The Disaster Pithead

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From my forthcoming Blantyre mining book, “Hollow Earth & Hardship“.

It wasn’t just those who were underground who were injured or died in the Blantyre Pit Disaster. The force of the explosion also reached people on the surface!

On that morning of Monday 22nd October 1877, the fearful dull rumbling sound heard above ground was a sudden warning that something terrible was happening below ground. For the miners and mangers still on the surface, there could have been little doubt about an unfolding catastrophe, their fears realised as they witnessed a tremendous volume of flame vomiting forth from Number 3 shaft.

The flame roared vertically, coming from the bellows of the earth, completely smashing the cage and its supportive woodwork. The extreme heat immediately set about anybody standing nearby and enveloped Mr Watson (the manger) and some joiners who were working on repairs around the pit mouth. Two of these men, it is said were actually blown a distance of some 20 feet from the shaft, knocked right off their feet by the impact of flame, smoke and air.

However, this only conveys a faint idea of the violence of the explosion, for even that forceful description is minor when you consider this fireball had already travelled some 2,800 feet before finding egress from the pithead! One can only imagine its ferocity at source.

Following the flame, the air was immediately filled with a significant quantity of coal dust which darkened the air in the vicinity for a few minutes and could be seen far off in the distance.

As those on the surface struggled to get to their feet amongst this dark cloud, there came from the shaft, a second rumbling noise, indicating only too plainly that the supports and bracing had fallen in, cascading to the bottom, including a portion of the sides. Those alive on the surface knew exactly what this meant. Reaching possible survivors was going to be very difficult, their primary means of escape now blocked.


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