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Burngrange - West Calder, Midlothian. 10th January, 1947 - Page 5

An Incident Attended By Jimmy Simpson - Coatbridge Mines Rescue Station
Nos.1 and 2 (Oil Shale) Mine - 15 Died in This Tradgedy - The Inquiry - Emails

The inquiry into the causes and circumstances attending the explosion and fire which occurred at Burngrange Nos. 1 and 2 (Oil Shale) Mine, Midlothian was conducted by A.M. Bryan, J.P., B.Sc., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines at the Seafield Institute, West Calder on Tuesday 25th March 1947 and was concluded on the 26th March. All interested parties were represented.

There was no mystery about the cause of the initial explosion, it was one of firedamp which was ignited at the open acetylene lamp of Thomas Reid and must have been small since no one in the immediate vicinity was burned. The fires presented some unusual features and there seemed little doubt that the flame continued long enough to ignite dry timbers and probably originated at the edge of the goaf.

Mr. Bryan came to the following conclusions and summarised the results of the Inquiry:-
1). That the initial firedamp explosion originated near the waste edge close to the face of the rise split off No.14 Level, one of James Todd’s working places in the stooping section, No.2 District, Dunnet Seam, when firedamp was ignited at the flame of an open acetylene lamp carried by Thomas Reid.

2). That the initial explosion was followed almost immediately by a second firedamp explosion, which spread along the waste to adjacent places and that this explosion was followed by a series of lighter explosions and the burning of gas along the waste edge, causing flame to persist.

3). That the firedamp had collected gradually over a period of time in the higher cavities of the waste or goaf formed by stooping, where its presence could not normally be detected, and that some of it had been expelled from there into Todd’s working place by roof movements or falls of roof in the waste shortly before the return of the workmen after their meal interval.

4).That the persistent flame caused by fires in at least five separate places, due initially to the ignition of timber at or near the waste edge and the subsequent ignition of fallen and loose pieces of oil shale.

5). That the fires were sufficiently brought under control to permit rescue operations but were not wholly extinguished, largely due to inaccessibility, with the result that the fire area had to be sealed off.

6). That John McGarty was fatally injured through his head striking a sharp object when he was blown down by the blast from the second explosion and that the 14 other men lost their lives from the effects of breathing afterdamp produced by the explosions and subsequent fires.

7). That there were no breaches of statutory requirements.

The Inquiry disclosed that it was necessary and desirable to effect certain changes and made the following recommendations:-
i). That only locked safety lamps be permitted within prescribed areas to include all working faces in the Dunnet Seam but that the exemption from the full requirements of Section 32 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911 is warranted by the character of the mines in respect of those parts out with the prescribed areas.

ii). That since there is some ambiguity as to the application of the Explosives in
Coal Mines Order and some difficulty in applying it to oil shale mines, the use of explosives in such mines should be governed by a separate Order under Section 61 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911.

iii). That by this Order any seam or part of a seam in mines of oil shale in which safety lamps are required by the Act or Regulations of the mine to be used, the use of permitted explosives should be made compulsory in all working places in direct contact with, or about to hole through on, waste or goaf.

iiii). That properly trained and experienced oil shale miners in charge of a working place or places, should be eligible for appointment as competent persons to fire shots where permitted explosives are used, notwithstanding that their wages depend upon the amount of mineral gotten.

v).That, whilst it would be unreasonable to prohibit by Regulation the practice of ‘stooping’ elsewhere than at the return end of a ventilation district, or, in other words, to require that the air used for ventilating a ‘stooping’ section, shall not thereafter be used for the ventilation of other workings, nevertheless this practice should be resorted to only in special or exceptional circumstances.

vi). That in each geographical division of the National Coal Board there should be
(a) a first-class common fire-fighting service and (b) an efficient mobile scientific service for the prompt analysis of samples of mine atmospheres and the interpretation of the results of analyses, for mines of all classes, whether operated by the National Coal Board or not, based on or co-ordinated with a common and efficient Mines Rescue Service.”

Commenting on the rescue operations Mr. Bryan said-
The rescue and recovery operations upheld the highest traditions established by the men in the mining industry in these activities. Calamity is indeed man’s true touchstone. I should like to record my tribute to the excellent work done by all concerned under very difficult and trying conditions over the long period from the occurrence of the explosion to the recovery of the bodies of the unfortunate victims. It was unfortunate that none of the trapped men was alive, but that was in no way the fault of the representatives or officials and workmen, the National Fire Service, the Mines Rescue Brigades or H.M. Inspectors who took part in the operation.

I feel a special word of praise should be given to the members of the National Fire Service who, for the first time in their short history and, I believe, in the annals of mining, played a valuable part in the fire-fighting operations underground. Although intended and trained for fire fighting on the surface, the teams concerned never hesitated for a moment when the fire was down in the working of a mine.

Although I have said, all concerned in the rescue operations are worthy of praise, I have no hesitation in singling out the overman, David Brown, for special mention. His efforts to reach the trapped men in the early stages of the disaster, with and with out self-contained breathing apparatus, alone and in the company and as the leader of a trained rescue team, were deserving of the highest praise.

In all he made no fewer than five attempts to reach the entombed men. He was indefatigable he displayed exceptional courage and determination well knowing the danger involved and I have already brought this to notice with a view to its appropriate recognition.

