Cardowan 1 August 1927

3 men killed by explosion:

  • John Kilpatrick
  • Maurice M'Bride
  • George Jackson

Inspector of Mines Report

At Cardowan Colliery sinking shafts, Lanarkshire, an explosion of gas occurred on 1st August, at 3.50 p.m., causing the deaths of three men and injuries to eight.

Two shafts 16 ft. 6 in. diameter and 90 ft. apart were being sunk, and had reached a depth of about 241 fathoms. There were direct connecting levels between the shafts at 75 fathoms and 150 fathoms respectively, and in these levels were electrically driven pumps which dealt with the water made above these levels and also with that from two steam pumps—one in each shaft - a short distance below the 150 fathom level, and pumping out of tanks in the shafts. A strong ventilating current amounting to 40,000 cubic feet per minute passed down No. 1 shaft, through the 150 fathom level and up No. 2. This was created by No. 2 pit steam pump exhausting into the open shaft just above the 150 fathom level, by the steam range for both pumps being led down the same shaft, and by the No. 1 pit steam pump running condensing. There remained a depth of 91 fathoms in each shaft which had to be ventilated by other means. This was accomplished by a blowing fan at the surface which forced air down two 22 in. tubes (one in each shaft) to within a short distance of the sinking floor, and this ventilation was added to by definitely arranged escapes from the compressed air mains which supplied the boring machines. In No. 1 pit the sinking had been suspended for a period, and beyond keeping the bottom clear of water by a Galloway barrel and having the necessary inspections made nothing was being done.

It was in No. 2 shaft bottom the explosion occurred, when 11 men had been at work for nearly two hours during the afternoon clearing the debris from a round of shots. There was no violence beside the men, but they were enveloped in flame and burned. The sinkers hanging scaffold 22 fathoms above the shaft bottom was disturbed, and at the 150 fathom and 75 fathoms level the fixed scaffolding which covered part of the shaft were destroyed and the pit mouth covering likewise suffered. Air tubes were displaced and the flexible water and steam connections at No. 2 pit steam pump were broken so that the water growth which the steam pump had been dealing with poured down on the men below, and the live steam escaped until shut off at the surface.

Of the 11 men, two were killed by falling material and a third died a few days later from the effects of his burns. The light the men were provided with was that from a freely suspended high power electric lamp, such as is usual in sinkings, and this remained alight for some 20 minutes after the explosion when someone, possibly with a vague idea of preventing a further explosion, cut off the current on the surface and left the men in the dark. When the explosion occurred it was at once realised that the position of the men in the shaft bottom was very serious, and the leading sinkers and officials descended No. 1 shaft to the 150 fathoms level and went through to No. 2. They could hear shouting but could not see below, nor could they make themselves heard by shouting down. The kettle with the winding rope attached to it was down beside the men but, owing to the damage in No. 2 shaft, to try to move it might have meant disaster to all of them. When Mr. Stoker, Senior Inspector, arrived at the Colliery, however, as he knew the water must be up and about the kettle he had it very slowly raised a few feet in the hope that at least some of the men had got upon it: it was well the decision was made so promptly, for it was ascertained afterwards that the water was up to their chests and would soon have drowned them had this step not been taken. At great risk to themselves—and there was no lack of volunteers —the fireman and two shaftsmen descended No. 2 shaft in a box let down by an improvised hand winch and all the live men were reached and rescued.

The question to be answered was what caused this explosion? The shafts had been sunk from the surface with naked lights in conjunction with the suspended electric light till within a few weeks of the accident, when the manager gave instructions that naked lights were to be used no longer in the shaft bottom : the instructions as to "no smoking" were less definite and no system of searching the men before going underground had been instituted. Gas had not been seen nor reported before the explosion, and one fireman who afterwards said he had seen gas and had told the manager about it, confessed he had only seen bubbles among the water and had not tested them. This fireman's action did not bear out his belief, for he was on duty on the day of the explosion and did not test with his flame safety lamp after the round of shots was fired at 2 p.m.: he allowed the afternoon shift, under its chargeman, to descend and work in an untried atmosphere. There can be little doubt that gas was liberated by the 2 p.m. round of shots and that the afternoon shift was working among gas till the moment of the explosion. The question as to how this gas became ignited remained, but from the men involved in the explosion there was no direct answer except that they did not know. Inflammable gas could be ignited by (a) lighting conveyed down the shaft via the rope guides; (b) a sinker striking an unexploded charge of explosive with his pick; (c) an electric spark from the electric cables or plant; (d) a naked light. Each of these possible causes was gone into in full detail with be able assistance of Mr. J. A. B. Horsley, H.M. Electrical Inspector. In the end I was forced to the conclusion that, owing to gas not having been previously seen, and the rule as to " no smoking " being very vague, together with no search for matches etc., one of the sinkers in the pause between the landing of the empty kettle and the coupling up of the loaded one, struck a match in an attempt to light his pipe or a cigarette for two or three ''draws'' and so ignited gas in which they were all working unknown to themselves. In the pockets of certain of the men matches, cigarettes, and a pipe were found, and at the Fatal Accident Inquiry one of the men said although he had not seen smoking in the shaft bottom on the day of the accident, he had seen it a day or two before.

