PIT FIRE AT HAMILTON. ONE LIFE LOST; SIX MEN RESCUED (May 1905)
Great excitement was created in Hamilton last evening that the news that fire had been discovered in No. 2 pit, Clyde Colliery, belonging to Wilsons Clyde, Ltd. The fire had originated in the haulage engine-room at the bottom of the shaft in the main coal seam.
Fifteen men were engaged on the back shift in Nos. 2 and 3 pits. The fire was first discovered by the men working in No. 3 pit, through which a current of air, after passing through No. 2 pit, finds its way to upcast shaft. A number of the men speedily came to the surface, but it was found that seven were entombed in Pyotshaw and main coal seams, their names being: David Gibson, Park Place; Peter McGuire, boy, Old Town, Hamilton; James McKillop and Alexander McKiliop, boy, Holyrood Street, Burnbank; Henry Nicol, jun., Holyrood Street; John Sharkie, brusher, Hamilton; Robert Dickson, brusher, Beckford Street, Hamilton.
A rescue party was organised, headed by Andrew Hepburn, manager, and James Boyd, oversman, and consisting of 25 men. They once descended the pit. About ten o’clock information reached the surface that they had succeeded in diverting the smoke into another air-course. A later hour word reached the surface that tho rescuers had been successful in bringing to the surface six of the men entombed, the sole victim being James McKillop. When the fire broke out of the men were as far as half a mile into the workings. Their escape was completely cut off by smoke. Luckily one of their number, who had all his life worked in the pit, and was acquainted with its workings, gathered the men together, and led them to an air shaft about 800 yards from the pit bottom. Here they remained in comparative safety, and here they were found by the rescuers.
Unfortunately, the boy McKillop was noticed by his elder brother, James McKillop, to collapse, and this appears to have upset him that he fell down the air shaft, a distance of some 72 feet. Of the six rescued, Dixon and made their way to the surface unassisted, and the others were brought the shaft wrapped in blankets and conveyed their homes in cabs. Their condition is favourably reported on by the doctors.
The body of James McKillop was afterwards found at the bottom of the ventilating shaft, and brought the surface up No. 3 pit. The colliery was one of the first to be opened 30 years ago in connection with the development of Hamilton coalfield, opened by Mr George Simpson, of Benbar fame. It afterwards came into the hands of the Wilsons & Clyde Coal Company, the head of which is John Wilson, M.P. lias been singularly free from accidents, anything approaching the present being a fire nearly fifteen years ago.
Burnbank has existed in one form or another since at least the late fifteenth century when a grant of lands was made to Sir John Hamilton of Newton. A further grant of lands to Sir John Hamilton of Zhisselberry (which is later recorded as Whistleberry) also included the lands in and around Burnbank. At this time the extent of the area accepted as Burnbank included the modern districts of Whitehill and Hillhouse and the area around Peacock Cross on the Burnbank Hamilton border. Burnbank today consists of Burnbank Centre, Limetree & Udston.
Predominantly rural, with a number of plantations (Whistleberry Plantation and Backmuir Plantation being most prominent) to feed the lace industry in Burnbank and Hamilton which had been sponsored since before 1778 by the then Duchess of Hamilton, Elizabeth Campbell, 1st Baroness Hamilton of Hameldon.
With the Industrial revolution, Burnbank lost its rural identity becoming a mining village and the population of Burnbank had grown so great by the 1870s that a committee of citizens decided to apply for the erection of a Burgh of Burnbank. At the same time residents of Burnbank’s western neighbour Blantyre re-acted by petitioning for the erection of a Burgh of Blantyre. Both cases came before the Sheriff Court sitting at Glasgow. The Sheriff gave extra time for the petitioners for both causes to familiarise themselves with the arguments of their opponents and to respond in turn. The Provost and Burgess’s of the existing Burgh of Hamilton, alarmed at the prospect of one (or possibly both) petitions being successful and thus creating a heavily industrialised, modern and vibrant western rival in turn petitioned the parliament of the United Kingdom giving rise to the Burgh of Hamilton Act 1878.By this Act Burnbank was absorbed into Hamilton – ending its own burghal aspirations.
Prior to the nineteenth century agriculture and lace making were important local industries. Burnbank was home to a number of coalmines or pits. Miner’s cottages or “pit rows” were erected by mine owners to house their employees. Many of these were built by local builder Sir Robert McAlpine, 1st Baronet, early in his career and the foundation of his later wealth.
The Udston Mining disaster occurred in Hamilton, Scotland on Saturday, 28 May 1887 when 73 miners died in a firedamp explosion at Udston Colliery. Caused, it is thought, by unauthorised shot firing the explosion is said to be Scotland’s second worst coal mining disaster. Keir Hardie then Secretary of the Scottish Miners’ Federation, denounced the deaths as murder a few days later.
