Stanrigg and Arbuckle Colliery Disaster, Plains, North Lanarkshire
19 Killed - 9 July 1918
See Next Page - 8 of the 9 Stones to the Right Hand Side of the Headstone
The colliery was in the Parish of Monkland about four miles from Airdrie and was the property of Messrs. L. and A. McCracken who traded under the name of Messrs.
McCracken Brothers. There were three shafts, the No.2 upcast, the downcast and the No.3 shaft through which materials and coal was wound but did not enter into the scheme of ventilation of the colliery. A blowing fan, driven by an electric motor, was placed close to the downcast shaft which sent 14,100 cubic feet of air per minute to ventilate the mine.
The manager was Mr. George Johnstone who had managed the colliery since July, 1915. There were two firemen, William McCracken aged 24 years and Edward McCracken, aged 28 years both of whom were acting as firemen before the passing of the 1911 Act. The colliery was worked by a single shift with the people descending between 6.45 a.m. and 3.15 p.m. The firemen descended the No. 3 shaft at 6 a.m. and after making their statutory inspections, returned to the station at the top of the No.3 shaft. After passing the shaft into the mine, they returned below ground to their duties. It was their custom to meet at the surface about 10 a.m. to have their breakfast.
Three seams were worked at the colliery, the Humph, at 82 feet, the Splint at 117 feet, and the Virgin at 126 feet. At the time of the accident the Humph and Virgin Seams were being worked. The upper leaf of the latter was known locally as the ‘Sour Milk”.
The road from the No.3 shaft was in the Virgin Seam and two stone mines were driven from that Seam form the Humph coal section.
Five boreholes were put down in October, 1916 which showed that there was moss, mud and clay present at various depths. The seam had been worked up to the day of the accident without any moss or water being let into the workings. The method of working was originally by stoop and room, then longwall with coal cutting machines, but latter, this method was abandoned as being too costly and the stoop and room method was again adopted. There were several faults in the seam, and one of these, an upthrow of 1 foot inbye, was close to the longwall face when that method was stopped.
This fault and the stopping of the longwall face had a very important bearing on the subsequent accident.
On the day of the accident the two fireman, as was their custom, came to the surface to have their breakfast between 10 and 10.30 and while they were eating, a bottomer at the No.3 shaft, James Rafferty, came to the surface and told them that there was something wrong as the ventilating current ‘was coming very strong’.
They descended the No. 3 shaft at once and William McCracken, firemen in the Humph Seam was proceeding inbye when at about 90 yards from the shaft bottom, he was met with liquid moss moving along the haulage road in the Virgin Seam and pushing a hutch before it towards the shaft. Edward McCracken went to his section of the workings, the ‘Sour Milk’ and was able to get to the Wee Stone Mine leading to the machine section when he was met by the moss flowing towards him. He collected the men in that part of the workings and took them to the No.2 shaft, up which after steam had been raised in the winding engine there, they were drawn to the surface.
The inflow of moss, by filling up the two roads by which anyone working in the Humph Seam could have escaped, had been cut off and 19 men and boys were entombed and preventing rescue parties getting to them from the Virgin Seam. The 58 men and boys in other parts of the mine were rescued and got safely to the surface.
On the day of the accident Mr. H. Walker, the Divisional Inspector of Mines and Mr Wynne, the Senior Inspector were at the Sheriff Court in Kilmarnock and at 12.20 p.m. they received a telephone message from the Divisional Office at Edinburgh informing them of the accident. They arrived at the colliery between 4 and 4.30 when they were briefed on the situation by the owners and the managers and learned what had been done.
These operations were the starting of a small shaft, about 5 feet square, at a point which was considered to be immediately above north-western edge of the workings in the Humph Seam and the cleaning out of a borehole which had been put down some time before. Work was also going on the redding of a road from the No.3 shaft through the old stop and room workings in the Humph Seam. There was great difficulty in clearing out the old borehole, and as the borer thought he could put down a new hole quicker and one was started. The attempt to sink the 5 feet square shaft was continued as were the underground operations.
It was found that to sink through the moss something like a boiler shell was required and steps were taken to obtain one of suitable size. The first length that was obtained with much difficulty, was on the ground at 10.30 p.m. and the second length arrived sometime later. In the meantime the attempt to sink a new borehole had failed owing to the breakage of the linking tubes due to the movement of the moss. A second attempt failed from the same cause about midnight. The first attempt had got to about 44 feet and the second to 48 feet. At the sites of the boreholes the Humph Seam was 60 feet below the surface.
Before the arrival of the boiler shells, a survey was made and the position of a new sinking marked off. By 11 a.m. on the 10th. July, the boiler shell was 22 feet down and into the clay. The liquid material in it was cleared out during the afternoon but owing to the general movement in the body of the moss, it was impossible to keep the shell plumb and further sinking in it was abandoned.
One of the boreholes had reached the pavement of the Humph Seam and in it water was measured to a depth of sixteen and a half feet above the pavement of the seam.
