Mines Rescue

Mines Rescue

mines rescue

In 1911 a Coal Mines Act was passed that made it compulsory for mine owners to provide teams of trained rescue men, equipped with rescue apparatus.

Although a Royal Commission of 1886 had recommended the creation of rescue stations, they did not become compulsory until 1911. Before this there were no formal rescue teams at the pits.

Once a successful type of breathing equipment had been developed, following the Act, the number of rescue stations and teams increased rapidly. If a mine employed more than 100 men it could not be more than ten miles from a rescue station. This distance was increased as vehicles and communications improved.

When mines were taken into public ownership, at Nationalisation in 1947, there were great variations in rescue provision. Emergency procedures were standardised and the Mines Rescue Service grew into an effective branch of the mining industry.

In 1957 there were two rescue systems working in parallel. One system involved a rescue station with permanent trained rescue workers on site, and the other depended solely on trained voluntary rescue workers at the collieries.

In today’s Mines Rescue Service, all rescue men undertake a fourteen day induction course which includes studying mining gases and different types of apparatus. Rescue men also have to know how to maintain and fix their equipment. The rescue stations are now using Draeger BG4 breathing apparatus sets which are self contained, ready for immediate use and last for a minimum of two hours. These sets are easy to service and have accurate digital gauges.

The first rescue station in the country opened in 1902 at Tankersley in South Yorkshire.

Canaries were used to detect carbon monoxide underground until the 1990s.

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Prior to 1914 there was little organisation in the way of a coalfield-wide rescue service. Individual pits would rely on their own experienced men and management to deal with rescue and recovery work. These men would volunteer, often at considerable risk to themselves, to enter workings affected by fires, flooding or extensive roof falls in order to save their fellow miners or the pit on which their livelihood depended.

Although a practical and useful breathing apparatus had been produced by Henry A. Fleuss in 1878 and used successfully at Seaham Colliery fire in 1880-1 and at Killingworth Colliery disaster in 1882 little further interest was shown in the equipment over the next 20 years.

The Royal Commission on Mines in 1907, probably influenced by the Courrières disaster of the preceding year in which 1100 lives were lost, advised on the setting up of central rescue stations to provide training and practice in the use of breathing apparatus.

During rescue attempts at the Whitehaven Wellington disaster in 1910, where an explosion was followed by a raging fire, men skilled in the use of breathing apparatus were brought in from Newcastle and Yorkshire.

Sections 85 and 86 of the 1911 Coal Mines Act allowed for General Regulations to be made for the “supply and maintenance of appliances for use in rescue work” and for “the formation and training of rescue brigades”. Regulations dated 10th July 1913 required the owners of collieries employing more than 100 men underground to make such provisions for rescue work in irrespirable atmospheres.

In 1914 the Cumberland Coal Owners Association established a Central Rescue Station at Brigham, near Cockermouth. At that time collieries were working throughout the coalfield from Whitehaven and Cleator Moor in the south to Brayton and Allhallows in the north. Brigham was therefore well placed to reach any part of the coalfield in a reasonably short time. In 1951, with the Mines Rescue Service now being run by the National Coal Board, the Brigham Station was closed and replaced by a new establishment at Winscales near Workington, now more central due to the closure of the mines in the Aspatria area in the previous decade. (The Brigham station became the headquarters of Twinames, the builders, and later was the local Police Headquarters).

When the Winscales Station was established there were 13 coal mines at work (including Micklam fireclay drift). After the closure of Solway Colliery, Workington, in 1973 there was only one pit -Haig- left in the coal field. Haig closed in 1986 and with it the Winscales Rescue Station (which is now the Hunday Manor Hotel).

It has been estimated that over 2000 men received training in rescue work at the two stations during their combined 74 years of operation. In that time at least 54 mines were known to have been associated with the Mines Rescue Service.


19 thoughts on “Mines Rescue”

  1. Pat Robertson said:

    Excellent article, I worked at Haig and joined the Mines Rescue Station at Winscales, 76 – 86. We also covered at that time; wolfram and tungsten mines situated in the lake district and supplied training to the gypsum mine at Kirby Thore.


    Pat Robertson

  2. Don Wilkinson said:

    My father, George Wilkinson, was on the rescue team, he worked at Haig pit. I believe he was on the resue team in the 40s/50s. When I was younger I remember a photograph of him with his colleagues, wearing their re-breathers. He also had a bronze medal that was awarded to rescue team members. Who would I contact to find out if there are any archives that mention him?

    • Hi Don, if he was awarded the bronze medal for rescue then suggestion is to look at the London Gazette on line, you need his name and a date that this was awarded which would then potentially provide you with the relevant citation that would accompany such an award. with this you could then approach the likes of the British library and or National Archives if it was post 1947.

  3. Valerie Churchill said:

    My father Fred Taylor was Superintendent at Winscales Rescue Station from ’63 -83, longest serving Super; he also adjudicated throughout the country at Mines Rescue Competitions, He also taught. He attended numerous mining disasters including coming here from Durham for William Pit, he was gassed while attending Easington pit disaster, He first started work down the pit from the age of 14yrs.

