Two hundred years may have passed but the respect Huddersfield holds for 17 girls killed in a mill fire disaster never fades.
The milestone was marked with a deeply moving service at Kirkheaton Parish Church for the victims of the blaze at Atkinson’s mill in Colnebridge in 1818.
The young victims aged between nine and 18 were trapped upstairs at the mill as a fierce fire took hold below.
Fifteen of the victims were recovered from the debris and are buried in a shared grave next to a memorial in the church grounds. Two were never found.
Historian Richard Heath organised a memorial service along with the rector of Kirkheaton the Rev Ian Jones today (Saturday) attended by almost 200 people.
Shadow Fire Minister Karen Lee, Labour MP for Lincoln, spoke about how fire safety has greatly improved over the years but last year’s Grenfell Tower disaster in London showed that new lessons can be learned and improvements made all the time.
The Rev Jones said: “What happened to those children 200 years ago was terrible but we can’t rest easy and think our day is so much better when there are young children in other parts of the world working 10 to 12 hours a day in bad conditions often making items for us here in the west. Grenfell Tower also shows that people can still lose their lives due to the poor decisions of others.”
Among the congregation were representatives from Kirklees Council – Mayor Christine Iredale gave a speech – West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and trades unions.
Richard, who read out his poem called Reflections In The Water about the fire, said: “It was a deeply moving service and such a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives. Many people came up to me afterwards to say how glad they were they had attended.”
Seventeen candles were lit by children at the service to remember each of the victims.
Hymns included Jerusalem, Abide With Me and The Lord’s My Shepherd accompanied by the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service Band. After the service one wreath was laid on the grave which Richard had arranged to be specially cleaned by stonemasons before the ceremony. Two more wreaths were laid on the monument next to the grave.
A plaque was unveiled by Kathy Butterworth, the great great great granddaughter of 11-year-old Sarah Moody who survived the fire which had been started accidentally by 11-year-old Jim Thornton after a candle he was holding brushed against some cotton.
A buffet in the church was sponsored by the union Unison.
This who died were Mary Hey 9, Elizabeth Drake 9, Martha Hey 9, Abigail Bottom 10, Elizabeth Stafford 11, Frances Sellers 12, Ellen Stocks 12, Mary Dutton 12, Ellen Haytack 13, Mary Moody 13, Elizabeth Ely 14, Mary Denton 14, Sarah Sheared 15, Mary Laycock 15, Sarah North 18, Nancy Carter 18 and Elizabeth Moody 18.
A candlelit vigil will be held at the scene of the fire this Wednesday at 5am, the time when the fire is reputed to have broken out.
And next Saturday at the Royal and Ancient pub at Colnebridge a plaque will be unveiled from 6.30pm onwards.
The fire will be featured on BBC1’s Inside Out programme on Monday at 7.30pm.