Rufford Pit Disaster Inquiry. Image originally in the Nottingham Evening Post, April 3rd, 1913. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (


This is the first of our Mining Blogs concerning Nottinghamshire’s 20th century coalmining disasters, where a number of coalminers lost their lives.

We are writing these Blogs in support of our campaign for a coalmining memorial at Berry Hill Park, the miners’ park.  We hope that one day, relatives of all those killed in Nottinghamshire’s mines will be able to visit the Memorial and remember the relative they lost in these tragic accidents.

We start today with the Rufford Colliery disaster.

Fourteen men were killed and four others injured when a water barrel fell down the sinking shaft.

“It was a wild, bleak night”,

said the correspondent of The Mansfield Reporter and Sutton Times in his report for the paper on the 14th February, 1913. 

“One of the survivors, Thomas Bradley described his experience to the Press representative of the Mansfield Reporter and Sutton Times as follows:  “I was with my mates at the bottom of the scaffold.  We had been pumping water, and I and Kemp and one or two others were standing nearer to the wall than the rest.  All of a sudden we heard a terrific roaring noise and before we could realise what had happened this awful thing burst amongst us.

 ” Several of my mates were smashed clean through the scaffold, and even in that flash of time I realised that they had been terribly smashed up.  We were all shot into the water – everyone of us – and I tell you it was terrible in the pitch darkness.

“I managed to seize hold of the communication cord, and although I was fearfully shaken I managed to scramble up onto the wrecked scaffold. It was all in fragments, smashed just like matchwood.  The scafffold was not far above the water, and I was able to help up one or two others.  Poor George Kemp was in terrible agony, but he managed to get up with a broken leg.”

This report of the accident is taken from the website of the Northern Mines Rescue Society, for which we thank them.  The full report can be found on their website:  Rufford Colliery Shaft Accident – Mansfield – 1913 – Northern Mine Research Society (

“There were two shafts at the colliery, No.1, 21 feet in diameter and No.2, 18 feet in diameter which were being sunk of Lord Savile’s estate of which an area of 5,000 acres of the well-known Top Hard and other seams had been leased to the Bolsover Colliery Company.

“A scaffold was suspended about 18 yards from the bottom of the shaft and 3 feet above the water by means of six chains and two ropes, and was raised and lowered by strong capstan engine. The ropes were used a guides for the water barrel and hoppits. There was an opening about 6 feet 4 inches square in the centre of the scaffold through which the hoppit or suction water barrel passed from the drawing of dirt or water. The scaffold had been raised to where the segments of the tubbing were being placed in position about 18 yards above the bottom of the shaft and water was being raised through the opening in the scaffold.

“Eighteen men were on the scaffold, some moving segments and some cutting the side of the shaft back to make room for the tubbing. The shift had been at work for five hours, and up to that time nothing unusual had happened and the manager and master sinker had been down the shaft about half an hour before.

“About 7.30 p.m., the suction barrel, full of water and weighing about 5 tons 1 cwt., fell down the shaft, smashed the whole of the timberwork of the scaffold to fragments and thirteen of the men either stunned or injured were thrown into the water which was 49 feet deep at that time. They probably drowned before they recovered consciousness. The remaining five men were severely injured but managed to cling to remnants of the scaffold and were rescued about an hour later. One man who was very severely injured died five days later as the result of his injuries.”

“On Friday night 7th February, there had been violent gale and a lot of rain and this caused the rain to blow under the slates of the roof in the winding engine house or through the ventilator in the centre of the roof. The water ran down the slates to a purlin above the engineman’s head and dripped on him. The same thing had happened during similar storms about a week and six months before.

“One of the enginemen, John Hollingsworth, had improvised shelter over the chair in which the sat while working the engine, about nine days prior to the accident. It was constructed by nailing two laths, each 3 feet 6 inches long and two and a quarter inches wide by three-eighths thick, one on each side of the chair. They were secured by one and half-inch nails spaced 9 inches apart and the laths projected beyond the chair without any other support. Across these were places two or three light pieces of wood and at the time of the accident, a horse rug, weighing about 9 lbs. was in position over them and a piece of wood about 4 feet 4 inches long and six and a half inches wide by 1 inch thick was s placed by another engineman, Sydney Brown, under it to prevent it from sagging and falling on his head. The accident occurred during Brown’s shift and he had been on duty three hours when it happened.

“A similar canopy had been constructed sometime before but the leak in the roof had been repaired and the structure done away with. This structure was made with brattice cloth and not a horse rug.

“Shortly before the accident occurred the banksman had gone into the engine house to speak to the winding engineman about the electric light. The engineman had complained about it a few minutes before and at the time of the disaster the banksman was standing beside the chair and the engineman was winding the water barrel. When he had raised it about halfway, one of the nails in the lath carrying the improvised canopy, appeared to have drawn out, either by the weight of the rug or the wind lifting it, causing it to fall back and free the nail. The rug fell down and enveloped the engineman’s head, and the board which he had placed under the rug slid down the lath and fell between the levers by which the steam brake and throttle worked. To check the speed of the engine and finally stop it, it was necessary to push one lever forward and pull the other back but owing to the piece of wood between them it was impossible to do this. The banksman and the engineman attempted to get the piece of wood from between the levers and, according to the evidence of both men, they managed to do this.

“The engineman, Brown, shut off the steam and applied the brake and appeared to have partially checked the speed and the rope end did not go into the engine house, however, this was not sufficient to prevent a rapid overwind. The “Ormerod” hook acted satisfactorily in detaching the rope and suspending the water barrel. The momentum was so great that the barrel flew up and the piston rod with which it was fitted struck the beams carrying the bell of the detaching hook and it fell back with such force that the “clivy”, or spring hook, was pulled open. The water barrel then fell down the shaft. from the marks that were visible after the accident on the headgears and doors at the top of the pit, it appeared to have struck one of the cross beams of the headgear nearest to the winding engine house and was deflected to the other side where it struck the top of one of the doors on the top landing, rebounded to the other side and stuck the opposite door of the bottom landing, and after the bottom door was cleared, fell down the shaft onto the scaffold 156 yards below.”

“The men who died were:

  • John Smith (Tandbrose) aged 42 years, married with a grown up family,
  • William Hollins aged 15 years,
  • Harry Scott, Jesse Hart aged 26 years,
  • William Storey married with four children,
  • Harry Woodward married with two children,
  • Andy Dagnall,
  • Frank Dagnall,
  • James Wigman who had a grown up family,
  • Peter Mulligan,
  • T. Jordan,
  • Joseph Petit,
  • Joseph Knowles
  • Frederick Padden who died on Monday night.

The injured were:

  • George Kemp,
  • Samuel Overton,
  • Tom Tennant,
  • Tom Bradley.

We remember them.  We hope to remember them and all those who lost their lives in Nottinghamshire’s coalmines, when we are successful in our Campaign to create a Mining Memorial, on the Miners’ Park, Berry Hill Park, Mansfield.

Categories: News.