Valleyfield Mine Site
Valleyfield Mine Site, Newmills, Fife (South of B9037, just west of Newmills)
Valleyfield Disaster - Social Club Plaque
Memorial Garden at St Serf's School in High Valleyfield
Valleyfield Disaster 28 - Oct - 1939
Valleyfield Avenue, High Valleyfield, Dunfermline
VALLEYFIELD. Culross, Fife. 28th October, 1939.
The Valleyfield Colliery was one of a group of fourteen collieries which were owned by the Fife Coal Company. It was situated about five miles west of Dunfermline at Newmills, in the Parish of Culross. There were two shafts at the colliery which were sunk about 1908. The output was about 850 tons per day. The general manager of the Fife Coal Company was Mr. C.C. Reid and the Company’s operations were so extensive it was impossible for him to exercise a working control over the fourteen pits in the group which produced three and a half million tons of coal per annum. The system was to appoint agents with each supervising a group of collieries and these agents reported to Mr Reid at frequent intervals. The agent responsible for the Valleyfield Colliery was Mr. K.H. McNeill, the manager was Mr. Robert Aitchison and both the agent and the manger were well qualified. Overmen were appointed by the managers to supervise the work during the shifts.
The colliery was well laid out and equipped with the latest plant, the best type electrical apparatus. The Company had a Safety and Research Department and an appointed Safety Engineer. At each of the fourteen collieries there were safety Officer and some of the Collieries had safety Committees. The Company was also trying to educate its’ officials and men in the object of the Regulations and their responsibilities under these Regulations. These voluntary efforts had led to a considerable decrease in the accident rate.
During the night shift on 28th October 1939, work in the Culross District was proceeding in the No.2 Diamond Section at a longwall face which was about 730 feet in length. Three development headings which were named after the contractors whose men worked in them, McKeeman’s, Cairn’s and Dodd’s were also being worked in the coal to eventually form another longwall face. Dodd’s Stone Mine was off McKeeman’s level and this was standing at the time of the disaster. It had been worked by Dodd’s men until 18th October when the succeeded Cairn’s and his men in the development of what became known as Dodd’s Heading.
At the time of the explosions there were also men in the Culross Five Feet Section. The explosion originated in the Culross District of the mine in Dodd’s Heading and spread extensively and violently to other parts of the mine. Thirty three men died instantly and two others were seriously injured. One of these George Toal, was able to give evidence to the inquiry though seriously injured. A further twenty four men were affected by the afterdamp.
The men who died were-
Those working in Dodds’ Heading-
- E. Link aged 24 years, oncost worker
- T. Kerr jnr. aged 27 years, fireman
- A. Gauld aged 33 years, brusher
- D. Baillie aged 36 years, brusher
- P. Martin aged 42 years, brusher
- M. Murray aged 33 years, brusher.
Those working in McKeeman’s Heading-
- R. Nicholson aged 32 years, brusher
- A. Doohan aged 39 years, brusher.
Those working in McKeemans’s Level and Crosscut-
- J. McFadzean aged 28 years, oncost worker
- D. Ewing aged 27 years, brusher
- M. Tinney aged 25 years, oncost worker
Those working in Cairn’s Heading-
- W. Ramage aged 52 years, brusher
- J. Brown aged 21years, brusher
- R. Wright aged 48 years, brusher
- D. Cairns aged 35 years, oncost worker
- P. Gilliard aged 21 years, brusher
Those working on No.2 Diamond Face-
- H. Toal aged 29 years, machineman
- W. Devlin aged 30 years, machineman
- A. Anderson aged 43 years, brusher
- A. Lawrie aged 32 years, brusher
- R. McFarlane aged 39 years, repairer
- A. Christie aged 61 years, supervisor
- J. Spowart aged 44 years, brusher
- R. Lang aged 22 years, engineer
- J. McIntyre aged 21 years, electrician
- B. Keegan aged 52 years, brusher
- C. Morrison aged 51 years, fireman
- A. Paterson aged 32 years, brusher
- J. Irvine aged 38 years, packer
- D. Hogg aged 49 years, packer
- T. Clark aged 47 years, brusher
- T. Campbell Hutchinson aged 57 years, brusher
- E. Glass aged 28 years, oncost worker
- T. Kerr snr. aged 58 years, oncost worker on the telephones who died in hospital
- A. Banks aged 65 years, oncost haulage worker who died in hospital.
