John Riley- The Youngest Oaks Disaster Volunteer

As we mark the 150th anniversary of the Oaks Colliery Disaster we have received some amazing stories from descendants of the families involved.

John Riley, the youngest Oaks Disaster volunteer
John Riley, the youngest Oaks Disaster volunteer

We have been sent this amazing photograph of John Riley, one of the brave volunteer rescuers at the 1866 Oaks Colliery Disaster.

John Riley was a Welshman who moved to Barnsley in 1865 he was only 17 at the time of the disaster, making him the youngest volunteer rescuer involved. He walked all the way to Barnsley from Wales looking for work and was a Welsh speaker.

He was walking home with his friend John Barker after a shift at Mount Osbourne Colliery when they heard the news. John Barker’s brother and his three sons worked at the Oaks Colliery, he shouted, “Oh, our poor Jim and his lads.”

Riley and Barker rushed to the scene and descended the pit with the other volunteers. His team was lead by Robert Cadman who’s son, John, was amongst those trapped underground. Riley’s team was relieved by the next shift of volunteers and he arranged to go back underground the next morning.

“When I arrived at the pit…the second explosion occured. This blew the cage into the headgear, bricks and other things flew in all directions, and with so many people about, it was a wonder many of us were not killed. Those pals of ours, who had left us to got to the pit, went down with the last draw, and all perished. We should have met the same fate had we been a minute of two sooner.” John Riley

A big thank you to Julia Woodhall for sharing this story.

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