Headstones erected for victims of Plumbley Colliery Disaster on 125th anniversary

Three headstones for children who drowned in a pond disaster 125 years ago were erected in South Sheffield yesterday.

Eckington cemetery hosted a service to commemorate the lives of Alfred Williamson and the three children who died in the Plumbley Colliery Disaster in 1895.

Mr Williamson lost his life after trying to save the three children who drowned in the frozen pond near to Seldom Seen Engine House.

Claire McLean who, along with Paul Burdett, began the project to erect the headstones said: “It’s part of our history, It’s part of our heritage. Everybody knows the story and everybody who hears about it is touched by it.”

Today marks exactly 125 years since Alfred Williamson, despite being unable to swim, rushed into the coalmine’s frozen pond after hearing the nearby screams of the three children who dropped below the ice.

The 24-year-old Engineman used his belt and a rope to attach himself to a nearby tree but died after the rope came loose.

Williamson was honoured with a hero’s burial, though the children, Esther Ann Riley, 11, Percey Riley, 9, and Rebecca Godson, 9, were buried in unmarked graves next to him.

In the 1980s, local man, Stan Ryan, paid for the children’s graves to be marked with wooden crosses which rotted over time.

Ms McLean and Mr Burdett, who run the local history website, Natural Eckington, began the campaign to raise money for headstones after lamenting the children whose families could not afford the expense of a headstone.

Ms McLean said: “We were down there one day, and we were discussing the state of the crosses saying what a shame it was and then Paul said: ‘why don’t we see if we can do something about it?’”

The two endeavoured to raise a total of £1000 for the headstones through their website and a GoFundMe page while also gaining donations from the Mosborough Historians Society.

The pair commissioned stonemason, Gary Daynes, who told Ms McLean: “Money is not an issue, it will happen whether you can pay or not”.

Despite the six and a half hours to carve each headstone, Mr Daynes offered to donate his time, charging only for the cost of the materials.

Eckington parish Council also waived the fees for the erection of the headstones and the ceremony, which was attended by locals and Eckington’s scout troop.

The Natural Eckington group plan to use any money left remaining from the fundraiser for future community projects.