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Falling Down The Shaft Entering/Leaving The Mine
Or Working At The Shaft Side

449 deaths of which 20 were boys aged 16 and under happened in this manner, the youngest being a boy of six and a half years of age. William Deakin went to work with his father at a Trowell Moor pit on 29 July 1835, the shaft depth was 15 yards, when entering the chains a friend of William suggested that he sit on his shoulders which he did, during the decent both boys fell from the chains into the bottom and were injured. William died from internal injuries the following day.

A large number of deaths from this cause were caused by slipping or stumbling at the shaft top or being pulled from the chains whilst descending or ascending the mine. The newspaper reports of many of the incidents are quite graphic in the description of the accident, highlighting limb dismemberment decapitation and other serious injuries to the victim s bodies. A less lurid example was when an eleven year old boy fell 372 feet into Brinsley pit, the report stated he rebounded six feet when he reached the bottom, his limbs were broken and his head badly fractured.

Two brothers had a terrible experience in September 1837 at the Selston pit, 11 year old William Kirkland and his brother Joseph were descending into the pit when the hook of the ascending chain caught in William s clothes and pulled him out of the chain causing him to fall to his death, the hook then fastened onto Joseph's waistcoat and started to lift him from the chain but the cloth tore, releasing the hook and he managed to cling to the chain until he reached to bottom where was confronted by his dead brothers body.


The introduction to this book notes the imposition of a ‘Deodand’ by the Coroner at an inquest; two were imposed at mining inquests involving shaft deaths.

The first was at Eastwood pit, on 27 February 1836, six boys were preparing to enter the pit and were on the Capstan when it ran out of control and all the boys were thrown to the ground, 11 year old Joseph Fletcher was thrown against a post and struck by the Capstan handle which caused his death. At the inquest held the next day a Deodand of one shilling was imposed on the Capstan.

The other incident caused two deaths and a serious injury. On 14 August 1839 John Siddon 40 and his son along with William Fisher aged 28 were being drawn out of Awsworth pit, when hallway up the engine stopped for lack of steam. On restarting the ascent the unfortunate men were drawn over the pulley wheel and thrown to the ground. John Siddon and William Fisher were killed and the younger Siddon severely injured. At the inquest it was stated that 14 year old Sampson Chambers was in charge of the engine and he did not see the men as they came out of the shaft. He had mended the fire after the stoppage but another man named Wheelacre had re started the engine, and after the accident he had run away after what the colliers had said to him. Wheelacre denied being in the engine house but two witnesses saw him coming out of it, the jury said that no one as young as 14 should be in charge of this equipment. The Coroner imposed a Deodand of 15 on North and Wakefield s machinery, in each instance the Coroner was Mr C. Swann.

A sad occurrence happened at the Selston pit on Saturday night 18 June 1836, fourteen boys were riding the chains to come out of the pit, 9 year old Joseph Ellis was sitting on the knee of another boy when the down chain wrapped around his neck and pulled him off the lad s knee. Joseph suffered dreadful injuries and was killed, the other boy managed to cling to the chain and survived.

The following month at Skegby pit John Chapman 13 was in the pit bottom and took hold of the chain when it suddenly began to rise, a man shouted to him to let go but he replied he could hold on until he reached the top, after holding on for approximately 100 yards he lost his grip and fell back into the shaft bottom.

On 3 November 1838 at the Turkey Field pit near Babbington village a box of dirt was drawn over the pulley wheel which caused the rope to come out of the pulley wheel groove. The engine man Henry Maltby 21, then tied a small rope to the main rope and climbed the frame to attempt to reinsert the main rope, but half way up slipped and fell down the shaft, it had rained heavily all night and it was thought the nails in his boots slipped against the wet wooden frame.

A typical horse-gin used to raise coal from shallow shafts. It has a horizontal drum on a vertical wooden spindle and the rope wrapped round the drum. The horse walked round interminably in a circle winding the rope up the shaft and lifting the mineral. This was raised in corves which was a flat disc with chains attached and side boards placed to hold the coal. The brick structure alongside was called the hovel, it had a chimney at the rear, a door and a coal fire inside used to dry wet pit clothes. The horse was probably stabled here during the night.

Another incident involving brothers occurred at Eastwood in December 1839. Thomas Knighton 11 and his unnamed brother were asked if they wished to ride the chains or ride in a box that was being raised. They opted to ride in the box, when halfway up the shaft the descending chain entered the box and began to tip it at an angle. The boys shouted to the whimsy man to stop whilst they pushed the chain out, one or the other shouted to restart but not all of the chain was out, and the box was upended. Thomas fell to his death; his brother managed to hang on to the chain and survived

To assist getting men on the chains and corves off them, the bridge tree had been introduced; this device was swung over the shaft and enabled persons to stand on it over the shaft itself to climb on or off the chains. At Eastwood pit on 17 November 1838 George Severn 9 had assembled with others to enter the pit. It was six o’ clock in the morning and pitch black, George approached the shaft and stepped out as he thought onto the bridge tree. Unfortunately the man responsible for pushing the appliance out had not done so and the unfortunate lad plunged to his death.

A similar accident happened at the Kimberley pit in March 1844; men were waiting to go underground at 3-30 am in the morning the only illumination being a fire about seven yards from the shaft side, George Chambers 14 was with his father when he fell to his death.

On a wet Saturday morning at the Cossall pit in November 1840 the boys wanted to get down the pit and out of the rain. The man in charge had not arrived so six boys had fastened themselves onto the chain; the seventh boy Samuel Daykin 12 was being helped by his brother to position himself on the chain. One of the boys shouted to raise the chain before Samuel was ready, and the chain wrapped around his ankle pulled him to the shaft side and he fall headlong into the pit.

The weather was a major factor in a fatality at the New London pit in February 1841. A 16 year old youth named John Clarke was dragging a Corve back to the chains when he kicked his shoe against a piece of wood to knock off accumulated snow on his shoes when he slipped and plunged down the shaft. There were no guards or rails around the shaft entrance and the inquest jury was of the opinion that the bridge tree was dangerous and too narrow, and that guards should be used to protect workmen.

Poor equipment caused the death of Jesse Stapleton 12 at the Watnall pit in June 1841; his job was to pull the full corves from the chains and send the empty ones back underground. Whilst pulling an empty box to the shaft side in which to place the pit bottom men’s lunch, the part of the box connected to the ring holding the chain broke and pulled him down the shaft.

One of the oldest persons to die in this manner was John Phillips 65 who fell from the chains at Eastwood in August 1844. The inquest jury was told that before being lowered he had said “May the blessing of God go with us; if it does it will be well with us living or dying”. Apparently a common expression for colliers going down the pit was to say
“The Lord be with us”.

On 26 June 1846 George Tissington 32, accompanied by William Morris went down the Turkey Field pit to repair a bucket door at the shaft bottom, Thomas foster went part way down onto a scaffold to shout instruction to the men on the surface. At the bottom they had unscrewed the door of the bucket when water rushed in and knocked them onto the sump scaffold they were both affected by blackdamp and Foster shouted to raise the bucket, Morris was unconscious and Tissington fell from the bucket into fourteen feet of water in the sump and was drowned.

A similar accident occurred at Bagthorpe I August 1846. William Carter 28, and William Clarke were on a scaffold in the shaft carrying out repair work, a board they were standing on broke and both men fell from the scaffold, Carter to his death in the sump water 90 yards below, Clarke fortunately managed to hold onto the rope holding the scaffold and was rescued.

Coroners were often critical of procedures at a pit when conducting an inquest; the following incident resulted in manslaughter charges being brought against the winding engine driver.

On 20 August 1845 Thomas Soar 36 was an onsetter in Babbington Colliery. Without warning and he not giving any signal to do so the cage was raised; he was partly on the cage and was lifted up and struck the pit bottom roof support, he then fell to the floor and into the sump and was drowned. A prison sentence was imposed on the engine driver.


The early miners encountered this danger wherever deep mining occurred, death or severe burns resulting from its effects. The term was given to a natural occurrence that occurred when coal was extracted, Methane or Firedamp gas could be released into the air system, it had no smell was invisible to the naked eye and there were no known means of detecting it. Being lighter than air it accumulated at roof level in roadways and on coal faces, if 5% to 10% of gas was present a spark or naked flame could cause an explosion or ignition. When ignited a fireball ensued and any one in the vicinity was enveloped in a mass of flame causing severe burns resulting in death or serious injury. This type of accident in other parts of the country often resulted in several hundred deaths in a single explosion. Nott s was fortunate to escape such a horrendous loss of life

The first safety lamp was not in use until after 1816 and some smaller pits never used them. As candles were the only means of illumination in pits, ignitions occurred quite regularly.

Initially a man was lowered into the mine wearing clothing and headgear soaked in water he also carried a stick with a burning piece of cloth on one end. He then crawled along the roadways holding the lit cloth to the roof, the idea was that if any methane was present it would be ignited and cleared from the workings. This person was called “The Penitent”

The Portland pit near Kirkby in Ashfield suffered several ignitions causing loss of life, the first occurred on 23 March 1825, When Charles Braddow, his son Benjamin, and three unnamed boys perished in an ignition of methane.

The following year 1826, 40 year old William Golden died on 9 September, followed in December of that year by Edward Whitehead, both victims of ignitions. Thomas Dallison 40 was injured on 14 August 1830 succumbing to his burns on 26 August.

Another double fatality took place on 29 May 1834; four boys Davis Rhodes, John Wardle, his brother Aaron Wardle 12, and James Holland 19, along with their ponies were caught in an ignition, the last two named persons died from their injuries I assume the animals were destroyed.

Two further deaths from ignitions too place at Brinsley pit Samuel Flinders aged 30 was badly burned on 6 March 1832 and died on the 12 March. In 1833 at the same pit Benjamin Benistone 39 suffered severe burns on 15 May lingering on for thirteen days before dying on 28 May.

Seven other deaths occurred after this date, Thomas Hope at the Awsworth pit 8 March 1836.Thomas Smith 14 Selston pit 14 March 1836 he died two days later, John Bradshaw 19 Eastwood pit 1 October 1838 he died 22 October 1838. Thomas Wilson was killed at the Willey Lane pit 30 July 1842 another death at this pit from ignition happened to John Fulwood on16 September 1847 he died five days later. The final two deaths from this cause were during this fifty year period were Thomas Slater, 21 January 1843; at the Beggarlee pit. John Shelton who worked at the new Cinderhill/Babbington pit near Nottingham was injured 16 September 1846 dying 21 September 1846 from his injuries.