Glasgow Herald Reports, 1877 (Part 1 of 3)

On Tuesday 23rd October 1877, the day after the Blantyre Pit Disaster, the Glasgow Herald newspaper opened their many columns, with the following words:

Possibly the greatest calamity which has ever occurred in the history of mining operations in Scotland happened in our near neighbourhood yesterday.

Lanarkshire has been well described as the “black country” of Scotland; but not withstanding the extensive presence of pits in every district, comparative immunity has hitherto been enjoyed from those disasters which unhappily so frequently accompany the prosecution of mining in many parts of England. This, no doubt, in part is due to the fact that fire-damp is a less prevalent agent in our collieries than those to the South of the Tweed; but also, there can be no question, to the circumstance that of late more especially the most improved methods of ventilation and processes of working have obtained with employers and workmen alike.

Unfortunately there are and probably ever will be found men who neglect the observance of the precautions which science and experience have suggested, with the most direful results to themselves and their fellows. Whether the sad calamity of yesterday, which has thrown the village of Blantyre and a wide expanse of country around into the deepest mourning — and the news of which will cast a gloom over a much more extended community — was due to negligence or pure mishap is as yet, of course, a mere matter for conjecture, and does not enter into consideration now. The stern and solemn fact, however, remains that of 233 men who yesterday morning at an early hour proceeded to the prosecution of their usual avocations hale and hearty only some 20 or 22 returned alive, and 13 have been recovered lifeless, leaving about 200 still imprisoned in the bowels of the earth.

   High Blantyre, the scene of the catastrophe, lies about seven miles to the south-east of Glasgow, on what is known as the Old Road between the city and Hamilton. The village, which is situated to the south of the main highway, covers a large area of ground that stretches from the Caledonian Railway Line leading to Hamilton to some distance beyond the same company’s branch which runs to Strathaven.

For many years the district was not of much importance and in a somewhat standstill condition, but on account of the recent discovery of extensive beds of coal, and the consequent sinking of numerous shafts, the district is rapidly rising into importance, and now bids fair to become one of the best and largest mining fields in the West of Scotland. Within a very short period of time the population of the neighbourhood has more than doubled. The place, however, is being laid out with no attention to order. Buildings of all shapes and sizes are running up here and there, and roads are constructed just as the whim of the proprietors may dictate. To get from the lower district of the village to the spot where the accident happened yesterday one was obliged to thread a maze of the dirtiest and most intricate ways and byways that the county can boast of, and the wonder is that the people should have waited till this late hour in the day to move for their erection into a burgh. The pits in which the accident occurred are situated to the extreme south of High Blantyre, about half a mile from this division of the village, and only a few yards from the line to Strathaven.

The workings, which are the property of Messrs Wm. Dixon & Co. (Limited), are divided into three sections, known as Nos. 1, 2 and 3 Pits. An old byway which passes from Stonefield to Hamilton runs through the property. On the south side stand a series of collier’s houses, and to the rear of these, but on a more elevated position, is Pit No. 2. Immediately to the north of the roadway are the offices of the company, a one-storey brick erection, running east and west. About 50 yards to the north-east lies Pit No. 1, while fully 100 yards, in a south-easterly direction from the latter, is the pit No. 3, the three pits making pretty nearly a triangle, the whole being linked by a network of railways. In order to meet the requirements of the Act of Parliament the whole of them are connected with each other — No. 3 with No. 2, and No. 2 with No. 1, but the latter has no direct communication with No. 3. The depth of the shaft at No. 2 Pit is 130 fathoms, while No. 3 is 25 fathoms more, being 155. In all the pits there are seams of ell, main and splint coal, but up till the present time attention has mainly been directed to the splint. As usual, the workings branch off in various directions.

We may, however, explain that in No. 2 Pit the north level runs for a length of 350 yards in that direction, and the south level runs out a distance of 750 yards, each having numerous branches. In addition, there is what is known as a “dip” to the north side of No. 2 Pit, and this extends a distance of about 600 yards. The shortest communicating passage between No. 3 and No. 2 Pits is some 600 yards long, and takes almost a direct south-western direction. A general system of communication runs throughout the whole of the three pits. The principal channel from which the fresh air is drawn is No. 3 Pit. The air passes by a series of workings from east to south-west, where it unites with a current which is carried from the bottom of No. 2 shaft; and, the two uniting, pass westwards for a considerable distance, and then turning to the north traverses in that direction for some hundreds of yards, when, having been joined by another current which comes from the north, the conjoined current takes an easterly direction, and passes on until it reaches and is carried off by the upcast shaft, and at the last Government inspection it was found that these introduced 100,000 cubic feet of air per minute. Taken as a whole, the system of ventilation is of the most improved description, and it is generally admitted by all who have practical acquaintance with the working of pits that those at Blantyre were what might be called models of ventilation.

As we have said, there were three seams of coal in the pits, but recently the miners have been engaged at the splint only, though preparations had been made for working the ell at an early period. No. 2 Pit was opened in 1873, and has been in constant operation since then. The splint seam, though extensive, was pretty well wrought out. The system of working adopted was that of the “stoop and room.” In the course of operations the work had so far progressed that to the south-west a considerable portion of the seam was completely wrought out, and the men were gradually working backwards towards the bottom of the shaft, removing the stoops as they retired, and were engaged in that operation when the calamity of yesterday occurred.

Continued tomorrow. Pictured are those attending to the injure at the top of the pithead.

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