We talked to a lot of Miners and accident incidents came up regularly. Mostly we tried to avoid gruesome stories but this proved impossible as we looked at old records in the Newtongrange Miners Museum and found a story that had to be told.

This true story ( some of the writing is impossible to read and has many a Bible quote. We intended to fill in what we can in a shortened version). It was republished at a later date as two mining accidents had taken place without the records of a survivor. Except one note written on a candle box that says

 “Fret not dear Mother. For we were singing while we had time and praising God.
Mother follow God more than I ever did.



The picture is all that is left of the Black Dean Pit air shaft.

Light in Darkness.

(a miners tale of comradeship and faith).

Edited by James Bridges from short hand notes narrated by Peter Hays.  In the year 1846.
 
Where there is a rise in the ground near a small rail junction on the permanent road from Musselburgh, Dalkieth and Edinburgh a coal mine called High Pressure Pit had been in operation for some time.

Underground was mostly a low narrow tunnel undulating as it followed the coal drifts, where a great deal of the work was done lying on a side. The roof seldom allowed a man or woman space to stand was supported by Fir staves and freestones. Light was supplied by a little oil lamp fixed on the forehead yielding only what the dark narrow cavern permitted.

Coal wagons were dragged by a harness on all fours in a close heat and continual drip of water threatening on all sides. 
 
On a early Saturday morning 9th March 1839 a crowd of people gathered after hearing a hollow rumbling and saw the sides of the pit had given way. The night shift workers of Men, Women and Children had only just went underground when midway down the earth shot rubble dust and stone thundering downwards.

To over thirty fathoms it choked the mine trapping thirteen fellow mine workers in its dark depth.
 
News soon spread and help came from all over in a desperate hope of saving as many of the thirteen lives as possible. The pit being old had underground roads in several directions and it was hopeful an air supply may be had from a outlying abandoned Black Dean Pit.
 
Labourers worked intensely to clear away the rubbish and dirt that had accumulated in enormous quantities.  To get workers down a large wooden drum was constructed fitting close to the pit walls that fortified them as it slowly descended.


The owner of the pit Messer’s Stenhouse worked in kind and gave encouragement where possible. In fact all became kinsfolk in a bid to help. The acquaintances of those trapped were visited by the editor who found tidiness and a good fire burning with precious coal amid an air of sounding grief and quiet resignation.  They considered it was their place to hold out hope while underground workers wrestled with the heavy earth. 


The day had now advanced and parties who worked on felt  hope had now diminished as the air underground would become foul and light would soon vanish. Speculation grew from not so favourable to imagining them still alive and waiting for them to appear.
 
Miner Peter Hay later remarked “Our pit was called High Pressure Pit and according to regulations we went down at eight o’clock at night in lawful employment to prepare roads to carry coals.”
“It was important to see that the work was done properly and all employed. John Nicolson, George Campbell, Thomas Reid, Jamieson Bennett, James Reid, George Pride and his wife Betsy. From Millerhill,  John Reid, Ellen Reid his daughter aged 15; Janet Shaw, James Reid and his daughter Margaret Vedom aged 12.
 
The four women were carrying rubbish to be thrown into the gaps where the coal had been cut. Two men were cutting the roof to make it higher and the rest were building to hold the sides of the underground road. The water was about two feet deep and had to be waded through. This was just after nine at night. When George Pride who had been checking the water level approached the others looking fearful telling them the pit was giving way. His god brother John Nicolson would not believe this news and continued to work for a while before he went to see for himself.

To his dismay and the others it was all so true as three giant rumbles closed off every avenue throwing two miners to the ground and John Reid against the wall. John had cut his face which streamed with blood as he turned to Peter Hay and asked what the rest were thinking.
“Peter, Peter what is to become of us?” “Well never see our Wives and Bairns again.”
John replied. “There is no fear ; I hope we shall see them yet.”

But in truth I was in consternation at being buried three hundred and thirty feet in the earth and closed off forever from the world.

We decided to try to go by way of Back Dean Pit air gate in time to escape, thinking at the time, if this was not possible we were done for.
 
The air gate was constructed mainly for the passage air and consisted of a crooked twisting pipe like road of two foot high and two and a half feet wide. The wooden door was broken away and we travelled into it merely to be met by a mass of rubbish. Working hard we commenced to clear it in turns of four or five men for four or five hours. Some parts were so small we had to use wedges to cut a foot off the side.

I went to see how they were doing and John Nicolson said, “Tell the men to work their way back to the pit bottom as this place is completely choked off.” It will never do, there is no air in here.” I stood for a moment and appealed, “Oh, is there no appearance of any opening?” “No,” Said John quietly.
 
Steadily we made our way back to the pit bottom and were halted by the news of another opening in the air gate had been found. The opening was so little we had to go carefully, but we progressed to a waters edge. John Reid slipped in up to his chin in very chilly water, but the air became exceptionally bad effecting five of our lamps. We were told to move back as rubble had formed a stop difficult to clear. John told us to take care and not to lose the precious oil lights.
 