In August 1918 a fire at Albany Buildings (an apartment block owned by the mining company John Watson Ltd) burned to the ground causing £10,000 of damage and leaving 24 families homeless.
In September 1919 strike action in the Lanarkshire coal fields led to the closure of the Greenfield Colliery.
In May 1932 300 men at John Watson’s Earnock Colliery in Burnbank were thrown out of work because of “bad trace.”
In January 1935 Greenfield Colliery, Burnbank, became the last pit in Hamilton to shut permanently. Earnock Colliery also in Burnbank but out-with Hamilton’s boundaries continued working.
During the Second World War Burnbank suffered at least one attack by the Luftwaffe when a bomb was dropped on tenements (known locally as Sing-Sing) near the railway works on the Whitehill Road. In addition to mining a number of other medium-sized industrial concerns have operated within Burnbank including the Stevenson Carpet Factory, Burnbank, at which Jock Stein had his first job in 1935. This is recorded in the Hamilton Advertiser as opening a new factory worth £85,000 in 1958.MEA also operated a factory in the area for many years. A railway wagon cleaning works is located near Whitehill Road.
“From the middle of the 19th century, Hamilton and surrounding hamlets and villages were dangerous places to live and work. Health and safety was not on the list of priorities and many people were killed in industrial accidents. This story tells of the carnage in Burnbank on the 19th June 1876, when dynamite exploded in a builder’s yard the site of which today would be behind Newfield Crescent at the Burnbank entrance to Pollock Avenue”
During the 1850’s, the discovery of rich coal seams in Hamilton and Burnbank heralded the beginning of the development of the infrastructure required to accommodate the industrialisation of what had been a rural setting. With the development of Greenfield Colliery commencing in May 1859, Burnbank expanded rapidly and railway lines were constructed with branches leading off to the coal mines and developing heavy industry.
Within a short period of time Burnbank, had gone from a quiet little hamlet of only a few houses and farms, to a dangerous, noisy, hub of industry with people coming from all over the country and Ireland to seek employment.
By 1876, John Watson had started extensive colliery operations in a field on the lands of Hillhouse farm and with the purchase of a small piece of land at Burnbank he now had access to the new Bothwell- Hamilton railway line which was under construction. Building this railway was Charles Brand & Sons railway contractor Hope Street, Glasgow whose workshops at Shawsburn were at the end of a narrow road just beyond the bridge which spanned the burn going under the Burnbank Road. Originally a farm, the old buildings had been adapted by the company and one of the buildings, 60 feet by 20 feet, had been converted into a store, joiners shop and a smithy, separated by a wooden partition. Another two buildings were used as stables with stalls for twenty four horses.
At twenty-five past eleven on the morning of Monday September 19th June 1876, Burnbank was rocked by an explosion so loud that it was heard beyond Baillieston, Wishaw and Stonehouse. So violent was this explosion that both the County Buildings and Hamilton Barracks along with the rest of Hamilton, shook to their foundations. Debris from the explosion caused damage to property hundreds of yards away and seven workmen employed by McAlpine, building houses at what would become Burnbank Cross were nearly blown off the roof when the building shook violently and debris rained down on top of them.
At a house thirty feet away from the smithy, a woman named Mrs Hughes who had been standing at her doorway was knocked unconscious when she was hit on the cheek by a brick and her daughter who had been doing a washing, was covered in plaster from the roof and walls. Their comfortable home was extensively damaged. Another two houses close to the site of the blast and occupied by James McGinnigan and James Stirling were left uninhabitable. In Burnbank more than one hundred windows were blown in. People ran out on to the street and collected in groups, speculating on the source of explosion and the general consensus of opinion was that a boiler must have blown up.
Men from all around the area ran towards the scene of the explosion. Navvies left the nearby railway-cuttings where they were working and soldiers from Hamilton barracks, and police and officials from the county buildings all headed as fast as they could towards Burnbank, where a huge cloud of smoke hung over the disaster.
It was evident to the people making for the site of the explosion, that whatever had taken place lay up the narrow road at Shawsburn. The first on the scene was county police officer Sergeant Cruikshanks who had been riding only 100 yards away when the explosion occurred. He arrived at the smoking ruins followed by workers from the McAlpine’s building site and was met by a scene of utter devastation. The smithy and joiners shop no longer existed and in their place was a tangled mass of wood, stone and iron. The stables were recognisable but only just. The roofs were gone, and there was a lot of damage caused by flying debris.
