Our poignant visit to Markham Vale

We look at our visit to the Markham Vale Memorial Trail, on 23 June 2022, in this blog.

Sandra struggles and Vicky Jacques were our guides
around the ‘Walking Together Memorial Trail’ which commemorates those killed in the three Markham Colliery disasters of 1937, 1938 and 1973. Sandra and Vicky are  volunteers on the Markham mining heritage group who have been researching the people who were sadly lost in the disasters and their families. The trail features a series of large metal statues by Stephen Broadbent.

As the Walking Together website explains:

Walking Together’ is a mining memorial at the Markham Vale Business Park designed to commemorate 106 miners who tragically lost their lives in 3 disasters at Markham Colliery.

The business park was developed by Derbyshire County Council and HBD on the site of the former colliery and the memorial acts as a permanent reminder of the site’s strong mining heritage. Each statue symbolises a miner’s journey to the pit and represents the men who lost their lives in the 3 accidents in 1937, 1938 and 1973.

Sandra gave us a brief introduction to the project at the Markham Vale Environment Centre before our walk started. She explained the project mentioning that there were only only 13 statues left to realise the full commemorative trail of 106 statues.

Sandra Struggles (slightly left of centre), introduces walkers to the Markham Vale Memorial Trail.

The statues are in the form of representations of men walking to work, on the route that they would have followed from Duckmanton to Markham Colliery (representing the many routes that miners would have taken to the pit) on the three fateful days of the disasters – never to return.

We were also fortunate to have two ex-employees of Markham Colliery, who were able to point out some remainders of the colliery and of the mining industry. These included the large National Coal Board (NCB) Central Workshops at Duckmanton (opened in the 1950s), the Markham Colliery canteen and pit-head baths. The Central workshops acted as the repair and refurbishment centre for electrical and mechanical equipment across the former north Derbyshire area of the NCB.

Sandra spoke about various men and their families commemorated in the statues, which made for a very poignant reminder of the price of coal.

On our way round the trail, which starts at the Markham Vale Environment Centre, we visited the approximate site of the shaft involved in the 1973 disaster where there is a commemorative stone. You can read more about the disasters by following the link here, but summarised they were:

  • Thursday 21st January 1937. A flame escaped from a faulty covering plate on a coal cutting machine. In the resultant explosion seven men were killed, with two further dying later in hospital. 
  • Monday 9th May 1938. An explosion of gas at the coal face ripped through many areas of the mine. 79 men were killed, with 40 injured. All the 79 men were buried on Saturday, 14th May in 13 cemeteries across the district.
  • Monday 30th July 1973. A component failed in the winding engine causing the pit cage (used to access the shaft and workings) to plunge to the pit bottom (around 1320 feet below ground). The ascending cage crashed through the winding house roof at speed. Thirteen men died with another five later in hospital. Eleven other men in the cage and one rescue worker were seriously injured.
Road-side stone near the site of Markham Colliery.

We’ve a photograph on our website of some of the funeral vehicles of R Wetton & Son at Ringwood Road, Brimington, on the occasion of the Markham Colliery disaster funerals of 1937. 

We continued on the trail route which leads under the M1 to the bottom of Robertson’s Avenue, Duckmanton where the trail ends. We did, however, head further up into Duckmanton, to the church cemetery, where some victims of the disasters are buried.

Along the way we heard about how Duckmanton village had become developed (by the Industrial Housing Association for the Staveley Coal & Iron Company) in the 1920s, courtesy of our vice-chairman.

The series of large metal statues by Stephen Broadbent really do give the impression of men walking together. Each statue has a tag on it giving brief details of the individual it commemorates. The light coloured statues represent the men who were going on shift, dark statues those finishing their work. The wildflowers are a result of a relaxed mowing regime, seeking to add interest and wildlife habitat enhancement.

Our thanks to Sandra and Vicky for guiding us around the trail and to Peter Storey and staff of the Markham Vale Environment Centre for their hospitality.

If you want to walk the trail yourself you can download the leaflet from the page here. If you have mining stories to tell, particularly about Markham Colliery the group would interested to hear from you at contact@beam.uk.net.

2 thoughts on “Our poignant visit to Markham Vale

  1. Thank you Phillip, That was a really accurate description of our visit. It reminded me of some of the details I hadn’t managed to commit to memory. I will go again – it’s the sort of thing where once isn’t enough.

    Thanks again, Lynne Evans.

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