The Redding pit disaster – 94 years on

Families waited for news at the pithead in the days following the disaster
Families waited for news at the pithead in the days following the disaster

On the wall above my desk I have a framed memorial picture given to me some years ago by my old friend and colleague at Falkirk College, Davie Beveridge.

It is a constant reminder of the disaster that took place in Redding on September 25, 1923, a devastating event in the life of a small community and one of the darkest days in the history of the Falkirk district.

the No. 23 pit at Redding colliery

the No. 23 pit at Redding colliery

At 5am that morning an inrush of water flooded much of No. 23 pit and by the time the rescue operation was completed in December the bodies of 40 miners had been recovered.

The main shaft of the colliery was on the north bank of the Union Canal west of Redding village and the coal was being worked in a southerly direction towards a dyke of hard rock which separated No.23 from old abandoned coal workings filled with water. It was believed that the dyke was thick enough to stop water coming in but it turned out that on the abandoned side a sump, or chamber, had been cut deep into the dyke making it thinner at that point. This was opposite the section where coal was being stripped and it was at this point that water entered and flooded the pit.

Sixty six men were trapped below ground and a huge rescue operation was mounted involving teams from all over the district and beyond. After five hours 21 men emerged through an old shaft called the Gutter Hole. Huge crowds of anxious relatives gathered near the pit head and teams of divers arrived to examine the flooded workings.

On October 4 five more men were found alive but they were the last.

The miners memorial in Redding

The miners memorial in Redding

Over the next days and weeks the bodies of the other men were brought to the surface. Most had been drowned in the first inrush of water but 11 had survived for up to 14 days in a dry section of the pit which the rescuers had assumed was full of water. Their bodies were not found until late November.

Several of these men had left messages for their families, at first optimistic that rescue was near but later despairing of their own futures and those of their families. It is heart rending to read these messages scrawled using bits of coal on scraps of paper in the dark.

James Jarvie who had been safe but went back into the pit to warn his workmates wrote: “Dearest Maggie, convey the news to our two sons. Tell Peggie, James, Lily, Jeanie and wee Maisie to keep up. It is a sore blow to you Maggie. Goodbye”.

The last body, that of James Cochrane, was recovered from the main part of the pit in early December, the 40th man on the 40th day of the rescue operation.

Within days of the disaster a fund had been established by the Provost of Falkirk and the Falkirk Herald and within a year had raised £60,000 which was a huge sum at the time.

The official enquiry in 1924 concluded that previous warnings from some miners had not been passed up to the managers and so no-one was really to blame!

Redding No. 23 pit closed in 1958 and 22 years later a memorial stone was unveiled near Redding Cross with the names of the 40 men who lost their lives.

In 2002 it was beautifully refurbished with mining scenes etched on black granite.

It is a worthy reminder of the sacrifice of those who toiled at such cost beneath the ground to help build the world that we enjoy today.