The rescuers heard screams of pain coming from cartwright Alexander Livingstone who was lying covered by debris. When released and questioned, he said he had been working that morning with two blacksmiths, two hammermen, two joiners, a labourer and a policeman, a total of nine men. He was carried him to the stable furthest away from the scene of devastation and laid on clean hay where he was treated by Drs Robertson and Grant who had arrived after hearing the explosion. Within a very short space of time, the disaster scene was crowded with officials and helpers, including Sheriff Spens, Commander McHardy, Lanarkshire’s Chief Constable from the County Buildings and Lieutenant Brewster and Dragoons from the barracks in Almada Street.
The scene at the smithy was one of indescribable horror with several of the bodies atomised and lying in a pool of blood near what had been the door was an unidentifiable mass of what had shortly before, been a living human being. One body was found under the upright wheels of a cart and another two were found locked together some nine feet away and a fourth some twelve feet distance. At first it was thought that there were five victims but the arrival of Constable Charles Chrichton with the news that Constable James McCall was missing increased the total to six.
Chrichton and McCall although county constables and wearing the uniform, were both employed and paid by Messrs Brand to watch the railway works. Because the joiners shop also doubled as a pay office and general local headquarters of the firm both men had arranged to meet there to see if any complaints had been lodged before they started their work. Charles Chrichton had escaped death by a few minutes as he had been on his way to the yard when the explosion occurred. Immediately after the disaster he was been dispatched to find a doctor and returned an hour later.
The remains of the victims were removed to a stable where the work of identification could begin. Constable McCall was identified by a piece of his belt and fragments of his handcuffs and police sergeant Cruikshanks and the Rev. Stewart Wright Parish minister at Blantyre had to break the bad news to his young widow Catherine who was heavily pregnant and already the mother of four children.
By that evening six sets of remains had been recovered and as dynamite had been found in the wreckage, work was halted until someone with knowledge of this explosive attended the scene. The following day the suspicion surfaced that there was a seventh victim after a local dog was found running about with a scalp which was later identified as belonging to John Kennedy a labourer.
Three people were injured; cartwright, Alexander Livingston lay unconscious for several days at his father’s Greenfield home but went on to make a good recovery. John Rafferty hammerman at the smithy had a miraculous escape. John had been aware that there was damaged dynamite being stored in the joiners shop and due to the close proximity of the smithy he had repeatedly complained about it, and warned that it could be dangerous. John had been the first one to see that something was going wrong in the workshop when he noticed a blue flame in the corner where the dynamite was stored. He quickly drew the attention of Black the foreman blacksmith’s to it and was told to get a pail of water. He had only reached the door when the dynamite exploded and the force projected him for some distance finally dumping him behind a hedge. When he recovered consciousness he staggered back to the workshops to find the building had been blown to smithereens.
Over 100 pounds of dynamite were found in the debris and one stick complete with fuse was found lodged in a chimney on the McAlpine building site several hundred yards away. There was a public outcry that despite the 1875 Explosives Act, dynamite was being stored in an unauthorised area. Subsequently James Donald Clark, engineer and sub-manager of Messrs Charles Brand & Son was charged with the culpable homicide of the seven victims.
During the trial, one of the witnesses, John Bathgate, told of how on the instructions of Dickie the foreman joiner, he carted 200 lbs of water damaged dynamite from the magazine approximately a quarter of a mile away, to Brands yard and left it in under Dickie’s bench. It was stated that Dickie was in charge of the magazine key and gave dynamite out when authorised. When it was found that a quantity of the dynamite was water damaged, Clark ordered that the magazine be cleaned out and repaired. Experiments had then been carried out with the damaged dynamite including the use of detonators, gunpowder and then a bonfire but it failed to explode and it was concluded that it was useless.
Patrick McAvoy, Donald McGinnes, James Semple, James Clark, John Rafferty and Alexander Livingston all gave evidence as to the presence of the dynamite under the bench. At the summing up of the trial the Advocate- Depute asked for a verdict of guilty but the jury after an absence of half an hour returned a not guilty verdict by a majority of 13 to 3.
Eight weeks later, the report on the results of the official inquiry into the explosion, laid the blame for the explosion at the door of the engineer Mr Clark, despite him being found not guilty in court. The inquiry stated that he was morally responsible, if not criminally responsible for the accident, because it was under his instructions that the dynamite had been stored at an unlawful place i.e. the joiner’s yard. The report emphasised the necessity of keeping dynamite free from contact with water whereby it became extremely dangerous and unstable. Messrs Charles Brand & Son were also implicated.
