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Whitwick Colliery Disaster Memorial unveiled at special ceremony

Whitwick Colliery Disaster Memorial unveiled at special ceremony

On the 24th April the newly constructed Whitwick Colliery Disaster Memorial was unveiled in front of over 200 guests.

The memorial is on Percival Way off Grange Road in Hugglescote and is located over the area of mine workings where the disaster occurred.

Along with the memorial plaque at Christ Church in Coalville, it is the first memorial dedicated to the names and families of the 35 miners who lost their lives on the 19th April 1898 and will become a monument to the 12 men who are still entombed in the workings.

In the early hours of the 19th April 1898, a fire broke out underground which cut off the escape route and air to the 42 miners working in No.5 Pit at Whitwick Colliery, today the site of Morrisons Retail Park in Coalville. As the fire increased, eight miners were able to get out, but one, Charles Clamp, returned into the workings to help his fellow miners only to succumb to the smoke and die.

Of the 42 men, only seven survived and during the following 10 months, 23 bodies were recovered but sadly 12 men were irretrievable and are still in their place of work. It was the only mining disaster in Leicestershire, when a large number of men were killed in one event.

The unveiling was accompanied by the Desford Colliery Band who played a number of pieces finishing with Gresford – The Miners’ Hymn. The memorial was also be dedicated by Reverend Steve O’Rouke, Curate of St. John the Baptist Church in Hugglescote. Whitwick Parish Councillor Susan Colledge, daughter of John Colledge who was the joint author of ‘Banded Together’, the definitive history of the event, also gave a moving eulogy.

Renowned actor Stephen Graham, best known for his role as Andrew ‘Combo’ Gascoigne in the film This Is England (2006) and his recent appearance in ‘Peaky Blinders’, was present at the event to cut the ribbon and lay a wreath to commemorate those who lost their lives.

Stephen said:

“I’ve lived around these parts for a long time and when I was asked to be involved, I didn’t hesitate. For me to be a part of this is an absolute honour and I think it’s a beautiful sculpture.

“The pride and sense of being a part of this community must resonate within all of you. It’s an honour to be adopted as one of you.”

The memorial has been developed by the Whitwick Colliery Disaster Memorial Project, a partnership between David Wilson Homes, Hugglescote and Donington Le Heath Parish Council, Whitwick Parish Council, Leicestershire Coal Industry Welfare Trust Fund, Coalville Heritage Society, Whitwick Historical Group and the Snibston Heritage Trust. A key feature of the memorial is a headstock pulley wheel from Whitwick Colliery given to the project by Leicestershire County Council’s Museums Service.

John Reddington, Managing Director at David Wilson Homes East Midlands, said:

“It’s been an absolute honour working with our partners to make this memorial at our Grange View development possible.

“We’d like to thank everyone involved for their hard work and the recent unveiling event was a fantastic tribute to a major part of Leicestershire’s history.”

Stuart Warburton, chair of the project team said

“I cannot thank David Wilson Homes enough for its help and assistance in the creation of this, the first purpose-built memorial to those men who gave their lives to power the industrial strength of the nation.

“There has been great care in the restoration of the Whitwick Colliery wheel and the design of the memorial which will include the planting of primroses, as the disaster happened on ‘Primrose Day’ a Victorian day of celebration, but sadly not for these miners. Their labours, sacrifice and memory shall not be forgotten.

"The partners have worked tirelessly as volunteers over the last 18 months and without their dedication and enthusiasm of this project would not have come to fruition."

The memorial has been made possible through the generosity and dedication to the community by David Wilson Homes which has developed the Grange View development and, in addition, has named its 19 streets in the development after the 19 families who were affected by the disaster. Once the housing development has been completed, the long-term care and maintenance of the memorial will pass to Hugglescote and Donington Le Heath Parish Council.

Picture: Stuart Warburton (Chair of the Whitwick Colliery Disaster Memorial Project), Ross Locker (Senior Architectural Technician, David Wilson Homes) Mr Stephen Graham, Peter Smith (President of the Leicestershire Coal Industry Welfare Trust Fund) and George Wagstaff (Architectural Technician David Wilson Homes).

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