The Inquiry into the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Valleyfield Colliery, Culross, Fife on the 28th October 1939 was conducted by R.P. Morison, K.C., Commissioner and Sir Henry Walker, C.B.E., LL.D. acting as technical assessor was held in the No.8 Court of the Parliament House, Edinburgh. Evidence was taken for fourteen days in January with all interested parties represented and the investigation was adjourned on 27th January. It was resumed on the 29th February and concluded on the 4th. March. The report was presented to D.R. Grenfell, C.B.E., M.P., Secretary for Mines on the 2nd August 1940.
The origin of the explosion was an ignition of gas by the firing of a shot in the face in Dodd’s Heading. When the explosion occurred the place was 12 feet wide and 8 feet 6 inches high which was being drive to the rise in the coal. The method of bringing down the coal was to fire five or six shots in the bottom of the coal and then one or two shots in the top coal. Examination of the face after the disaster disclosed that the last shot in the top coal had caused the explosion. There were two unusual fractures in the coal seen after the shot but there was no evidence that these were visible before the shot was fired.
The presence of soft coal made it possible that the last shot was over charged and that it had consequently ‘blown out’ and the gas ignited and exploded. This theory was accepted by all the expert witnesses at the inquiry. Another possible source of ignition was the shot-firing battery which was used in the heading. The battery was a Schaffler’s System Electrical Mines exploder B.D.K.25 and it was found in a refuge hole about 40 yards from the face. This was approved for work in stone but not for work in coal. There was no evidence that this had been used to fire the shots and the manager explained that the responsibility for the failure to return the battery to the surface lay with the fireman.
The question of whether the gas was liberated and ignited as the last shot was fired or an explosive mixture was present when the shot was fired which had been liberated from the firing of the shots in the bottom coal. The expert witnesses thought that the latter was the case. At the place where the explosion originated the signs of violence were very slight. Stemmers were left standing up but the explosion increased in violence as it went across the heading and spread extensively and violently to other parts of the mine. The main force of the explosion travelled outbye from Dodd’s Heading and reached the junction of the Heading and McKeeman’s Level. It then divided into three. One blast went down the Diamond Dook, one down the No.2 Unit Loading Road, causing a heavy fall and down McKeeman’s Level, the Compressor Road and into McKeeman’s Heading. The force also travelled inbye into the Culross Five Foot Section where doors were blown inbye in the Top Road No.1. In the whole of the Diamond Section arches and girders were displaced and tubs overturned. The overcast across the Culross Five Foot Dook, which was about 900 yards from the Dodd’s Heading, was disrupted and dust was raised at the downcast shaft more than 1,500 yards away.
The inquiry came to the following conclusions-
That the initial cause of the explosion was an ignition of firedamp during the firing of a shot in the top coal.
- That the spread of the explosion was caused by coal dust which had accumulated in certain roads.
- That certain roads through which the explosion spread were insufficiently stone dusted.
- That had the discovery of gas after the firing of almost every round of shots in the headings been reported, as it ought to have been in accordance with the Regulations, it is possible that steps might have been taken which would have prevented the explosion.
- That a number of other breaches of the Regulations in relation to shot firing were alone connected with explosions. But in my view they suggest an absence of proper supervision over the work in the headings. The Investigation has not in my opinion disclosed that it is necessary or that it is desirable that the existing regulations should be amended or supplemented. Suggestions were made by Mr. W.T. Miller, who appeared for the Federation of Colliery Deputies, that ventilation by means of auxiliary fans was undesirable, and that stonedust should be suspended in shelves near the roofs of the roads. But the evidence led at the investigation was not sufficiently directed to these points to enable me to express a concluded view upon them.”