Another colliery explosion

A previous post was about the 1869 colliery explosion near Wigan in which James Cayley died. On 5 April 1880 there was a gas explosion at the New Pit at Middleton Colliery, between Wakefield and Leeds. Luckily most of the men had finished their shift and left the pit. But several were badly burnt, one was killed on the spot, and one died from injuries a few days later. The man killed outright was listed as Joseph Cayley.

Some 55 years earlier there had been a worse disaster at Middleton Colliery, on 12 January 1825. That time 26 people were killed in an explosion caused by firedamp, the youngest only 7 years old (young children toiled in the mines, drawing loads of coal through narrow passages), and 5 were injured. Only a Thomas Caley escaped unhurt. Some £1,000 was quickly raised to help the widows and orphans.

Surname spelling between Cayley and Caley could be quite fluid for families not descended from the Cayley baronets. The death index for England and Wales shows that Joseph was 42 and gives his surname as Caley (without the first ‘y’). He was almost certainly Joseph Caley recorded at Middleton in the 1861 census as coal miner, age 23, son of Thomas Caley, 62, coal miner and Sarah, 59. I would surmise that this is the Thomas Caley who escaped the 1825 explosion. One of Joseph’s brothers, William, age 30, was also a coal miner. The other recorded siblings were Thomas, 22, fitter, and Emma, 17, wool filler. By the 1871 census Joseph had his own household: wife Mary (33), children Ada (6), Alfred (4) and Florence (under 1). There is no record of him in the 1881 census.

Another Joseph Caley of Middleton, age 14 in 1861, when he was a coal miner, was closely related – he was staying with his wife Harriet in 1871 in the same household as the first Joseph: but by then he had left the mines and become a mechanic, and in the 1881 census he is recorded as living at Hunslet (now part of Leeds) with his wife Harriet and four children, and working as an engine fitter. My guess would be that the two Josephs were first cousins.

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