A different take on Blantyre Explosion next. This account was written by Labour Leader and MP of the time, Keir Hardie. Published in the Labour Leader Magazine on Hogmanay 1909, it’s more of a story around fictional characters, putting them in the situation of the Blantyre Pit Disaster of 1877. It is published here in several parts, transcribed by myself for your interest. Keir writes:
“That fatal 22nd October 1877, Jock went to work as normal, along with a number of others. Bauldie Aitchison among the rest, he sat down to have his customary smoke at the Brae Head, and after discussing the latest murder and breach of promises cases, Bauldie got up saying, ‘I maun gang away, ben chaps, tho’ tae tell the truth I’d faur rather gang but this mornin’. Thank God the end of the month i’ll sune be here, then oot comes ma toaster. If i should tramp the shoon off my fit, I’ll no work langer in this wee hell’.
‘Richt ye are Bauldie’, said mair than one voice in response. ‘Better tae die in a sheuch than bide here tae be roasted like spaudron’ And gathering up their picks, these brave fellows made their way into their working place. This determination of theirs to leave what they knew to be a veritable man-trap, baited with fire was a chronic one, though it seldom came to anything, their poverty and a certain inborn carelessness and familiarity with danger making them postpone the day of their departure from month to month, trusting to luck to get them away before the inevitable holocaust overtook them. Well for them, had they listened in time to the voice of warning.
On reaching the face, Bauldie set to work to prepare the shot. From time to time he glanced nervously at his lamp on the pavement which was burning with unusual brilliancy, the flame sometimes being drawn up a foot or more from the wick. From the shearing in the left hand side of the place, came a particular hissing sound whilst the pavement bubbled and hissed ominously. Before finally stemming his hole, Bauldie sent his boy around to ask Jock Jamieson to come round and speak to him, a summons which was at once obeyed, though it meant a sacrifice of Jock’s own time and to the miner, time is money in reality. Among no class of workmen is there a more self sacrificing spirit than amongst miners, it being no uncommon thing for one man to spend an hour, helping a neighbour out of difficulty, though it meant the loss of an hours work to himself.
Bauldie pointed out to Jock how the coal was giving off gas and the danger there was of an explosion if he fired the shot, especially as the waste around them was known to be full of fire. ‘But’ he said despairingly, ‘whit can a man dae? Here I am this mornin’ without a bite of bread and the bairns will gang breakfastless till ah tak hame some cash the nicht. An if i gang hame the day without ma coals, there’s nae cash fur me. What dae ye think ah should dae Jock?’
‘Tak yer jacket off an waft the place weel oot afore ye fire.’ answered Jock ‘an lippen the rest tae Providence’. It’s aw ye kin dae and if the worst comes tae the worst, God hae mercy on the men wha’s heid will rest the responsibility. I’m goin awa, ben the level, tae look for a tree tae keep the road fae comin in, an by the time a get back, ye’ll have yer coals hauf fou. Keep up yer heart Bauldie that there’s nae fear, but a will come richt. ‘But’ and he clenched his teeth as he spoke, ‘It’s fearfu tae think o men compelled tae earn their bread like this an aw tae mak siller for men wha dinnae ken hoo tae wair’t. Nae trees, an’ oceans o’ gas, an’ newspapers tellin’ us hoo well we’re looked after noo wi’ oor Acks o’ Parliament an’ oor Inspectors! Shams an’ hypocrisy, the hale jing bang o’ them.”
“A’ richt,” said Bauldie, ” here goes for the last shot I’ll ever fire in the wark. I’ll clean aff my place th’ day and tak’ the road for ‘t, come weal or woe.”
Having delivered himself of this tirade, Jock went off to search for his tree, leaving Bauldie busy at work stemming his shot preparatory to blasting. Having rammed home the charge and filled his straw for lighting it, Bauldie took his plaiden jacket and vigorously waved it about his head, driving the gas out from his place. Then, having sent the boy out to a place of safety, he dipped a bit of wick in oil, fastened it to the end of the straw in the hole, lighted it from his lamp, and ran out to the first open end, and had barely turned the corner of the stoop when the shot went off with a loud report and a crash, and ere Bauldie had time to congratulate himself on the danger being over, the pavement below, the rock overhead, the stoop and the waste round about him, seemed to open and reveal the horrors of the bottomless pit. There was a sound as of the rolling of a thousand thunder peals, a rush as of many waters, a roar, and Bauldie Aitchison had fired his last shot.
The Blantyre pit had exploded. Continued on Part 2