Colin McLean

By ColinMcLean

Mauricewood Pit Disaster

I regularly drive through Penicuik on the way to and from work, and today something made me divert to look at this monument which stands at the north end of the town, in sight of the main road to Edinburgh.

It commemorates the loss of 63 men and boys who perished underground in 1889 as a result of a fire breaking out near the Mauricewood Colliery's main shaft. The precise cause was never discovered, but the fire appeared to have started in the timber lining to the shaft or a main roadway. After an earlier disaster in another pit in which miners were fatally trapped underground when the sole shaft collapsed, collieries were required by law to have two shafts. In the case of Mauricewood, the second shaft did not extend the full depth of the workings and the fire seems to have developed below that point.

There is a chilling engraving of the trapped miners' families standing at the pithead awaiting news of their loved ones. Equally chilling is the list published in the Scotsman of all those who died; in more than a few cases fathers and sons working together.

Throughout the nineteenth century, coal mining was Britain's most dangerous industry, with the highest number of fatalities per thousand employed. There was indeed "blood on every ton".

Norman Buchan wrote these words for a song (sung by Dick Gaughan and others) about another pit disaster, at Auchengeich. The sentiments would apply equally at Mauricewood.

"For coal is black an coal is reid
An coal is rich ayont a treasure
It's black wi wark an reid wi bluid
It's richness nou in lives we measure

Faur better that we'd never wrocht
A thousan years o wark an grievin
For the coal is black like the mournin shroud
The women left behind are weavin"

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