From all victims of the Blantyre Pit Disaster of 1877, there’s quite possibly no more sad story than that of the Clyde Family and in particular the heartache that Mrs Agnes Clyde would have to endure. Losing multiple members of her family, the youngest was only 12 who was also recognised as tragically being the youngest person to be caught in that terrible fire damp explosion.
James Clyde was born in Ireland around 1839, the son of James Clyde (a bleacher) and Rose Robertson. On 22nd October 1862 he married Agnes Cornfield a neighbour in Hamilton also of Irish descent. They would have five children, (four boys and a girl) between the years 1863 and 1870. They each marked their wedding certificate with an ‘x’ perhaps signifying that they had difficulty in writing, reading or spelling.
The 1871 census shows Agnes & James and their children William aged 7, Marryanne 6, James 5 and John 3 living at No.4 Low Patrick Street, Hamilton.
Like many miners seeking employment James and Agnes brought their young family to Blantyre around Summer 1875. There would have been several attractive reasons for this. Dixon’s had sunk new pits in Blantyre and miners were being offered tied homes, and the Clyde family would find themselves living at 44 Dixon Street at Dixon’s Rows, Blantyre. Other reasons such as the building of two brand new schools may have offered further incentives to the Clyde family to make a move from Hamilton to Blantyre. A move which would cost some of them their lives.
On the day of his 15th Wedding Anniversary 22nd October 1877, James Clyde aged 38 left home at Stonefield with his sons William aged 14 and James jnr, aged 12 and set off for Dixon’s Pits in High Blantyre. It was a walk which would only take them 20 minutes or so and the men and boys went down the pit, whilst it was still dark in the early hours of the morning. Young William was a pony driver and lived with his parents. Younger brother James Jnr was a driver, aged only 12 and had only been working in the pit for some 3 months.
The pit explosion that morning would take all three of their lives. Father and sons.
James Clyde’s death was registered on 7th November 1877 when together with the body of his youngest son James Clyde Jnr, were brought up to the surface that day, some 2 weeks after the disaster. William’s body would not be recovered until 22nd November 1877, a full month after the explosion.
James Clyde Snr was buried in Dalbeth Cemetery. He was so badly injured in the explosion, a decision was made to close the coffin and he could only be identified by his wife from a shoe and a tartan cravat.
As the doctor registered each death, Agnes Clyde (nee Cornfield) put her mark on the death certificate recognising that, one by one her husband, and sons were dead. She had done this after doing the same for her brother in law John Burns 33, husband of her sister Helen Cornfield and Thomas Burns 24 married to Agnes’s niece Jane Cornfield., i.e two other family members who had died in the explosion.
One cannot imagine the grief and heartache this poor woman must have felt, upon hearing the news of the disaster, the desperation and hope she would have felt during the rescue attempts and ultimate despair and sorrow felt afterwards. It’s difficult to comprehend grief on that scale in such a small space of time.
What happened to the widow?
Agnes Clyde (nee Cornfield) remarried by 1881 to an Englishman by name of McKinstry. The 1881 census has Agnes listed as wife of William McKinstray living at Stonefield, Blantyre with Children John aged 14 and Mary 5. In 1891 Agnes and William McKinstra were living at Hart’s Land, Blantyre. Agnes’s son John and family were also living at Harts Land.
Agnes aged 53 died on 24 December 1900 at 23 Landale Street, Cadzow, Hamilton. Cause of death “Heart Failure”. Her death certificate stated she was married to William McKinstray, coal miner.
The Register of Corrected Entries recorded her cause of death as “Probably sudden failure of heart’s action owing to fatty degeneration while in a state of intoxication. Sudden death”. Recorded on 8 January 1901. Agnes was buried in “Hamilton Cemetery”.