A sad tale occurred on Saturday the 16th of September 1911. Mrs Thomas Kerr, wife of the keeper of the Mausoleum at Hamilton Palace, died at one o’clock Saturday morning from injuries sustained by explosion of gas in her house late the previous night.
Her husband had gone out to post letter, leaving in the house his wife and two children, aged respectively two years and six months. After making some calls, he returned home between ten and eleven, and entering the house a painful scone confronted him. His wife was lying the stair leading from the kitchen the coal cellar. Her clothes were practically burned off, and her body was scorched in a terrible manner.
He lifted her into the kitchen, and ran for assistance, Mrs Kerr was still conscious, and was able say that when she was going down to the cellar fetch coals something went up in a blaze at the gas jet on the stair. The elder of her two children, a bright little girl, was with her, but Mrs Kerr had the presence of mind to push the child down the stair when the explosion occurred. In this way the girl escaped the flames which enveloped her mother.
The younger child was asleep in a perambulator in the kitchen, and was uninjured. Mr and Mrs Kerr are a young couple, who only entered upon duty at Hamilton Palace three weeks ago, having previously lived at Caledonia Road, Glasgow.
Hamilton Boy in Court. Hamilton, Saturday 10th September 1922.
A remarkable case was heard in Hamilton J.P. Court to-day—ex-Provost Pollock on the Bench —when a diminutive boy of tender years named James McMillan, residing at Grammar School Square, Hamilton, was charged with hounding a dog on the little daughter -of the caretaker of the Mausoleum.
It was represented on behalf of the accused that he had gone to the Palace grounds along with some companions. They were accompanied on that occasion by a dog which was a bid disposition.
Accused did not think that the animal would do the little girl any harm, and he was not alone in urging it to make an attack. It was more a juvenile prank than anything else, but the unfortunate circumstance was that the girl was badly bitten on the right arm. It was a good thing, added the Fiscal, that the animal had been destroyed. In the circumstances the Justices decided to admonish the accused.
Late on Friday night of the 23rd of August 1889 the gardener at Wellhall House, the residence of Colonel Stevenson, C.B., commanding the 26th and 71st regimental districts observed fire rising from storm window on the roof of the stables.
After calling the coachman he forced open the stable door, and the occupants, two valuable horses and pony, were found to have been suffocated. Word was sent to the barracks, and at the bugle call the garrison turned out in masses. The Hamilton fire brigade and under Mr Watson, arrived about the same time, and though under the disadvantage small water pressure, along with the military, they were successful in preventing the burning from spreading to the mansion-house and the adjoining offices.
About eleven o’clock the roof of the stables fell in, and before midnight the fire was virtually got under control. The extent of the damage cannot yet be estimated. One of the horses was Tel-el-Kebir, which carried Colonel Stevenson through the attack .on the Arabs’ stronghold, and was much prized.
The premises destroyed consisted of coachman’s house, four-stalled stables, baronets-room, and loose box with hay loft above the stable. A large crowd was attracted, which Captain Millar, Hamilton Burgh Police, kept in capital order.
Kin ye remember years ago in Hamilton some uf the pubs wur bloody manky?
Ye walked in the bar slid awe ower n’ then ye got served by the widow twanky,,
They wur the real auld “spit n’ sawdust, oh aye “whit dae ye want light ur heavy”
Well ye see , back then ye wurnae spoilt fur choice, ur ye jist didnae git a bevvy”
Then some guy’s got the gether, here’s a great idea, whit aboot a “social club”
Well that day changed everythin’ n’ fur hunners, it soon became the social hub”
They hid a games room, a separate bar, a lounge’ then a great big concert hall”
Music, a trio, comedians, perfict fur dancin’ n” up a hight a big magic”glitterball”
The Greenfield” wis magic, a resident group, n’ ma auld teacher wis the organist”
They hid somethin’ fur everywan, it wi great sittin in comfort while gittin pissed”
“Can ye hear me in the lounge Andy” well, that always caused a big stampede ”
” Bingo in the concert room” ye see fur awe the women it’s a big o’ game speed ”
The wimen wur it the ready, wae thir dabbers, a hunner poun fur a full hoose”
Ye could hear a pin drop, the wans thit spoke ower the turn, quiet as a moose ”
The wimen always hid book uf six, cause tae play they hid tae know the lingo”
Eyes doon look in, jist ye ask any woman, thil say it’s a serious game this bingo”
Ye know thir great places the clubs, thiv got somethin oan nearly every night,,
A kin remember ma mates sayin” where ye bin, n’ cawin me worse thin shite”
Somebody seen ye on Tuesday, gawn past “sing sing” wae wee whitehill Annie”
C’mon spill the beans, “awrite I’ll hivtae admit it “A lumbered it grab a grannie “”