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Memorials - Photographs - Page 36

Barrwood Disaster

Kilsyth Parish Church Cemetery, Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire

8th March 1878



To The Memory Of
Alexander Ross, James Ross
John Miller, George Young
William Cameron, James Cameron
Robert Whyte And Edward Hardy
Buried Here
Also Of
Walter Cowan, Walter Ralston
James Coold, David Coold
James Wardrop Sen, James Wardrop Jnr
Walter Waldrop, Alexander Burns
And David Fleming
Buried In Their Family Lairs, In This Church Yard
Who Lost Their Lives By The Accident
At Barrwood Pits On The On The 8th March 1870

Barrwood Disaster

Kilsyth, Fifeshire. 8th March, 1878.

IanThe colliery was on the rising ground near the village of Kilsyth and had two pits, Nos.1 and 2. No.1 was the upcast shaft and was about 400 yards to the south east of the No.2 and was the property of William Baid and Company. The No.1 was 121 fathoms deep to the coking coal that was well known in the district and the No.2 shaft was 142 fathoms deep to the same seam. Fourteen fathoms above the coking coal lay the ‘Bantone’’ ironstone and sixty three fathoms above this lay the ‘Gartshore’ ironstone. Both the ironstone seams had been worked from the No.2 pit and the Gartshore had been abandoned for a number of years. The coking coal was about three feet seven inches thick on average and was worked by the log wall system. The roof was of cross grained freestone. The Bantone ironstone was twelve inches thick and the working height was two feet.

The ventilation was from two furnaces at the bottom of the No.1 pit. Each was four and a half feet wide with six feet bars which produced 40,000 cubic feet of air per minute. Mr. Rolandson, the assistant Inspector, had visited the colliery on the 29th. January 1878 and found the air distributed as follows-

“15,550 cubic feet passed down the main dook and a certain amount of leakage was permitted to pass through the screens placed in the various branch roads leading off on each side of it. The air, on reaching the bottom, split to the left and to the right and passed up the working places. that on the north east side, after ventilating places there, was joined by a split of 6.300 feet going in the north east level from the pit bottom and had only to supply one working place immediately to the rise of the level before passing along the range of abandoned workings lying between the level and the upcast. The other half of the split, after serving the south west side, was joined by a scale of air from the pit bottom the two combined amounting to 7,430 feet, went to ventilate the present ironstone workings. The small coal was ventilated by an independent split of 5,230 feet. The remaining air, 9,000 feet, was used to keep the pit in a safe state the abandoned section of the ‘Bantone’ ironstone working north of the 17-fathom dislocation the return from which was the ‘blind’ pit, into the main air courses in the coal and thence direct to the No.1 pit.”

The coal seam was known to be fiery but naked lamps were used and safety lamps only under special circumstance. At 8 p.m. on the night before the accident, the fireman descended and examined the workings before the brushers (night workers) were allowed to commence work and again on the following morning about 3 a.m. before the day shift came down. He reported to the day fireman at the pithead and signed the book that all was well. Eighty workmen were allowed down by the day fireman at 6.15 a.m. and worked for about two hours with no indication of danger.

The first indication that anything was wrong, as reported by the survivors, was that there was a slight blast and others experienced a stoppage, check or reversal of the air. Almost immediately the bottom of the downcast shaft was enveloped in flames and a strong current of air rushed up it. The pit head man described the scene at the surface as- ‘A small emission that might come from gunpowder and was immediately followed by a discharge of steam up the dip end of the shaft and then by steam and smoke from both ends.’ The miners below had rushed to the bottom of the pit when they realised something was wrong. Those in the ironstone and small dook workings found that they could not get up the No.2 shaft and after some delay they were taken by an overman up the south west air course to the No.1 pit and reached the surface in safety. Some men in the main coal dook ran from their working places to the dook road and attempted to get to the pit bottom, but finding the fire raging, they proceeded in the dark up the face. There were about twelve of these men.

At the surface there was no lack of willing volunteers to go down the pit, some reached the No.1 pit and were lowered down a very short time after the disaster. Their efforts were directed at the main dook but any attempt to go forward were difficult and dangerous. Because of the fire that was raging at the bottom of the No.2 pit, the air had reversed and was carrying the products of combustion from the furnaces along with it. The men, finding that the entrance to the No.2 pit bottom closed advanced by Crawfords’ dook and met the twelve men who were making their way in the dark but they did not go any further. They retraced their steps, taking the men with them. They met the boy Fleming, who later died. He worked the donkey engine at the bottom of the pit and in trying to escape, had had his clothes burned off him. The party went to the surface but two remained down until further assistance arrived.

After about fifteen minutes an explosion took place which put out their lights and they went to the bottom of the No.1 pit where they met others who would help. After putting out the furnaces, the party lead by a man who knew the mine, set off down the dook but were driven back by gas. The air was almost stagnant in the mine and to try to get it to circulate, water was forced down to try to get the air to go to the No.2 shaft. They returned to the bottom of the No.1 pit and attempted to approach the south west level and down the south west air course but yet another explosion took place and they returned to the No.1 pit.

