1938 – Grainger, John William

1938 – John William Grainger, Road Repairer, 49

John William Grainger of 27 Crown Street, Clowne had worked in the pit since he left school.  His son, Robert Emlen and his brother, Ambrose worked with him.  They all died in the disaster.  Another brother, Thomas, was seriously injured but survived.  John left his widow, Elizabeth and several children.  He was buried at Clowne in the same grave as  his son, Robert Emlen.

Ambrose, John and Robert Grainger were commemorated in September 2016. The location of the artwork can be found in zone 18 on the trail map which can be downloaded here.


Researched by Local Historian Sandra Struggles:

For Mr Emlen Grainger aged 78 years of Crown Street, Clowne, it was all too much to bear. He collapsed at the graveside as two of his sons John William and Ambrose and his young grandson Robert Emlyn were lowered into the ground at Clowne Cemetery while his third son, Thomas, lay seriously injured in hospital, and had previously only just escaped from the pit in the 1937 disaster. John William Grainger and his son Robert, lived at 27, Crown Street, Clowne. They had only been at Markham for about four months having previously worked at Langwith and Oxcroft pits. At home that morning, Mrs Elizabeth Grainger was getting the breakfast ready for her husband John William and her son Robert, while her younger son John was waiting at the pit head to go down with the day shift. He ran home and told her something was wrong at the pit. She put her coat on, just left everything and caught the 8.30am bus to the pit. When she finally returned home she knew that her husband John, her son Robert, and her husband’s brother Ambrose were all dead, and another of John’s brothers, Thomas, had been taken to hospital with serious injuries. John William Grainger left a widow Elizabeth, one son John William, and four daughters, Charlotte, Grace, Lillian and Marina. Ambrose Grainger of Mansfield Road, Clowne had also previously worked at Langwith pit and had only been at Markham about one month before John William and Robert. Ambrose served in the war, enlisting in 1915 with the Army Service Corps in Salonica and had several attacks of malaria. Ambrose was married and had two young sons. John William Grainger was 49 years old. His son Robert Emlyn was just 21 years old. Ambrose was 41 years old. John William and Robert Emlen were buried in the same grave. Ambrose was buried in the next grave to them at Clowne Cemetery.

Reproduced “Star” Newspaper May 1938 – “The indomitable spirit of these unpretentious folk is well shown by citing the case of Mrs Elizabeth Grainger, who lives in Crown Street, Clowne. She lost her husband, 49 year old John William, a ripper, and her 21 year old son Robert Emlyn in the explosion. A brother-in-law Ambrose (her husband’s brother) was also killed, and daily she sees another of her husband’s brothers going about on crutches. Her husband and son had only moved from a pit near their home to Markham a few months before they were killed. She had six in her family, now three girls – 13 year old Faith, 3 year old Marina, and …. (one more girl). Also a boy John William.”

“Mrs Elizabeth Grainger told the ‘Star’ reporter  – ‘My boy John William who is 14 years has gone back to the pit where his father worked’. Buxom, motherly Mrs Grainger told me, ‘He had started to work there just a fortnight before the explosion and on that very day was stopped as he was going down with the day shift. Right after the funeral he came to me and said he was going back to work as there was nothing coming in for him. I saw his manager and he assured me that everything would be done to help Johnnie in his work down the mine. I am not afraid for him – we have always been a family of colliers; not just now but going back generations, we have to be brave for it’s no good being otherwise. My boy must have had that borne in him. His heart is set on following up his father’s work and as he is gifted that way I will never stand in the way of his ambition. It’s no good worrying before trouble comes and it doesn’t help afterwards. I do often thank God though for the children. Bringing them up has taken my mind off what happened. They help me to forget that morning when I waited outside the door and John and Robert never came. My husband and son are buried in Clowne. It would take a lot to drag me away from my home.”


Family History Researched by Paul Burkitt:

The Grainger family, along with the Hargreaves family, were the families that suffered the most in the 1938 disaster. Two brothers, John William Grainger and Ambrose Grainger were killed. A third brother, Thomas Grainger was badly injured. Robert Emlyn Grainger, the son of John William Grainger was also killed. The youngest son of John William, John William (1924-1995) was actually in the pit cage ready to descend when the explosion happened.

