AT 9.10 on the morning of Wednesday, January 26, 1949, Tillicoultry was rocked by an explosion – a powder magazine at the quarry had exploded.

Buildings rocked, roofs were ripped off, ceilings collapsed, and hundreds of windows were shattered by the blast. Alexander Honeyman, a quarry worker, was killed.

The quarry, situated on the west side of the burn, had offices, huts, equipment stores and machinery on site, and situated at a safe distance was the powder magazine. It had been constructed on an embankment on the hillside away from the main working quarry face.

At around 9 o'clock, 44-year-old Honeyman, an experienced shot-firer, was busy fitting caps to fuses when the powder magazine suddenly exploded. The noise was deafening.

Buildings at the quarry collapsed with each one being damaged. Dirt and debris were thrown high into the air, only to rain down on the houses of the town, especially those closest to the quarry.

As far away as Dunfermline, the blast was heard, and people knew instantly something was wrong. Quarry blasting was common, and the townsfolk knew the noise of these usual blasts, but this was something entirely different.

In a Nissen hut office, just 30 yards from the magazine, the managing director of Tillicoultry Quarries Robert Wallace Menzies, had a narrow escape.

He was lifted off his feet in the blast and catapulted halfway out a window.

The Nissen hut was completely destroyed. Miraculously he only sustained a slight injury.

It was thanks to the magazine being on the embankment that there was not a greater loss of life. Fifteen men were working at the quarry at the time but the impact on the embankment saved them from injury.

A roll call took place within minutes of the blast to make sure everyone was safe but when Honeyman's name was called, there was no answer. His loss deeply affected not only his colleagues and family, but the whole town for he was well-liked.

Wreckage from the blast was scattered over a wide area. Wooden huts were now piles of wood. The compressor house was destroyed, and where the magazine had stood there was a huge crater.

George Honeyman. Alexander's brother also worked at the quarry. His son, nine-year-old Billy, had just dropped off his piece and was leaving when the explosion occurred. The boy was between the powder magazine and offices and was thrown 30 feet into the air. He suffered an injury to his head and legs.

Tillicoultry Quarry

Tillicoultry Quarry

TILLICOULTRY suffered damage from the quarry explosion as far as the High Street where people were thrown off their feet.

Those who had witnessed the explosion from the town said there was a blinding flash of light followed immediately by a loud roar. The quarry hill disappeared behind a massive cloud of dust.

These early morning shoppers had many narrow escapes as glass windows from shops came crashing to the ground.

The worst damage was in the upper part of the town nearest the quarry.

The house closest to it, Castlecraig, was occupied by Mrs Muirhead. She was just finishing making her bed when the blast occurred, toppling over a wardrobe which pinned her to the bed. This saved her life. She was rescued by neighbours, although suffered severe shock.

At a house called The Sheiling, the home of Mr and Mrs RG Hunter, every ceiling collapsed, and all the windows shattered.

Mrs Dundas, who also lived close to the quarry, stated: 'First the fire blew out, then the windows were blown in and the doors were thrown open'.

At Rose Cottage, occupied by the Frame family, most of the north side of their roof was destroyed. Mrs Frame described it as though the blast had lifted her house. There was barely a home in the old part of the town that did not suffer damage.

Shattered roof tiles, glass and other debris covered the roads. In Upper Mill Street, although the damage was not quite so bad, roof tiles were lost, windows were shattered, and a number of ceilings collapsed.

At Westeron Farm, the roof of the byre was ripped off while in Jamieson Gardens and Walker Terrace, the houses suffered roof and window damage. Interior plasterwork cracked. At Middleton Mill, windows were smashed, and workers rushed home to see if their houses were intact.

At J&D Paton's factory in Lower Mill Street, 120 windows and roof lights were smashed. Luckily, no-one was injured.

Like their colleagues in Upper Mills Street, many left the factory to see how their houses had fared.

Soon, local tradesmen made temporary repairs to the damaged homes so they were habitable. Neighbours rallied round and did what they could for those affected.

The Secretary of State for Scotland Arthur Woodburn MP visited the town, and along with Provost William Jamieson and members of the Town Council, saw the damage first-hand.

Alexander Honeyman had worked at the quarry for 29 years, and left behind a widow and twin sons, Eric and Alister.