Other parties went down but the air was getting worse and although rescue attempts were not abandoned hope of finding anyone alive dwindled. Mr. Moore, an Inspector and his assistant Mr. Ronaldson talked with the management of the mine and it was realised that there was no hope for the men left below ground.

Various schemes were devised to get into the No.2 pit. Water was poured down the shaft and steam jets were introduced in the No.1 shaft. There was a mid wall in each of the shafts and it was found that the air was going down one division and up the other. The mouth of the downcast division of the No.1 and the upcast division of the No.2 were boarded over and after about three quarters of an hour an air current between the two shafts was established. There was little improvement for two or three hours and smoke continued to come from the downcast division of the No.2 shaft.

Explorations were made on the condition of the No.2 shaft by lowering a weighted rope. It was found that the weight could not be lowered to the bottom. On the 9th a descent was made in a ‘kettle’ to within 17 fathoms of the bottom. It was found that the arriving was insecure and the midwall was burned out and repair work started.

An attempt was made to reach the workings from the Bantone’ ironstone and then into the coal but the air was stagnant and the attempt had to be abandoned and the efforts were stepped up to repair the No.2 shaft. At the No.1 pit, parties were trying to get into the workings but the work was stopped when further explosion occurred on the 14th and it was realised that the pit was on fire. A meeting of engineers was called at which the Inspector, Mr. Alexander, was present and the situation was considered.

They issued the following statement- “In attempting to enter the Barwood pits it had been found that the mines are filled with foul air and that the workings are burning as indicated by the explosion which have taken place since an early hour this morning. We having carefully and anxiously considered the state of matters, have come to the conclusion that none of the imprisoned miners can now be alive, and that and a farther attempt to enter the workings would in every probability result in a greater loss of life. We resolved that the only course left is to shut up the mines until the burning is extinguished, and we have arrived at the conclusion with a full appreciation of the painful feeling which will no doubt awaken in the minds of the suffering relatives.”

The mine was closed six days after the disaster and it took four weeks to flood it to 17 or 18 fathoms above the bottom of the No.2 pit. On the 5th. April it was hoped that the fire was extinguished and pumping operations were started to clear the pit of water. As these operations continued, it was found that shaft was badly damaged but was repaired and the working entered. These were also found to be in a very dangerous condition with swollen roof, walls and pavement but there were made safe and the bodies found and recovered. The last body was recovered on the 10th. September, 1878. Those who lost their lives were-

  • Alexander Burns aged 34 years, bottomer.
  • James Wardrope aged 52 years, collier.
  • James Wardrope aged 16 years, collier.
  • David Wardrope aged 20 years, collier.
  • David Gould aged 19 years, collier.
  • Alexander Ross aged 40 years, collier.
  • James Ross aged 15 years, collier.
  • John Miller aged 35 years, collier.
  • William Cameron aged 44 years, collier.
  • James Cameron aged 15 years, collier.
  • James Gould aged 45 years, collier.
  • George Young aged 34 years, collier.
  • Robert White aged 24 years, collier.
  • Walter Ralston aged 30 years, collier.
  • Edward Hardie aged 38 years, collier.
  • Walter Cowan aged 32 years, incline man.
  • David Fleming aged 17 years engine boy.

A fund was started for the benefit of the nine widows and twenty nine children by the gentlemen of the district which provided 5/- a week for each widow and 2/- for each child. The fund was regarded ‘as ample to meet all their future requirements.’

At the inquest into the disaster little light was thrown on the cause. Evidence was taken from the survivors and after the mine had been flooded for several months, there was little to be learned from the inspection of the workings. It was clear that a small explosion took place at the bottom of the dook and of the twenty seven men who were in the place, twelve escaped and of them, six were slightly burned. Some of the bodies were found to have died from suffocation at their places of work and others were found in places where they must have been for about an hour after the first explosion.

One of the survivors said-

“We felt two blasts the last of which out our lights. We went to our bench and afterwards to the pit bottom where we found flames extending round it. There was no way of getting out in that direction. We returned to the bench and after remaining there a little, we went to the pit bottom again we endeavoured to get a light at some burning wood but failed. We went back and along the face with others here we met some explorers. None of us thought of proceeding down the dook. The air was tolerably good all the time we were moving about but we had no light.”

So as was known there was no standing gas in the mine and the ironstone waste was the only place where gas could have accumulated but an hour before the accident some bottomers had entered and found none.

One of the bottomers who was raised just before the explosion said-

“I observed a reversal of the air just as the cage was approaching the bottom, and on reaching it, I found myself surrounded by flames. It seemed to fill the mouth of the north east level from roof to pavement. Down at the low side of the level near the entrance to the dook, the flame rushed over men and into the shaft. Upon seeing a sort of lull in the flame I ran and lay down at the foot of the heading in the fresh air which was blowing strong up the No.2 shaft, a door being partly open.”

The Inspector said it unlikely that the gas originated there but was burning there and it was thought that the withdrawal of the waste space would allow gas to collect there. These would go to the upper strata and be liberated at a break produced by natural subsidence to which long wall mining was subject.

The Inspector commented-

“This is a somewhat unsatisfactory finding but the investigation and inquiries made by Mr. Moore and myself did not warrant us to arrive at a more definite conclusion. Since the accident the mine has been worked by safety lamps.”