The untold story of Cawthorne’s long forgotten tragedy…
by DAVID HINCHLIFFE
No-one gave a second’s thought to the victims of a mining disaster near the small Yorkshire village of Cawthorne in 1821, even though two of them were children just eight years of age. Former MP David Hinchliffe’s exploration of his family history inadvertently led to the discovery of his collier ancestors’ involvement in the barely recorded and long-forgotten pit tragedy, which occurred amidst the turbulence of the Industrial Revolution. The exploration of these intertwined strands – and a passionate interest in local history – has allowed Hinchliffe to reveal the full details of a melancholy event that devastated the families of the ten who were killed but caused barely a ripple further afield. Using contemporary reports to help piece the jigsaw together, plus historical context and detailed genealogical research into the backgrounds of those involved, Descent into Silence offers fascinating insight into the lives of working class families across the period, when children as young as five were forced to work underground in order to supplement household incomes. The author’s research also illustrates how the split between the businessmen who operated the local pits and landowners like the Spencer-Stanhopes of Cawthorne’s Cannon Hall led to an apparent disregard for the safety and wellbeing of the workforce. The inhumanity of the age is underlined by how the local ‘Overseers of the Poor’ endeavoured to eject two of the victims’ families from the area after the disaster, when they fell on hard times. And, most tellingly of all, how the lauded death of Sir Walter Spencer-Stanhope is recorded in the parish register directly opposite that of the young and – until now – unheralded John Hinchliffe.