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Tragedy at Stravenhouse Pit: 1876



21st March 1876

Reporting on the tragedy which occurred at Stravenhouse Colliery, Law on the very frosty morning of Tuesday 21st March 1876, ‘The Wishaw Press’ described it as ‘one of the saddest and most terrible calamities which has befallen this district for many years past’.

As per their usual routine, between 6.00 and 7.00a.m., upwards of forty men and boys had gathered at the pithead to await their turn to get into the cage and descend to their day’s work. Moments later, the pithead frame from which the cage operated gave way falling on to those below.

Prior to the accident, the cage had been operating normally. Some of the miners had already made their way down to the coalface while the others were waiting for the two firemen, Edward McArthur and William Frater, to complete stripping ice of the shaft before they could begin their descent. The cage from which they were working was stationery at 30 fathoms (180 feet) when it dropped a further 9 fathoms (54 feet). On looking up and seeing the crossbeams from the frame lying across the pit openings, one of them fainted while the other shouted ‘Let us out of this – the frame is giving way.’ While the two men were still in the cage, a large beam, weighing about 5cwt, plummeted down the shaft smashing the cage to bits and leaving nothing but the rope and cover hanging. Somehow, McArthur and Frater managed to seize hold of the ice-covered rope and make their way to the soft coal-seam below, suffering only slight injuries in the process.

It was a different story on the surface where four men were killed and another three were injured, two seriously, by the collapsing pit frame and its two pulley wheels, each of which weighed 15cwt.

The four men who died were :

John Nelson – 28 years of age, who lived with his widowed mother, Jane Nelson ( nee Tweedie ) and siblings at Abbey Green Cottages, Clyde Street, Carluke, was killed instantly. He was the brother of James Nelson who also died in the accident.

James Nelson – 18 years of age, who lived with his widowed mother, Jane Nelson ( nee Tweedie ), and siblings at Abbey Green Cottages, Clyde Street, Carluke, survived his injuries for fifteen minutes before he expired. He was the brother of John Nelson who also died in the accident.

John Aitchison – 28 years of age, who lived in the Colliery Rows with his wife of one year, Mary Somerville, was rescued alive from the debris but died ninety minutes later.

George Wilson – 31 years of age, who lived in Law with his widowed mother, Janet Wilson ( nee Edgar ), and siblings, died four days after the accident as a result of the injuries he received. He was the brother of William Wilson who was seriously injured in the incident.

The injured men were :

William Duncan – 30 years of age, who resided in Law, received a severe scalp wound and was not considered out of danger for several days. It was not immediately known that William had been injured as he had run home from the scene rather than wait to be attended to there.

William Wilson – 30 years of age, who lived in Law, was seriously injured. He was the brother of George Wilson who died from the injuries he received in the accident.

Thomas Moffat, Edward McArthur and William Frater were all slightly injured.

The casualty rate would have been considerably higher if a locomotive pulling a number of empty waggons had not pulled up a short distance away. Attracted by its arrival, between twenty and thirty workers had moved away from the pithead. Their actions clearly saved their lives.

The resulting damage to the mine meant that it had to be closed for two to three weeks to allow for repairs. This meant that the men and boys who usually worked there would need to be made idle and left with no income. To address this concern, the mine company decided to re-open No2 Pit, which had been shut for some time.

( N.B. Another of Mrs Nelson’s sons also died in a pit accident. Her 23-year-old son Alexander was killed by a fall of coal in Ravenscraig Pit on 19th August 1873. )

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