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Law Pit Disaster: 4 Men Dead

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

As the men made their way to start their shift at No2 Brownlee Pit, Law, owned by Wilson’s & Clyde Coal Co Ltd, on the morning of Tuesday 5th May 1925, little did they know that disaster was not far away and that four of them would not be returning home. These men were Charles Horne, Robert McIntyre, John Thomson senior and John Thomson junior, the last two being father and son.

On reaching the pithead, the workers waited their turn to climb into the cage which would carry them to the coalface. About half the workers ( 80 in total on that shift ) had already made the journey when the tragedy occurred. At 6.50a.m. the four men, John, John, Robert and Charles, were in the cage waiting to go down when, instead of descending, the cage started to ascend towards the winding gear. Situated about ten feet above the pithead, the safety apparatus installed to prevent over-winding incidents did not work properly and the cage and its occupants plummeted 140 fathoms ( 840 feet ) to the pit bottom.

Very quickly, a second cage was put on and Thomas Dick, the oversman in charge, along with two underground firemen, were lowered to the pit bottom. There they met with two other workers who had reached the scene via the escape shaft at Shawfield Pit and adjoined the shaft where the accident occurred. Sadly, however, it was immediately clear to the rescuers that all four men, who were lying on the top of the cage, were dead. Colliery officials were of the opinion that the men had died of shock before they reached the bottom of the shaft. An inquest into the men’s death the following March concluded that they had been ‘Instantly killed by the cage on which they were having accidentally fallen down the shaft’.

Meanwhile, above ground, Dr Hamilton of Law had arrived to provide medical assistance. The pit manager George Kerr, who had been at Shawfield Pit at the time of the accident, and Mr McMeechan, the company’s general manager, were also in attendance. Joining them were a large number of the village’s female population, no doubt the wives, mothers, sisters, etc of the men on shift looking for information and hoping that their loved ones were okay.

The task of removing the men from the wreckage was not an easy one but, by 9a.m., their bodies had been removed to the surface and taken to the mortuary at Wishaw. From there, they were returned home to their families.

On learning what had happened, Alex Robert, the engine man on duty at the time, collapsed and had to be taken home where he remained in a serious condition for the rest of the day. 60 years of age, Alex had worked as an engine man for forty years without incident.

Those who had already descended the pit returned to the surface via the shaft at No1 Brownlee Pit and did not resume work until the afternoon. Among them were two of Charles Horne’s sons, Charles and Willie, who, at that point, were unaware that their father was one of the victims. Naturally, on learning that he was, they did not return to work that day.

The men who lost their lives in this tragic accident, reported at the time as ‘the most serious in the mining history of the district’, were all well-known and respected. They were :

Charles Horne – 42 years of age, he lived at 1 Greenknowe Street, Overtown with his wife, Mary Williamson, and five children.

Robert McIntyre – 55 years of age, he had at one time played a prominent part in the management of juvenile football in the Upper Ward, acting as secretary to the Menzies League. He lived at Birks Place, Law with his wife, Hannah Smith. He had a grown-up family - Alex, Annie, Katie, George, Janet and Robert - three of whom were living abroad at the time of his death.

John Thomson, senior - 49 years of age, he had served the country during the war. He lived at 6 Woodlands Square, Law with his wife, Mary Braidwood. They had raised a family of five – William, John, who died alongside his father, George, Thomas, Robert and Mary.

John Thomson, junior - 26 years of age, he had served in the navy during the war and for several years after. He lived at 30 Wilson’s Row, Law with his wife, Mary Tyrie, and young family.

The tight-knit nature of the community was readily demonstrated in the impressive scenes at their funerals on Thursday 7th May 1925. In Law, three hearses carrying the three local men and a coach laden with wreaths and flowers made up the cortege. Leading them out the village as far as Hamburg Cottages were the local schoolchildren, under the supervision of their teachers, while about 500 villagers walked behind, their heads uncovered as a mark of respect. Yet more paid their respects at Carluke Cross. The large numbers present were made easier by the decision to allow all the pits in the district to stand idle that day. Several members of the mining company were also among those in attendance. They were Mr McMeakin, the general manager of the company, Mr Kerr and Mr Cargill, local managers, Mr Thomas Telfer, cashier at Shawfield Colliery, and Messrs Thomas Dick, James Bell and Robert Allan, under managers. Gathering at the Wilton Cemetery, the mourners listened to the Rev. W.A. Wallace, the new minister of Law Parish Church, conduct the funeral service before the three men were laid to rest.

There were similar scenes in Overtown as the cortege carrying Charles Horne made its way to Cambusnethan Cemetery. Here, the service was conducted by Brother John Gilfillan of the local Brethren Church Charles and his family attended.

( N.B. No2 Brownlee Pit was situated opposite the T-junction of the Brownlee Road and the Mauldslie Road. )

( The 1925 Law Pit Disaster was just one of well over 150 pit accidents that occurred in the mines of Law, Carluke, Braidwood and Kilncadzow in a period of 92 years, the first being in 1847 and the last in 1939. We are currently building a database of the men and mines in these accidents, and intend to bring you more details over time. )

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Lawrence Connor
Lawrence Connor
Mar 15, 2021

loved the story lots of history in there dad and 3 brothers were all miners at castle hill


Margaret Henderson
Margaret Henderson
Mar 15, 2021

I'm surprised to be made aware of this disaster that I can't remember hearing about before now. My father (born 1900), my grandfather and great grand-father all worked in local pits. My father worked in the mines until 1961 and loved to tell stories about the old pits but I can't remember him telling us about this disaster. I'm going to look out a drawing that my father did of the Brownlee area, the pit, the rail link, the houses. I'll post it when I find it.

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