We know that the artist, Andrew Rankin – a member of the world famous Ashington Group – was a colliery clerk during the 1940s. Rankin would have witnessed scenes like this on a regular basis, particularly during the war years when the Ashington Colliery Magazine reported a steady rise in accidents due to intense war-time demand.
One such accident occurred in Ashington Colliery in 1940. William Ledgerwood was caught in a roof collapse on August 5th, and a stretcher was on the scene in under three minutes. Upon lifting William up however, the stretcher broke – the hand-hold was riddled with dry-rot, incubated by the extremes of heat and damp at the seam head. Ledgerwood waited a full thirty minutes for another stretcher. His father, a coal cutter, was by his side. Tragically, William died of his injuries on the 16th August 1940, after collapsing in hospital. There was an inquest held in Ashington – it is possible that Rankin was required to attend. “Did he seem to be suffering?”, the Coroner asked. “He complained about pain in his stomach and hips”, Ledgerwood’s father replied, “but he sat up and had a smoke.” We can clearly see something of this resilience in Rankin’s picture.
The incident prompted Ashington and Linton collieries to regularly ‘test’ their first aid equipment.
This painting can be viewed in the Pitmen Painters gallery at Woodhorn Museum, contact: email@example.com