The Rufford Colliery Disaster

by Frank E Earp 

The colliery was about five miles to the N.E. of Mansfield, Nottingham and was owned by the Bolsover Colliery Company, Limited. Fourteen men were killed and four others injured when a water barrel fell down the sinking shaft.

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Rufford Colliery
Credit: Picture the Past

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

The No.1 shaft, in which the accident occurred, was sunk by a steam crane to a depth of 80 feet in the New Red Sandstone Measures when the operations encountered a problem with water. Sinking was then stopped. Permanent headgear pillars, winding engines and winding houses were erected. Both the winding engines were of the same size, consisting of a pair of 36 inch diameter cylinders with a 7 foot stroke with a flat winding drum 20 feet in diameter. They worked at a steam pressure of 160 lbs. Per square inch and the steam was supplied from four Lancashire boilers, each 30 feet long and 9 feet in diameter.

When the work of erecting the plant and machinery was completed, work on sinking the pit was resumed on 5th June, 1912. Considerable trouble was encountered owing to the quantity of water found in the sandstone but it was dealt with by tubbing off with cast iron tubbing.

At the end of 1912, the bottom of the New Red Sandstone Measures was reached at 145 yards from the surface. The whole of the water met with was dealt with by means of pumps and a suction barrel, and was tubbed off by eight lengths of tubing, by these means the maximum quantity of water dealt with at any one time did not exceed 1,600 gallons per minute. The total length of tubbing in the pit up to this depth was 116 yards 2 feet 9 inches.

The sinking was then continued in the Magnesian Limestone. It was anticipated that water would be encountered in this strata and for the first 12 yards it was found to be perfectly dry. A feeder of water delivering 260 to 300 gallons per minute was then encountered which was dealt with by means of a suction barrel. After sinking a few more yards to 162 yards, a crib was put in the limestone and a length of tubbing of between 20 and 21 yards was being put in. All except two the two rings at the top had been placed in position when the accident occurred.

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 as 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.

The ‘winding gear’ of a colliery was operated by an ‘engineman,’ from a chair set in front of control leavers. This was skilled work requiring a degree of concentration. Around a week before the accident, a violent gale and rain storm had loosened the slates of the winding house roof. This had allowed the rain water to seep in under the tiles and run down onto the horizontal beams supporting the roof. Rain was also coming in through the ventilation in the centre of the roof. This produced a constant drip of water directly onto the head of the engineman seated at the controls.

Annoyed by this constant distraction, the engineman at the time, John Hollingsworth, had taken it upon himself to erect a temporary shelter over the chair. The canopy was constructed by nailing a piece of wood either side of the chair which projected forward above the head of the occupant. Over the two laths was placed a piece of brattice cloth. The roof was later repaired and the cloth was removed.

On the day of the accident another violent storm had caused the roof once again to leak and produce a constant drip of water onto the head of the engine man, Sydney Brown. Brown placed a heavy horse rug (9 lb.) over the laths, but this quickly began to sag under its own weight and that of the pooling water. In an attempt to remedy this, Brown laid a heavy plank of wood across the laths under the blanket.

Shortly before the accident, Brown had complained of a problem with the electric lighting in the winding house. Whilst winding the water barrel, he was engaged in a conversation with one of the banksmen, (supervisor) about this matter. As the barrel began to approach the top of the shaft and Brown was about to begin breaking, disaster struck. Under the weight of the blanket and accumulated water, the nails holding the laths loosened causing them to tip forward. The rug dropped down over Brown’s head and the plank under it slid out and dropped down between the leavers controlling steam brake and throttle. Brown managed to extricate himself from the blanket and together with the banksman, managed to free the piece of wood from between the leaves. Although Brown shut-off the steam and apply the brake thus preventing an overwind, such was the momentum of the barrel that it continued upwards under its own volition. The barrel struck the beams carrying the bell of the detaching hook and it fell back with such force that the spring hook was pulled open. The barrel now fell back down the shaft striking one of the cross beams of the head gear nearest the winding engine house and was deflected to the other side where it struck the door of the top landing. It then rebounded back across the shaft, to striking the opposite door of the bottom landing. From here it fell 156 yds. to the scaffolding below.

The Rufford Colliery began production later in October 1913, after the top-hard coal seam had been reach at a depth of 554 yds. The nearby village of Rainworth expanded rapidly when the Company built new housing to accommodate 400 miners and their families. The Colliery continued in production for for 80 years finally closing in 1993. The disaster of 1913 was the largest single loss of life in the Colliery’s history.

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Sinking the Pit Shaft for Rufford Colliery, circa 1911-13
Credit: Picture the Past

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About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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3 Responses to The Rufford Colliery Disaster

  1. Excellant write up about the 1913 disaster.
    I was employed at Rufford colliery for 10 years (1946 to 56 )
    I was an electrician .based on the surface in the craftshops.
    During those years ,no one ever mentioned the disaster in 1913, as far as the details you have revealed in your article.are concerned..
    The facts leading up to the disaster were incredible..
    Again congratulations for such an in depth article.
    Those early days were definately death traps, for anyone involved in the sinking of the mine shafts,
    Ken Moore
    .PS. I have lived in Canada & the USA for the last 57 years & enjoy reading about the village I grew up in .which is Rainworth..
    Thanks to all the articles those good people of Rainworth have put on Facebook..

  2. My aticle is OK to post if you feel it is of any interest to others that worked at Ruffoed colliery in those early days.
    Ken Moore

  3. Hi Ken,

    We are glad you liked the article. The accident was terrible and like you say those early days were certainly death traps. But it is from accidents like the Rufford one, where we have learnt a hard lesson and improved the health and safety in mines since. May we ask you which article you are referring to for us to post?

    Kind regards

    The Nottingham Hidden History Team.

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