Peaceful we gnomes in our underground homes
beneath restful hillside by Coppull Hall Farm.
From this pastoral scene few men can divine
that the whole panorama is riddled with mines.
If you want to see deep, come one with the gnomes,
like a feather through air sink into the loam,
in the warren of chthonic history
behold the earth’s grave tragedy:
Upon the retreat the timbers were weak.
The roof fell in between shunts two and three.
When Smith arrived to examine the rubble
he advised to beware as the current of air
was deathly still and signaled trouble.
Ellis agreed, yet no-one took heed
for when men cannot afford to shirk
in spite of peril they set to work.
By a naked flame to the perilous place
the pit exploded at seven am
(for the price of a safety lamp is scandalous
when a miner can barely afford a candle).
A gust of thick dirt blown up the shaft
was finally followed by the cage.
Burnt and bruised, dazed and confused
from the blasted labyrinth ninety escaped.
In the suffocating depths forty remained.
Some ventured back into the black damp,
risking their lives for family and friends.
Braving the gas for cageloads of corpses
choked in the rescue Ellis met his end.
Thirty six killed below the hills,
breath lies sallow, blood runs deep…
a primal wound to our catacombs
which opens to gape in a chasm steep
so this buried tale again can seep
like a feather on air where pewits weep
over memories of gnomes in underground homes
sealed beneath six thousand tons of stone.
*At New Pit, Coppull Colliery on May 22nd 1852 an explosion caused by ignition of fire damp cost 36 miners their lives. When I visited the location in August 2011 the farmer who owns the land told me about a recent cave-in which been filled by 6,000 tons of stone.