SUTTON. Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. 21st. February, 1957.

The colliery was near Mansfield, Nottinghamshire and there were two shafts each 15 feet in diameter which were sunk in 1874 to the Top Hard seam by the Skegby Colliery Company and deepened during 1896 to 1897 to the Low Main seam at 467 yards deep. The Top Hard, Deep Hard, Deep Soft, Low Main and Piper seam had all been worked and the Top Hard had been exhausted many years before. At the time of the explosion the daily output was 1,200 tons of which 850 tons were from the Low Main seam which had been worked for 40 years. The remainder of the output came from the Piper seam.

The district in which the disaster took place was known as 28’s and was one and a quarter miles inbye in the Low Main seam 580 yards below the surface. Up to a month before the disaster, the seam had been worked by machine cutting at floor level, blasting and hand filling onto conveyor belts which fed a trunk conveyor. The system was changed when an Anderson shearer coal getting and loading machine was stated on the 28’s face on the 28th. January 1957. The district usually employed 30 men on the day shift, 12 on the afternoon shift and 10 on the night shift but on the 21st. February during the day shift when the explosion occurred there were 40 persons in the district including an electrician, a fitter and the undermanger.

The mine was ventilated by an exhausting direct-coupled steam driven Davidson Sirocco double inlet fan which was situated at the surface and circulated 115,000 cubic feet of air per minute at 3.3 inches water gauge. A new fan, driven by a diesel engine, which was designed to circulate 175,000 cubic feet per minute at a water gauge of 7.7 inches. This had been installed and was ready to use; the fan as first used three days after the explosion. The workings in the colliery were not particularly gassy but firedamp was found and safety lamps were used throughout the colliery. Those in general use were Oldham G.W. electric cap lamps. As firedamp detectors, Protector Type No.6 flame safety lamps, fitted with pyrophor bar internal igniters. Gauzes of all the flame lamps were of 28 mesh. Automatic firedamp detectors, Ringrose 47/125 Type, were provided but there was some reluctance on the part of the men to use them. There were only two in use in the mine at the time and neither of them was in the district involved.

The colliery was in the National Coal Board No.4 Area of the East Midlands Division and the principal officers at the time were Mr. F.D. Severn, Area General Manager, Mr. T. Wright, Area Production Manager, Mr. C. Round, Deputy Area Production Manager (Operations), Mr. J. Atkinson, Deputy Area Production Manager (Planning), Mr. T. Frith, Group Manager, Mr. A. Stone, Acting manager and Mr. W. Bacon Acting undermanager. The previous manager, Mr. E. Maiden, had left the pit to take charge of another colliery on the 1st February 1957 and the undermanager Mr. Stone, was temporally appointed as manager.

The officials in the low Main No. 28’s district, day shift were Mr. T, Buckley, overman, Mr. J.W. Kirk, deputy, Mr. S. Derbyshire, shotfirer. On the afternoon shift, Mr. W. Warren, overman, Mr. J. Aldred, deputy and on the night shift, Mr. A. Walker, overman and Mr. M. Cox, deputy. As was customary on these mechanised faces, the face work was split up into stints, each about 30 yards long. ten men working in pairs were employed for advancing the conveyor and for setting and withdrawing supports, five men were employed to fill the coal at the loader gate stable hole, remove the original left side pack of the loader gate and take up the floor of the loader gate so that the conveyor driving engine could be advanced. Four men were employed filling out the coal at the return gate stable and two additional men were working at the left end of the face where it was slowly being extended. At the time there were 34 men, a shotfirer, a deputy, an acting undermanger, two electricians and a fitter making a total of forty men in the district at the time of the disaster.

The coal in the Low Main seam was 3 feet 3 inches thick with a medium clunch floor and a roof of 9 inches of clunch, 4 feet 6 inches of coal and 35 feet of grey bind with 60 feet of sandstone above. There was a variable but thin section of sandy material between the grey bond and the sandstone. A double until coal face, 280 yards long, and was known as 30’s face had been advanced 1,250 yards to the north-west, rising at about 1 in 100, by orthodox machine cutting, blasting and handloading on to a face conveyor belt. There were three roads or gates of this face, the middle and right-hand gates were the intake airways and the left gate was the return. The middle gate was the loader and conveyor gate. Electricity was used to operate the machinery in the district.

