Knockshinnoch: Hugh Blackwood


Courtesy Aberdeen Press and Journal, Saturday 12 Sep 1950

(Please note the names of those working above do not appear in the newspaper article)

Hugh Blackwood was one a number of volunteers that worked tirelessly  in digging ditches to divert water away from the gigantic gaping crater formed after the collapse of No. 5 heading in Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery.

Hugh worked with Ayr County Council as a roadman foreman, overseeing the maintenance of roads and pavements and lived in nearby Afton Road.

Indeed maintaining and building roads was in the Blackwood family blood for three generations in the parish of New Cumnock.

John Blackwood (1827-1909) + 1. Elizabeth Campbell 2. Flora Rankine

Hugh’s grandfather John Blackwood was born in the neighbouring parish of Kirkconnel and later moved to New Cumnock. Here in 1850 he married Elizabeth Campbell, daughter of James Campbell and Agnes Lorimer.  Initially he found work in the parish as an agricultural labourer. The couple lived at Afton Bridgend including for a time in the parish schoolhouse at the toll (i.e. the schoolhouse associated with the original parish school on the south side of the Dumfries road at the Afton Bridge).  Together they had five children before Margaret sadly passed away in 1863, aged 36 years old, when the family was living at the Leggate.

Map showing the Old School

Old Schoolhouse

In 1871 John Blackwood married Flora Rankine the widow of Hugh Douglas at which time John’s occupation is recorded as “stone cutter”. George Sanderson in ‘New Cumnock  Far and Away’ identified the change in the nature of the work on road surfaces and in particular the change from the use of water stones & earth to the best blue whinstone; he comments –

Samuel Sharp and Tammas Campbell, roadmen of the past, now gave way to a new job description, stone knappers with their long shafted hammers, among them Alex Rorrison, John Blackwood , George Sanderson and Jock McKenzie“.

Together John and Flora had four children including William Blackwood born on Christmas Day 1875 at Afton Bridgend

William Blackwood (1875-1948) + Jeannie Reid

William followed in his father’s footsteps as a stone-breaker while his elder half-brothers James and George were roadmen.

In 1878 the responsibility for roads, which were no longer classed as turnpikes or toll roads, came under the County Road Boards, and then later in 1889 responsibility passed to the newly formed Ayr County Council.

In 1899 William Blackwood married Jeannie Reid daughter of John Reid stone-mason in Mauchline and Agnes Kennedy and they lived at Afton Place. Together they had five children including Hugh Douglas Blackwood born at Afton Place on 28th April 1901.

William worked in the local pits for a spell and so too did his son Hugh. The family also took up residence in the Ayr County Council homes built on the Afton Road.

Map showing the houses on the Afton Road and Kockshinnoch Castle Colliery

Hugh Douglas Blackwood (1901-1950) + Grace Grant

In 1924 Hugh married Grace Grant, daughter of John Grant, miner and Annie Brown. The couple lived at Connel Park for a time before Hugh left the pits to work as a roadman. The family then move next door to Hugh’s father William, now a roadman foreman, at Afton Road in houses that were specifically owned by Ayr County Council (Highways). On retiring William and his wife Jeanie moved to Afton Bridgend, he passed away in 1948 at Ballochmyle Hospital.

Hugh, Grace and his family continued to live at Afton Road and would doubtless hear the pit-horn of Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery blaring late at night on Thursday 7th September 1950 and the sounds of the emergency vehicles making their way along the Leggate road as the Knockshinnoch Disaster unfolded.

The Knockshinnoch Crater with the mine to the north west and cemetery to north east

Knockshinnoch Crater

Hugh Douglas Blackwood was one a number of volunteers that worked tirelessly  in digging ditches to divert water away from the gigantic gaping crater formed after the collapse of No. 5 heading in Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery. On Friday 8th September at 4:15pm the exertion took its toll and tragically he collapsed and died “on the Afton Road about 150 yards south of the Afton Cemetery“.

A life lost in the pursuit of saving others.

Hugh Blackwood, Afton Cemetery



George Sanderson “New Cumnock Far and Away”
National Library of Scotland
All maps reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ayrshire, Sheet XLII (includes: New Cumnock; Old Cumnock) Survey date: 1857 Publication date: 1860
NS6012-NS6112 – AA (includes: New Cumnock Revised: 1961 Published: 1962
NS61SW – A (includes: New Cumnock) Surveyed / Revised: Pre-1930 to 1957
Published: 1957
British Newspaper Archive
Courtesy Aberdeen Press and Journal, Saturday 12 Sep 1950
Scotland’s People
Old Parish Records, Births, Marriages, Deaths, Census Records, Valuations Rolls, Wills & Testaments


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