'Opening Bignall End mine is like digging up a grave'
OUTRAGED descendants of miners who gave their lives in a colliery disaster have claimed a plan to reopen the site is like 'digging up a graveyard'.
UK Coal has lodged plans to extract 450,000 tonnes of coal from a site at Great Oak, Bignall End, over 15 months.
Families say the plans are disrespectful to those who died in the 1895 Diglake disaster at Bignall Hill as more than 40 bodies are still trapped beneath the ground.
But UK Coal insists the new mine will not go deep enough to disturb the miners' remains.
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Judith Edgeley, from Red Street, near Audley, is campaigning after her great-great grandfather William Roberts died in the disaster, aged 42. He left behind three children when he drowned along with 77 men and boys in an underground flood.
Mrs Edgeley, aged 47, who lives close to the proposed access road to the site in Hawthorne Road, said: "The fact my great-great grandfather died at Diglake has underpinned my whole reason for campaigning against the opencast mine.
"UK Coal is going to be digging right above the East Seven seam and that is where there is the biggest concentration of bodies. Nobody knows exactly where these men are buried so how can the company promise that they will not be disturbed?"
Mrs Edgeley was often told about the day Robert died in the mine by her great-grandmother Dinah Wright.
She said: "As Dinah was only six years old at the time she didn't understand what had happened. She always remembered it, though, and told how she was walking down the street when she came across a woman crying into her apron.
"It is so sad because at that time she didn't realise her own father had died." After Mr Roberts was killed his wife had a mental breakdown and was put in an asylum where she spent the rest of her days. The three children including Dinah were orphaned.
Mrs Edgeley said: "A lot of people around here lost loved-ones that day and some may have lost husbands and sons."
The Diglake disaster, in January 1895, was caused as thousands of gallons of water gushed into the pit through a crack in the coal face from an abandoned shaft. Three bodies were finally brought to the surface in the early 1930s but the rest have never been exhumed.
If plans go ahead, mining will be re-introduced to the area and about 60 people will be employed at the site.
In a bid to halt the scheme, villagers have launched Campaign Against Great Oak Opencast (CAGOO).
Chairman Claire Hansbury, aged 32, of Ravens Lane, Bignall End, said: "Everything we do is underpinned by respect for those who died. We believe the land should be classed as consecrated. After finding bodies in the 1930s they said enough was enough and capped off all the shafts to say goodbye to those who died. To start again would be like digging up a grave yard."
Dave Bolton, National Operations Manager at UK Coal, claimed that at its deepest, the proposed mine would only come within 80 metres, horizontally, of the tunnels where the miners' remains are believed to be at rest.
He said: "As a coal mining company, we are extremely mindful of the sensitivities that surround any mining activity in the vicinity of historic colliery disasters.
"We are absolutely certain we will not disturb the Diglake disaster area during the course of our operations.
"The details of our working area were shown to residents at our public exhibitions and demonstrated the significant distance between the disaster area and our proposed working area. We realise this is an important issue and we will of course continue to remain sensitive to local feelings on this matter."