The Norcroft Pit Disaster of 1821

On Saturday 2nd April the Society welcomed David Hinchliffe as our guest speaker. David, an ex- labour MP and a member of the Wakefield Historical Society. When he began to research his family tree a number of years ago, little did he know that it would reveal the tragic death of his great, great, great uncle in an almost forgotten pit disaster. The relative was John Hinchliffe who was only 8 years old when he and nine other miners died at Norcroft pit near the small village of Cawthorne in West Yorkshire.

David’s passionate interest in local and family history led to his uncovering a tragedy that devastated the families of the ten victims who were killed. Using contemporary reports and genealogical research tools such as census returns and parish registers, David was able to reveal a fascinating insight to working class lives across this period when children as young as five could be forced to work underground in order to boost a family’s income. His research also provided a brief background of the businessmen who operated the local pits and of the landowners like the Spencer-Stanhope of Cawthorne’s Cannon Hall who owned the land that included pits such as the one at Norcroft.

David discovered that early morning in 1821 ten victims, whose ages ranged from 47 to 8 years were being haul up in a basket when the chain or rope snapped and the basket plunged to the bottom of the shaft. Among the victims was John Hinchliffe aged 8 years.

There was no memorial or any indication where the pit was actually located. David can only surmise that it was in a nearby field close to the hamlet of Norcroft. However, in 2019 David had a memorial headstone erected that now stands in the churchyard of All Saints Parish Church in Cawthorne. On one side are the names of six local victims who were buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard and on the other are the names of four victims who were from elsewhere and whose burial site is unknown.

David has had the story of the tragedy published ‘Descent into Silence – Cawthorne’s Forgotten Tragedy.’ Sales from the book will be donated to the Museum in Cawthorne.