Scottish Mining Villages

Barrwood 8th March 1878

Names of Dead

Alexander Burns, coal miner,age 34, Newton married with 4 or 5 children
William Cameron,coal miner, age 37, married, Rankin’s Land [Williams wife Jane Hart, mother of James died on June 29th 1878 of tuberculosis]
James Cameron, coal miner age 15 Rankin’s Land, son of above
Walter Cowan, miner, age 32, married with 2 children, West Port
David Fleming, engine keeper, age 17, Shuttle St, Kilsyth
James Gold, age 48, married with son (below) and 2 daughter [name also given as Goldie or Gould]
David Gold, coal miner, age 19, single, son of above [ name also given as Goldie or Gould]
Edward Hardie, coal miner, age 38, married with children, Auchinstarry
John Horne Miller, coalminer,35, Craigens, married with 2 children
Walter Ralston, coal miner, age 30, married Shuttle St, Kilsyth
Alex Ross, coalminer, age 41, married with children
James Ross, coal miner, age 15, son of above
James Wardrope, coal miner, age 52, married
James Wardrope jun , coal miner, age 16
Walter Wardrope, coalminer, 14 [details from death certificate – given in report as David Wardrope age 20]
Robert Whyte, coal miner age 24, single, Duntocher St
George Young, coal miner, age 34, married 2 children, Duntocher St
Names of Injured

John Weir, 20, Brick Row, married
George Weir, age 14
James Wallans, Shuttle St
John Irving, 30, Meetinghouse Close, married
Joseph Cuddie, 35, Rankin’s Land, married
Thomas Smith, 20, Irving’s Land, married
John Fisher, 45, Bucks Row, married, injured by firedamp
Henry Danns, age 25, Kingston, married
Mr Rankin, Stark’s Land
Report by William Alexander, Inspector of Mines

Plan of Barrwood workings with locations where bodies were recovered (click on plan to view larger version

The accident took place on the 8th of March at Barrwood Colliery situated on the rising ground to the south of and in close proximity to the village of Kilsyth. It consists of two pits, Nos. 1 and 2. No. 1 pit, the upcast, upwards of 400 yards to the south east of No 2, is 121 fathoms deep to the coking coal, a seam well known in the district and No. 2 pit, the downcast, is 142 fathoms deep to the same seam.

Besides the coking coal, the “Bantone” ironstone, lying 14 fathoms above it, and the “Gartshore” ironstone, lying 63 fathoms above the “Bantone” seam, had both been worked from No. 2 pit. The latter had been abandoned for a number of years, and the greater part of the former since the commencement of 1878. The coking coal averages 3 ft. 7 in. thick, and is worked by the long-wall system. The roof consists of hard close-grained freestone, and generally the “brushing” is taken out of the floor or pavement. The ironstone (“Bantone “) is 12 inches thick, the height of working 2 feet, and the mode of exhaustion long-wall.

The coal seam has always been known as fiery but since a communication was formed with No 1 pit, safety lamps were discarded and unless under special circumstances, naked lights were used.

It appears that the fireman descended the pit at 8pm the night before the accident and examined the workings before allowing the brushers (night workmen) to commence work, and again on the following morning about 3am before admitting the day shift. After his examination, it appears he went to the pithead and reported to the day fireman that he had found all right, after which he signed his report book and went home.

The workmen to the number of 80 admitted by the day fireman, having all descended by 6.15am, continued to work without any suspicion of danger until about 2 hours later, the ventilation being apparently as usual and it may be assumed the mine was in its ordinary condition.

According to the statements of several survivors, the first indication anything was wrong was a slight blast, while others experienced a stoppage or check and then a reversal of the air. Almost immediately the bottom of the downcast became enveloped in flame and a strong current of air rushed up it. The appearance at the pithead, as described by the pit-headman was first the emission of a gaseous production from No. 2 pit, such as might proceed from the ignition of a small quantity of gunpowder, which was immediately followed by a slight discharge of steam up the dip end of the shaft, and then by steam and black smoke from both ends.

In the meantime the miners, having discovered some derangement in the ventilation, rushed towards the pit bottom. Those in the ironstone and small dook B workings, finding they could not escape up No. 2 shaft, assembled at the point E, and after some delay were conducted by the oversman up the south-west air-course to No. 1 pit, and reached the surface in safety. Some of the workmen in the main coal dook A, upon feeling that the air had reversed, appear to have run out from their working-places to the dook road, and attempted to get to the pit bottom, but finding fire raging, and no exit that way, they, twelve in number, after more than once attempting to escape by passing the pit, proceeded in the dark from N up the face F to the point O.

