Terrible Explosion at Ardeer Seven Men Killed

Whole Countryside Startled - Extensive Damage At Irvine
As reported in the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald March, 1913

The shock of the explosion was felt over a wide area. Although the detonation was little more than remarked in the towns of Saltcoats and Ardrossan it was distinctly heard many miles inland, reports from such distant towns as Sanquhar and Moffat indicating that the shock was experienced there, while in several Lanarkshire districts the sound was so distinctly heard that people at first assumed an accident had occurred in one of the local mines.

In Ayrshire the true cause was quickly surmised. From Troon, Irvine and Kilmarnock. As well as from Ardrossan and Saltcoats, the vast column of smoke which shot up from the factory and hung over it for a considerable time was seen by many people, and served to locate the scene of the explosion.

Consternation prevailed in all these localities, for it was obvious that an accident had occurred, and no one was able to guess its limits. In Irvin particularly a state of panic was produced, for, owing to the proximity of the explosives factory to the town, the shock shattered windows in all parts of the burgh.

Anxiety was naturally greatest in Stevenston, where most of the factory employees reside, and hundreds of men and women flocked to the factory gates to ascertain what had occurred.

It was several hours before a definite account of the accident could be obtained. In the meantime all the girls employed in the factory were released from duty and sent home.

The explosion took place, from some cause not yet known, at a hut used for the drying of gun cotton. The first explosion caused other three huts or "drying stoves" to explode, although only a small fraction of a second separated the several detonations.

The factory buildings for some distance around the scene of the explosion were destroyed.

The explosion at Ardeer factory on Monday forenoon startled the whole south-west of Scotland. Life in the various communities was pursuing its normal course; men , women and children were engaged in the hum-drum of their ordinary concerns, when suddenly, at ten minutes past eleven, an instant shook arrested movement, and sent a chill to the hearts of thousands. Simultaneously in half a dozen towns the people rushed into the streets from warehouse, workshop, and dwelling-house. In and around Stevenston the inhabitants knew all too well that a catastrophe had occurred, and in a few moments anxious women, many of them already hysterical with fearful anticipation were hastening - bear-headed, aproned - towards the great explosives factory at Ardeer.

At our own office in Ardrossan the shock of the explosion was not felt, but people who were in Princes Street at the time heard the detonation, and some chancing to face southwards at the moment, saw the ominous upheaval at Ardeer.

An Ardrossan man, happening to be on top of Castlehill was gazing across the sunlit bay, when the catastrophe occurred. From the fair panorama of low hills and dunes a gigantic column of smoke shot up with the hiss of a rising rocket. Straight, like a pillar of black cloud, rose the smoke, then spread outwards, mushroom fashion, at the top. There, black at first and later changing to a pinkish white, lay the ominous smoke like a pall. But this was no mere spectacle. Swift almost as the occurrence itself, spread the news amongst those who had neither seen nor heard, and within ten minutes a representative of the Herald was speeding.

Everywhere were stricken faces. Laughter was stilled. Tragic rumour was already afoot, and like in Saltcoats and Stevenston, in every street, at every door, folks talked with bated breath, fearing; wondering, yet hoping still. What had happened no one knew exactly. There had been an explosion - that at least was certain. Out along that torturous roadway from Stevenston to Nobel's establishment an increasing throng was hurrying. Women -mothers, wives, grandmothers even - were the most numerous. They ran panting, haggard-eyed. Women were sobbing as they went. Women were wringing their fingers as they went. Now and then a cyclist whirred past them; now a motor-car, now a fast driven horse vehicle. These were doctors. The heart sickened at the sight of them - at the suggestion of the need for their presence.

Nearer the works, the throng met another, The factory girls were coming out. They too, were sobbing, red-eyed, hysterical. They came in groups, keeping company for mutual encouragement. One, darting forward, advanced to an elderly woman - her mother?

"Whit in God's name are you daein' here? Whit wis the yias o' you comin'?" she cried. But her lips trembled as she spoke; and the words were barely uttered ere she was sobbing on the older woman's breast.

But the exodus from the factory came no certain news. The trembling girls knew nothing. They had simply been sent home. An explosives factory is no place for hysteria, and these women were unfit for work.

