sent: 01 January 2007
Subject: Markham Colliery Disaster 1973 - William Yates

My grandfather was William Yates who lost his life in the 1973 disaster. I was born on the 21st June 1973 and was around 5 weeks old and hence never knew him. All the male Yates' were called William and when my parents announced I would be called Steven William, my grandad said that I would always be known to him as 'Bill'.

William did not die immediately but was taken to Chesterfield Royal initially but then transferred to Sheffield hospital with severe injuries both internal and to his legs. Had he survived, Doctors said he would not have any meaningful life and the decision not to attempt to resuscitate him if he arrested was taken. I imagine it must have been the most painful decision for my Dad. When he went to see Grandad he took the last photo ever taken of him at my christening and although he was unconscious, my Mum says Dad told her that my Grandad shed a tear when he heard Dad had the photo with him. My  Nan got very little compensation for his life as he was 62 and only had 3 years to work.

My father, also William Yates always worked on the same shift as my grandad but had changed his shift that day and was fortunately spared, he had asked to change his hours when I was born so he could spend time with me. He should have been back on three shifts but my Grandad had told him not to mention it if none of the gaffers did.

Dad worked at Markham Number 2 for 36 years before retiring in 1986 and suffered various health conditions, some pit related. My Dad has always perused his claims (Vibration White Finger etc.) to the last letter to get what he thought the family should have been entitled to. He passed away on 17th December 2006 which has sparked much reminiscing. He is sadly missed.

Just thought you may wish to include this snippet of information on the website.


Steven William Yates.

From: Steve Yates
Sent: 08 June 2009 20:43
William Yates - Markham

Hi Fionn
What a lovely e-mail from Jenny. I will share this with my Mum when I see her tomorrow. We still talk about the disaster; in fact, the other day Mum was telling me that we were due to go on a family holiday to Sterling the week after the accident - both my grandparents and parents were avid touring caravanners. The turn out of caravaners at the funeral from knowing my grandad through the club was overwhelming and flowers and tributes filled the driveway from end to end.

In a world often full of bad news and selfishness, nice to see genuine human caring and compassion.

Kind regards


From: Jenny Martin
Sent: 6 June 2009
Subject: Memories Markham Colliery disaster July 1973 and William Yates

I hope you will allow me to share my memory of the Markham Colliery Disaster.

I come from a Cumbrian mining family, my father being the only one of 7 sons and 4 sons-in-law of a Whitehaven coal miner who vowed never to go down the pit. My uncle was killed in a 'minor' (only 12 men killed) pit disaster in 1941. My 15-year-old cousin, William (2 months older than me and a talented footballer), was killed when he fell down the 627 foot pit shaft at Harrington No 10 colliery near Whitehaven in 1953, his own fault according to the National Coal Board for 'larking about' although it was his first day on replacing full tubs with empties after a few weeks at work as a pit-top boy. My outraged father pestered the MP until the NCB paid 'compensation' i.e. the minimum it took to get him off their backs.

Twenty years on, having benefited from the higher education that my father and his family were denied, I was working in the Path Lab at the Sheffield Royal Hospital carrying out blood tests on a 62-year-old victim, who had been transferred from Chesterfield Hospital. I was willing him to defy the odds and not have his retirement in the light stolen so cruelly after a working life in stifling unyielding darkness but it wasn't to be. I've thought about him many a time since.

It is only since the 60th anniversary 2 years ago, and in the course of research for next year's 100th anniversary of Cumbria's two worst pit disasters, that I saw the postings on this and the Durham Mining Museum site and remembered him as William Yates. I also found from the National Archives that six months before my cousin another 15-year-old had been killed on his first day at work in a similar pit shaft accident at Shotton Colliery, County Durham, the Mining Inspectorate at the highest level taking a very different view of both accidents from the National Coal Board. That would have been a comfort to William's family had they known. I hope you will feel that posting this might be some comfort to William Yates' family - more people cared than you could have known.

Jenny Martin

William Martin, a Pit Top Boy aged 15, at Harrington No10. It was a surface accident 2nd Nov 1953.
He was working with another more senior pit-boy (i.e. age just 16) pushing the empties on, and the front of the second one got pushed up over the first. The banksman freed the first one, knocking it off the platform then signalled lower away to the engine-man believing William had stood back from the cage. Then the banksman realised William, for reasons we'll never know, was on the cage trying to climb out, and screamed at him to stay put. They stopped the cage and brought it slowly back but he wasn't on it. By then his badly mutilated body was lying in the sump waiting for the onsetter to get it out. What makes it worse is that if they'd followed the mining inspectors' recommendations after the Shotton pit-boy's death, six months before, about young inexperienced boys working anywhere near the pit shaft, William might still have been alive today. As it was two boys met horrific deaths leaving families to grieve forever before anything effective was done about it.

Charles James Martin, a Deputy aged 41, died 3rd Aug 1941 at William Pit, The Coal Company (Whitehaven) Ltd. Cumberland. Explosion of gas caused by chemical action between water and burning carbon. Charles died while trying to rescue others. 12 killed.

Dr Jenny Martin
17 August 2007

The Editor
The Whitehaven News
148 Queen Street
CA28 7AZ

Dear Sir
I hope that you will allow me through your pages to thank Amanda Garraway for her book from the heart, 104 MEN, and for donating the profits from its sale to mining history education charities.

I am proud to have come from a Whitehaven mining family, living there during my teenage years in the 1950s. I still have cousins there. The family were Methodists and Salvationists: organists, choristers or lay preachers and, despite their modest means, happy, caring and useful members of the community.

The eldest of my uncles was killed rescuing others in the 'minor' (only 12 men killed) William pit disaster in 1941. Their brother-in-law bore for the rest of his life the mental scars of a pit explosion in which he saw his marra's torso and, some distance beyond, his head.

In 1953 our 15-year old cousin was killed when he fell down the pit shaft weeks after starting work, his own fault for 'larking about' according to the National Coal Board (NCB).

My accountant father (the only one of seven brothers who vowed never to go down the pit) pestered their M P - at no cost to the taxpayer - on behalf of his inarticulate and grief-stricken brother. The NCB eventually made a modest payout in what the family took to be tacit acknowledgement that they had failed in their basic duty of care for their young employee.

My cousin and I have only now discovered that we both had nightmares for years afterwards (no stampedes of counsellors to Whitehaven then). Her father had been lucky not to make the book title 105 MEN - he should have been on that ill-fated shift. He lived to develop miners' lung disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD) years later.

In 2003 she was persuaded to pursue a claim in respect of her late father by a Yorkshire firm of solicitors touting for Cumbrian business in addition to their already lucrative business arising from the Department of Trade and Industry's miners' compensation scheme. She knew that her father would have wanted her to benefit from the trauma of seeing his suffering.

The amount of taxpayers' money going, unjustly, to various professionals compared with the sometimes insulting amounts (lowest 50p) being paid to the miners/their estates was revealed by The Times journalist, Andrew Norfolk (28 June 2005 et seq).

I end with the dedication in 104 MEN to a Whitehaven pitman, Thomas Unthank,

"A lover of justice, truth, and equity between man and man."

See also:-

A Poetry Anthology
by Jenny Martin

An anthology of poetry about Whitehaven and beyond, published to mark the Centenary of Cumbria’s worst pit disaster on 11th May 1910.

Return to Top

Pit Terminology - Glossary