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Borrowstounness and District
Chapter XV. Coal and Coal Mining

1. Local Evidences of Early Mining: Privileges of Miners under 1592 Act r "In-gaun-ee" System: Access Shafts, Ladders, and Spiral Stairs— 2. Lawless Behaviour of Miners leads to Act of 1606 : Colliers and Salters Enslaved as "Necessary Servants": Sold with Colliery: Partial Emancipation in 1775: Serf System Completely Ended in 1779—3. Agitation for Abolition of Woman and Child Labour in Mines: Royal Comission Appointed to Enquire : The Act of 1842— 4. Interesting Local Evidence—5. The Coal and Other Strata in Carriden Parish—6. Bo' ness Coalfield—7. Preston Island and its-Coal Mines and Saltpans—8. The Local Coal and Ironstone Mines of Sixty Years Ago—9. Some Mining Calamities: Colliers' Strike :: Newtown Families—10. Two Alarming Subsidences.


The Bo'ness coalfield at one time contained a very large supply of coal, and has been worked more or less extensively since the thirteenth century. Early in that century a tithe of the colliery of Carriden was granted to the monks of Holyrood, and until a few years ago evidences of the workings in those early times were to be found in the old Manse Wood on Carriden shore. At that time the old roads were opened up and modernised in an unsuccessful exploit for coal under the glebe.

In the fifteenth century the Scots Parliament, believing that Scotland was full of precious metals, and hoping to derive a large revenue therefrom, enacted that all mines of such should: belong to the King—James I. As the landowners had thus no encouragement to develop their mineral resources, the Act was. practically a dead letter, and in 1592—in the reign of James IV.—the Parliament was compelled to modify the old statute to the effect that the Crown was only to get a tenth part as; a royalty. This same statute made mention of the hazardous, v nature of the miners' occupation on account of the evil air of the mines and the danger of the falling of the roofs and other miseries. It therefore exempted the miners from all taxation and other charges both in peace and war. Their families' goods and gear were likewise specially protected. Some have thought that Parliament, even at this early date, was taking a commendably humane interest in the safety and comfort of the miners. Others, again, have asserted that the privileges conferred were meant to act as an inducement to foreigners to settle in this country for the purpose of searching for and working the minerals.

In the early days of mining the fortunate proprietors of land and coal seams under it carried on their own coal works for the most part. Those were still the days of feudalism (though not of slavery, which had died out in the fourteenth century), and vassals and retainers on the estates, quite naturally, turned their hands to the new industry of coal winning. Their wages were paid partly in money, but mainly in produce.

Outcrops were frequently discovered at brae faces, and the coal was originally wrought downwards and inwards from the surface on what was known as the " in-gaun-eesystem. Women, girls, and boys all assisted as bearers by carrying out the coal to the bings, where they stored it until sold.

As time went on the importance of the industry came to be keenly realised by the proprietors of the coal seams. The idea appears to have occurred to them that the shafts, which hitherto had only been sunk for the purpose of ventilation, might be widened, deepened, and used for getting access to the coal lying at greater depths, and also for bringing it to the surface. Thereupon the shafts were rigged out with short wooden ladders resting on crossbeams when the shaft was too deep for one long sloping ladder. Those descending the shaft went down the first short ladder of six or eight rungs, passed along the beam a foot or two, then on to the other ladder, and so on till they completed their dangerous descent. This system was so difficult and dangerous that the ladders soon came to be replaced by spiral stairs. An old spiral stair shaft was to be seen at the foot of the Back Hill, Corbiehall, about thirty years ago. Though the stairs were safer than the ladders, the toil of the bearers was in no way lessened. Later still the masters introduced the windlass, and subsequently the one-horse gin. The bearers were thus relieved of a part of their burdensome toil, but they still dragged the coal to the pit bottom in primitive hutches without wheels.

Dr. Roebuck's Tombstone in Carriden Churchyard.


"Whether it was owing to the privileges given them by the Act of 1592 or to the evil effect which their underground occupation had upon their minds we know not, but, at all events, the colliers as a class suddenly became lawless and greatly given to wilfully setting fire to the collieries from motives of private revenge. Accordingly, Parliament enacted that all who were guilty of " the wicked crime of wilfully setting fire to coal-heuchs" should suffer the punishment of treason in their bodies, lands, and goods. This was followed up by an Act in 1606, under which the privileges and exemptions of the colliers were recalled and their freedom very materially curtailed. The colliers, by their foolish behaviour, brought this upon themselves, but pressure was brought to bear on the Legislature by the Earl of Winton, then a favourite at Court, and the largest coalowner and salt manufacturer in Great Britain. By the new Act colliers and salters were enslaved as " necessary servants," and regarded as a pertinent of the lands where they were serving. It is evident that the chief reason for this extreme course was the fear which possessed coalowners, that unless some such compulsory steps were taken there would in future be great difficulty in getting men to undertake so perilous a calling.

