Colliery Anniversary


The Redding Pit Disaster of 1923

As a society, we aim to educate on all aspects of Wallace's life and connections to it. So it may surprise you that this report is about coal mining. Back in 1863 the colliers in Redding, Falkirk, had taken strike action against conditions the wealthy mine owners had imposed on them and their families. They lost the fight, but one man, James Simpson, was determined to keep the struggle alive.

He knew that secrecy was of prime importance as the mine owners would crack down hard on any talk of trade unionism, so after much discussion with trusted colleagues they decided to form a brotherhood based upon freemasonry. And so on 21st July the Sir William Wallace Grand Lodge of Scotland Free Colliers was born. The lodge was the first of over 50 lodges nationwide and is now the last. As the ultimate Scottish freedom fighter, the name William Wallace was easily chosen. Fast forward to the year 1923, and on Tuesday 25th September an inrush of water flooded the Redding pit, trapping 66 men underground. Only 26 men were brought to the surface alive, the remaining 40 died; most drowning in the initial inrush. Between September and early December the bodies of 40 men were eventually brought to the surface to be given a Christian burial. Many were the stories of heroism on that fateful day, of men going back to warn colleagues of danger, only to be trapped themselves. The pit re-opened 3 months later, and finally closed in 1958. One vow was made after all the victims were laid to rest. The vow was “They will never be forgotten.” A small memorial stone was unveiled in 1980, and refurbished in 2002 with a black granite stone decorated with mining scenes, both times at the behest of the Free Colliers.

A year ago the Colliers discussed the possibility of a grand scheme to refurbish the memorial once again for the centenary of the disaster. After much fundraising and cutting through red tape, work began in June to make the dream happen. The finished article is probably the best mining memorial nationwide. On Saturday 23rd September 2023, I along with my brother Colliers attended the centenary of the disaster and the unveiling of the new monument, attended by over 500 people, some of whom were relatives of those who had died, coming from overseas to be in attendance. Proceedings were started by a welcome from Grand Master William Allerdyce, followed by the hymn, “The Lord is my Shepherd”, from Linlithgow reed band. Local historian Ian Scott then told the story of the disaster, before the unveiling of the new memorial by colliers David Chirray and Joe Hamilton, both of whom had worked in the pit until its closure. Children from local primary schools held up placards with the names of the men who died which were read out by James Anderson, former provost Pat Reid, former provost Billy Buchanan, Michael Connarty, and Alex Jack. The new memorial was then re-dedicated by Reverend Tom Greig and Father Daniel Doherty.

Wreaths and floral tributes were then laid, and there were many of them. A lament was then beautifully played by the Colliers Grand Piper Kevin McLean after which some of the children then read out poems about the disaster. The hymn “Abide with me” was played by Bo’ness and Carriden Brass Band, followed by closing remarks from Falkirk Provost Robert Bisset who spoke with feeling about the history of the Colliers and the disaster, finally remarking on community spirit enabling monuments like this to come to fruition. Proceedings were then brought to a close, with Grand Master Allerdyce thanking all who contributed to the monument and all in attendance.

Report by Gordon Aitken, SOWW

Thanks to Gordon Aitken and The Falkirk Herald for the photographs


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The Society of William Wallace is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation Registration number SC045959