When complete, this eye-catching memorial in Derbyshire will display 106 stylistic, vaguely human-shaped figures, each almost 6 feet tall, representing coal miners walking to and from work. The total number corresponds with the number of lives lost in three major disasters in the area’s mines.
The memorial, designed by sculptor Stephen Broadbent, will eventually stretch in a snaking line of apparently work-bound or home-bound miners. They appear to be walking in pairs, individually or small groups from the nearby village of Duckmanton to the site of one of the mine shafts. Some figures are in silver and some in black. The black ones represent miners dirty with coal dust, on their way home from a shift—a common sight before the introduction of pithead showers in the 1940s.
There are currently only about 10 percent of the planned 106 figures. Each will have a bronze tag with the name, age, and specific job of one of the victims. It is said that the stylistic shapes, which hardly look like humans, are designed to continually prompt the question of what the installation is about and thus keep the memory of the three disasters alive.
The most recent of the accidents occurred in 1973 when the brake control rod on a winding engine broke due to metal fatigue. It caused the cage, fully loaded with miners, to plummet 1,400 feet to the bottom of the deep shaft. Eighteen people died and another 12 were seriously injured. The worst disaster occurred in 1938, when a massive explosion ripped through the mine, killing 79 miners and injuring 40. This explosion had been preceded a year earlier by another explosion that killed 9 workers.
The first batch of figures, many of which are sponsored by the victims’ families and loved ones, were unveiled in 2013 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1973 pit shaft accident.
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