About the Pit
The colliery was situated about two miles east of Ayr at Muirkirk. There were two shafts, Nos. 1 and 2 which were sunk about 1870 to a depth of 840 feet. The mine employed 510 men below ground and 130 on the surface. At the time of the explosion there was a daily output of 650 tons of which 400 tons came from the West Mine area. The colliery was in the East Ayr Area of the Scottish Division of the National Coal Board.
The Area General Manager was Mr. G.W. Kirkwood, the Area Productions Manager, Mr. A. Gardener, the Deputy Area Productions Manger (Operations), Mr. P. Milligan, the Group Manager, Mr. A.H. Walker, the manager Mr. T.W. Turner and the Undermanager Mr. D.B. Hill. Mr. Turner was ill when the disaster occurred and had been off work for some time previously so Mr. A. Harley, Manager of the Douglas Castle Colliery in the same group had acted as manager.
The seams that were worked at the colliery in descending order where Ten Ell, Seven Feet, Thirty Inch, and Six Feet but at the time of the explosion the Ell Seam was not being worked. The colliery worked the stoop and room method and coal was produced on the day and afternoon shifts with repair work being done on the night shift. The place advanced about forty feet per week. The coal was won by ‘grunching’, blasting off the solid. At the time of the disaster both capped fuses ignited by ‘Fusee’ matches and short delay detonators, fired electrically, Beethoven exploders were in use. The explosives used were ‘Unigel Eq.S’ and sometimes, in the bottom of the seam, ‘Polar Ammon Gelignite was used.
The mine had always been a naked light mine and before the disaster there had been no reports of firedamp. Open lights were used until December 1956 when electric cap lamps were introduced according to the National Coal Board policy and in agreement with the National Union of Mineworkers to provide the lamps free for the workmen. These lamps were Edison L and L.5 types. The change made the mine subject to the Coal Mines Act 1911. Smoking, which had been allowed at the mine was prohibited and only permitted explosives cold be used. The management after consultation with the Mines Inspector did not fill the shrouds of the head screws with a hard wax and the lamps were not ‘locked lamps’ as specified in the meaning of the Act. Locked flame safety lamps were issued to the deputies for their statutory inspections and this had been done for some time before the 1951 regulations. The deputies also used cap lamps in which the wax seal had been retained.
The mine was ventilated by an axial flow fan on the surface at the No.1 Downcast Shaft and was designed to produce 120,000 cubic feet per minute. Dust sample were collected each month and were all collected in the West Mine, six in the Pony Level of the Six Feet Section and six more inbye in the Nine Feet Seam next to the junction with the West Mine haulage road. The samples from the Pony Level were not shown as a dust zone on the plan. The analysis of the samples from the Pony Level during the six months prior to the disaster showed that there was between 75 to 98 per cent of incombustible matter. Stone dust was applied and for some months previous to October the word ‘wet’ had been entered in the record book for the West Mine haulage road and the outbye end of the West Nine Intake. There were water sprays as a precaution against air borne dust at certain transfer and loading points and firedamp had been found in small quantities only on three occasions prior to the explosion.
The West Mine area was about a mile and half from the shafts and it was served by an endless rope haulage near it’s inbye end which passed along a drift known as Connor’s Dook and then by another endless rope haulage which extended into the Nine Feet Seam. The haulage road was known as the West Mine haulage road and formed the main return airway for all the workings in the West Mine area. At a point 2,183 yards inbye it struck the Six Feet Seam, at the Six Feet Bench and 30 yards further inbye the Thirty Inch Seam. The main intake airway ran to the north west of and roughly parallel to the West Main haulage road. At a point 2,053 yards from the shaft there was a booster fan with a capacity of 32,000 cubic feet per minute at a water gauge of 2.5 inches which was installed following a ventilation survey at the end of 1950. Beyond the booster fan the air split to the Six Feet and Nine Feet Seams, the latter being spilt again to provide ventilation for the No.2 Thirty Inch Section. The return air from the Nine Feet Seam and the No.2 Thirty Inch Section joined the West Main Haulage road just inbye of the Six Feet Bench and that from the Six Feet Seam joined it just outbye of that point. Further outbye along the haulage road there was a small section known as No.1 Thirty Inch which was ventilated by a shunt split.
There were the deputies’ districts in the West Mine, the Nine Feet, the Six Feet and No. 2 Thirty Inch and the No.1 Thirty Inch which also included the Pit Bottoms and Bell’s Mine Locomotive Road in the East Mine. On the day shift there was an overman for the Nine Feet and No.1 Thirty Inch districts and the other for the Six Feet and No.2 Thirty Inch district. On the afternoon and night shifts there was only one overman for the whole colliery.
The explosion occurred in the Six Feet Section. The seam here was 9 feet 6 inches thick. In the Rooms, the top 2 feet 8 inches of coal was left to and recovered, where possible, during stooping operations. In the main roads, which were supported by steel girders, only the top 8 inches of coal was left. The main haulage and return airway for the section was the No.2 Dook which dipped in a southerly direction at a gradient of 1 in 5 from the Pony Level. The intake airway was known as the Companion Dook and ran parallel with and to the west of the No.2 Dook. At the time of the disaster there were three connections between the two Dooks, Walker’s Fan crossing, Wylie’s Fan Crosscut and Casagranda’s Level. The only places where coal was being got were the Stooping Section, Walker’s Dip and Wylie’s Level but there were several places standing open which had been discontinued or abandoned within the previous six months and which had no means of conducting air into them.
From west to east there was, an old heading running north-west from the Companion Dook opposite Walker’s Fan Crosscut which was known as the Right Hand Road Off Intake, which stopped on 3rd June. There was a north-west extension of Casagranda’s Level which stopped beyond No.2 Dook which was known as Wylie’s Slope. This stopped at a fault on 19th October. A heading ran eastwards from No.2 Dook between Wylie’s Slope and Wylie’s Fan Crosscut which was stopped on 21st September and Walker’s Fan Crosscut which ran eastwards from No 2 Dook opposite Walker’s Fan Crosscut was stopped on 26th October. There was a second place running north from Walker’s Level which was known as Walker’s Rise which stopped on 2nd November.
The main ventilating current passed down the Companion Dook, through Casagranda’s Level and up the No.2 Dook. It then went down the Belt Level to ventilate the Stooping Section and reached the main return airway which was the West Mine haulage road just outbye of the Six Feet Bench. Two screens paced across No.2 Dook a little way above the Belt Level and rejoined the main return airway at the Six Feet Bench. Four auxiliary fans in the Walker’s Fan Crosscut, Wylie’s Fan Crosscut, the Companion Dook and the Belt Level were used to ventilate the working places. The coal was transported from the working places by scraper conveyors to loading points at which it was transferred to tubs for transport to the No. 2 Dook by main rope haulage and from there along the Pony Level by horse haulage. The only exception was in the Stooping Section where the scraper conveyors from the faces delivered on to a belt conveyor for transport along the Belt Level to the loading point near No.2 Dook.