    • Pat Robertson said:

      Hi Valerie, You will will remember that I served at the then Winscales Mine Rescue Station. Fred was a true professional, a very experienced officer and a gentleman. I have seen the plaque to his tenure at the rescue station, now the Hunday Manor Hotel, a fiiting and worthy tribute.

      • Val Churchill said:

        Hi Pat, Thank you for your kind words about my Dad, he lived and breathed his work, I am hoping to put a picture of you all in Hunday reception, I have not quite finished it, but feel the history and your faces should be there for all to see. Someone put up a picture of John Gibson so I asked if I could put up a picture with most of you on it, If you have any good photo’s I could borrow I would be grateful.

  4. Patrick Robertson said:

    Hi Val I have just seen your reply and would be glad to provide you with any photos that might help which are two or three, mostly of your dad’s retirement , you will probably already have some of them , but I can send you what I have


    • Valerie Churchill said:

      Hi Pat, that would be good thanks, I have one of his retirement only from the newspaper not very clear. I live in Workington so wondered if you are on Facebook so I can private message you with my e mail ?

      • Patrick Robertson said:

        Hi Valerie, I’m not on facebook, have you got another email that I can forward them ?



  5. Valerie Churchill said:

    Hi Pat, my e mail is v.church89@hotmail.co.UK UK is lower case, this predictive text ugh lol, that is very kind of you, I will look out for your e mail. I will just take a chance giving u e mail here. Take care. Val

  6. Are there any records of who worked at the Brigham Rescue station? I believe my Great Grandfather Alexander McMellon may have been there in the early days.

    • Patrick Robertson said:

      The Mines Rescue Service in Cumberland began officially in 1914 when the Rescue Station at Brigham was opened. The first Superintendent was Major Tucker, assisted by Instructor J. Charlton. Between the years 1915 and 1921 the records show that 218 part time Rescue workers from 27 pits were undergoing training at Brigham Rescue Station. Since then, although records are incomplete, more than two thousand men must have undergone training at Brigham and Winscales Rescue Stations.
      They served their fellow men, selflessly and with undisputed courage, facing some of the most appalling dangers known to man in pursuit of his daily bread.
      In 1951 the Rescue Station at Brigham closed and the Winscales site was opened. If your Gradfather was employed at Brigham post 1947 onwards, then it would be possible to check the NCB records, that’s the year the industry was nationalised,prior to i947, records could have been lost.

      Hope this helps.

      • Thank you for that information. I know my great grandfather (1876-1937) worked there at some point in its early years, though I don’t know in what capacity. He also spent three years at Coalisland in Ulster in the mid 1920s, along with many other Cumberland miners.

  7. Dianne Standen said:

    I own the Mine Rescue Station at Brigham which is now part residential and part workshop/office space. I would love to hear more about its history and those who worked here as well as any images. I have three specific queries . I am told there is an underground passage, created by the local quarry, where training took place , can anyone confirm it ?
    Also as it was pre NHS were injured miners cared for here or was it merely used to house equipment and train .
    Was it a full time rescue team based here or volunteers ?

    • Patrick Robertson said:

      Hi Dianne,

      Regarding your first query, I worked on Winscales Mine Rescue station with fellow staff members who had trained at Brigham station. All rescue stations had to have training gallery’s where you would enter whilst wearing breathing apparatus, generally for a period of 2 hrs, this was the duration of eithier a Proto apparatos or Aearolox set. During this 2 hrs, the team would be given task’s ,ie; fight fires, casualty recovery ,make safe and heat and humidity training. Whilst I can’t verify a underground passage, it’s existence would not suprise me. the are passages under what used to be the tennis courts at Winscales.

      2.The station would be used solely for training and maintaining and servicing equipment for emergency response and at that time would have been a very busy station.

      3, Given the amout of pits in the area at that time 1915 -1921, the station would be full time. I have only seen 3 names of permanent staff 2 are already listed with the brother of J. Charlton also serving there, at that time the station could call on at least 218 part time volunteers.

      The photo depicting the station and vehicle at Brigham was also displayed in the station at Winscales.

      Hope this helps.



      • Dianne standen said:

        Thanks Patrick , that’s great. I did watch a recent film of Bill Peascod the painter and t think he must have been one of the many volunteers who trained here. Dianne

  8. Hello, my name is Abbie Charlton. I’ve seen that my great grandad has been mentioned. His name is John Charlton and was at Brigham and Winscales. If you have anymore information about my great grandads career in the mine rescue service, I would love to hear about it, it would be very much appreciated.

    Thank you

    • Leila Robertson said:

      Hi Abbie, I can’t really add anything more than I had wrote previously ,and again records pre; NCB would be scarce. Could there be any local references within the Brigham area?
      I attended the 75 year William pit anniversary on Monday at Whitehaven to remember our mining colleagues who perished in that disaster and the mine rescue teams and William pit staff who were called to the incident. I believe that your great grandfather attended the incident with teams from our local colliery’s and staff from the Brigham station. Fredrick Taylor. later Superintendent at Winscales Rescue station along with other colleagues also attended from the North East and Lancashire areas

      Best wishes


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