'Accident at Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery Ayrshire' by Sir Andrew Bryan J.P. F.R.S.E ,
© Crown copyright 1951
- The Accident -
Report on the Causes of, and circumstances
attending, the Accident which occurred at
Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery, Ayrshire, on the 7th
'In compliance with your direction, I have held a Formal Investigation under
the provisions of Section 83 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and under the
Ministry of Fuel and Power Act, 1945, into the causes of, and
circumstances attending, the Accident which occurred at Knockshinnoch
Castle Colliery, Ayrshire, on the 7th September, 1950. The accident was
due to a big inrush of peat or moss from the surface. Thirteen lives were
lost and the 116 men whose escape was cut off were rescued about two
days later. I have now the honour to submit my report.
By kind permission of the Ayr County Council, and at a considerable
inconvenience to their work, the Inquiry was held in the Council Chamber of
the County Buildings Ayr, from the 7th to the 10th November, 1950.'
History of the Parish
of New Cumnock
by Robert Guthrie
'Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery is situated in the Parish of New
Cumnock in the County of Ayr and lies about 22 miles almost
due east from the town of Ayr. Before the accident the colliery
gave employment to about 600 persons underground and 120 on
the surface and had a weekly output of coal varying from 4,500
to 5,000 tons.'
'The colliery is operated by the National Coal Board, Scottish
Division, and is one of fifty producing collieries, many relatively
small, comprised within the Ayr and Dumfries Area. This Area is
divided into three Sub-Areas, each of which in turn, is divided into
Groups. Knockshinnoch Castle was the largest of the six
collieries in the New Cumnock Group in the Dunaskin Sub-Area,
which comprised twenty-one collieries. The Manager of the
colliery was Mr. W. C. Halliday, who was assisted by an Under-
Manager, Mr. B.Y. Kennedy. There was an overman, Mr. J. N.
Houston, in general charge underground on the day-shift, and he
was followed by a second overman, Mr. Andrew Houston, who
was in charge underground on the afternoon shift. There was no
overman on the night-shift. Five firemen were in charge of the
working districts on each of the three shifts. Mr. J. Bone was the
Agent of the New Cumnock Group.
'The somewhat isolated portion of the Ayrshire Coalfield in the New Cumnock district lies at the extreme
southern edge of the coal measures and is bounded on the south by the large upthrow fault known as the
Southern Upland Fault. The coalfield is unique among the coalfields of Britain in that workable seams of coal
are found in four groups of the rocks of the Carboniferous Period. Altogether, twenty-eight seams of coal
exceeding two feet thickness have been proved and, of these, seventeen are over three feet thick and nine
exceeded four feet. The existence of many of these seams was unknown in the Knockshinnoch Castle
Colliery Area until recent years. In particular, the existence of the Main Coal - the seam mainly concerned in
this disaster - was doubted for a long time and was only finally proved in 1938.'
The accident occurred about 7.30 p.m., whilst the
afternoon shift was at work, on Thursday, 7th
September, 1950, when a large volume of liquid peat or
moss suddenly broke through from the surface into the
No. 5 Heading Section of the Main Coal Seam. The
inrush started at the point where the No. 5 Heading
which, was rising at a gradient of 1 in 2, had effected a
holing at the outcrop of the seam beneath superficial
deposits and had made contact with the base of a
relatively large natural basin containing glacial material
and peat. The liquid matter, rushing down the steeply
inclined the heading, continued to flow for some time and
soon filled up a large number of existing and abandoned
roadways as well as several working places, until it
eventually cut off the two means of egress to the surface
from the underground workings of the colliery.'
'For some considerable time, at least a year or two before the date of the inrush, it had been realized by the
management that, if certain inbye districts of the colliery were to be fully exploited and adequately ventilated, it
would be necessary to increase the quantity of air circulating underground. Eventually, in order to achieve
this, it was decided to drive a new dipping drift starting from the surface to meet the underground workings
and thus provide an additional airway. This drift was in course being driven at the date of the disaster. When
this drift was commenced, however, no one knew that the development headings in the No. 5 Heading
Section were likely to reach the surface. But as soon as the management realized that the headings, if
continued, were bound to reach the surface, the prospect of being able to drive a road in the coal to the
surface seems to have appealed to them. At any rate, at one time or another during the year, the matter was
certainly discussed by the Under-Manager, Manager, Agent and Sub-Area Production Manager but, strangely
enough, no definite decisions seems to have been made about it. The Under-Manager apparently believed the
intention was to drive the No.5 Heading through to the surface for the purpose of providing a new airway, and
said so in evidence. On the other hand, the Manager said the project was considered by the agent and the
ideas abandoned, whereas the Agent said, in evidence, that the matter was still under consideration a few
days before the inrush occurred. Altogether, the evidence on this important matter of planning was
unsatisfactory, conflicting and disappointing.'
