Explosion at South Normanton Colliery

A large explosion on 15th of February 1937 was the worst disaster seen at South Normanton Colliery. It was possibly caused by someone smoking underground, as cigarettes and matches were found close to one of the dead men. In total 8 men were killed, and another 3 were injured. Searches were made of men before they went below ground to check what possessions they had on them, but these were infrequent and were not made on the night of the disaster.

A large rescue effort was involved to try and find those who were trapped in the rubble. It was attended by both the Mansfield and Chesterfield Miners Rescue Stations, as well as 47 employees at the colliery, who took it in turns to make a rescue party. The scene they must have witnessed would have been terrible, especially for the colleagues who would have more than likely knew those who had been killed or injured. This was not unusual though, as other miners often started initial rescue parties as they waited for the Miners Rescue Stations to arrive, but it was still a brave thing to do.

Messages of condolences were received from all over the country, including mentions in Parliament, and even from a telegram from a representative of the French coal mines, in support of all those affected and in memory of those who sadly lost their lives in the accident.

Letter of sympathy from the French mining community (1937), D2087/3

Sadly nearly all the men who died were married and had their own families, so the grief would have extended into the local community, not just those employed at the colliery. A relief fund was established to help these widows and children.

Cheque stub for the beneficiaries of the South Normanton Colliery Explosion Relief Fund, D2087/4/2

The trauma of loss unfortunately dragged on for the families as a Coroner’s Inquiry was launched into the reasons for this disaster. It was needed because following the disaster, the South Normanton Colliery Company was blamed for not being tight enough on stopping people smoking on site.

Speaking in the inquest, the on duty deputy William Truswell gave his account of the regular gas checks he had done prior to the explosion. He was just about to go to another underground area when just after 9 pm, when he “felt a hurricane of wind, bits of slack and coal flying”. This was the first of two explosions, the second happening around half an hour later. He said that gas had formed when he tried to find the site of the explosion, but oddly enough, workers helping to clear up after the explosion mention that there was no gas. Joseph Wood, one of these men helping in the clear up effort, said that 3 days after the explosion, he remembered finding matches in amongst the debris. However, he did not believe any of the matches he found had been used.

This makes for quite confusing reading, as it doesn’t seem to suggest either way whether gas or lit matches/smoking could have caused the explosion. For this reason the jury’s verdict was given as unable to find the cause of the explosion. Whilst this was the case, I’m surprised that I haven’t been able to find any further investigations, or even court action, to discover more about the true cause of the accident. Perhaps it was because the cause of death of all but one of the victims was given as carbon monoxide poisoning.


‘South Normanton Closed After 58 Years’, http://www.healeyhero.co.uk/rescue/individual/Bob_Bradley/Bk-4/B4-1951.html

‘South Normanton Colliery Explosion Relief Fund Committee’, D2087

Amos, D., ‘South Normanton Colliery (Winterbank) Disaster – 75th anniversary’, Coalmining Representation in the Heritage Sector of the East Midlands

Northern Mine Research Society, South Normanton Colliery Explosion, https://www.nmrs.org.uk/mines-map/accidents-disasters/derbyshire/south-normanton-colliery-explosion-alfreton-1937/South Normanton Colliery (Explosion), 17 February 1937, https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1937/feb/17/south-normanton-colliery-explosion

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

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