As soon as it became known that an explosion had taken place, there was no lack of willing and earnest explorers, some of whom reached No. 1 pit and were lowered into the mine within a short time of the occurrence. Their efforts, after it was explained that those who worked in the ironstone and small coal dook B had escaped, were directed to the main dook A. Any attempt, however, to advance in that direction was difficult and dangerous, in consequence of the fire raging round the bottom of No. 2 pit, and the reversed air now passing down No. 1 pit, carrying the products of combustion from the furnaces along with it. Ultimately, on finding that the entrance by No. 2 pit bottom was closed, they advanced by “Crawford’s” dook, and, on reaching the bottom of it, met the persons already referred to at the point O, but did not proceed farther. They then retraced their steps, taking the rescued men with them, when on reaching the north-east level, they were joined by the boy Fleming (now deceased), who worked the dook engine at the pit bottom, and who, in endeavouring to escape, had got his clothes burned off.

They all proceeded to the surface, with the exception of two who were to remain until further assistance should be sent. But in about fifteen minutes an explosion took place which put put their lights, and they, becoming alarmed, returned to No. 1 pit bottom, where they met with assistance. After putting out the furnaces a party of explorers, headed by men thoroughly acquainted with the mine, proceeded down the dook X, but they were unable to go beyond the point T because of the damp, which was so strong that they could not enter it. From some cause, probably a partial closing of the bottom of No. 2 pit, the air current was now almost stagnant, and water was forced down to accelerate a circulation in the direction of No. 2. Returning to the bottom of No. 1 pit, the party next attempted to approach by the south-west level, and down the south-west air-course, but upon reaching the point W another explosion took place, and, considering it unsafe under the circumstances to go farther, they returned to No. 1 pit. A party afterwards essayed an entry by the same road and reached the point Y, where the air was so charged with damp as to prevent them from proceeding farther and a return was again made to No. 1 pit. An attempt was also made to go in by the mine V close to No1 pit but the foulness of the air prevented a passage from:being effected that way. It may be stated that from this time, five or six hours after the accident, when the foul air reached near to the bottom of No. 1 pit, the explorations, though not abandoned were carried on less hopefully. I was unwell at the time of the occurrence and unable to attend, but Mr. Moore, on my behalf, went to the mine on the evening of the day of the accident, and with Mr. Ronaldson, co-operated with those responsible for the management, and was in constant attendance until after all hopes were given up of rescuing anyone alive.

Varied schemes were, devised and efforts made to effect an entrance by No. 2 pit. Water was poured down it, and jets of steam were introduced into No. 1. There being a midwall, in each shaft, it was found that the air was going down one division and up the other in both.

After the steam and water jets had been in operation for some time, and this state of matters still continuing, doubts were entertained of there being any air circulation in the workings. The mouth of the downcast division of No 1 and the upcast division of No 2 were then boarded over, when three quarters of an hour afterwards an apparent current of air between the two shafts was established. It was considered advisable to leave matters alone for some time, but after 4 hours there was little or no improvement and smoke was seen issuing from the downcast division of No. 2 pit. Experiments were made to ascertain if there was any obstruction in No. 2, when it was found that a weight could not be lowered within a few fathoms of the bottom. On the 9th a descent was made in a “kettle” in No. 2 pit to within 17 fathoms of the bottom, when about 9 feet of barring was found to be insecure, the midwall having been burned out, and it was deemed advisable to repair it. With the view of reaching the workings as early as possible an attempt was made to utilise the air going off at the ” Bantone” ironstone and down the blind pit D to the coal and at the same time taking down a water jet to extinguish the fire which it was expected would be encountered. Having reached the ironstone on the 10th a trial was made to get to the blind pit D, but the air was found to be stagnant and the explorers were unable to reach it. After giving up the idea of entering by the blind pit, there was nothing left but to repair No. 2 shaft, clear it out, and open a communication with the coal workings, where the unfortunate sufferers lay. While this was going on, however, another effort was made to enter by the No. 1 pit, which was made self-ventilating, and considerable progress was made until early on the morning of the 14th, when the explorers had to retreat hurriedly in consequence of an explosion. Operations were then suddenly stopped, and from the numerous explosions which followed those in charge were convinced that the workings were then on fire. A special Hunting of Engineers to advise with the managers was called, at which I was present, when the case was fully considered, and the following declaration issued :

“In attempting to enter the Barwood pits it has been found that the mines are filled with foul air, and that the workings are burning, as indicated by the explosions 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 any farther attempt to enter the workings would in every probability result in a greater loss of life. We resolve that the only course left is to shut up the mines until the burning is extinguished, and we have arrived at that conclusion with a full appreciation of the painful feeling which it will no doubt awaken in the minds of the suffering relatives.”