10.00 am. Shot fired by fireman, Daniel Strachan in the 'breast coal' at the face of No. 5 Heading, exposing a
bed of stones, leaving an opening of 2ft wide and 4 to 5 feet deep. Water flowed from the opening, with a flow-
rate typical of that from a 2-inch pipe (according to one account), it was clear, fresh and without odour and
was allowed to run freely down the heading. The flow of water did not cause any undue alarm to anyone, and
certainly not from the officials, from the overmen upwards. When the holing was effected , the place was
stopped and no more coal was won from it .
11:00 am. The Manager inspected the place and decided that wooden chocks or pillars should be built to the
roof to supplement the props and bars ordinarily used to support the roof, and thus make the place more
'There were 135 persons employed
underground at the time. Six persons working
near the shaft bottom quickly escaped to the
surface by way of the downcast shaft before it
become blocked, while, 116 men, with all
means of escape cut off, found their way inbye
to a part of the mine then unaffected by the
inrush, leaving 13 persons missing. The116
men were rescued about two days later. The 13
missing men were all employed in or about the
No. 5 Heading Section where the inrush began.
One was a fireman in charge of the district ; one
was a shot-firer ; nine were coal getters
employed at the face of three different working
places, while the other two were concerned with
the transport of coal from the district.'
The following account of the Knockshinnoch Disaster is taken from the informal investigation
'Accident at Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery Ayrshire' by Sir Andrew Bryan, H.M Chief
Inspector of Mines. The report was submitted to Parliament in March, 1951 by The Right
Honourable Philip Noel Baker M.P., Minister of Fuel and Power.
Wednesday 30th August 1950
An attempt is now made to record the key events recorded
in Sir Andrew Bryan's report in chronological order.
© Crown copyright 1951
Thursday 31st August 1950
The underground workings were levelled and surveyed. Mr. Ian Murray, apprentice surveyor determined
there was about 38 feet of cover between the roof of the heading and the surface.
Mr. T. D. Brown, the senior assistant surveyor for Sanquhar and New Cumnock Colliery Groups, made a
survey on the surface. Mr Murray knocked a pointed wooden peg into the ground to mark the point
immediately above the face of the No. 5 Heading. Although the peg went in more readily than expected for a
peg of its size. Mr Murray was not curious but did notice the ground was 'a wee bit soggy underfoot'. Mr.
Brown recalls that the ground 'appeared ordinary soil, with nice green grass on it'.
Mr. Halliday, Manager, Mr. Bone, Agent, and Mr. D. Mackinnon, Sub-Area Planning Engineer, walked over
the ground to see where the No. 5 Heading would come out if it were driven right through to the surface.
Surprising as it may seem , although Mr. Bone and Mr. Mackinnon had previous experience of workings under
moss at collieries, none of them noticed the presence of peat or moss or anything unusual in the character of
the ground, or even any feature to arouse suspicion of danger.
The miners that had been working on the two rise development headings underground that had been stopped
were transferred outbye to two new places on the left or dip side of No. 5 Heading, one place being six and
the other seven stoop lengths back from the face of the heading. The other set of miners in the Section was
put to work in a place going to the right or rise side of the companion heading, six stoop lengths back from the
face of this heading.
Thursday 7th September 1950
Thomas McDonald, the day-shift fireman informed the overman John Houston that there had marked
increased in the flow of water at the No. 5 Heading. Instructions were given to dig a gutter to prevent the water
going into the outbye working places and thereby confining it to the heading. The increased flow of water
carried a lot of loose coal down the heading, causing problems with the conveyor belts.
John Houston came to the surface and informed Mr. Kennedy, the Under-Manager, that the flow of water had
not increased further. He also reported to Mr. Bone and Mr. Arbuckle, the Surveyor, that the wooden chocks,
secured their the week before, had fallen out before the end of the shift.
Three sets of miners of the afternoon shift were at work on at the aforementioned places off the No. 5
Heading. In the outbye dip were John Smith, Samuel Rowan, and William Lee with James Love, John Murray
and John White a stoop length above. At the right-hand of the companion heading were James D. Houston,
Thomas Houston and William McFarlane.
