Sunday, 23 October 2011

Blantyre Colliery October 1877 - Scotland's Worst Mining Disaster

On October 22, 1887, 207 men were killed in the worst mining disaster in Scotland’s history. Of these men, several were teens, with the youngest being two boys twelve years old, James Clyde and Archibald McKillop. The disaster occurred when firedamp ignited. Firedamp is the name given to a gas known to be present in any mine. Firedamp is a mix of gasses, primarily methane and carbon monoxide, both of which are by-products of hacking away at the bowels of the earth. If a miner lit a torch or ignited dynamite to blast the coal seam, then this would cause an explosion. This was always a very real danger in any mine, particularly in days before proper ventilation.

Blantyre Colliery consisted of three pits. Pit one was owned by James Dunlop & Company. Pits two and three, where the explosions occurred, were owned by William Dixon Limited. Numerous complaints of unsafe conditions at Blantyre Pits had been made over the previous years. Nothing was done to alleviate the safety concerns that were expressed and the ultimate test came on the morning of October 22, 1877 when an explosion was heard from Pit 2 followed by a raucous explosion and thick plumes of black smoke emanating from Pit 3.

One of the pit shafts was blocked by debris. The other was partially open and men from the village, who were not on shift, ran to assist with the rescue. They were halted several times due to alleged safety concerns.

The death of these 207 miners meant that 250 children were now fatherless. 190 women were now widows. Some families lost several members. And aging parents who could no longer work and who were dependent upon the men in the mines were now on the verge of destitution.

An immediate call was made to the rest of Scotland for financial aid, with thousands of pounds being sent to assist. But perhaps the saddest outcome from a social history standpoint was that six months after the disaster, Dixon Limited called 34 widows to their offices. These women were still residing in the miner’s houses that had been rented to their husbands as a condition of employment. The women had stayed as they had nowhere else to go. At this meeting, they were served with eviction notices which were then carried out two weeks later.

For the story of the accident:

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