THE HARTLEY CALAMITY

The disaster at the Hester Pit, New Hartley, took place on January 16th, 1862, when a beam supporting the pumping engine cracked and fell into the pit shaft, completely blocking all exit from the mine. Despite the efforts of the rescuers it was not until January 22 that anyone was able to enter the mine workings, by which time all those trapped below had suffocated. The total death toll, including five who were killed by the falling beam as they descended to the mine in the cage, was 204. The horror of the event was felt throughout the region, and across the country, and eventually resulted in legislation making a second outlet from a mine a legal requirement. Joseph Skipsey's response to the tragedy was to write his poem which he recited at meetings and events to raise money for the bereaved families. Robert Spence Watson, Skipsey's friend and biographer, described his reading thus:

... he entered so evidently into the spirit of the thing and brought out the terrible, tragic nature of the slow death creeping over father and son, carrying away brothers side by side ... that it was impossible to listen without being greatly affected.

The poem appeared in the early collection The Collier Lad in 1864, and was included in the next three collections but, perhaps surprisingly, omitted from Songs and Lyrics in 1892.

The Hartley men are noble, and
Ye’ll hear a tale of woe
I’ll tell the tale of the Hartley men
The year of sixty-two
Twas on a Thursday morning
The first month of the year
When there befell an event that well
May rend your heart to hear.
Before the day when most folk lay
Still sleeping in their beds
The Hartley men are up and off
To earn their daily bread.

On they toil, with heat they broil
And streams of sweat still glue - 
The stour to their skins, till they
Are black as the coal they hew.
Now back and forth the putters go
The wagons to and fro
And clang on clang of wheel and hoof
Ring in the mine below.
The din and strife of human life
Awake in board and wall
When suddenly they feel a shock
And terror grips them all.

Each bosom thuds as each his duds
He snatches and away.
Towards the distant shaft he flees
With all the speed he may
They flee, they flee, by two and three
Towards the shaft, and seek
An answer in each other’s face
To what they dare not speak.
Are we entombed? They seem to ask
For the shaft is closed, and no -
Escape have they to God’s bright day
From out the night below.


So stand in pain the Hartley men
And swiftly o’er them comes
Fond thoughts of friends and families
And memories of their homes.
Despair at length renews their strength
For they the shaft must clear
And soon the sound of mall and pick
Drowns out the voice of fear.
And hark to the blow of the mall below
Do sounds above reply?
Hurra, hurra, for the Hartley men
For now their rescue’s nigh.

But even as for their escape
The men to hope did dare
A second rumble shakes the mine
And drives them to despair.
Yet as they kneel, again they feel
Their strength renewed, again
The swing and ring of the mall attest
The might of the Hartley men.
And hark to the blow of the mall below
Do sounds above reply?
Hurra, hurra, for the Hartley men
For now their rescue’s nigh.


But the beam has collapsed and blocked the shaft
There’s nowhere left to crawl
One by one the lights go out
And darkness covers all
Dear father, till the shaft is cleared
Close beside me keep
My strength is gone, my eyes are tired
I know that I must sleep
Sleep, my son, close by I’ll stay
And watch about thee keep
To stay awake the father strives
But soon he too must sleep.
Oh brother, till the shaft is closed
Close beside me keep
My strength is gone, my eyes are tired
I know that I must sleep
Sleep, brother, sleep, close by I’ll stay
And watch about thee keep
To stay awake the brother strives
But soon he too must sleep.

So down below the Hartley men
Prepared to meet their fate
While up above by the black pit-heap
People could only wait.
And fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers
The lover and the new-made bride
A vigil kept for those who slept
From eve to morning tide.
But still they sleep in silence dread
Two hundred old and young
To awake when heaven and earth have sped
And the final trumpet rung.

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