Daniel Strachan, No.5 Heading section fireman met with overman Andrew Houston near the pit bottom to
inform him that there had been a big fall at the face of No. 5 Heading, that it extended to a point roughly 300
feet from the return end of the conveyor and that the water had practically stopped running. Houston instructed
him to go back and satisfy himself as to the condition of the Section while he went and had a look at the
Andrew Houston telephoned Mr. Halliday, the Manager, who was on leave, to report the fall at No. 5 Heading.
He desribed the 'sit' or hole that he had found at the surface, 25 to 30 feet long, 10 to 15 feet broad and about
2 feet deep. The Manager gave instructions for a fence to be erected round the hole as a right-of-way existed
across the field and, and told Houston to bring three me out of the pit to help.
Andrew Houston went underground to assess the condition of No. 5 Heading. Going along the South Boig Mine
he met John Dalziel, loader attendant, at his working place at the the foot of the Belt Conveyor Heading where
he was loading coal. Houston continued up this heading to the junction with the No. 5 Heading, where he met
William Howatt, switch-attendant. Making his way up the No. 5 Heading, he reached a point just inside the
return airway when he felt a sudden blast of air coming down the heading. Nevertheless, he continued inbye
and met John Montgomery, belt-attendant and almost immediately James Haddow the switch attendant at the
tandem belt, came outbye. At this moment all three heard a "terrific roar" and the trunk belt began to to move
outbye down the road. Houston at once took the two men and turned up the heading on the rise-side which
leads to the bore hole from the surface, and from there made his way into the return airway to the top of
Garrowscairn No.3 Dook. From there he went across to the telephone at the end of the West Mine and sent
messengers to each of the district firemen telling them to withdraw their men immediately. Andrew Houston
went back to the inbye end of the West Mine where he collected the firemen and their workmen.
At the in Inquiry, in answer to questions the Manager desribed the movement at the crater as follows
A. "The grass had gone down out of sight".
Q. "Was there a hole right down?"
A. "There was a hole - a deep hole".
Q. "Had it gone bodily or had it tapered in ?"
A. " It turned in like this (indicating) . The grass broke when it turned in."
Q. " A sort of vortex?"
A. "Yes, a sort of circular moving and tore the grass"
Q. "You have seen water running out of a bath or a basin when the plug is pulled out; you get a vortex?"
A. "It was something like that".
It was then established that the following men were missing
- Daniel Strachan, fireman in charge of No. 5 Heading Section
- John McLatchie, shot-firer in No. 5 Section
- William Howat, switch-attendant
- John Dalziel , loader attendent
and the nine miners who had been working off No. 5 Heading
- John Smith, Samuel Rowan, and William Lee
- James Love, John Murray and John White
- James D. Houston, Thomas Houston and William McFarlane.
Andrew Houston was able to inform Mr. Halliday, the Manager of the position.
The Manager had arrived at Knockshinnoch about 7:30 p.m., some time before Houston's call. At that time the
ground in the neighbourhood of the hole had already subsided rapidly, with the ground disappearing into to the
ever-extending hole from all sides. On visiting the field, the Manager too observed that the hole had again
started to get bigger. He sent for Andrew Cunningham, one of the men brought to the surface to help erect the
fence around the hole, and asked him if he would go back down the pit and inform Andrew Houston, that the
subsidence in the field was getting bigger. Well knowing the danger, Cunningham at once volunteered.
Cunnningham made several attempts but could not get up into the Section because the roadways in the pit had
filled with sludge which had driven him to the pit bottom. The Manager went underground and together with
Cunningham tried to get inbye, but found the road blocked to the roof with mud near the junction of the North
level and the West Mine. They tried to get up the return airway but found it also blocked with mud. Mr. Bone, the
Agent, then came down the pit and it was at that time that Andrew Houston telephone dout saying that he had
all the workmen with him except those from No. 5 Section. The Manager and Cunningham made several more
determined attempts to get inbye without success. An attempt was made to deal with the mud at the pit bottom
by filling it into hutches and winding it up the pit, but the sludge kepy on slowly oozing outbye and in the end
reached the pit bottom and further efforts to deal with it had to be abandoned.
Meanwhile, underground a second exploring party was organized under the leadership of Sam Capstcik, to go
once more into the No. 5 Section by way of the return, in order to try and locate any of the missing men and to
see if any road had by this time become to open to the surface. This party soon returned without finding ant
trace of the missing men and confirmed that there was no possible way of escape in that direction.
This meant that 13 men were missing and 116 were imprisoned.
© Crown copyright 1951