Rufford Colliery Disaster
Mansfield, Nottingham. 7th February 1913
These temporary wooden headstocks were erected during
the sinking of Rufford Colliery
between 1911 and 1913.
Photographs of Rufford Colliery
Mansfield, Nottingham, 7th February 1913.
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.
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.
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 timber work 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 inured died five days later as the result of his injuries.
Thomas Bradley was seriously injured but told the local paper of his experiences from his sick bed. He said:-
“I was with my mates at the bottom of the scaffold. We had been pumping water and I and Kemp and one or two of the 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 among 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, every one 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 on to the wrecked scaffold. It was all in fragments, smashed just like matchwood. The scaffold 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.”
The reporter commented that Bradley was terribly shaken by the experience and was visibly trembling all the time.
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 (a horizontal structural member in the roof) 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 he 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 a 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 placed there 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 some time 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 besides the chair and the engineman was winding the water barrel. When he had raised it about half way, one of the nails in the lath carrying the improvised canopy, appeared to have draw 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 enginehouse, 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 head gear 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.
One of the lugs by which the chain was attached to the water barrel was ripped off, all the rivets being shorn. From this moment it was held by one chain and this caused the‘clivy’ to fail. The ‘clivy’ was made of Lowmoor Iron in the rough at Mansfield Colliery which belonged to the Bolsover Colliery Co. Ltd., and was finished at the Rufford colliery. There was no latent sign of flaws in the metal and it was considered that there was a great safety margin before it should have failed.