Sunday 9th March 1958 certainly started with a bang in High Blantyre! When Royal Engineers carried out the demolition of High Blantyre’s Dixon’s Pit, a demolition that the National Coal Board thought would cost nothing, ended up being quite costly!
The Territorials were demolishing the old washing plant at High Blantyre Pit that day, but the explosion was felt throughout the nearby Kirkton Avenue Housing Estate in High Blantyre causing damage worth £150 (or £3,500 in today’s money). That was before compensation claims started arriving!
The colliery fell out of use in June 1957 and the shaft had become unsafe. Work had been ongoing to clear the pit head area and the demolition work had been assigned to 241 Field Squadron Royal Engineers (TA) of Motherwell. It was part of a recruitment drive and needless to say amongst the engineers, were many rookies that day.
At 3pm, the charges had been set and primed by Major John Craig, the commanding officer and the honour of pressing the firing button was given to 75 year old Hugh Gibson (pictured). Hugh had worked at the pit for an incredible 58 years prior to his retirement.
The 400lb charge went off with a tremendous explosion heard for miles around bringing down the 40 foot tall washing plant to a pile of rubble and bent girders but also unfortunately sending piles of debris into the air in an outwardly direction.
At the nearby housing estate, doors flew open and windows smashed sending shards of glass inwards towards residents.
Sadly glass cut little Elaine Brown, aged 17 months, on the cheek, ear, and nose, and her three-year-old brother William, on his hand and leg, as they were sitting in front of the living-room fire in their house at Kirkton Avenue. Their mother, wife of Mr Robert Brown, suffered from shock. A neighbour, Mrs M. Campbell, 1 Loanfoot Road, was still visibly shaken an hour after the explosion.
“I had no warning this was going to happen,” Mrs Campbell said, “and I think they are taking a liberty.”
The roof of a car parked in front of a house near the pit was smashed with a beam six feet long which had been thrown over the roofs of other houses. Many roofs were holed and bricks lay in the gardens.
The army fellows had intended — all going well — to carry out a further demolition of the 100 ft. high pit chimney on Sunday first. But there were objections to this after what happened and the idea was scrapped. The chimney was demolished on the Wednesday afternoon by another process — without any alarm — and, as one observer put it, threw up only a cloud of dust.
I am led to believe the family affected was that of Jim Brown, whose modern photographs make a regular, permitted appearance on this website.
From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017
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