Mary Pit at Lochore Meadows
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3 February 1908 – Mary Pit Disaster
Mining Disaster in Fife - Three Men Killed; Several Others Seriously Injured - The central district of Fife has again been the scene of a mining disaster. By an explosion of firedamp which occurred in the Fife Coal Company's Mary pit Lochore, towards midnight on Sunday, one man was killed outright, another died while being conveyed to the Dunfermline and West Fife Hospital, a third died yesterday afternoon, and five others are so seriously injured that their condition at the time of writing was regarded as critical.
The Mary pit which is the deepest in Scotland, being sunk to a depth of 333 fathoms, is worked on the three shift system without brushers, the miners carrying out their own brushing as they proceed. Upwards of 300 men are employed, and between 10 and 11 o'clock on Sunday night between 100 and 120 descended the shaft. The great majority of these were lowered to the five feet or navigation seam, which is operated on from the bottom of the shaft, while eight others were left at the Mynheer seam bottom which is between 21 and 22 fathoms higher. The names of the 8 men were:-
John McGinn, pit inspector, Lochore
Stephen Heggie, miner Lochore
John Thomson, miner, Lochore
Thomas Bell, miner, Lower Milton
William Abel, drawer, Lochore
William Gibson, drawer, Crosshill - Died
John Stein, drawer, Lochore - Died
James Law, miner Lochore - Died
According to the statutory regulations, McGinn proceeded to make an inspection of the working places before the seven other men were allowed to go to the face to which there is a road extending about 100 yards. Owing to the peculiar circumstances, it was difficult to obtain reliable information as to what actually occurred, but it is known that firedamp, with which the Fife miner is now becoming more familiar, owing to the depth to which some of the pits are being sunk, was discovered, and that means were adopted with a view to removing the noxious vapour from the roadway and working places. This was by a fan driven by a motor, and it is surmised – although the theory was discounted by an expert before he descended the pit yesterday – that a spark from the motor had ignited the inflammable gas. The explanation seemed to be the only feasible one elicited in the course of enquiries, for none but safety lamps are permitted to be used, and men interviewed praised the management for the care which was exercised in order to prevent accident.
Four Explosions - At about quarter past 11 o'clock the men engaged in the five feet seam were startled by a loud report, which was followed by James Law being projected down the shaft, falling on top of the cage, which was at the time stationed there. Twenty minutes later another report was heard, and that was followed shortly afterwards by two explosions occurring in rapid succession. As soon as the second period of excitement had passed, William Gibson was discovered lying dead on the pates at the pit bottom, with Stein, much injured, close by. The five other men escaped the horror of falling down the shaft, but they suffered terribly from the force of the explosion, all the exposed parts of their bodies being terribly scorched.
A panic seemed to prevail among a large section of the miners in the low-bottom workings, and at least 72 of them made as hurried an exit as was possible by traversing the road leading to the company's Aitken pit, fully a mile to the west, and escaping by the upcast shaft there.
Meanwhile those that remained did all that was within their power to render succour to their disabled comrades. There being no ambulance appliances ready to hand below, what are called service stretchers were improvised, and all the men and the body of Gibson were brought to the surface. It was about two o'clock yesterday morning, however, until the last ascent of the cage was made. In the interval Dr Dickson had been summoned by telephone from Lochgelly, and Drs Toss and Dickson from Lochore. Three ambulance waggons were at the same time requisitioned. By the doctors and police constables and miners possessing ambulance knowledge everything was done that human skill could suggest to relieve the sufferings of the injured previous to their being placed in the waggons. McGinn, Heggie, Law, Stein, and Abel were conveyed to the Dunfermline and West Fife Hospital, while Thomson and Bell, who were believed to be less seriously injured than their neighbours, were removed to their homes. In the course of yesterday they too were transported to Dunfermline.
Among those who were early upon the scene, directing operations, were Mr Henry Rowan, the general manager of the Fife Coal Company's western pits, and Mr John Allan, the Mary Pit manager. Mr Robert McLaren, His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Mines for the Eastern District of Scotland, who was telegraphed to, arrived from Edinburgh before 11 o'clock, and after making enquiries at the office, donned pit clothes, and along with one of his assistants and the manager, descended the shaft with a view to exploring the region affected by the explosion, and discovering the cause of the ignition.
The disaster caused a painful sensation in the district and work was entirely suspended in all sections of the pit, where during the day groups of men, among whom were those who had been in the five feet bottom, discussed the situation. The stoppage will only be temporary, except as regards the Mynheer seam, which, however, it is hoped will soon be repaired. In the early hours of yesterday morning many men and women were attracted to the pithead, and some affecting scenes were witnessed as the cage was for the time brought to the pithead, where anxious inquiries were made for relatives.
James Law died in hospital from his injuries at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon.
Early in the afternoon Mr McLaren telegraphed to the Home Office as follows:- “Regret to inform you that an explosion of gas occurred last night at Mary Pit, Lochore, Fife, by which three men lost their lives, and five were seriously injured.”
Further inquiries show that all safety lamps were in perfect order. It is still impossible to say what was the cause of the explosion. Three of the men's lamps were damaged, but their appearances do not explain the cause of the explosion. [Scotsman 4 February 1908]