At the factory gates, beyond which no unauthorised visitors may pass, a multitude had congregated. Still there was no news. Rumour was wild now. "Hundreds have been killed," said some. "There are no fatalities," said others. In the guardroom within the gates a privileged few waited anxiously. There the telephone exchange is stationed. The attendant was constantly at work. Messages were passed from one part of the vast factory to another; messages of inquiry were pouring in from the outside world. To all these last one answer was given - "An explosion, yes - no particulars, - no, we have no information yet." The minutes passed slowly. Presently, a messenger comes in, breathless. Towels are wanted ambulance towels. It is the first proof of tragedy. Here within the factory, rumour is still busy, but it is more reliable, if yet indefinite. Bit by bit we learn that.

Or drying-houses, have exploded - a terrible happening - perhaps a hundred tons of gun cotton, enough to blast a city. And deaths? Yes, men have been killed, and there are injured - the demand for towels is the proof of that. The facts filter through slowly. It is not known how many are dead. The scene of the explosion is a mile and a half away. The officials are there, among the havoc, but they cannot tell yet, nobody can tell, all that has happened.

Thus the hours passed - two hours, three hours. Meanwhile, a special train, consisting of an engine and two guards compartments has been run into the factory and has gone away again. There are injured men in it, we learn, borne off to the infirmary.

At last the general manager of the works, Col. Sir Fredoric Nathan, is able to communicate the facts to the representatives of the press. The statement is couched in the unemotional language of officialdom, but it's poignancy is hardly the less for that.

Shortly after 11 o'clock this morning a building in which gun cotton is dried exploded, and the explosion communicated itself to other 3 small buildings. All 4 buildings were completely destroyed, and a good deal of damage has been done to other buildings in the vicinity. Two of the stoves were being unloaded, and it is much regretted that the 6 men who were carrying out the work lost their lives. In addition to the 6 men killed 7 others were injured, some rather severely. At present it is impossible to say what caused the accident.

Alexander McCubbin, married, 38 Townshead, Stevenston
George Watt, married, 66 Byres Road, Kilwinning.
Alexander Brown, married, Mizpah, Dynamite Road, Stevenston.
Adam Houliston, married, 16 Parkend Road, Saltcoats.
Robert ORR, single, 3 Sharphill Road, Saltcoats.
John Scott, married, 10 Stanley Road, Saltcoats.

Died as Result of Injuries.
Charles McMurtrie, of Bank Street, Kilbirnie c/o Mrs McEwan, Shore Road, Stevenston.

Thomas McGrattan, 8 Canal Street, Saltcoats.
Thomas Bryce, Carment Drive, Stevenston.
Robert Nelson, 60 Canal Street, Saltcoats.
James Murray, Warner Place, Stevenston.
David Shaw, 36 Dalry Road, Kilwinning.
Michael Halpin, Station Square, Stevenston.
Daniel Carlin, c/o Mrs Higgins, Limekiln Road, Stevenston.
Thomas Dickie, Moorpark Road, Stevenston.

News of the disaster in the Dynamite Factory travels faster than the ordinary ill news. It sounds far and wide its own heart-stilling alarm. On Monday morning there were flames and smoke and tremors and a dull, muffled roar; and a dense grey cloud rose slowly upward and drifted sullenly away. The cloud seemed almost stationary a while ere it mingled with the other vapours of the raw March morning. It was awesome; and people gazed upon it and realised the worst. The road to the factory was soon thronged with hurrying people of all ages and both sexes.

Though the whole of Nobel's Factory lies in the Stevenston Parish, a large portion of the area covered by the factory is much nearer the town of Irvine than the town of Stevenston, and the sections in which the few big explosions that have occurred at Ardeer took place are situated in an area which is separated from the Royal and Ancient Burgh by a low lying stretch of level land and water while between this part of the factory and the town of Stevenston great ranges of giant sand-hills, known as the Misk Hills, intervene. These hills no doubt do much to break the force and concussion of the shock of explosions in the works for the people south-west of the works allows Irvine to come in for its full share of the disturbance.

The terrible explosion on Monday forenoon occurred at a point about 1 1/2 miles from the offices and a full half mile to the north of the company's wharf on the river Garnock, in the portion of the works near Bogside Racecourse and facing straight across the course to the grand stand. Taking place as it did in the forenoon, a large number of people saw the column of smoke and flame rising from the explosion, and the impression which the majority of them, especially those in the Harbour district, received was that the seat of the disturbance was in the immediate vicinity of the wharf, while many who had not such a clear view of the works thought that one of vessels loading explosives at the wharf had blown up.