Barry Robertson - Looking For Photos - Burngrange Pit Disaster, 1947
Brian Ross - BBC - My Grandfather Hugh Wilson Died in a Mining Accident at Burngrange About 1940 - Any information
Margaret Foster - Burngrange West Calder Midlothian - My Dad was on a different shift. He was among the rescue squad
Gwen Brown - My Grandfather Hugh Wilson Died in a Mining Accident at Burngrange About 1940 - Any information
Dougie Gair - Re Alex W Duncan's question Re Burngrange, Midlothian or West Lothian
Alex W Duncan
- Re Burngrange, Midlothian or West Lothian

Barry Robertson
20 Feb 2016
Looking For Photos - Burngrange Pit Disaster, 1947

Hi my name is Barry Robertson I’m doing a project about the Burngrange Pit Disaster I’m looking for pictures of the pit and also the miners and the equipment and clothing they wore.

Gwen Brown
18 February 2013
My Grandfather Hugh Wilson Died in a Mining Accident at Burngrange About 1940 - Any information

I wondered if you could give any information about my grandfather Hugh Wilson who was killed in a mining accident at Burngrange about 1940? My parents both lived in West Calder in Back Street.

My mother was 14 when her father died and has never spoken about her Dad. She is in a care home now and is unable to give me any information. She was always very upset at Christmas.

I met someone from West Calder recently who knew my father- George Peat Morris.
If you could point me in the right direction.

Best wishes

Gwen Brown

Sent from my iPad

From:   Tom Wilson
Sent:    20 March 2013

My cousin Gwen Brown recently enquired about our Grandfather Hugh Wilson who was killed in a shale mining accident in the 1940's

Could you let her know that I found details at Scottish Mining Site  which states Hugh Wilson aged 49, a shale miner, died 24 Dec 1943 at the Fraser Pit, West Calder, Lothian. He was struck by material from shot.

Many thanks
Tom Wilson

Fraser Pit in production, 1950's. (BP Archives 19801-002)

Sent from my iPad

Brian Ross
28 Nov 2015
Burngrange shale mining disaster


I’m making a documentary for BBC Scotland about the History/Social History of the Shale Oil industry in West Lothian.

I’m trying to find people with a link to the Burngrange disaster and I see on your site there is a Margaret Foster who posted a poem about the disaster on 11 Jan 2012.  She also says she heard the alarm and that her dad helped with the rescue.

Would it be possible for you to put me in touch with Margaret – either by supplying me with her email or by supplying her with mine/

Best Wishes


Margaret Foster
11 January 2012
Burngrange West Calder Midlothian - My Dad was on a different shift. He was among the rescue squad

Burngrange 1947

The siren blared and fear took hold
As families quake in terror
Beneath the ground the men are trapped
Within a living horror

Explosion, fire and poison gas
Is the hell that holds them
The coal that gives their daily bread
Has turned its back against them

Fifty made it to the shaft
Out of the living hell
How they did we can but wonder
God alone can tell

The fires quelled, gas expelled
The search does not abate
They reach the fall and breach the wall
The men are found...To late

Sixty years on down the track
The pit is closed
The miners gone
Fifteen names on a dull bronze plaque
Time moves on

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Margaret Foster January 1007 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Burngrange Scotland
Jan 1947 - I heard the siren go off but I was only three and I of course was to young to understand what was happening. My Dad was on a different shift but he went immediately to the pit head where the rescue teams were organised.  He never talked much about it except to say it was one of the saddest experiences of his life.

The plaque stands in the main street in West Calder.

Alex W Duncan
11 January 2012
Re Burngrange, Midlothian or West Lothian

Dear Fionn,
In the intro to the Burngrange Disaster web site, it states the locus of the Colliery as being within Midlothian. Being 10 years old at that time in 1947, I would have placed Burngrange in West Lothian, I realise that Midlothian has shrunk over the years, but I cannot remember it going as far West to include the West Calder area.

Within 6 years of this Disaster we saw the first of the Shale Mine workers arriving into the Coal Mines of Midlothian, in particular Lingerwood Colliery in Newtongrange, and they all claimed to have worked in West Lothian. This may seem to be a trivia question, but these little details trigger my curiosity.

Alex W Duncan.

Ex Assitant Chief Electrical Engineer Bilston Glen Colliery.

See Dougie Gair's Explanation Below

Dougie Gair
28 February 2012
Re Alex W Duncan's question Re Burngrange, Midlothian or West Lothian

Dear Fionn

Tarbrax No. 4 c.1920
With regards to Alex’s question as to whether Burngrange was in Midlothian or West Lothian. (See above)

At the time of the Burngrange Disaster, 1947, West Calder was within Midlothian with that County stretching to nearly Shotts in the west and Cobbinshaw to the south. West Calder did not become part of West Lothian until 1975 at the time of Local Government reorganisation.

Most of the shale pits were within West Lothian but a few were in Midlothian and even one just inside Lanarkshire.

I would be more than happy to answer any questions about the shale pits and mines of West Lothian, Midlothian and Lanarkshire.

My Grandfather, Father and Uncles worked in a few and my maternal Grandfather worked in a coal pit which served the shale pit and oil works at Tarbrax which is the one which was slightly within Lanarkshire.

Dougie Gair

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