John William, Ambrose and Robert Emlyn were all employed as road repairers, while Thomas was a contractor.

The plight of the Grainger family was widely reported in newspapers. The ‘Daily Independent’ on 11th May 1938 reported the following:

“Mrs Grainger, of Clowne, told a ‘Daily Independent’ reporter that her whole family was down the mine – her husband, John William, aged 49, her 21-year old son, Robert Henry (sic); and two brothers-in-law, Ambrose and Tom. Tom Grainger, she said, just escaped with his life in the explosion at the pit in 1937. John Grainger, the father, and Robert Grainger, the son, are victims. Ambrose Grainger is missing, and Thomas Grainger is in hospital seriously injured.”

 “Father and son worked together in the pit since the time the son left school. Ambrose is believed to have met his death after rescuing his brother. Ambrose was among the first to experience the full force of the explosion. Going back he found his brother with a fractured thigh. He carried him to safety and then returned to do more rescue work. That was the last seen or heard of him. Two younger boys of the same family, one the son of John, and another the son of Ambrose Grainger should have gone to work on the morning shift.”

The ’Nottingham Journal’ reported the following on 12 May 1938.

Local Family’s Markham Loss – Three Relatives Dead: One in Hospital

“A Nottingham family, that of Mr Stephen Grainger, of 376, Meadow Lane has been plunged into grief as the result of the Markham Colliery disaster. Mr. Grainger had four brothers and several nephews engaged at the mine. Of these, his brothers, Ambrose and John William Grainger, and the latter’s son Robert Emlyn Grainger (21) are dead, whilst Thomas, another brother lies seriously injured in Chesterfield Royal Hospital. Another brother, Lawrence, whose home is in Mansfield Road, Clowne, was working on the opposite shift at Markham Colliery.

Miss Grainger, a daughter of Mr Stephen Grainger, had a pathetic story to tell a “Journal” reporter yesterday. “We have heard that Uncle John and Cousin Emlyn are dead,” she said “and Uncle Thomas lies seriously injured in hospital.” “Uncle Ambrose, so far as we can learn, is still down the pit”

Miss Grainger explained that her father and his brothers were members of a Clowne family who had been engaged in the coal mining industry all their lives. They all lived at Clowne not far from the ill-fated pit. ”We also lived at Clowne” she added “until five years ago when father came to Nottingham to commence his coal business here. “Mother was spending a few days holiday with fathers’s brothers at Clowne when the disaster occurred. She is staying to try and comfort our relatives in their terrible blow.

General sympathy in Clowne and district goes out to Mr Emlen Gainger, the 78-year-old father of the stricken family of miners. He himself worked in the pits for a total of 67 years, and now lives with one of his sons in Clowne.”


“John William Grainger, who was 49, leaves a widow, one son and five daughters. His son Robert, who was also among the dead, was an old boy of Netherthorpe Grammar School, having gained a scholarship from Clowne Senior Boys’ School. He worked with his father at Langwith Colliery, then at Oxcroft No 3 Colliery, before both went to the Markham Pit about four months ago. Ambrose Grainger had worked at the Markham Pit for five months, previously being engaged at Langwith Colliery for 11 or 12 years. He served with the Army Service Corps in Salonika during the Great War. He leaves a widow and two sons.”


“Thomas Grainger, the youngest of the three brothers (who is in hospital) had been at the Markham Colliery some three months. He served with the Grenadier Guards and completes his service with the Reserve this year. He has a wife and two young children. The funeral of the two brothers who lost their lives and of Robert will take place in Clowne churchyard on Saturday.”

The funeral took place in Clowne Parish church on Saturday 14th May 1938. In total five miners were buried in the cemetery at Clowne. John William and his son Robert Emlyn were buried in the same grave. The five miners buried at Clowne were: John William Grainger, Robert Emlyn Grainger, Ambrose Grainger, Henry AlberryGeorge Henry Jackson.


For information can be downloaded here.

Grainger Family

Grainger Family Tree

Ambrose Grainger

John William Grainger

Robert Emlyn Grainger


Further Information

Markham Colliery 1938 disaster

List of miners killed and injured in the 1938 disaster