Attempt to blow up Loanhead police station

Clerk Street, Loanhead, in the late 19th century. (photo courtesy Alan McLaren)
Clerk Street, Loanhead, in the late 19th century. (photo courtesy Alan McLaren)

Between two and three o’clock on Sunday morning an attempt was made to blow up the police station at Loanhead, but owing to the clumsy manner in which the attempt was made the consequences resulting from it were fortunate not to be serious.

For some Saturdays past considerable disturbances have been caused by the Irish miners, who form part of the population of the village. In consequence of these disturbances an extra force of police was drafted thither every Saturday.

On Saturday night last one of these disorderly scenes occurred and about half past eleven the police apprehended several of the principal participators in the disturbances, all Irishmen, and lodged them in the cells.

On Sunday morning the constable on duty was alarmed by hearing a loud explosion, followed by the smashing of several of the windows. He immediately ran outside, and found that in addition to the breaking of the windows part of the stone coping of a window had been blown away.

On making further search he discovered in the middle of the road a piece of iron tube resembling a water pipe weighing a couple of pounds and plugged at one end. The tube showed that it had been filled with powder or some explosive material, and placed against the window.

The fuse by which it had been exploded was found not far distant. It is believed that some of the friends of the men apprehended commmitted this outrage with the view of effecting the escape of the prisoners, and of avenging themselves on the police.

The county police authorities were reticent regarding the occurrence, but we understand that the force constables stationed at Loanhead has been increased.

On Monday the county police were engaged making enquiries into the circumstances in connection with the explosion of gunpowder at Loanhead. It appears that nearly every Saturday night Loanhead is made the rendezvous of many of the miners, labourers and navvies of the surrounding villages, and that quarrelling and fighting are of frequent occurrence. Loanhead has a population of 3,000 and nearly one half of that number are employed in the mines in the neighbourhood, so that on Saturday evenings the village may be said to be crowded with miners, many of whom are Irishmen.

On Saturday night there was a series of fights and among those taken into custody for breach of the peace were: Andrew McPartlane (29), Thomas Maloney (23), Peter Nae (26), William Robertson (31) and Peter McPartlane (16). Some of their companions followed the policemen, and three of them were observed lingering about the vicinity of the police station till early on Sunday morning. As the streets became quiet about this time, the two policemen retired to their dwellings on the second floor of the police station.

They went to bed about two o’clock and were lying awake when one of them observed a flash, which was followed immediately afterwards by a noise somewhat louder than the report of a 
rifle. He at once raised the sash of the window and glanced up and down the street, but though there was no interrupted view for a considerable distance, he could see no person about. Both policemen quickly dressed and went to the front door, when they ascertained that two panes of glass in the window on the ground storey were broken, and that small pieces of window coping were destroyed. A broken piece of piping was found underneath the windows and a half burnt fuse lying beside it.

It was supposed that the pipe had been filled with gunpowder, laid on the sill of the window, and fired with the fuse. Chief Constable Munro having been communicated with, he, along with Superintendent White, Inspector Dall and others, went to Loanhead and made enquiries into the circumstances.

On account of what happened the five prisoners were removed to Jock’s Lodge where they were confined till Monday morning. In the course of the day they were taken before Sheriff Hamilton at the Edinburgh Sheriff Court and charged with having committed a breach of the public peace in the village of Loanhead on Saturday.

Andrew McPartlane, whose face was much bruised, was further charged with assaulting John Whitcomb, a police constable, while in the execution of his duty, by striking him with his fist a blow on the head or face.

The accused, with the exception of Nae, pleaded guilty and after some conversation, the Sheriff decided to hear the case on Thursday. After the other cases had been disposed of, Nae expressed a desire to plead guilty.

The prisoners were again brought to the bar and all five tendered a plea of guilty.

The Sheriff – “These fights must be stopped – thirty days’ hard labour for Andrew McPartlane and ten days for the rest. But remember if any more disturbances of this kind take place they will require to be dealt with in a smarter manner than this.”

Advertiser reader Andrew Donaldson was looking through the Dalkeith Advertiser archives when he came across this story in June 1881.