Chesterfield Mines Rescue


In 2020 Dovedale Property purchased the former Mines Rescue Station on Infirmary Road Chesterfield. Keen to preserve the History of the building, directors Rick and Sophie embarked on a journey to uncover its secrets. With the help of local researchers Gemma and Holly, and through interviewing the brigadesmen themselves, they have uncovered stories that need to be told.


Gemma and Holly began by researching both the national history of Mines Rescue Stations, and the specific history of the Chesterfield branch. This included looking into the Mining Rights Acts and parliamentary debates, to delving into the archives at the Derbyshire Record Office, and the local studies section at Chesterfield library.


However, they soon realised that although the documents available provided some fascinating insights, there were unfortunately gaps in their knowledge of the building that could not be filled by paper records alone. Quickly they realised how valuable oral history interviews with former brigadesmen would be.


This consequently developed into a wider oral histories project which has included interviews with brigadesmen, their wives, and children who grew up on Infirmary Road. Each interviewee so far has provided a different insight and shared precious memories about living and working at the station.


It has been a true privilege to not only research the building, but to interview the fascinating people who lived there. We are only at the beginning of this promising journey, and we are excited to continue uncovering more about the history of such a locally significant building. Piecing together the paper records with the interviews will help us to build the picture of the vastly important role the building played


Maybe you worked as a brigadesman, received training there, or had family who lived on the station? Or, perhaps you know someone else who does? We would love to speak to as many people as possible who have anything to share about the building, so please do get in touch via our email address.

A Brief History of Mines Rescue Stations:


At the turn of the twentieth century, coal mining was at the heart of British industry with coal production peaking at 292 million tonnes in 1913[1]. There were 1.2 million people employed by UK Coal in 1920, and mining was a dangerous job. Between 1873 and 1953 there were 85,000 deaths. A great many of these deaths arose due to the complexities of accidents arising underground and subsequent rescue efforts. [2]. In 1908 alone there were 1345 deaths from accidents and 143,258 workers injured or disabled.[3]


Across Europe, major powers had begun to seriously consider provision for the rescue of mine workers and indeed in Britain, a Royal Commission had suggested rescue stations as a necessity as early as 1886[4]. There was a great deal of political lobbying, largely supported by MPs from mining heartlands, such as the politician and industrialist Sir Arthur Markham of Brimington, Chesterfield. The first official mines rescue station opened in Tankersley, South Yorkshire in 1902 and the building still stands today, currently housing a beauty salon.[5] Eventually, through an act of parliament in 1911, the government insisted that mine owners had to provide trained rescue workers and apparatus.


Initially if a mine had more than 100 workers it was not legally permitted to operate more than ten miles from a rescue station, although these distances did increase in time, with improved transportation links and vehicles. By 1957 two distinct approaches had developed. There were ‘scheme A’ Mine’s rescue stations, permanently manned with the specific purpose of responding to need and ‘scheme B’ trained voluntary rescue workers in the mines themselves. After nationalisation rescue work became a more professionalised and widely recognised aspect of mining.


1 The death of UK coal in five charts – Our World in Data
2 Mining-accidents-and-safety-Jan16.pdf (
3 Hansard Commons Records 1910, House of Commons Debate 16/06/190
4 Hansard Commons Records 1910, House of Commons – second reading of ‘Mines Accidents (Rescue Aid) Bill

A Brief History of Chesterfield Station:


Following Mines Act and the subsequent need for official Mines Rescue Stations, in 1914 it was announced that Chesterfield would be the headquarters for a rescue station after C. P. Markham campaigned for the station to be based in Chesterfield.[6] Building work began on the chosen site of Infirmary road, and by 1917 the station was open. Despite delays from the war, the station was eventually fully equipped with no expense spared for modern equipment. The basement was designed to resemble a mine in order to train men based at the pit in how to rescue, with tunnels and fires started to create smoke. Canaries were bred at the station, and this continued until its closure.



The station was developed over the years to include more housing for the station brigadesmen and their families. Wages were lower than working on the coalface, but rent was included. After being appointed a brigadesmen, families would often be moved into the flat above the station whilst waiting to move into one of the Coal Board houses on Infirmary Road. The 1939 Register reveals a snapshot of the families and brigadesmen who lived on Infirmary Road as part of the rescue team. Now that the 1921 census is open, we hope this will reveal even more about those who lived on the station when it first opened.

Working Life at Chesterfield:


However, there are gaps in our knowledge of the building that unfortunately cannot be filled with documents available in archives or newspapers. Whilst we can know important dates surrounding the building and see examples of work schedules, we did not know what it was really like to work in the rescue station. Therefore, we are extremely grateful for former brigadesmen and their families for agreeing to speak to us. Their oral history interviews mean we can record and preserve their stories – not just for us in our research of the building, but for future generations.



In our conversations with the Chesterfield brigadesmen we have learned a great deal about the work that they did. Their days were regimented by a 14 week timetable and consisted of a wide variety of jobs concerned with the maintenance of the safety and rescue equipment, the buildings and also their fitness. A significant amount of time was also spent on training exercises in the tunnels specifically constructed in the cellar of the station and also training the volunteer miners from the pits themselves. Brigadesmen were also charged with the welfare of the canaries.


It is clear that real camaraderie was present between the men, as one brigadesman put it ‘Everybody helped each other and when you help each other it works’[7]. In part this was due to their dependence on each other, there were many stories of daily sporting activity at the end of a working day in the station yard, including cricket and football – at the expense of the odd smashed window. In addition to the fact that in an emergency situation required great trust and teamwork, the brigade, whilst not at the station 24/7, needed to be ready for deployment at all times. This meant that even when at home the men could be called to work, there was even an alarm fitted in every home connected to the station. There are stories of ‘getting cover’ from another brigadesman to be able to go for a run, to go to the shops to go to the pub and even to run a local scout group. Such coordination meant that the workers and indeed their families became incredibly close.


5 Ibid
7 Jim Chadwick interviewed August 2021.

Family Life at Chesterfield:


Understanding the close-knit family and social dynamics of living and working at the rescue station was something we are particularly keen to draw out as historians. The oral history interviews we have conducted so far have been incredibly enlightening in sharing what archive documents cannot tell us for example in addition to the deep friendships between the men working at the station, the dynamic between their families and children who grew up there.


The interviews all have a common thread throughout – sharing just how solid, caring, and happy the community at the station was. We have heart-warming stories of how all adults at the station were known as “auntie” and “uncle” by the children despite having no relation, and continue to do so now, nearly thirty years after the station’s closure. This was a community that came together to celebrate the key events of the year such as Bonfire night celebrations and Christmas parties that are still fondly recalled by those who spent their childhood there.



Understanding and preserving these precious memories is crucial – without recording them now, we run the risk of losing precious knowledge of what it was like to grow up in a Mines Rescue community that no longer exists; and is unlikely to be replicated again.


In all the interviews, we asked what would those who lived at the station wish to share with future generations. All of our interviewees were passionate about letting others know just how extraordinary the community of people who lived at Chesterfield Mines Rescue Station were, and what a wonderful place it was to live.


Following the closure of the mines, the Rescue Station closed in 1992. The building has had various uses since, but is now being developed by Dovedale properties who are determined to preserve the building’s history, and the stories of those who worked there.


All photos on the Station House website are used for the sole purpose of telling the story of the Mines Rescue Station.


This research is still in progress and updates will be posted here as more details are uncovered. To keep updated, please subscribe below: