William Dixon and Co narrowly avoided another major catastrophe in 1921, when the shaft of their Larkfield Pit 4 collapsed.
The question arose immediately as to whether it was an accident or another outrage. That was the problem which mining experts faced when they examined the enormous havoc wrought at the Blantyre colliery, a task they did not embark upon lightly.
The colliery involved was No. 4 Blantyre, which was one of a number owned by Messrs Wm. Dixon and Co., Ltd. It was situated at High Blantyre, at Larkfield and at the time, was almost surrounded by the former houses of the 200 miners, who, in normal times, were employed there.
The damage which occurred in May that year was so great that it took many days to place a financial figure upon it, which eventually ended up costing £15,000 (a sum of around £650,000 in todays money!). The colliery shaft had collapsed, and here and there below ground there were little mountains of debris upon which the experts had to carry out important investigations in the endeavour to determine the cause.
It was believed that the disastrous fall of hundreds of tons of material occurred in the early hours of Thursday morning 12th May 1921. The closest secrecy, however, initially was being maintained by Dixons and it was impossible to obtain definite information leading to suggestions being put forward.
Two theories prevailed. One was that the shaft, which was one of 135 fathoms (810 feet), suddenly collasped. The shaftsman, Ferguson, who resided in a cottage near the colliery, informed a press representative that, from his intimate knowledge of the shaft, he thought it probable. He did not hear an explosion.
Similar statements were made by other colliery workers in the neighbourhood. Another other theory was that the havoc was the work of wreckers, who threw explosives down the shaft. There was a belief that a box of gelignite had been hurled down the shaft, and that the gelignite, not having a detonator, would be quite harmless. When, however, the same point was put to a mining expert of considerable experience, he replied, “If the explosive was dry and hard, it would go off without a detonator.”
The Home Office instructed their Lanarkshire Mine Inspectors, Messrs Hudspeth and, Mclhenny, to make searching inquiries. A visit was paid to the colliery on the scene of the disastrous occurrence, but owing to the blocked shaft, the inspectors had to go to High Blantyre near Sydes Brae to descend No. 2 colliery and walk about a mile underground to get to No 4, a “perilous journey” in view of what had happened.
Large beams had been displaced and pipes were broken. It was later found that the shaft had been sunk through a bed of running sand, and this had given way. A similar occurrence had taken place around 2 years earlier at nearby Auchinraith Colliery. The examination revealed no explosives had been used.
Before the incident some 300 men had been employed at this pit. However, even by 1921, Larkfield was recognised as an “old pit”, which if it had not been for WW1, would likely have been closed in the 1910’s. There was little expectation that it would open again.
Pictured in the 1950’s, is the view from the top of the former Larkfield Bing, looking over Blantyre, before it was levelled, the fields of Wheatlandhead in the foreground.
From the book, “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2019