The mine was accordingly closed on the sixth day after the accident. It took four weeks to flood it to the required level, 17 or 18 fathoms above the bottom of No. 2 pit. On the 15th of April when it was supposed that the fire was extinguished, pumping operations were commenced. As the watering of the mine commenced, the shaft was found to be much damaged, and required to be thoroughly overhauled, and the workings and roadways from falls of roof, swollen pavement, &c.; were also in a bad condition. The bodies were found at the points indicated by the figures marked on the map of the coal workings, the last of them on 10th September

As to the disaster, all the evidence obtained from the survivors and others fails to throw much light upon the origin or cause and the mine being flooded for months after the accident obliterated what evidence might have been obtained by an earlier investigation. It is clear that an explosion, not severe, took place near to the bottom of the dook A, probably at or near C. . Out of 27 men who worked in this section 12 escaped; of these 6 were burned, some of them slightly, and the others were uninjured. Those found at 5, 6, and 7, had apparently been struck down or suffocated suddenly, as they were found near to the places where they had been at work. The others were all found out of their working places.

Those at 2 worked near to h; they had travelled a greater distance than the others and must have reached the place where they were found perhaps an hour after the accident. It is not certain that the explosion preceded the conflagration at the bottom of No 2 shaft, or yet caused it. But if the conflagration preceded the explosion it may have been the indirect cause of the explosion by exhaustion and liberation of gases there, at C. If however the explosion in the dook happened before the outbreak of fire in the shaft, the question arises, where did the firedamp, which is supposed to have caused the burning, come from?

It is difficult ‘to conceive that it could be caused by the explosion, because one of the workers who was burned very slightly at P saw no flame. Two burned at or near f saw no flame and two uninjured, working at F, saw no flame, but felt two slight blasts, the last of which put out their lights. One of the last referred to says -.

“We went out to our bench at N, afterwards up to the pit bottom, and found flames extending all round it. There was no way of getting out in that direction. We returned to the bench N, and, after remaining there a little, went back again to the pit bottom; we endeavoured to get a light at some burning wood, but failed, came back to N, and went along the faces with the others to point O, where we met the explorers. None of us thought of proceeding down the dook A to intimate the state of things to the men working there. The air was tolerably good at the time we were moving about but we had no light.”

So far as is known there was no “standing” fire or accumulation of firedamp in any part of the mine. The abandoned ironstone waste at 14 fathoms above the bottom of No2 pit was the only place where, at the time, gas might have been expected to exist. But it is so far satisfactory that less than an hour before the accident happened one Of the assistant bottomers had been in it, and found the air apparently fresh. He had occasion to go a short distance to the “rise,” to lift rails of a special kind to be employed in the coal workings and used a naked light. One of the regular bottomers who had been raised to the surface a few minutes before the accident, and was returning, says;

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

Feeders of gas are sometimes met in this locality. As an illustration, the oversman explained that:

“on cutting the crosscut mine R to open up the small coal dook B, an unusual discharge of gas was encountered at point K which was ignited y the naked light of the miners and continued to burn for nearly an hour before it was extinguished. The discharge continued at that point until the mine was extended 20 fathoms further back to L, when a fresh feeder, the blast of which could be felt at a distance back from the point of issue, threw up the floor and displaced the strata to a depth of 9 feet and the growth of water, which was considerable, and had previously been drawn by large water chests, passed off freely through the opened fissure for five days after”

Keeping this in view it is not impossible that a discharge of gas near the shaft occasioned the burning there. There was no evidence of such a discharge, but it is conceivable that it may have taken place under the existing workings of the mine. The dook workings A were approaching “Haugh” pit lately sunk to the dip of them, where of necessity the strata must have been bled or unwatered to a considerable extent. With the withdrawal of the water space would be afforded for the collection of lighter gases; these would naturally ascend and lodge in the strata until forced out or liberated by a break or fracture, produced by the natural subsidence to which all long wall mining is subject.

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 with locked safety lamps.

A fund was raised for the benefit of the bereft , nine widows and 29 children. It is managed by gentlemen connected with the district who pay 5s weekly to each widow, and allow 2s for each child. The fund is supposed to be ample to meet all future requirements.

Newspaper Reports

The Kilsyth Pit Disaster – Another Death – The boy Fleming, who was so severely burned by the explosion of gas in Messrs Baird’s Barrwood mine, died on Friday evening, this making 17 deaths in all caused by the disaster. All the other sufferers are doing well The relief fund now amounts to fully £1100, and subscriptions are being daily received. The operation of filling the pits with water still continues. [Scotsman 25 March 1878]

admin November 13, 2006 Leave A Comment Permalink