Serious Explosion at the Dynamite Works

As reported in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald 9th May 1884

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. McRoberts, 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.