Another reason was the increased demand for coal, especially for export. Inducements were held out to the colliers at busy centres in the shape of bounty money. The men were thus drawn to places where the demand was greatest, and many districts were thereby depleted. So the Act decreed that they were bound to remain, and to be practically enslaved at the colliery where they were born. No strange collier could get employment at any coal work without a testimonial from his last employer; and, failing such testimonial, he could be claimed within a year and a day by the master whom he had deserted. Whoever discovered the deserter had to give him back within twenty-four hours under a heavy penalty; and the deserter was punished as a thief—of himself. The Act also gave colliery owners power to apprehend all vagabonds and sturdy beggars and put them to work in the mines. So long as a coal work was in operation on any estate the colliers were not at liberty to leave without the proprietor's consent. They were, in fact, says Mr. Barrowman,2 attached to the work, formed a valuable adjunct to it, and enhanced the price in the event of a sale. He gives an illustration as late as 1771 where the value of the ownership of forty good colliers, with their wives and children, was estimated to be worth £4000, or £100 each family. Parents bound their children in a formal manner to the work by receiving gifts or arles from the master when they were baptised. Not only were the colliers attached, but by an Act in 1641 other workers engaged in and about coal mines were prohibited from leaving without permission.

Appended to a lease in 1681 of the coal and salt works at Bo'ness in favour of James Cornwall of Bonhard was a list of colliers and bearers delivered to him in terms of the tack. There were thirteen coal hewers, six male bearers (one of whom was reckoned a half), and thirty-one female bearers (seven of whom were reckoned a half each), in all, thirteen coal hewers and thirty-three bearers. These, with one oncost man, the tenant acknowledged to have received and undertook to deliver over at the end of the lease, or an equivalent number.

Under this law of bondage the poor collier and salter lived for nearly one hundred and seventy years, until, in 1775, an Act was passed emancipating all who after that date should begin to work as colliers and salters. If working colliers were twenty-one years of age at the time of the Act, they were to be emancipated at the end of seven years. Those between the ages of twenty-one and thirty were to serve ten years longer before gaining freedom. It will thus be seen that the conditions under which freedom was to be given were irksome, and many of the workers accustomed to their conditions failed to take advantage of the Act, and remained serfs until their death. A complete stop, however, was put to the serf system in 1799. It was then enacted that " all the colliers in that part of Great Britain called Scotland who were bound colliers shall be and are hereby declared to be free from their servitude." While the colliers were serfs, they were not slaves, for they received wages, and towards the end of the eighteenth century the conditions of their employment were much improved. Moreover, when coal mining, with the general advance of Scottish commerce, became a more profitable industry, the masters had a difficulty in getting enough men, and increased the wages to induce people to work in the pits and hard and degrading work it was. Before the days of the underground tramway the coal was carried to the pit bottom in creels fastened to their backs, hence the term bearer. Women and girls were preferred to men and boys for such work, as, curiously enough, they could always carry about double the weight a man or boy could scramble out with. The creel was superseded about 1830 by baskets on wheels, and latterly by wooden boxes, which were pushed along the underground railways. The term "bearer" then ceased, and that of "pusher" or "putter" was substituted.

A great many of the annual fairs or ridings of the miners— and doubtless those of the Newtown, Corbiehall, and Grangepans miners—really originated as a day of rejoicing on the anniversary of their freedom.

The subject of female labour in mines had, as early as 1793, aroused some attention, but not till 1808 was the matter brought prominently before the public. Mr. Robert Bald, Edinburgh, who took a leading part in the agitation, instanced the case of a married woman in an extensive colliery which he had visited. She came forward to him groaning under an excessive weight of coals, trembling in every limb, and almost unable to keep her knees from sinking under her, and saying, " Oh, sir, this is sair, sair, sair wark. I wish to God that the first woman who tried to bear coals had broken her back, and none would have tried it again."3

The public indignation was at length aroused. Mainly through the philanthropic and deeply sympathetic efforts of Lord Ashley (afterwards seventh Earl of Shaftesbury) a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the condition of the mining population, and particularly the question of women and child labour in mines. Mr. Barrowman says the report of that Commission in 1812 drew instant and wide attention to the grave evils connected with the employment of women and young persons underground, and a statute was passed in that year prohibiting the employment of females of any age and beys under ten years of age in any mine or colliery. The Act was not regarded by the persons interested with unqualified satisfaction. It threw many females out of an occupation to which they had been accustomed, and they would doubtless take some time to fit themselves into the new state of things. A curious sequel occurred in the Dryden Colliery, Midlothian, where about a score of girls assumed male attire and wrought in this disguise for three months after the Act was passed. They were at length summoned to Court in Edinburgh. On promising not to go below again they were dismissed.4 In one extensive colliery in the east, at least, the workers petitioned against the bill. Out of the signatures of 122 men and 37 women and girls there were 45 of men and 25 of females marked with a cross (70 out of 159 being unable to write their names), showing in the clearest manner the need there was for a better system of home and school education, and justifying in the most emphatic way the passing of the Act. The successive Acts of Parliament passed since 1842 have tended towards the improvement of the miner and of the conditions in which his work is carried on; and perhaps there is no employment in the country in which the workman is now better safeguarded by legislation.


