Fire broke out in the surface structure of Blantyreferme Colliery 1&2 on Wednesday 19th July 1950 which saw the pithead destroyed and considerable alarm for the miners. Five hours after the fire had broken out, 36 miners who had been trapped, came out of Newton Colliery after a two mile underground walk in partial darkness to safety!
The fire started around 8am and soon engulfed the pithead structure. Mr Tom Russell, an Engineer of Bothwell had tried to alert the miners of the advancing danger and after unsuccessfully trying to reach them by telephone, he decided bravely to descend into the pit in the cage to alert them, despite the fire now raging beside him. By the time he reached the bottom, he too was trapped, the flames now preventing him from ascending. He quickly ran to where the men were working and informed them of their predicament.
Mr Alex Rosee, the under manager, who was one of the men below called the others together on hearing the news and they decided their best chance before smoke reached them, was to head towards the connected Newton pit as swiftly as they could in a safety tunnel.
They were met midway along, about 1 mile into their journey, by a team of Coatbridge miners who advised that the way forward was blocked by a fall in the redundant part of the mine. As lighting lines ran out, the fall was soon arrived at and all the men at once began to manually clear the way. They cleared a hole about 7 or 8 feet across by just 15 inches high, but enough for each man to roll through the gap and into the tunnels in the opposing Newton mine. They then proceed a short distance in the darkness until the workings of Newton pit were arrived at.
Still deep underground, Mr Robert Sim, of 6 St John’s Lane, Hamilton led the first 6 men up the cage at Newton and out into daylight and safety. He was closely followed by 70 year old David Barr, a bricklayer. Then, the others came up at short intervals.
As pictured, a short time after the fire started, 3 oxy acetylene cylcinders exploded at the Blantyreferme surface causing the pithead structure to be engulfed in flames. Weakened, the structure fell causing further damage to equipment and buildings around it. The fire and smoke soared skywards and could be seen for miles around. People in Birkenshaw in Uddingston had a good view and reported the fire quickly.
A large number of men, normally employed at the colliery (which in common with others in the country had been on strike for over 2 weeks) bravely and immediately went to the scene to offer their assistance to the men who had chosen to work. Many relatives of the men below started to arrive on the scene too, again offering their help. The spectators watched the firemen spraying jets of water on the flames and they watched quietly, but hoping the men below were heading for another way out.
By 11.04am, news arrived to the shattered Blantyrefeme pithead that the men had been removed safely from the Newton pit, some 2 miles away and were thankfully all accounted for and safe. When the blaze had been put out, all that remained of the pithead was a guant skeleton of the pithead structure, damaged beyond recognition, broken wired lying limply over the top of the winding frames. Corrugated iron lay about broken, partially burned wooden beams perched precariously on top of steel. Mangled machinery strewn on the ground. It was a sorry sight.
Before noon, it was possible to operate a cage and was found the that shaft was clear. Rescue men were on standby and went down Pit 2, but it turned out to be an inspection visit only once known there were no injuries.
It was later learned that the fire had started as the miners had been burning out oil from old machinery on the surface. This was admitted by Mr George Shaw, the manager of the colliery. Mr. A.M Ritchie, General manager of the NCB said alternatively the fire may have been started from welding work which was also taking place nearby, a spark igniting oxy acetylene cylinders.
Mr Ritchie added, “The pithead is so extensively destroyed that it will have to be completely rebuilt, which will take quite some time.”
From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c)
On social media:
Marian Maguire My father in law worked at this pit, No one can comprehend what these miners went through, my husbands grandad was killed at gateside leaving 6 children, My Own dad worked at cardowan with others from my husbands family, surviving roof fall in etc. Eventually dying if pneumonacosis. May they rest in peace.