On the 11th June 1956, at a point 120 yards inbye from the junction of 30’s loader gate and old 28’s face trunk road, a scouring was started from 30’s loader gate, driven through the waste to 30’s right side gate and for a further 15 yards to the solid coal on the right of 30’s right side gate. This road continued in the coal for about 10 feet and as about 12 feet wide. The face was then widened to about 30 feet and the road, still 12 feet wide, was carried forward with stone packs about 9 feet wide on each side. It was dipping about 1 in 8 and was supported by 12-foot steel arches which were 9 feet high. The ventilation came from an auxiliary fan 18 inches i diameter driven by a 5 H.P. electric motor which forced air through canvas ducting to the face. By 14th July 1956, this road had reached a point 63 yards from 30’s right side gate where it stopped.

A coal face, now called Old 28’s face, had been worked to the north-east but had been abandoned owing to difficulties in maintaining the roads. It was intended to develop a new face to replace Old 28’s face advancing in the same direction but leaving solid coal 80 yards wide between the ends of the Old and the New 28’s faces and also 50 yards of coal to the right oft he 30’s right side gate to protect the gate from damage. Plans were changed two or three t times both on the layout and the direction of advance of the New 28’s face and also as to the scheme of ventilation. Eventually it was decided to open New 28’s face 150 yards long, immediately to the right side gate, leaving no coal for protection of this road and extending to the left of the original development road.

The face was opened out by driving a road in the coal about 12 feet wide from the left side of the developing road fro 150 yards to the north-east in the same direction as the 30’s face and then to make a connection through the pack back into 30’s right side gate. This was completed on 29th December 1856 and this the new face was arranged to be ventilated with the original development road at the right end as intake, the air passing along 28’s face, along 30’s face and out along 30’s left gate as a return airway. This meant that 28’s and 30’s were ventilated in series. At the time the Coal Mines act, 1911 was still in force and therefore under the Electrical Regulations under the Act notice was required to be given of intention to introduce apparatus into the mine or any ventilating district of the mine, but in this case, 30’s and 28’s districts were part of the same ventilating district and electricity was already in use in that district.

After 28’s face had been advanced 10 feet by hand getting, and Anderton shearer coal getter loader, mounted on an armoured chain conveyor, both of which were electrically driven, was installed with what was known as the prop free front method of support to allow the conveyor to be advanced broadside following each cut of 20 inches by which the face advanced.

The roof at the face was supported by coupled 3 feet 3 inch long bars set to a triangular system on hydraulic props fitted with castellated heads. The system required rows of bars to be set at maximum intervals of 3 feet with 6 feet maximum intervals between props in the same row. The necessary authorisations and exemptions had granted under the provisions of the Coal and Other Mines (Support) Regulations. The maximum interval between the front row of props and the face was authorised to exceed 3 feet but not to exceed 5 feet. Alternate bars were to be advanced after each cut of 20 inches.

The original development road was both intake and loader gate, with the face conveyor discharging into a stage loader and then into the gate conveyor which extended to a common trunk road conveyor at the junction with 30’s face loader gate. To enable the original loader gate to function as loader gate it was necessary to remove a 3 yards wide pack at the face on the left side of the gate to allow the face conveyor and its driving machinery to be advanced after each cut. This roadside pack was rebuilt behind the face conveyor after each day’s coal getting, the original road having to be remade by taking up the floor and ripping the roof and putting in new steel arches, 12 feet wide and 9 feet high. The return gate at the left side of 28’s face was also roof ripped and packed on each side as the coal face advanced, 12 feet by 9 feet steel arches were set 3 feet apart, but within 20 feet or so of the face a similar sized arch was used. Strip packs, 3 yards wide, were built 9 yards apart in the waste between the two gate ends for the first 15 feet of advance of the coal face with the Anderton shearer.