In its effect on the town of Irvine this explosion completely overshadowed all of its predecessors. The ancient burgh looked on its foundations as it has never done in any previous period of its history, under what appeared to be a threefold force, the violence of which was spread continuously over a period of several seconds. The first shock was appalling enough. Buildings seem to have been struck by some terrific agency, walls leaned inwards, windows and crockery crashed in all directions, and at the same time there seemed to be an unearthly pressure in the atmosphere which many who experienced it stated had a stunning and almost sickening effect on them. This was followed without interval by what may be described as an intermediate shock, and then a final crash that seemed greater than any of its forerunners. This continuance of the horrible sensations added much to the terror of the situation, and when the final and greatest spasm of the disturbance struck the town walls which seemed to be leaning well out of perpendicular keeled over still further, and the general impression of those who found themselves indoors at the time was that the buildings were certainly going to fall on them. In such circumstances it is difficult to gauge the passing of time, but some idea of the duration of these effects of the explosions may be obtained from the fact that they lasted long enough to permit of several householders running out of their houses and witnessing the final most alarming vibrations from the outside of their dwellings. Half a minute later everybody appeared to have run into the open.

Was one that will be long remembered. Terror seemed to be stamped on many faces - a fact which is not to be wondered at when it is remembered that many Irvine folks have relatives in the explosives factory - and everywhere grown-up people seemed to be suffering from shock, while many children were screaming. Shattered windows lay about on the pavements splintered plate-glass littered the footways at intervals of a few yards.

In this respect Bridgegate seemed to suffer most severely. The stretch from the bridge to the Co-operative Society's premises, which is exposed to the north-west - the direction of the works - possessed the most extensive continuous line of plate-glass in the town. Over a dozen of those large windows were smashed, only some three or four survived the shock. Similar wholesale destruction was effected in the Montgomery Street near the G. and S. W. Railway Station. In the vicinity of the Coffee House some seven big windows were hurled into the street, not a single window in the little stretch between the first and last of these windows being spared. The plate-glass windows, it may be noted, were blown in every case out on to the pavements, and not into the shops, while house windows were almost invariably blown inwards. A district that suffered even more severely than Bridgegate was the Kilwinning Road district - the most fashionable residential quarter of the burgh. Here not a single villa escaped injury, and some had practically every pane of window glass they possessed smashed.

In Harbour Street the actual shock of the explosion was most keenly felt. Here there were very few plate-glass windows, and the damage done was not to be compared with that in Kilwinning Road and Bridgegate. House and office windows, however, were thrown into the rooms, and several inhabitants reported that they had been cut and bruised by the glass.

Mr James Brown, Collector at the Harbour was sitting at his desk facing the office window which looks out on to the dynamite works and was engaged in some calculations, when the eight or ten square feet of glass in the window was hurled about him without warning. He however, escaped in a miraculous manner without receiving a single cut. The harbourmaster who was sitting in the adjoining office in a similar position was scarcely so fortunate. When the glass came crashing in on top of him he was cut about the brow, and attributed his escape from more serious injury to the fact that he was wearing a hard felt hat at the time. Some further idea of the force of the concussion in this district may be obtained from an episode which took place at the "Smithy Corner." At this point about half a dozen young men were violently thrown to the ground. One of their number, Robt. Barryman, labourer, in describing the incident, said it was difficult to describe the sensation, but it was quite a knock-out blow. It felled and stunned them all, and they lay on the ground for several seconds with slates from the adjacent properties falling about them, and the effect of being stunned was most pronounced. While on the ground he was dazed, and could neither speak, shout or move a muscle. The blow left no wounds, but the muddy condition of his clothes gave ample evidence of the violence with which he had been treated.

As was to be expected from its situation, Cuninghame Combination Poorhouse suffered severely, fully five hundred panes of glass in the institution being broken, but for some unknown reason or other, the club-house of the Irvine Golf Club at Bogside, which stands almost in a direct line between the Poorhouse and the seat of the explosion, got off very lightly. A few of the smaller windows in this building were broken, but of the extensive range of plate-glass in the smoking and dining rooms only one window suffered, and the damage to it was not anything like on the extensive scale that was dealt out to plate-glass windows in the town, there being only one or two square feet of the glass blown out at the top, and the lower portion was cracked.