I was reminded recently of the horror the men faced when they attempted to rescue the trapped miners on 22nd October 1877, during High Blantyre’s Pit disaster. Reading through Andy Paterson’s excellent book, “A Blast from the past”, Andy has described the event in such detail that leaves the reader in no doubt what those brave men had to endure and indeed what the poor should who suffered too. A reminder that well over 200 men and boys perished that day.
The scene of this following passage is below Shaft 3, which is located now directly in the middle of the brand new Red Burn Farm Inn, Pub near Westcraigs. A brief except from Andy’s book,
“It was almost twenty four hours after the original explosion therefore before the sad but necessary decision was made to pump water down the No. 3 shaft to quench the flames which still raged below and to disperse the gas. This necessary decision was for the onlookers a tremendous blow. During the preceding day and night they had endured the cold wind and sleet as they huddled together for warmth, kept going in most instances by the thought that there would be some survivors and that their loved ones would be among them. Andra McAnulty said that when the pumps started pouring water down the shaft, a silence descended on the massed crowds of people as they realised, finally that there could be no survivors. If by some miracle a few had survived the explosion, the water would now claim them.
When the fire was finally declared out, small three-men teams, including Andra’s close friend Hugh Brown, descended in the kettle and began to clear away the debris to make a passage to allow the air to go down into the workings below. It took some considerable time to clear away enough debris to allow the kettle to go down through it, before they could begin the horrific task of bringing up those bodies, or even more horrific, parts of bodies (and there were many) that they could find.
Hugh Brown later revealed to Andrea that when they first descended in the kettle, they plunged into water at the pit bottom which was about four feet deep. I’ve attached a picture which may have shown you some similar conditions they faced (imagine it in darkness). After they recovered from their immersion, they were horrified to see , by the dim light of their flickering lamps, about thirty bodies floating on the surface of the water, their clothes having been burned off by the fire. This was, Hugh told Andra, the beginning of a period that would be etched in his mind forever and that he, like most of the others involved, had to be freely fortified by refreshments (as he called them) of whiskey at regular intervals to enable them to carry out the gruesome task which they had volunteered to perform.”
You can read the entire story of the Pit Disaster in Andy’s book, “A Blast from the Past”.