Mr. Maiden was the manager at the time and he informed the Inspector for the District that he intended to stop the intermediate packs once the face had advanced far enough to establish proper control of the roof. The full caving system extended from the left side of the pack, 9 feet wide, of the loader gate to the right side of the pack of the return gate, a distance of about 130 yards was started on 11th February 1957 and was continued up to the time of the accident during which time the coal face had advanced a further 44 feet. The management claimed that full caving between the roadside packs was introduced earlier than originally intended because the roof wastes between the intermediate packs was not breaking down regularly to provide packing material. The waste edge support by chocks was doubled and the roof at the face improved.

The loader gate was already difficult because of the need to take out the 3 yards wide left side of the pack to enable the face conveyor and its driving machinery to discharge through to the stage loader and to rebuild it behind the conveyor. As might have been expected, these difficulties became much more serious after caving was started. Indeed large falls of roof occurred in the loader gate and continued as the coal face advanced. the road was widened to 17 feet by extending on the left side as the cavity left by the falls widened on this side. To cover this width, 5 feet long horizontal joists were inserted between the steel arches sections. For several days before and also between 6 and 7 a.m. on the morning of the explosion, falls occurred and had left a cavity about 36 feet long, 9 to 12 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet high, above the steel arches of the roadhead. to top and sides of this large cavity were only partly and inadequately secured by two wooden chocks built on the wood lagging pieces laid over the steel arches.

People had to work at the face under the edge of this cavity and the electric cables from the driving gear of the face conveyor were under it with only steel arches covered by boards to protect them against the danger of further falls. A fall occurred between 6 and 7 a.m. and partly buried the face conveyor engine and closed access to the coal face, so that the miners had to withdraw for a time and under the supervision of the undermanager and the deputy they helped to remove enough debris to enable the face conveyor to run again. This fall was liable to damage the machinery including the electrical gear in the roadhead. The fall was also liable to injure workmen but an electrician and a fitter examined the machinery and found it safe and it was agreed that it was safe to restart work. This was done without anything being done to secure the roof.

Regulation 12 of the Coal and Other Mines (Support) Regulations, 1956 required that:

If any a fall of roof or side involving the displacement or breakage of any support had occurred at a place where any person had to work or pass, it shall be the duty of the person for the time being in charge of that part of the mine forthwith to ensure that any roof or side exposed thereby is, if necessary, dressed and is secured by supports and that any such dressing and securing is done before any work of clearing debris is begun, other than such work of clearing debris as is necessary for the setting of supports.

At about 11 a.m., the Anderton shearer loader arrived back at the stable to the left of the loader gate, having completed its second cut. P. Smith and D. Reeves, loader gate stable hole men, were instructed by Mr. Bacon, acting as undermanger, to clean up on the face side of the face conveyor engine to enable it to be advanced 20 inches. They were doing this when a stone, about 3 feet by 3 feet by 18 inches fell from a height of 10 to 20 feet from the cavity above the arches and struck the conveyor motor. Immediately there was a flash and a bang and they were thrown forward onto the floor. A ball of flame, which appeared to be red and blue in colour, passed over them and they felt the heat. There was also thick dust and smoke.

The flame travelled at least the greater part of the loader gate to its junction with the 30’s loader gate. It also travelled most of the length of the face. Evidence of the flame passing along the face was given by J., Hill, return gate ripper. He said that at about 11.30 a.m. he and J. Flay were instructed by S. Derbyshire, shotfirer, to go 30 or 40 yards up the face to act as sentries while he fired two ripping shots in the return gate. Both shots were fired. Hill said he was in a kneeling position facing the loader gate. A few minutes after the second shot was fired, he felt a gust of hot dust-laden air and saw flame coming from the loader gate. This turned him completely around until he was facing the return gate. His left arm and neck were scorched. He had the impression that the flame travelled along the coal face to the left-hand end and returned along the waste side edge.