Newspaper Reports

Scottish Colliery Explosion - All-night Rescue Efforts - Two Dead; Eight Injured
Shortly before 5 o'clock last evening an explosion occurred in Cardowan Colliery, Stepps, near Glasgow, and ten men were entombed.

A new shaft was being sunk, and a depth of 240 fathoms had been reached. Three shifts were in operation throughout the 24 hours. There was a squad of ten at the bottom, while others were employed at pumps, working from a scaffold about two-thirds down.

The explosion which it is thought was due to an accumulation of gas, occurred about the bottom of No 2 shaft, and its force was such that two men on the scaffolding were blown off their feet, and one of them slightly injured. They had a lucky escape.

The lower portion of the shaft was seriously damaged, and it was deemed expedient to try an entrance from another shaft. Three men at once descended, and were able to get within a comparatively short distance of the entombed men, and could hear voices. A second rescue party was lowered in an improvised "basket" and it was learned that a number of the men at the bottom had got into the "kettle".

It was then feared that an accumulation of water might reach them, and it was decided to risk raising the kettle some 4 feet. This was done cautiously by the winders, and soon after the rescue party heard voices shouting "bell away" the ordinary request of a miner to keep on winding.

This, however, was considered dangerous, and the rescue party late last night were investigating the lower portion of the shaft to ascertain whether it would be safe to risk raising the entombed men still further. Finally the rescuers, who had worked with great devotion and gallantry for many hours, succeeded in achieving their objective.

Two of the men, unhappily, were dead, and the remaining eight were all suffering from more or less severe injuries, several of them being in a serious condition.

Force of Explosion - Felt a Mile Away
Cardowan Colliery is owned by Messrs James Dunlop & Co., Clyde Ironworks, and the scene of the accident was the new shaft which is being sunk, Two shafts are already in operation, No. 1 going to a depth of 140 fathoms, and No. 2 about 210 fathoms, both being lined with concrete from top to bottom. The ten men imprisoned are pit-sinkers, whoso duties are to leave holes into which explosives are put, and electrically fired from the surface, the men descending after the explosion to bring the debris up in a " kettle."

About five o'clock yesterday afternoon the explosion occurred in No. 2 shaft. As the pit-sinkers were at work underground at the time, the suggestion that it was their charge which had gone off prematurely is not entertained, the belief at the pithead being that the explosion was due to gas. The report of the explosion was heard at the pithead, and carried away some of the structures at the top of the shaft, while its force was felt in the village of Garnkirk, about a mile away. Some of the machinery was also dislodged. As the men were at work at the bottom of No. 2 shaft, the task of reaching them was made exceptionally difficult by the fear that some of the debris might be dislodged in the process and knock down the shaft on top of the men.

What was thought to be the only practicable method of effecting a rescue was adopted; that was to enter the fan or air drift at the fanning-house. This drift, 13 to 14 ft. diameter, leads into No. 2 shaft, a, short distance below the surface.

Rescue Efforts - Three men of the Coatbridge Rescue Brigade, who were promptly on the scene, entered the wooden sledge or bucket, and when they got into the shaft were lowered by windlass inch by inch, so that any debris in the shaft might not be disturbed. The rescuers reported that they had been able to hear men shouting lustily, but the only words they could make out seemed to be, "Bell away " - the signal to raise the kettle to the surface. As the winding of the kettle was still intact and since the words were heard, it was thought advisable to try and raise this conveyance, and this was done inch by inch. It was feared, however, that there was some obstruction in the shaft, and winding was temporarily stopped. It is not known whether this obstruction is below or above the communicating roadway, which links; up No. 1 and No, 2 shafts at a depth of 140 fathoms.

Message to Entombed Men - Before trying this method of rescue, it was decided to lower a lighted lamp containing a message informing the prisoners how it was proposed to effect their rescue, but there was no means of knowing if that was successful.

The Mines Inspector, Dr Stocker, endeavoured to establish telephone communication, but without result. There was a large crowd at the pithead, but the feeling that the men will be raised safely was buoying up the watchers, and cheery spirits prevailed. Among those present at the pithead were Mr R. M. Donaldson, chairman of the Company; Mr Walter Buchanan, the secretary; the Rev. T. J. Diamond, and the Rev. Fr. Bonnyman [Scotsman 2 August 1927].

The Pit Explosion - Hours of Agony - Injured Man's Story
A graphic description of his experience in the disastrous explosion on Monday afternoon at Cardowan Colliery, Stepps, near Glasgow, in which two men were killed and nine injured, was related by Stephen Ferguson in an interview yesterday.

Ferguson and his companions, all pit-sinkers, were engaged at the bottom of the shaft when the explosion occurred, and only after fully six hours' labours were the men raised to the surface. Two of them, however, were dead - John Kilpatrick, 5 Kenmure Street, Shettleston, and Maurice M'Bride, 1 South Stirling Street, Glasgow. The body of the latter has not yet been recovered, and owing to the state of the shaft, as a result of the explosion, some time is likely to elapse before that is accomplished.

"Most Terrifying Experience"

Seen yesterday in the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, where the injured men are progressing satisfactorily, Ferguson, who bore traces of extensive burns, said he had lost three toes through the explosion. He had served in the Navy throughout the war, and had been torpedoed several times, yet his experiences of the previous night were the most terrifying in his life. Along with his companions, Ferguson stated, he was working at the bottom of the shaft (1440 feet), clearing away rubbish. Shortly after three o'clock, as far as he could judge, there came a terrific explosion, which hurled the men in all directions. Some of them made for the signal bell communicating with the surface, but it had been rendered useless. The kettle in which the men had been lowered, was only, supposed lo hold six, but eight managed to clamber into it. At that lime, he understood, Kilpatrick and M'Bride were dead. To add to the perilous position of the eight men, water was seen to be accumulating at the bottom of the shaft.

"We stood in the kettle clinging for dear life," remarked Ferguson, "and sometimes we were up to our waist in water, while at other times it was almost up to our necks,"

Too Far Gone To Care
It was dark, they were burned, stunned, and some of them gassed, and they felt too far gone to care what happened. From the time of the accident until after nine o'clock they suffered their weary vigil, following with anxiety what they could hear of the feverish endeavours of the rescuers to succour them.

Ultimately the rescue brigade sent down some of their number in a box attached to a cable. As soon as it was possible the kettle was raised from the bottom of the shaft away from the rising water. The men were eventually raised in the kettle, and on reaching the surface they were hastened to the Infirmary, after receiving attention from the ambulance corps.

The ninth man injured was George Watt, electrician, 167 Graham Street, Glasgow. [Scotsman 3 August 1927]

Stepps Pit Explosion - Another Death - George Jackson, 1017 Garngad Road, Provanmill, Glasgow, one of the eight men injured in the explosion on Monday afternoon at Cardowan Colliery, Stepps, succumbed to his injuries in the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, on Saturday, this bringing the death-roll up to three. The explosion occurred while a squad of pit sinkers were at work at the bottom of the shaft - the colliery is a. new one - and two men were killed outright, the survivors being rescued after six hours strenuous work. The remaining seven men are still in the Infirmary, and their condition is stated to be serious. The body of one of the men killed outright has not yet been recovered. [Scotsman 8 August 1927]

Heroism in Coalpit - The Stepps Disaster - Praise for Rescuers
"Deeds of heroism are not unusual in mine accidents, but I think you must have been thrilled when you heard these three men tell in their matter-of-fact way how they risked their lives to rescue their comrades."

Sheriff Mercer used these words when addressing the jury at Glasgow yesterday at the inquiry held to investigate the circumstances attending the explosion in the new Cardowan Colliery, Stepps, on August 1, which resulted in three Glasgow pit-sinkers - John Kilpatrick, 9 Kinmore Street; Maurice M'Bride, 1 South Stirling Street; and John Jackson, 1117 Garngad Road - losing their lives, and eight others being injured. A formal verdict was returned, and the jury added a rider commending the heroism of John Burt, Wm. Boyd, and Roderick M'Kinnon for going into the mine immediately after the explosion and rescuing the trapped miners.

Warning As to Naked Lights
Evidence was given by Wm. Forsyth, 49, 2 Edward Place, Stepps, who said he was in charge of the sinking operations. From six to eleven in the morning eleven sinkers were engaged clearing stones at the pit bottom and sending them to the surface. About eleven o'clock 23 holes were drilled, and the shots were fired about two o'clock in the afternoon, when all the sinkers were at the surface. Witness and John Kilpatrick, George Jackson, and Wm. Ferguson went down the shaft, and they stopped to examine the hanging scaffold. Jackson was put off there, and the three men continued the descent. The pit bottom was lit by two electric lamps, in addition to a large electric light. After they had examined the place the other sinkers came down and started to clear away the debris. About three o'clock witness went to the surface, and three-quarters of an hour later he heard the report of an explosion.

Asked if any warning had been given to the men regarding the use of naked lights, witness replied in the affirmative. "Did you know," asked the Fiscal, "what the nature of the seam of coal was likely to be there?" Witness replied "No," and later added that the warning given to the men was merely a precautionary measure. It had not been proclaimed "a safety lamp shaft," and no effort was made to search the workers for matches before they went down.

Rescuer's Story
John Gordon Burt (42), Baillieston, fireman and shot-firer, said he examined the shaft and No. 2 pit at six o'clock, and again between 11 and 12 o'clock. He found no traces of gas on either visit. He was about to go down again when the explosion occurred, and he saw dust and smoke coming from the shaft, and also saw the scaffolding collapse. Along with Boyd and M'Kinnon he went down to rescue the men. He made tests, and found that at 150 fathoms from the surface there was gas, but 20 fathoms below that a good current of air was coming from the roadway. A little further down they came on another explosive substance and at 190 fathoms they stopped and lowered lights by string to the bottom. With ropes they raised the men from the bottom, and after difficulties got them to No. 1 pit, and ultimately to the surface.

Answering Mr Stoker, H.M, Inspector of Mines, witness said about six weeks before the accident naked lights were prohibited by order of the management.

George Watt, electrician, said he had been engaged at 150 fathoms level, and was waiting on the "kettle " coming from the bottom to take him to the surface when the explosion occurred. He was hurled bodily into the lodgement by the explosion, which apparently took place at the pit bottom. Before the explosion a fireman on the 150 fathoms level had been using a naked light, but it was not responsible for the explosion.

Thomas Ewart, fireman, said he had been using a ''goose" lamp (a large naked flame lamp) at the 150 fathoms level. He had never received instructions about naked lights or smoking.

One of the rescued men, William Ferguson, said he was working with the others at the coal which had been dislodged by the shots, and was filling the "kettle" when the explosion occurred. There were no naked lights about. The force of the explosion knocked him down, and he received burning injuries about the face, hands, and arms. He could not reach the ''kettle," and during the time he lay there the water was rising. He saw Kilpatrick and M'Bride near the kettle, but they were apparently dead. Ultimately he was helped on to the kettle, where he waited with his mates for several hours before being rescued.

Miners With Matches
Constable Stewart spoke to recovering matches in the possession of men who had been in the pit. On the clothing of one of the deceased he found a box containing 18 matches and two cigarettes. Another man had a box of matches, and a third had a match and a piece of tobacco. Witness added that he had seen the three death certificates, which attribute death to shock and burning injuries.

Roderick M'Kinnon, 1165 Garngad Road, stated that naked lights were prohibited in the pit a week before the accident, as they anticipated that there might be gas in the new seam. On the afternoon of August 1 he had just arrived at the pit to begin his shift when he learned of the explosion, and he volunteered to go to the rescue of the entombed men along with Burt and Boyd. He said they experienced many difficulties before they were able to get the men out. At the bottom of the pit the water had risen to a considerable height.

James Johnston, the colliery manager, said the mine had been examined several times prior to the accident, and he had instructed the foreman and firemen to warn the men not to smoke. No notices had been posted round the pit to that effect.

Protest Against Police Action
Before the jury returned their verdict, Mr Paul M'Kenna, of the Lanarkshire Miners' Union, rose and protested against the police procedure in searching the clothing of the dead and injured. He said he did not wish it to go forth that he was trying to advocate that anyone should commit a breach of law by carrying matches in a ''safety " pit. In all pits where safely lamps were used the management instructed their officials to search for prohibited articles in presence of other miners. In the present instance the management had not carried that into effect. Immediately after the accident occurred, and without the management requesting it, the police had come on the scene and searched the bodies of the killed and injured. He protested that there was no one there to represent the relatives, and it was improper for the police to give evidence that might be detrimental to the interests of the dependants in the way of compensation.

Sheriff Mercer said he was quite satisfied that nothing which had passed would prejudice anybody in that way. [Scotsman 14 September 1927]