On Wednesday the 26th of April 1916, a tragic incident occurred at Neilsland Colliery, owned by John Watson and sadly five men were killed. The coal miners went to work not knowing what tragic events were about to happen that day. A party of men were selected to work in one of the old shafts, when one of the worst pit accidents that had occurred in the district for many years took place about midday, when an old shaft at Eddlewood collapsed and entombed the workmen.
The shaft was formerly Eddlewood No. 3, but some five or six years previous, it was filled up, and the coal to which it gave entrance, was worked from Neilsland. On Wednesday five men were employed in driving roads into the Eddlewood ell coal, take out the pillars which still remained in the workings around the old shaft. Their names were:
Hugh Scott, in charge of the party, married, 30 Low-waters;
Robert Robertson, married, 229 Low-waters;
John Shaw, single, 136 Eddlewood Rowe;
Robert Leadbetter, married, 103 Beckford Street;
George Stewart, married, 187 Low-waters.
Robert Brownlie, a shaftsman, who was giving Hugh Scott a hand, had finished his shift and was leaving for the surface. When he got some distance off, he heard a loud rumbling noise, and fearing an accident he sent word to the officials. Mr James Cook, the resident manager, and Mr James Houston, under-manager, who were in another portion of the pit, immediately proceeded to the scene, but found their course barred by an irresistible river of soft glutty debris flowing like a stream of lava through the workings and filling up every available space.
Acting with commendable promptitude Mr Cook and Mr Houston got the men in the other sections warned, to make their escape and they all succeeded in doing so. The five men employed in the old Eddlewood Ell coal were cut off, and from the first, no hope was entertained of finding them alive.
When the flow of material had subsided, every possible effort to reach the missing men was made by the management and many willing hands. About ten o’clock the body of Robert Robertson was recovered. He had apparently been swept forward by the rush of the incoming debris and was well within reach. The body, embedded in mud, bore no injuries death having resulted from suffocation.
When the serious nature of the accident was revealed, Mr Robert McLaren, H.M. Inspection of Mines, and Mr J. B. Thomson, the manager for Messrs John Watson (Ltd.) were communicated with, and were quickly at the scene of the calamity, bringing their experience and knowledge to bear on the work of rescue.
A rescue brigade from Coatbridge was summoned, but owing to the hopelessness of the situation, their services were not used. Mr John Robertson, miners’ agent also visited the scene.
The next day on The Thursday, the huge cavity caused on the surface by the falling in, of the loose filling-up material was several fathoms deep, (12.8 Meters) and the management had it fenced round. Vigorous efforts were maintained both on the Thursday and Friday to discover a trace of the other four men, but without success.
On Wednesday, the 7th June 1916 a public enquiry was held and it was stated that the body of Robert Robertson was recovered late on the same day, but the others have not yet been found, though the efforts of the management have been unsparing, and are still being prosecuted vigorously to reach the place where the four workers were caught in the irresistible inflow of washer sludge.
Mr Robert McLaren and Mr McElhanney represented His Majesty’s Inspectorate; Mr Craig, writer, Glasgow, appeared for the coal masters; and Mr Robert Smillie represented the interests of the miners. Duplicate plans of the workings and of the section where the accident occurred were shown during the evidence, followed by all the parties, including his Lordship and the jury.
The first witness was Robert Brownlie, shaftsman, Eddlewood, the last of those who escaped to see the deceased alive.
He had been commissioned to assist the five men now deceased who were employed driving mine through the Ell coal in the vicinity of the old shaft. The men were working in accordance with the regulations that is believing that they were nearing the old shank they were boring the strata to a depth fifteen feet straight ahead and on both flanks, in order locate the shaft and keep clear of it.
Nothing in these bores, as Robert Brownlie said, indicated conditions beyond the normal, the little water issuing from the holes being, in their opinion, but the expected accumulation in the rock. Besides assisting in the bores, witness putting up brattice cloth deflect the air current. His shift being finished about midday, he left the party to proceed to the pithead, the others coming out of their working place to take their “piece.”
He had gone some distance on his way when heard a terrific noise accompanied by the crashing of wood and the overturning of hutches. He realised what had happened, and fled, pushing forward a workman (Penman), whom he met, but to whom he had no time to make an explanation, and shouting on others. Mr Robert McLaren. H.M. Inspector, said it was to Robert Brownie’s coolness that Penman’s life was saved.
In reply to the Inspector, the witness said that he was satisfied there was at least 15 feet of coal between the workmen and the old shaft, but as the roof was soft thought the bursting in may have come from that quarter.
A few other witnesses were examined, including representatives of the management, Mr Robert Smillie said the jury could see their way to add to their verdict that considered it very dangerous practice to fill disused shafts with liquid sludge from the washers, and that the matter should be further looked into, he believed they would doing a service to the mining community by at least making the Government give this matter their attention.
When Mr Craig had set out address the Jury, his Lordship made a suggestion for a rider which met the views of all parties. The, jury thereafter unanimously found that the men had met their death by the sludge from the disused shaft bursting into the workings and overwhelming them, but there was not Sufficient evidence to enable them make a finding the precise cause of the accident.
In accordance with Lordship’s suggestion, added a rider to the effect that there was sufficient evidence to warrant them calling attention the danger which might arise when disused shafts were filled with liquid sludge and the approach thereto of mineral workings.