Fire at Colne Bridge Mill [1818]

Colne Bridge Mill was a cotton mill on the Colne owned by Thomas Atkinson and Law Atkinson.

On 14th February 1818, a group of children working the night shift, were locked in whilst the overlooker went for his evening meal, or had gone home to bed.

Around 5:00 am, James Thornton, a 10-year-old boy, had been sent into the card room in order to fetch some roving. He carried a lighted candle, instead of the glass lamp provided expressly for the purpose. The flame accidentally set fire to some cotton and a fire broke out.

The boy ran up the stairs to inform the workers.

Thr flames spread to the top rooms where several thousand pounds (in weight) of cotton was set ablaze.

Two overlookers got the children to the top of the stairs, but some ran back into the mill and were suffocated by the smoke.

A ladder was positioned to allow the children to escape through a window at the opposite end of the mill, but the fire drove them back, and the floor gave way.

9 children survived, but 17 girls – aged between 9 and 18 – died:

Newspaper reports said that

the bodies of 15 of the sufferers [were] in so mutilated a state as to render it impossible for their nearest friends to recognise them

The girls are buried in the churchyard in nearby Kirkheaton.

It is said that the overlooker lost the key to let the workers out.

Another story says that the overlooker was on-site and ordered those who were trying to escape to go back into the mill.

The property was insured by the Sun and Phoenix Fire Offices.

An enquiry decided that no person was to blame.

It is said that the Dumb Steeple may be a memorial to the girls

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 15:24 / 24th May 2021 / 4569

Page Ref: X2095

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