Ruth Maguire MSP has led a debate in the Scottish Parliament, congratulating Cartridge Girls for staging the play The Girls of Cartridge Hut No.7, by playwright Jack Dickson; a drama set at Nobles Explosive Company at Ardeer, Stevenston, charting the history of an industrial accident at the site in 1884, through the eyes of four young women who lost their lives.

In The Scottish Parliament Chamber, Ruth acknowledged the injustice that was served on the young women Ann and Mary Brannan, Mary McAdam and Rachel McAdam, who were wrongly blamed for the accident, their own deaths and that of six colleagues.  

In 1884, Nobels Explosive Company, was the largest explosive manufacturing plant in the world. Built by the inventor of dynamite and latterly of the Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel. The four young girls, ranging from 14 years old, were part of the exclusively young female workers, who manufactured sticks of dynamite at the plant. 

On 8 May 1884, an accident occurred in the small hut (No7) that the girls were working in, resulting in a large explosion, the girls in the hut died as did a further six other women, in the surround huts, four were injured. The four Cartridge Girls of Hut No.7, who died were unable to defend themselves and the local newspaper reported the following day:  

“The cause of the explosion has not yet been ascertained. It is just possible that there may have been some larking around amongst the girls and it is probable that some irregularity or other amongst them was committed.”  

The accident investigators report was published several months later and concluded that the explosion was caused by faulty equipment. The report, buried under other news, detailed:  

“a handle of one of the machines fell into a box of Dynamite causing the accident.”  

For the Cartridge Girls and their families there was no apology.  

Ruth Maguire MSP meeting Graeme and Soarsa Cobb in the Scottish Parliament

Ruth was pleased to welcome descendants of Mary and Ann Brannan, Graeme and Saorsa Cobb, great grandnephew and great great niece, to the Scottish Parliament Chamber, alongside Jack Dickson, playwright, who were all present to watch the debate from the gallery.  

Ruth would like to thank Members for their cross-party support, allowing the debate to be heard in the chamber and to all those who contributed. The debate was varied, discussing women’s history, social class history, workplace health and safety, the gender pay gap and more.   

In her opening speech, Ruth said:   

“The incident affected not only the families, and descendants, of the those involved but of Stevenston and the surrounding communities, who for generations had until its closure in 1990s been tied to a single huge industrial plant.    

“People still remember the extraordinarily large chimneys and yellow smoke. Speak of family members, and friends, who tell stories of working in the plant.  The memories live on and so should that of our four cartridge girls.   

ANN BRANNAN, MARY BRANNAN, MARY McADAM and RACHAEL ALLISON”.  

Later playwright, Jack Dickson, commented:   

“I am very pleased that our Cartridge Girls and their voices have finally been heard loud and clear”.  

Ruth’s opening speech can be viewed below, the debate in full, including a speech from Neil Gary, Scottish Government Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, can be found on Scottish Parliament TV:

Below is a copy of the motion Ruth lodged in the Scottish Parliament: