Yesterday morning the works at Stevenston of Nobel's Explosive
Company was the scene of a distressing and fatal occurrence.
At about twenty minutes to nine o'clock, No. 7 cartridge hut blew up
and as many readers are aware the huts in which the cartridges are made
up are scattered among the sand hills, a mile or so to the west of the
town of Stevenston and a short distance from the beach between
Stevenston burn and Irvine Harbour, the works covering a good many acres
in the locality. There are thirty of these isolated huts, and, when the
explosion took place, it set fire to three of these structures which are
simply composed of slabs of wood with tarpaulin roofs.
There are usually four girls employed in each hut and Mr.
the Manager, states that yesterday morning fifteen girls in total were
employed in them. In No.7 hut, that in which the explosion occurred, the
young women employed were:
Ann Brannan Mary Brannan (Sisters)
Mary Macadam Rachel Allison.
The last named resided with her parents in West Kilbride and the others
were from Stevenston.
The force of the explosion was terrific, as may well be imagined when
it is stated that the huts were supposed to contain two and a half cwts.
of dynamite each. Not a vestige of the hut remains to indicate its
former presence and the immediate effects were of a painful character
and, but for the manner in which the various manufactory are disposed
and placed among the sandy knolls it would have been appalling indeed.
Three of the adjoining huts were set on fire but did not explode. Had
it been gunpowder in place of dynamite that was in the process of
manufacture and packing, there would have been a much more harrowing
tale to tell. The huts burned and in most cases the poor young girls,
all between the age of eighteen and twenty five, lost their lives.
In No.5 hut two girls lost their lives
Mary Ann Peter, age 19, residing in Main St. Stevenston and,
Martha McAllister of Ardeer Sq. Stevenston.
In No.6 hut those killed were:
Elizabeth Love and Martha Haggarty.
In No.8 hut those killed were:
Isabella Longridge, Stevenston.
Isabella McCall, New Square.
In each case death was probably instantaneous for the huts are no
more than fifteen feet square, and had the unfortunate girls retained
consciousness they could have rushed outside in a few seconds of time.
As it was, the brave men who ran to their assistance were unable to
render any assistance.
The injured were:
Sarah Ann McKane, Jessie Craig, Mary Banks and Rose Ann Murphy. Rose Ann
stated "I was working in No.6 hut with Martha Haggarty and
Elizabeth Love making cartridges. I heard the explosion and the first
thing after that that I remember was the boards coming down. In a split
second that hut was in flames and I don't know how I got out of the hut
I remember crying "Martha" and seeing the flames all about
Martha but after that I do not remember anything until I regained
consciousness". The injuries this young woman received were not
serious and her escape seems remarkable.
Mary Banks was working in hut No.5 and both her arms are injured and
her hair singed. She states that she heard the explosion then the window
came in on them, the flames following. She rushed out to safety. Jessie
Craig gives a similar narrative.
The cause of the explosion has not been ascertained. It is just
possible that there may have been some larking amongst the girls and
that some irregularity was committed. The manager had been round the
huts shortly before, and, only twenty minutes previous to the explosion
the foreman had been in No.7 hut and found everything to be correct.
The admirable discipline which exists in the factory, its resources
for dealing with an occurrence of the kind that took place yesterday
morning, and the courage and presence of mind of the manager and those
immediately under him were evident from the speed with which the fire
was extinguished and prevented from spreading. The fire extinguishing
apparatus was so direct and applied that actually within a few minutes
of time the explosion occurred the fire was extinguished in each of the
huts, and the danger of it spreading completely prevented.