Whitwood Colliery – Tragic Accident

Mary Alnie Kaye

When John Sigsworth  contacted me making enquiries about St Phillip’s church at Whitwood and then went on to ask about the young woman who was the victim of a fatal accident at Whitwood pit, I had to admit to having heard the story before.       Well, of course I had, it was from the same source that had informed John, it was one Sid Williams, Head Lampman at Savile Pit.

Detective Sigsworth then referred to Shirley Schofield’s excellent book entitled ‘Old Whitwood’ where he found that poor Mary Alnie Kaye had been killed underground whilst on an educational visit with a party of students in February, 1926. Equally sadly, the man in charge of that visit was her father, Colliery Undermanager, Redfern Kaye.

On visiting the graveyard myself in order to locate the last resting place of Mary, I chanced on Mr Colin Booth, a farmer of this district in the past. When asked. Not only did he know where her headstone was placed, but he was able to add that the members of the Booth and Kaye families had inter married in the past.

Very fortunately Mary’s headstone was in the place of her interment, unlike many of the grave stones at that site which had been bulldozed/moved together after demolition of the church in the 1970’s. which included  memorial headstones to the Briggs’ founding fathers of the mining company.

A later review if the inquest report printed in the Pontefract & Castleford Express revealed the following:-

Killed in Whitwood Mine

•A tragic story was related to the Coroner (Major Arundel) and jury at the inquest held in the Memorial Hall, Whitwood of Mary Alnie Kaye of 19, Whitwood Terrace. The inquiry was attended by Mr Geo. Clarke, HM Inspector of Mines and Mr Simpkin, Colliery Manager.

•Mr Redfern Kaye stated that on the day of the accident, a party of students was being conducted through the Beeston Seam by himself and two other colliery officials. He added that his daughter (the deceased) and her sister were also included in the party. He said that the tour party were walking back in single file after leaving the coal face with the officials and himself positioned at the front and one each in the middle and at the rear.

•On hearing something give way, Mr Kaye said that he turned and saw that a section of the roof support had fallen and a piece of stone had come down with it and fallen on to a member of the party.
Mr Kaye said that he found his daughter had been pinned down with the stone on top of the bar. The stone, he reported did not touch his daughter but it completely covered her. The stone being so large, they, himself and Overman Wm Hughes were unable to move it and had to resort to breaking it up in order to release his daughter. This took one hour during which time other material was falling from the roof cavity. On release of the body, Mr Kaye said that he thought that his daughter’s death would have been instantaneous.

•Mr Hughes of 3, Whitwood Terrace who had assisted with conducting the party stated that at the rear he was aware of a small, then much larger fall of the roadway roof. Mr Hughes went quickly to the site of the fall when called by Mr. Kaye. Mr Hughes told the jury that he estimated between three and four tons of stone had fallen out of the roof. He added that the large stone measured something like 10ft by 3ft 6ins.

•Robert Schofield of 3, Mosby Place, Normanton said that he had examined the roadway at 7.30pm that evening and that it appeared to be quite safe. On making a further examination after the accident, he suggested that a slight weight on the stone had knocked the bar out and released the roof. He added that more stone had come down after the accident.

•Dr. Hillard of Normanton stated that when he examined the body of Miss Kaye at 10.45pm at the pit top she appeared to have been dead for about two hours and that she had sustained a fracture of the base of the skull which was the cause of death.

•Summing up, the Coroner said that no doubt all precautions had been taken for the safety of the party and that it was the first time a woman had been killed in the mines in this district. The jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ and expressed deepest sympathy towards the bereaved family. Mr. Simpkin, on behalf of the mining company also expressed regret at the tragic circumstances.

Redfern Kaye as undermanager and former mine official had previously lived at Holmes Villa on Little Church Lane, Methley (a residence leased by the mining company for the use of undermanagers).

It was at this address where Mary Alnie had been brought into this world for a life that was to experience the hardships of the Great War and then to have her vitality taken away from her at the age of just nineteen.

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