A GALASHIELS writer has delved into her family history to write a compelling novel about one of the country's worst mining disasters.

Dorothy Alexander's first book, The Mauricewood Devils, centres around the story of her great great grandfather David Anderson, and the young family he left behind. David, only 32 at the time, was one of the 63 miners who died in the Mauricewood Disaster in Penicuik when a fire swept through the mine on September 5, 1889.

To put the fire out, the pit was sealed and then flooded. Thirty-six bodies were not recovered for six months at which point it became obvious that a number of them had been buried alive. The effects of this are recounted by the wife and daughter of one of the trapped miners in a literary historical fiction based on the real events at Mauricewood.

Speaking to the Border Telegraph, Dorothy said: “My great-great-grandfather was one of those buried alive and my great-grandmother was orphaned. She lived most of her life in Innerleithen and half of the novel is set there. The other half is set in Penicuik and is narrated by her widowed stepmother.”

One of the main strands in the book is the contention that the miners need not have died if recent legislation had been properly implemented. But the courts sided with the mine owners as to its interpretation and Trades Unions were in their infancy – just not quite strong enough yet to fully protect workers in such dangerous occupations.

Dorothy said: “My grandmother had told me that her father was killed in the disaster – it was clear that it had always been referred to as The Disaster – and that they’d found his piece box floating in the water of the flooded mine. The only other snippet I had was that my mother recalled her granny telling her that she’d twiddled the button on the jacket of one of the soldiers who had lined the streets for the main funeral procession of the victims. I also remembered her telling me her most treasured memory of her father – the day he bought her a pair of buttoning boots and how proud she was of them. I wanted to find out more about this tragedy in her life and about the man who’d bought those boots.”

The emotional impact of reading accounts of the fire in the pit at Mauricewood and its after-effects was immense on Dorothy. The details of what had happened to those down the mine that day were as horrific as the discovery that they need not have died if recent legislation had been better implemented was enraging. Sixty-three men and boys – the youngest aged twelve were killed. They left 29 widows and 104 orphaned children as well as several mothers whose sons were their only means of financial support. Thirty-six were unaccounted for when they sealed the pit with concrete on the second day of the Disaster to try to put out the fire thus condemning any left alive below to certain death.

Dorothy, originally from Galashiels but now living in Peebles, has been researching the events of that tragic day since 2006. “I never intended to write a novel about Mauricewood originally," she said.

"I had started writing about a time in my life when two of my classmates were killed in violent accidents within eighteen months of each other. The trigger was a school photograph of our class taken just before the first one died. Thinking about my life then reminded me of visits to my Granny Robson’s house. She was my great grandmother and much loved in the family because she was a generous, warm-hearted woman. Her name was Martha. I knew that her father had been a victim of the Mauricewood Disaster when she was about the same age as I was when my classmates were killed so I thought that, in the novel, she would be a good person to have explaining how sudden death might affect a child, and help the younger me of the story to come to terms with it."

Dorothy's painstaking research centred on documents and newspapers from the time and historical archives at the mining museum at Newtowngrange.

“There is a website dedicated to Scottish mining villages and it had all the basic facts of the story there. Then I found some local histories that had been written about it.

"From there, I went to do some much much bigger research through the mining museum and a Local Studies library in place in Gorebridge, and they have these fantastic archives there. One of the most useful things for me was newspapers from the time. The reporting from that time was just fantastic, really giving a vivid description of the time.”

The The Mauricewood Devils is available from Waterstones and all good bookstores and retails at £8.99.