From this information it was apparent that the face at the highest level in the workings was under water, but in order to be sure, another borehole was started within the boiler shell in which sinking operations had been abandoned. This was not a success due to the lateral movement of the moss bending the lining tubes and another was then started 12 to 15 feet further to the east. The hole reached the pavement of the Humph Seam between 6 and 7 a.m. on Thursday, 11th. July and proved that the water at that point was 8 to 9 feet above the pavement. This was the nearest point of the workings in the Humph Seam in which the 19 men and boys were, and extinguished any hopes of them being found alive.
The redding of the road through the old stoop workings from No.3 shaft was continued by relays of men. The distance they had to go was 462 feet and all the time they were working there was a danger that the creeping moss would cut them off from the No.3 shaft. The work continued until the borehole proved the height of the water and the men were withdrawn. The moss continued to fill the pit and reached up the No. 3 shaft to within 34 feet of the top.
With all hope gone of rescuing anyone alive, the question was the recovery of the bodies. It was decided to sink a shaft on the site of the borehole to the Humph Seam. After considerable delay, the shaft was sunk and the roads in the Humph Seam to the top of the stone drift driven from the Virgin Seam were cleared of moss. Three barricades were then erected at points which isolated the area in which the inrush had taken place and after this was done the work of clearing the roads was carried out from the No.3 shaft.
Eight bodies were recovered in the roads that were cleared and it was expected that the remainder with the exception of the brakesman, whose working place was at the top of the mine leading from the Virgin to the Humph Seam, which was of the area that had been shut off by the barricades. One of these was removed and the roads immediately on the inbye side were explored as far as it could be done without running any undue risk. The face was reached in three places but no bodies were found.
The operation to the inbye side of the barricade found a break in the floor about 13 feet high and three feet wide which was 6 feet long. Further operation were carried out with serious risk and the workers were withdrawn. The barricade was replaced and the roads between the workings between the No.2 shaft and Nos. 2 and 3 shafts was then cleared but no more bodies were recovered. That left eleven men and boys that were not recovered and were probably in the barricaded area. Further attempts to recover them were deemed too dangerous and this was a view shared by all concerned. Some thought that the men could not have survived more than two hours after the moss came in but Mr. Walker thought it likely that they did not survive half an hour.
Those whose bodies were recovered were:-
- William Marshall aged 31 years, miner,
- John Queen aged 66 years, miner,
- Leslie Gilchrist aged 15 years, drawer,
- George Templeton aged 36 years, miner,
- Neil Thompson Lindsay aged 16 years, drawer,
- James Munro Sneddon aged 14 years, drawer,
- Bernard Augustus McAdams aged 14 years, drawer
- David Niven aged 17 years, drawer.
Those whose bodies were not recovered were:-
- Alexander Park aged 54 years, bencher,
- Robert Pollack snr. aged 49 years, miner,
- Robert Pollack jnr. aged 15 years, drawer,
- Alexander Gilchrist aged 31 years, miner,
- William Gilchrist aged 33 years. miner,
- Robert Campbell aged 28 years, miner,
- William Williamson aged 27 years, miner,
- William Brady aged 49 years, miner,
- Thomas Brady aged 18 years, drawer,
- John Sneddon aged 31 years, miner and
- William Campbell aged 48 years, miner.
The inquiry into the disaster was opened at the Sheriff Curt, County Buildings, Airdrie on the 18th. December by Mr. W. Walker, C.B.E., H.M. Acting Chief Inspector of Mines and presented to the Mines Department on 12th March, 1919.
It was pointed out that the delays in the rescue operations were caused by the fact that it was the Glasgow Fair Holidays. After a full inquiry the conclusion in the report stated that:-
“There were no contraventions of the Coal Mines Act, 1911.
The manager in changing the system of working committed an error of judgement in the conditions which existed, I am of the opinion a great risk of causing a sudden inrush of moss was run even if the blue clay had not thinned by the change from one system of working to another. Either of the two systems (longwall or stoop and room) throughout would have been less dangerous than to start with one and then afterwards change it.
In the circumstances which existed the safest method of working to adopt and adhere to was, the stoop and room with rooms of a maximum width of 8 feet and stoops left for the support of clay such a size that not more than 50 percent of coal was extracted.
The conditions vary so much as regards the thickness of the clay, depth of moss, etc. from mine to mine, that it is not possible to have Regulations dealing with the precautions necessary for safe working applicable to all circumstances, and I think, therefore, for the prevention of similar accidents in future, a regulation should be established requiring that where coal or other mineral is being worked or roads driven under moss, quicksand, other liquid matter,
(a) steps shall be taken by boring or otherwise to ascertain, as accurately as possible, the nature and thickness of the moss, quicksand, etc. and the working or workings.
(b) Where the thickness of the strata between the moss quicksand etc., is proved to be less than 10 fathoms, or ten times the thickness of the seam being, or proposed to be, worked, whichever is the greater, all working to be stopped and notice given forthwith to the Inspector of Mines of the Division.”
The question as to whether the mine would reopen was referred to a Committee with the Divisional Inspector of Mines as chairman.