On returning to the High Pressure Pit bottom we began to work on clearing a way until the air extinguished every light we had at that place. One light remained were we originally had all met at the beginning of the incident and this gave us comfort. It became our headquarters as a place to return to after any work. We were inured to hardship from childhood but in this condition we had our fears and sorrow for those we had left on the surface only a few hours before.

Sitting in the headquarters men were tired after the digging and women who had been ordered to stayed there to save energy.  As time went by we became more composed as in a brotherhood gathering for prayer. John seeing the situation proposed a prayer should be offered as death seemed so near. He asked me to pray. I implored them to be sedate, which surprisingly they did. Some knew the Scriptures well, in particular Jamieson Bennettt  who showed great faith. Betsy Campbell was very composed but interrupted the silence with cries of sorrow on not being able to see her two children again.

The rest were serene and sang verses of the 20th Psalm while I prayed. Later we told stories of home and our daily lives in a different light.
 
Two men went to see if help was on the way from the Back Dean Pit. On return told us they had gone as far as possible and had shouted in the hope of being heard above. They listened intently but had heard no reply, which led them to supposed the pit was filled to the day light by mud. All hope appeared to be gone now.

Most of us were in high spirits despite this set back saying, while there was life there was hope. Once more we prayed saying, He was the same God as yesterday and today and as of the time of Israel helping them escape from Egypt to the land of Canaan. On the time the Lord spoke to Mosses. And saying, let us not despair.
 
By this time all lamps had gone out and the air was so bad it barely supported us. Someone mentioned we will never see each others face this side of time, and yet the dark was of some comfort to us.
We talked a while and mentioned a pity for those of our families above us, then sang “I to the hills will lift thine eyes.”

One of the men said if he survived he would make amends and turn over a new leaf, while the girls cried with hunger till the pangs eventually wore off. At least we had plenty of water to support us and we believed in the lord and his mercy. Looking back it was the sweetest and shortest of all Saturdays, while we were in the heart of the earth and banded together in song and prayer.
 
During the night we began to feel low and I sang a hymn to them where the second last line was ‘ Let the wings of time more hasty fly.’ >From this we were consoled and led to talk of our families and
our lives at this pit. A pit that had gave us employment and good people as neighbours.
Once again we sent men to look to see if relief was on the way but they returned after hearing no helpful sound. We felt like Jonah in the whales belly and his cries for help, and why not us, were we not enclosed in the belly of the earth?

It may have been around six o’clock at night we decided to write our names and state we were at least alive at that time. On the completion of two names the lights went out but we were sure God our maker would know who we were. While talking we became a little gloomy on discussing if there was a way to find us and the consequences if this proved impossible. Another party returned from the air gate with no news and this made us feel the same way as before so we sang heartily and talked of the Scriptures.
 
We decided to try one more time, those chosen to go were myself, Jamieson Bennett and James Reid. In the complete dark we set off quite determined. At the waters edge passed the air gate we sat down and consulted each other and decided the air seemed a bit clearer. It was cooler and more tolerant, so we went back a little optimistic to tell the others.

Those at headquarters were not sure if they could believe us as the will to live seemed to be slipping away. It is easy to see in moving to the Back Dean Pit we would consume any energy we had left. It was down to taking a chance or just sit here waiting for the inevitable.

Taking another attempt in the total darkness we marched close to each other calling each others name for comfort. We moved rubble and crawled though gaps and sometimes sank into deep cold water. The women and children were encouraged to cling to our necks as we made our way steadily in the deep pools. Some of the party fell behind and we were forced to wait till they caught up.

I cried out for George Pride as he had moved away from us and disappeared in the gloom. He did not answer and I went to find him but took the wrong route and ended up at a pile of rubble where my ears began to hurt and crackle, my eyes started to stream in a bad way. I had now to make up my mind whether to keep my sanity or let it slip away. Keeping cool was imperative ensure a return to the others. Slowly making my way back till I heard voices and the relieve of being near a fellowman.

Carefully I made my way on a different route groping with my hand and taking steady steps. Then I began to smell sulphur and smoke and knew this was the bottom of the Back Dean Pit. You may believe me when I say this was of great consolation to me.

To my immense joy the rest of my friends were safe and well and  excited on hearing my hopeful news. I had felt the strength of a lion as I crawled up to the gate but now on return I slipped into a very weak state. Most of this was due to the bad air that made us hungry for natural air causing me to puff and blow on any excretion or movement.

We began shouting loudly at the bottom of the pit with all the strength we had left. To our undiluted joy we heard an answer from above and asked for a bucket to be sent down to us. We were so weak a man had to be lowered to help us, but he found the air so foul coming from the fresh air he was taken ill and had to be pulled up again.

So the bucket was let down again and we were lifted into that sweet air and bathed in the light so pleasant.
 
It was a Sabbath Morn and my first words were, “Glory be to God in the highest. That I am once more on the earth safe alive.”
 
Such is the simple narrative of Peter Hay .

The domicile of those trapped underground.
 Adams Row -John Nicolson, George Campbell, Thomas Reid, Jamieson Bennett, James Reid, George Pride and his wife Betsy.
 
From Millerhill,  John Hay John Reid, Ellen Reid his daughter aged 15; Janet Shaw, James Reid and his daughter Margaret Vedom aged 12
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