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In the 19th & early 20th centuries mining was one of the most dangerous occupations in the United Kingdom and in the 115 year history of ironstone mining in Cleveland over 1,000 men lost their lives. Many thousands more were injured, in countless accidents as men were buried by roof falls, kicked by horses, run over by tubs, struck by picks and drills or suffered burns whilst blasting.

The Coal Mines’ Inspection Act of 1850 made it compulsory for each mine to maintain a book containing details of every accident which occurred and a number of these survive in the collection of the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum including that for the Loftus Mine (see below)

Not every accident was recorded however, as some took place some considerable distance from the nearest mine.

In the days before proper regulations were introduced, miners were often in the habit of taking home quarter barrels of gunpowder, packed damp to stop it igniting. They would then dry small quantities of powder as they needed it & take it to work in a tin.

At about 9:30 on the evening of Sunday 26th March 1865 the village of Marske was rocked by a tremendous explosion. Crowds of people rushed out into the street, where to their shock & horror they found one side of a cottage occupied by a miner named William Smith completely blown off.

Inside they found the body of lodger Robert Holmes, a miner from Upleatham, completely burned & quite dead – even his watch had melted. Tragically 3 children who were also in the cottage with him were critically injured & subsequently died.

It appeared that Holmes had been drying some powder in a bag by the fire. He had then taken the bag of powder & a candle and gone upstairs to bed. Under the bed was a cask containing nearly 28 lbs of gunpowder together with a further quantity in a tin. It was thought that Holmes had been pouring powder from the bag into the tin when he either dropped the candle, or a spark from it, caused the whole to explode.

Not until 1875 and the passing of the Explosives Act did the unauthorised possession of gunpowder become an offence and making it a legal requirement for each mine to have a secure and properly regulated magazine

Special Rules and Regulations for the Gunpowder Magazine - November 1875, Lofthouse Mines

This blog post was created by Ian Wilson one of our collection volunteers.