16 March 1885

Pit Accident At West Calder
Four Miners Killed And Two Injured
A melancholy pit accident occurred at West Calder on Monday morning, whereby four young miners were killed and two others injured. No. 11 Gavieside shale pit, in the shaft of which the calamity happened, situated about three-quarters of a mile north-east of the village, is one of some thirty pits and mines in the locality belonging to Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company, and is between 90 and 100 fathoms deep. Over 200 men and boys are employed in the pit, and the weeks work was begun at one o'clock in the morning. Up to the time the accident took place, which was between six and seven o'clock, seven cages, each with six workmen, had been lowered to the bottom of the pit. The eighth cage was the one that came to grief. It contained six young miners. When rather less than twenty fathoms down, it would seem that the cage had left the slides, got jammed somehow, and for the moment ceased to descend. Meanwhile, this circumstance being unknown either to the engineman or to the man in charge at the pithead, the lowering rope continued to be let down until a coil of rope had accumulated. By this time the cage had disentangled itself, and suddenly dropped down some thirty fathoms, and, on the jerk or strain being felt on the rope, the engine was stopped. Whether the occurrence was the result of the cage being lowered too rapidly, or a defect in the slides has not transpired, but certain it is that the cage left the slides, and that four poor fellows were precipitated from the cage to the bottom of the shaft, and killed instantaneously, the supposition being that they had been thrown out when the cage came to a temporary standstill. All the deceased resided with their parents. Their names are:- Samuel M'Currley (20), 20 East Street Mossend ; Thomas Dugan (19), 21 East Street Mossend; Andrew Sanderson (15), Gavieside Row ; and Alexander Bulloch (13), 31 Clyde Street, West Calder, The bodies were removed to the surface by way of No. 21 mine, situated a considerable distance eastwards, and carried to their respective homes. They were all frightfully bruised and mutilated, Dugan, it is said, being almost unrecognisable. M'Currley's skull had been fractured and his head otherwise injured ; Sanderson's head had been fractured on the leftside, while both arms were broken ; Bulloch had been cut on the face and head, besides having his left thigh and right ankle broken.

The two miners who had such a miraculous escape with their lives were, fortunately, not severely hurt. Their names are Matthew Howieson (23), residing at 23 East Street Mossend, and Thomas Reid (13), 20 Front Street Mossend. The latter, beyond being badly shaken, was little the worse, and was able to walk home. Howieson was cut on the forehead, and sustained a slight injury to his right ankle. Both miners were attended to by Dr Hope, who was early on the scene of the accident. On recovering their senses the feelings of the two occupants of the cage may, perhaps, be better imagined than described. They were in total darkness - their lamps having been blown out - and Reid, until he had struck a light, was unaware that Howieson was beside him. They shouted for assistance, and in a very short time the overman descended the shaft by means of a crane-rope, and had them brought to the surface in the ill-fated cage, having succeeded in replacing it on the slide. On examination it was seen that the cage had been damaged, a thick iron cross-bar having been broken in two at one end. Only about fifty men were at work in the pit at the time of the occurrence, and work was at once given up for the day. An inspection partly descended the shaft as soon after the accident as possible, and at a depth between 16 and 17 fathoms from the surface it was discovered that a bolt in one of the slides had become loose, and that consequently part of the slide itself was insecure. Part of the woodwork, it seemed, had been wrenched off with the cage, while another portion fell away as the examination was being made. In all, some 9 feet of the slide had been dislodged, and the probability is that the accident is in some measure due to the insecure state of the bolt. The occurrence, it is almost needless to say, caused considerable consternation in West Calder, and among the mining population in the neighbourhood. Adams, the engineman on duty at the pithead at the time, and who stated that he stopped the engine even before receiving the signal to cease lowering, was so overcome by what had happened, it was reported, that he had to be assisted home. No blame is attached to any one.

The Government Inspector of Mines for the eastern district of Scotland (Mr Ralph Moore) and his assistant inspected the shaft in the afternoon, but the result of their examination was not ascertained. No. 11 Gavieside Pit, it may be added, is said to be one of the most profitable of its kind in the locality. [West Lothian Courier 21 March 1885]

By an accident which happened at No. 11 Gavieside shale Pit, West Calder, yesterday morning, four miners were killed and two injured. The occurrence took place as the men were being lowered in the "cage," which, by some means had left the "slides," whereby the deceased were thrown out and precipitated to the bottom of the pit, a distance of over seventy fathoms. [Scotsman 17 March 1885]