‘Bard of Barnsley’ Ian McMillan is supporting events to mark the 150th anniversary of England’s worst mining catastrophe.
The 1866 Oaks Colliery Disaster at Hoyle Mill, Barnsley killed 383 people when underground explosions devastated the mine.
Ian, who was made Barnsley’s Poet Laureate earlier this year, has written a special poem to remember those who died.
He will read his ballad Under December Skies, Under the Timeless Ground during a formal gathering at the Town Hall from 6.30pm on Monday to mark the anniversary.
The event will include talks and the showing of a film in which the colliery is recreated.
In November, Ian, who lives in Darfield and presents The Verb on BBC Radio Three, led a free creative writing workshop at Experience Barnsley, themed around the Oaks Disaster.
It’s so important that those who died in this disaster are not forgotten
Participants were encouraged to bring to life the catastrophic events of 1866, when a huge explosion caused by flammable gases ripped through the mine, killing hundreds of men and boys.
The next morning, volunteer rescuers made their way down the pit and were hit by another explosion.
The writing workshop formed part of the Hear My Voice project led by Barnsley Museums and helped Ian develop content for his own poem to mark the lives lost.
He said: “‘I’m proud to be associated with the commemorations for the Oaks Disaster; it’s an event of local, national and international significance and I hope my poem can do justice to my feelings and the feelings of the town.”
Alongside the formal gathering at the Town Hall, When the Oaks Fired, an exhibition focusing on the human stories of the disaster, will run at Experience Barnsley until February 8.
The evening event and exhibition are being delivered by the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership (DVLP) and Barnsley Council. The DVLP is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund – thanks to National Lottery players.
Stephen Miller, community officer at the DVLP, said: “We’re really grateful to Ian for lending his support and creative mind to these commemorative events.
“It’s so important that those who died in this disaster are not forgotten and it’s fantastic to see how the people of Barnsley are coming together to remember them.”
People and Mining and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have been working to raise funds to commission local artist Graham Ibbeson to create a memorial sculpture to mark the lives lost.
The group have raised thousands of pounds for the memorial to be placed in the town centre in May next year, and will be provided with practical and financial support from Barnsley Council.
Other community-organised events to mark the anniversary next week include memorial services, talks and readings at venues across the town. Visit www.discoverdearne.co.uk for details.
Coun Roy Miller, council cabinet spokesperson for place at Barnsley Council, said: “It’s great to see so much going on to mark the anniversary of such a terrible tragedy and Ian McMillan’s involvement will make the Town Hall event on December 12 even more special.”
Chapeltown and High Green Archive have also organised commemorative events at St Saviour’s Church , Mortomley Lane, High Green.
An exhibition looks at the work of mining engineer Parkin Jeffcock, one of 26 who died taking part in the rescue efforts when the second explosion hit.
St Saviour’s was built in Parkin’s honour on land donated by his family opposite their home, Mortomley Hall.
It also charts the lives of High Green children in the mines in the 1840s, Newton Chambers mines and Izal production, the Westwood and Rockingham pit riots and scenes from High Green at the time.
The exhibition is on show until Monday from 10.30am to 4pm each day.
Entry is free and there is a bookstall and tea and coffee.