Collection: James McCulloch

Thank you to Jim and Mima McCulloch for providing the following photographs associated with the Knockshinnoch Disaster.

Jim’s dad, Neil McCulloch was one of the 116 miners trapped underground in the Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery for three days and nights in September 1950. Mima’s dad, James Walker was one of many miners that volunteered to help in the rescue effort, along with two of his brothers; while three further brothers were numbered in those men trapped.

With Jim and Mima’s kind permission I researched a few generations of their family history up until that shared event that touched some many families in the parish of New Cumnock.

The McCulloch Family

I. Neil McCulloch and Mary Ann Robertson

Neil McCulloch was born on 31st March 1870 at the Brick Row Dalry, Ayrshire the third of three sons to James McCulloch, a drawer in the ironstone pits and Jane Kane. Some time after his school years Neil left the family home to find work in the New Cumnock coalfield where he lodged with the Scott family, originally from Dalry, at Connel Park.

On the 2nd January 1893, 22 year-old Neil and 21 year-old Mary Ann Robertson were married by the Reverend James Millar. Mary Ann, also living at Connel Park was the daughter of of Daniel Robertson, miner and Mary Ann Clark.

By the end of the year their first child James was born at Connel Park before the family moved to Cambuslang, Lanarkshire for a few years, where Neil initially worked in the coal mines and then for a short spell in the steel works. While at Cambuslang children Daniel, Therese and Margaret were born before the family returned to Connel Park where first, Kate was born and then on 4th January 1911, Neil junior completed the family. Tragically young Neil’s mother died while he was an infant and his father died before he was a teenager.

II. Neil McCulloch and Margaret Davidson 1938

The McCulloch family later settled in the new houses at Burnside and after his school days Neil found work in the local pits.

Reproduced by Permission of the National Library of Scotland

On 28th October 1938 Neil, now 29 years old, living at 50 Burnside and working at the pithead, married 23 year old Margaret Loggie Davidson at the Martyrs Kirk, Manse. Born at Sorn, Margaret was the daughter of the late James Davidson, miner and the late Agnes Smith. Together Neil and Margaret had two children, Neil and James.

The Walker Family

I. Thomas Black Walker and Janet Gray

On 23 April 1897 Thomas Black Walker (38), coalminer married Janet Gray (36) at Craigbank in the parish of New Cumnock, by the Reverend Matthew Hutchison, minister of the Afton Free Church.

Janet was the widow of John Walls, shepherd who had died two years beforehand at Monthraw near the head of Glen Afton. Janet had a son Archibald Gray and two children James and Agnes from her marriage to John Walls. On the 1st May 1900 the family expanded to four children following the birth of a son Thomas Black Walker at their home at Craigbank.

II. Thomas Black Walker and Mary Prendergast

Thomas grew up at 8 Crescent, Craigbank and after his school years joined his father and his step-brothers Archibald Gray and James Walls working in the pits of New Cumnock Collieries. He was also better known by his nick-names “Pup” Walker.

On the 2nd July 1920 he married 21 year-old Mary Prendergast, daughter of James Prendergast, miner and Mary Powas who lived at the Brick Row, Lugar. The couple lived at Connel Park before later settling at Burnside. Together they had nine children, six boys – Alex, Archie, James, Thomas,Walls & William and three girls – Jenny, May and Nan. All the boys would grow up to work in the mines alongside their father, while daughter Jenny worked in the Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery canteen [1].

III. James Walker and Mary Sweden

On 14th July 1944 James Walker married Mary Sweden at Cumnock, the daughter of James Sweden, miner and Jemma Walker. Together James and Mary had three children, Tom, Mima and Mary.

Knockshinnoch Disaster & Rescue 7-10th September 1950

On the day the disaster brothers Walls (diesel loco driver), Thomas (joyloader) and teenage Alec (pit boy) were three of the 116 miners trapped underground [2].

This family connection captured the imagination of the national press which often quoted –

“In the little village of Burnside one in every four houses had a miner among the trapped men. One Burnside mother, Mrs. Tom Walker, awaited news of her three sons.”

The Yorkshire Post, Saturday 9 September 1950 [2]

The other three brothers Archie, James and William were among the many off-duty miners to volunteer and support the rescue effort as did father Pup Walker, only to be persuaded that this was a task only for the younger men.

Thankfully, all 116 trapped miners, including Neil McCulloch and the three Walker brothers – Walls, Thomas and Alec, were eventually led to saftey from the bowels of the Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery through the abandoned Bank No.6 pit working to the surface and into the arms of their loved ones.

Ironically, it was in the Bank No. 6 pit back in April 1938, when hutches transporting miners to the surface suddenly plummeted back underground killing 5 miners, including 14 year old Joseph Walls, a cousin of the Walker brothers. Daniel Strachan, husband of Joseph Walls’ sister was one of the 13 men killed in the Knockshinnoch disaster.

Butlins Holiday Camp

In the aftermath of the disaster Butlins treated the families of those affected to a short break at their famous holiday camp near Ayr.

Photo courtesy of James McCulloch

Neil McCulloch and his wife Margaret leave their house at Burnside with their young sons Neil and James to head for the bus to Butlins.

Photograph courtesy of Mr and Mrs James McCulloch

Families at Burnside wave away the Western S.M.T. buses to Butlins

Black Avalanche” (1960) by Arthur and Mary Sellwood [3]

On the 10th Anniversary of the Knockshinnoch Disaster, husband and wife authors Arthur and Mary Selwood Walker released their book Black Avalanche, The Knockshinnoch Pit Disaster“. The book was populated with personal narratives from those caught up in disaster including those of the Mr amd Mrs “Pup” Walker and their six sons.

“This is Your Life” (1961/1962) [4]

On Sunday 10th September 1961, Dave Park was the recipient of the “big Red Book” from Eamonn Andrews during the reccording of “This is Your Life” at the BBC Television Theatre, London. Included in the guest list were Mr and Mrs “Pup” Walker and their six sons. The episode was broadcast on New Year’s Day, 1962.

Photo courtesy of Mr and Mrs James McCulloch

Back row: Walker family Tommy, Jim, Archie (hidden), Mrs Walker (hidden) Walls, William & Alex. Front row: Andrew Houston (hidden), Dave Park, Gibb Grozier

Photo Courtesy of Mr and Mrs James McCulloch

Back Row: Unkown?, The Walker brothers, 3 either side of Mr and Mrs “Pup” Walker, unkown?, unknown?. Front Row: Andrew Cunnigham (King’s Commendation), Andrew Houston (George Medal), Dave Park (George Medal), Gibb Grozier.

In a tragic twist of fate 39 year old Archie Walker, now a colliery deputy was killed on 31st March 1964 in accident at Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery [5].

In that same year James McCulloch and Mima Walker were married and each of their family’s stories of the days of Knockshinnoch became those of one family and remain so to this day.


Courtesy of Mr and Mrs James McCulloch
[1] Knockshinnoch, The Greatest Mines Rescue In History (2015), Ian McMurdo
[2] British Newspaper Archive, The Yorkshire Post Sep 9 1950
[3] Black Avalanche, The Knockshinnoch Pit Disaster (1960), Arthur and Mary Sewell
[4] “This is Your Life” , Big Red Book
[5] Scottish Mining Website
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’
OS Maps 1:25,000 maps of Great Britain 1937-1961
Scotland’s People
Births, Marriages, Deaths


Knockshinnoch DisasterCollections | James McCulloch
The RescuePathe News and Movietone News
The Rescued Men
Rescuer| Hugh Blackwood
Saltcoats Salvationists