The men on the face made their way out, together with the men in the return gate, by groping their way in the dust to 306 right side gate, through the door and sheet on this gate, to 28’s loader gate. There was evidence that these men found difficulty in opening the door on 30’s right gate and found it could only be partially opened. The men employed in the loader gate made their way outbye groping along the 28’s gate conveyor to 30’s loader gate where the air was cleaner.

First aid was rendered to the injured men with what material was available. Eight of them were carried out on stretchers and the remainder either ran or were assisted out by colleagues. Some were naked to the waist. All 25 men received burns of varying degrees. Two were allowed to go home after treatment and 23 were admitted to Mansfield General Hospital. Most of the men had arrived at the Medical Centre about 12.25 p.m. The National Coal Board’s Area Medical Officer, Dr. Fernandez arrived at the colliery at 12.25 p.m. and found 15 men awaiting attention. Dr. Round, the Assistant Medical Officer arrived at 12.30 p.m. The first ambulance arrived at 12.50 and was quickly followed by others. The injured men were taken to hospital where a team of surgeons we ready to give attention. All the victims suffered multiple burns.

Those who died from their injuries:

  • W. Savage aged 29 years. Coal getter,
  • J.W. Betts aged 55 years. Ripper,
  • J. Lemm aged 35 years. Shearer assistant,
  • L. Reeves aged 45 years. Coal getter,
  • J. Godber aged 16 years. Supplies hand.

Those seriously injured:

  • G. Atterby aged 28 years. Faceworker,
  • S. Brewer aged 46 years. Shearer driver,
  • F. Bradley aged 32 years. Faceworker,
  • W. Bacon aged 37 years. Acting undermanager,
  • F. Clayton aged 33 years. Faceworker,
  • G.I. Deakin aged 16 years. Supplies hand,
  • W. Fudge aged 23 years. Faceworker,
  • C. Fudge aged 29 years. Faceworker,
  • J.W. Kirk aged 52 years. Deputy,
  • T. Lindley aged 30 years. Faceworker,
  • W. Middleton aged 33 years. Shearer assistant,
  • W. Riley aged 45 years. Faceworker,
  • H. Sage aged 17 years. Belt driver,
  • S. Wilson aged 32 years. Faceworker and
  • S. Ward aged 39 years. Faceworker.

A call was made to the Mansfield Rescue Station and they called the Chesterfield station for assistance. The Mansfield men descended the pit by noon and the Chesterfield team was at the colliery by 12.12 p.m. A fresh air base was established at the junction of 30’s loader and 28’s loader gates at 12.55 p.m. The teams were informed that all the men had been accounted for but two ponies had been left 200 yards along 30’s loader gate. They were brought out by the rescue team at 1.26 p.m. The rescue team explored 28’s loader gate and face and returned to the base at 2.30 p.m. They reported 3.5 per cent firedamp at 28’s return gate ripping and 2.5 per cent in 28’s return gate. The smouldering clothes and conveyor belting was suppressed with extinguishers. Mr. Firth, the Group Manager, arrived at the fresh air base at 2.40 p.m. and he instructed the rescue team to examine 28’s and 30’s faces and come out by 30’s return gate to the fresh air base. They reported the whole of the district clear and the canary which they carried was not affected.

The report of the causes of and the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at the Sutton Colliery, Nottinghamshire on 21st. February 1957, was conducted by A. Winstanley, C.B.E. D.Sc. H.M. Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines, and reported to The Right Honourable Lord Mills, K.B.E., Minister of Power on 11th. November 1957.

The inquest was delayed so that the injured men could recover to give evidence. At Mansfield on 7th October 1957, Mr. Winstanley attend the inquest before H.M. Coroner and a jury. On open verdict was returned on the dead. The inquiry examined the circumstances of the roof falls and said that steps should have been taken to control the movement of the strata and support the roof and sides were necessary for keeping the workplace secure and was required by the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954. With regard to e ventilation, it was found that there were difficulties with the new Davidson diesel-driven fan and it was not possible to start the fan until after the explosion. There had been difficulty in getting anemometer readings and there were many places that restricted the airflow. Little regard was taken to these restrictions and along with leakage, it was agreed that the ventilation was insufficient to prevent firedamp accumulating.

