200th Anniversary of the Colne Bridge Mill Fire

Commemoration of Bicentenary of Atkinson’s cotton mill fire tragedy - 10 February 2018

Almost two hundred years to the day approximately 200 people attended a service at Kirkheaton Parish Church to commemorate the bicentenary of the tragic mill fire at Colne Bridge on 14 February 1818 when seventeen young girls aged between 9 and 18 died. The girls had worked throughout the night and were nearing the end of the shift when a misplaced candle on the lower floor started a blaze that destroyed their workplace and took their lives.

A plaque (pictured above) was unveiled by Kathy Butterworth, a descendant of one of the few survivors, Sarah Moody [11 years old when she escaped from the blaze].

The event was also attended by the Mayor, Christine Iredale, originally from Kirkheaton. Other speakers included Cllr Judith Hughes, Chair of West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Authority.

During the commemoration 17 candles were lit as the names of the victims were read out. Following the service members of the TUC laid wreaths at the Fire Memorial. An official of the Fire Brigade laid another on the headstone of the communal grave where the remains of 15 of the girls were interred.

There are a number of other ways that the bicentenary is being marked:

A group of volunteers under the leadership of Lucy Dockray of the Canal and River Trust,  are producing a memorial garden on the canal bank next to the site where Atkinson’s mill stood. Another plaque was unveiled on the 17th February at The Royal and Ancient pub which stands on the site of the original Spinners pub where the inquests were held.

A public artwork has also been commissioned to create a lasting memorial to the 17 children. Seventeen birds have been designed by pupils from Salendine Nook High School, under the leadership of Artist, Ged Walker. The birds themselves were cut from sheet steel and have been individually decorated by the children. As well as undertaking the art sessions they went on  a trip to a mill museum in order to understand the conditions that children their own age, and younger would have endured 200 years ago.

If permission is granted they will be mounted on what is the old boiler house of Thomas Haigh’s mill.  The bricked up wall to the right is where Atkinson’s cotton factory stood in 1818. The group has also adopted a stretch of canal a short distance from the site of the fire.

A talk on the tragedy was given by Richard Heath on Thursday 15th February at Kirkheaton Community Centre. He has conducted a considerable amount of research into the event and the families affected by the tragedy.