Author on quest to identify mine victim

The Pelsall Hall Colliery disaster, on November 14, 1872, saw the pit flood when workers came across old unrecorded workings, which were full of water.

Some men were rescued when they clung to the bottom of the pit cage and were hauled to safety but the rest died – with mystery still surrounding the identity of one of the men, whose body was never found – known as miner 22.

Now more than 100 years on, a historian is attempting to find out the truth in her latest book.

Pelsall’s Black Gold by Annita Bates goes through the timeline of events leading up to the disaster – and the shockwaves it sent through the community.

Witness accounts from the time suggested there were 22 miners in the pit – but the only people who would have known who he was all perished.

Mrs Bates, of Pelsall, has trawled archives and spoken to people throughout the community – but has failed to find out who he was.

She said: “Through my investigations I disconcertingly found that no one knew who the missing miner was and that he is listed in the official Mining Inspectorate of 1873 as miner 22, unknown and not found.

“If there is any doubt as to whether miner 22 existed at all, it is said and has been said for decades that on the anniversary of the disaster some of the houses surrounding the old pit area experience paranormal activity which is believed to be a cry for help from the missing miner who is still trapped below ground.”

The unknown miner has become a mythical figure in Pelsall over the decades and a source of fascination for ghost hunters, who believe he has been haunting the local area.

Mrs Bates says she believes the man’s identity may never be known. She had hoped that records from the time would be more extensive – but it appears investigators had accepted there was another miner that would never be found.

Her book also tells the story of how people came to Pelsall in their thousands to find out what was going on and to view the decomposing bodies of the dead miners in the room behind the old Station Inn public house where they were laid out.

And there are touching stories from the aftermath of the disaster, such as a frantic dog which reportedly stayed on the pit bank day after day waiting for his master to return from the flooded mine.

She added: “The unknown miner is a mystery that may never be solved but there are so many other stories associated with the disaster and the people at the time.”

On the first anniversary of the Disaster the colliery, which had re-opened in March 1873, closed for the day. A procession made its way from the pit bank over the fields, which had been repaired by farmers and nature during the summer to a service in the church.

Afterwards widows and children were given tea in the Wesley schoolrooms.

The book, which costs £10, is available from Charlie’s Sweet Shop on Pelsall High Street and Waterstones in Walsall.

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