There were no reference to firedamp having been detected in the statutory reports. T. Buckley, the day shift overman made test in the loader gate on the 20th February but he made no tests in the cavity because Mr. Bacon, undermanger, and Mr. Kirk, deputy were in the district and he wanted to get away to 30’s district. The afternoon shift overman, W. Warren, said he tested for gas on the 20th February in the cavity in the roof. He found no gas and a ripper, W. Adams confirmed this. J, Aldred, the night shift overman also tested for gas in the cavity. He found no gas and two rippers H. Camm and H. Coleman saw him make the test. A. Walker the night shift overman had spent most of the time on the shift before the explosion, supervising the work in the loader gate. He saw a shot fired and tested for gas in the cavity along with N. Cox, the night shift deputy and no firedamp was found. S.  Derbyshire, shotfirer, fired shots in the coal at the loader gate stable hole at about 6 a.m. on 21st February. He did not teat in the cavity as he considered it too high and dangerous as small pieces of dirt were falling from the sides. There was no doubt that the cavity contained firedamp before the explosion and the overflow may have flowed off as a thin layer near the roof. It was also found that he management failed to have air samples and measurements taken as required by the Coal and Other Mines (Ventilation) Regulations, 1956 and the ventilation along the 28’s intake loader gate failed to dilute and render harmless the inflammable gas which eventually filled the cavity.

Contraband was not found in the district and smoking or naked lights could be ruled out as a source of ignition. All the lamps from the district were examined and found to be in good order. It was undoubtedly the electrical flash that was the source of ignition. The terminal box was smashed and forced into contact with another part of the earthed casing causing the flash and the resulting explosion.

The Inspector recommended that:

1). Falls of ground which result in large cavities such as occurred in this case can and should be prevented by well known methods of strata control and support. Small falls of ground show the need for more intensive support which is usually necessary also to prevent the falls from spreading. The top and sides of the activities left by such falls should be supported and packed and until this has been completed they should be ventilated to prevent accumulations of firedamp.

 2). Any large cavities in the roof should never be concealed by supports and cover boards, which act as an umbrella and are unable to prevent danger from further falls and from accumulations of firedamp.

 3). A minimum of 20 feet of packing should be stipulated between a road used for ventilation of transport and any waste exceeding 100 feet in width.

 4). Electrical apparatus and cables should be effectively protected against damage such as might cause incendive open sparking, or, where this is impracticable, the electrical apparatus or cables should be moved to a safe place.

 5). The possibility of elimination indecendive sparking, by reducing the time of acting of automatic devices for cutting off electricity in the event of excessive earth leakage or short circuit, should be investigated.

6). Section 55 (1) (a) of the Mines and Quarries Act, 1956, requires the manager of every mine to take such steps as are necessary for the securing that there is constantly produced in all parts of the mine below ground ventilation adequate for the purpose:

 Diluting gases that are inflammable or noxious so as to render them harmless and removing them.

 In this connection ventilation standards on the planes suggested in National Coal Board Bulletin No. 55/153 entitled “Planning the Ventilation of new and reorganised Collieries” should be applied to all mines and efforts should be made without delay to bring these below the standards at least up to the minimum suggested.

 7). Where two intake roads are provided to any coal face without a return airway between them, they should not be more than 30 yards apart to avoid unreliable ventilation of that part of the face between them.

After the disaster it was decided by HM Inspectors and the National Coal Board officials that the cavities should be drained of firedamp by means of pipe columns and if necessary the use of a venturi ejectors. Further work in the panel was stopped until it was sure that there was no residual burning in the area and the work on the cavities was completed b the 7th March 1957 when an inspection was carried out and work resumed.


The report of the causes and the circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at the Sutton Colliery, Nottingham on the 21st February 1957 by A. Winstanley, C.B.E., D.Sc., H.M. Deputy Chief Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 25th March 1957, p.419, 9th January 1958, p.59.

Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.

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