The Nunnery Pit Accident - Sheffield

December 3rd 1923

I came across the The Nunnery Pit Accident whilst I was doing some research on an unrelated matter. In The Times dated December 7th 1923 there was an account of the Inquest that was held the previous day. The Nunnery pit was one of the biggest in Sheffield area and was one of the most important local assets of the Duke of Norfolk's estate. It was in the Park district of Sheffield, south of Attercliffe and east of the city centre.

"An inquest on the bodies of the seven men killed by a "Paddy mail" accident in the Nunnery Pit, Sheffield on Monday was opened yesterday. After evidence of identification the DEPUTY CORONER (Mr. Baldwin Young) adjourned the inquest until this morning. Mr W.H. Mascall (the general manager of the colliery) representatives of the Yorkshire Miners Association and the Deputy Coroner expressed sympathy with the relatives. It was stated that the colliery company are defraying funeral expenses and have contributed 1,000 to the relief fund"

In February 2010, I managed to obtain two earlier reports of the tragedy from The London Times dated 4th and 5th December 1923 respectively

At present I do not have any further details of any further adjournments etc. until December 29th 1923 when The London Times issued the following report



The inquest on the bodies of the seven men who were killed in the Nunnery Pit disaster at Sheffield on December 3 was resumed yesterday. The accident was due to the breaking of a rope hauling a "Paddy mail" train underground. In addition to the men killed, about 50 were injured.

Mr. C.S. Magee, manager at the colliery, stated that he had submitted the broken rope to a Sheffield testing company for an examination by Professor Hay and Professor Desch of Sheffield University.

Mr. Herbert Smith, representing the Yorkshire Miners Association asked the witness if he would be surprised to know that there had been a complaint about the rope before. Mr. Magee said there had been as to speed, but not as to jerking. He agreed with Mr. smith that there had been no guidance from the Mines Act as to the life of a rope. The 500 yard piece that broke was 19 months old.

In reply to Mr. Arthur Neal representing the colliery company, the witness said that he knew of no authorative guidance either from the  mines act or anywhere else, to help managers of collieries to say what the strength of the ropes should be, and he agreed with Mr. Smith that the time had come when the matter should be given close attention. The strain on the rope was at its highest level when the coal was being drawn, and one of the mysteries of the accident was that it occurred when the men were in the train and the strain would therefore be lighter.

William Nicholson, engineman at the colliery, said that on December 3 some empty tubs got off the road, but apart from this nothing usual occurred that day, and there was no jerking. Now and again he got wrong signals. They had a push button signal at the pit top and at the bottom. There had been a complaint this year for jerking. There had been about 20 runs in one shift before the accident happened.

John Thomas Bradwell, under manager of the colliery said at the time of the accident 90 men and 30 boys were riding on the "Paddy mail". He was familiar with the method of examining the rope day by day and in his opinion that was a sufficient examination. He knew of no better method. He took part in the external examination of the rope at the pit bottom, and did not find anything to account for the fracture.

Questioned by Mr.Smith the witness said that he had received a complaint about the rope being wet about 12 months ago. Since then the roads (sic) had been dry and in first class condition. 

Alfred James Routledge, chief engineer in reply to Mr. F.H. Wynne, Divisional Inspector of Mines for Yorkshire and the North Midlands said on this particular date he considered the rope was satisfactory. He considered the method of examination disclosed by the evidence to be a practical one.

In reply to Mr. Smith the witness said that he would run the rope on the "Paddy Mail" if the rope had lost no more that 30% of its original strength, if everything was going right and the factor of safety remained. He could not say what caused the rope to break.

James Hoyland, superintendent at the testing works said the test did not prove that the rope had materially weakened.

*Dr C.H. Desch, Professor of Metallurgy at Sheffield University said that he had examined the two pieces of broken rope 2ft long taken from a short distance on each side of the fracture. He was afraid that he could not throw any light as to how the rope fractured in the way it did. It was clear that it broke in a tension pull, and that was all he could say.

The jury returned a verdict of "accidental death," attaching blame to no-one.

The Secretary for Mines has directed Mr. Thomas H. Mottram, H.M. Inspector of Mines, to hold a formal investigation into the causes and circumstances of the accident. The time and place of the inquiry will be announced later.


*Cecil Henry Desch, FRS (1874-1958) was Professor of Metallurgy at Sheffield from 1920 to 1931


Photograph taken from J.P. Turley's "Sheffield's Yesterdays - Places, People and Pubs" (1993)

This is the only photograph of the pit that I have been able to locate. Mining started at the site in 1868 and at its peak it was capable of producing over 2,000 tonnes of coal a day. As well as supplying local businesses, it also supplied half the houses in Sheffield with coal. It eventually closed in August 1953 when it's reserves were exhausted - it was Sheffield's last major coalmine .   

2. To date I have been able to locate just three graves of those killed in the tragedy. They are the graves of

NEEDHAM, Charles (Collier (killed), age 60).
Died at Nunnery colliery, 143 Bernard St; Buried on December 8, 1923 in Consecrated ground;
Grave Number 23537, Section II of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield. and his wife
NEEDHAM, Rose (Widow, age 61).
Died at 143 Bernard St; Buried on February 29, 1936 in Consecrated ground;
Grave Number 23537, Section II of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

TURNER, John Henry (Collier (killed), age 48).
Died at Nunnery colliery, 36 Harrogate Rd; Buried on December 8, 1923 in Consecrated ground;
Grave Number 23690, Section II of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

TURNER, Thomas Walter (Collier (killed), age 22).
Died at Nunnery colliery, 36 Harrogate Rd; Buried on December 8, 1923 in Consecrated ground;
Grave Number 23690, Section II of City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

It seems as though the funerals took place on the same day and that father and son John and Thomas were buried together


The London Times dated 4th and 5th December 1923

The London Times dated 7th and 29th December 1923

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