A vivid idea of the terrible state of matters which Lord Ashley's Commission was the means of ending is obtained from the evidence taken by the special Commissioners at the various collieries throughout Britain. The Commissioner for Scotland was Mr. R. H. Franks, whose Report contains between four and five hundred examinations.5 We append the whole of the precognitions taken here about 1840. They make interesting, though somewhat depressing, reading—

James John Cadell.—There are at present emplpyed below ground in our pits about 200 men, women, and children; fully one-third are females. No regulation exists here for the prevention of children working below.

I think the parents are the best judges when to take their children below for assistance, and that it is of consequence for colliers to be trained in early youth to their work. Parents take their children down from eight to ten years of age, males and females.

The colliers are perfectly unbound at this colliery; they have large families, and extremely healthy ones. I believe most of the children can read. There are two schools, at which children can be taught common reading for 2d. per week. There exist no compulsory regulations to enforce colliers paying for their children or sending them to school. Every precaution is taken to avoid accidents; several have occurred, and occasionally happen from parts of the roof and coal coming down on the men; one lad was killed a short time since. The work is carried on about twelve hours per day, and the people come and go as they please.

Archibald Ferguson>, eleven years old, putter.—Worked below for four years; pushes father's coal with sister, who is seventeen years of age from wall face to horse road. Pit is very dry and roofs lofty. Sometimes work twelve, and even sixteen hours, as we have to wait our turn for the horse and engine to draw. Never got hurt below. Get oatcake and water, and potatoes and herrings when home. The river which passes through Bo'ness is called the water. Fishes live in the water; has often seen them carted from boats; never caught any. I walk about on the shore and pick up stones or gang in the parks (fields) after the birds.

Janet Barrowman, seventeen years old, putter.—I putt the small coal on Master's (Mr. Cadell's) account. Am paid 2£ each course, and run six courses a day; the carts I run contain 5 J to 7 J cwts. of coal. Father and mother are dead. Have three brothers and five sisters below; two elder brothers, two sisters, and myself live at Grangepans. We have one room in which we all live and sleep. There has been much sickness of late years about the Grange; few have escaped the fever. A short time ago before the death of my parents we were all down, father and all, with low fever for a long time. Mother •only escaped who nursed us. Fever is always in the place. {Reads very indifferently.)

The village of Grangepans has been much visited with •scarlet fever and scarlatina; the place is nearly level with the Forth, and the houses are very old, ill-ventilated, and the foul water and filth lying about is sufficient to create a pestilence.

Note.—The last paragraph is apparently a comment of the Commissioner's own.

Mary Snedden, fifteen years of age, putter.—I have wrought at Bo'ness pit three months. Should not have "ganged," but brother Robert was killed on the 21st of January last. A piece of the roof fell upon his head, and he died instantly. He was brought home, coffined, and buried in Bo'ness Kirkyard. No one came to inquire about how he was killed; they never do in this place.

Charles Robertson, overseer of the Bo'ness Coal Works.— Since the building of the Newtown the colliers have been more settled as to their place of work, but they still continue to take down very young children, which impedes instruction. Most children can be instructed if the parents please—and fairly so. There are two schools. The one in the Newtown has a well-trained teacher from Bathgate Academy, and one is shortly expected at Grangepans.

Men would do well to let their children remain up till thirteen years old, as they would be more use to them thereafter. No married women now go below; the elder females who are down are single or widows. There are many illegitimate children in the pits that do not get any education.

A man with two strong lads can get his 6s. 6d. a day, fair average wages, as there is no limitation to work.

Rev. Kenneth M'Kenzie, minister of Borrowstounness.— When children once go to work in the collieries they continue at it; and they go as early as eight years of age; but the age is quite uncertain, depending entirely on the convenience, cupidity, or caprice of the parents.

The tendency to remove children too early from school operates to the injury of many in after life. It proves an obstacle to future advancement, and renders the mind much more liable to the influence of prejudice.

With regard to the children employed at the colliery education is at present in a very unsatisfactory state, and will continue so if the matter be allowed to rest with the colliers. A good plan is adopted at some collieries. Every man employed is obliged to pay a small weekly sum for education. A sufficient sum is thus easily raised, and a properly qualified teacher is appointed by the proprietor or master. Individuals are thus constrained to send their children to school who otherwise might be apt to neglect their education. The day and evening school in Bo'ness, Newtown, is specially for the colliery population, but it is not attended; at present the teacher only receives 7s. a week in voluntary fees. The teacher has not been trained. He teaches reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as most adventurers do.

The parochial school is one of the best in Linlithgowshire, but the colliers seldom send their children to it.


Mr. Ellis, writing of Carriden in the eighteenth century, stated that the parish was full of coal, which was of fine quality, and the only fuel then used. It was carried to London, to the northmost parts of Scotland, and to Holland, Germany, and the Baltic. As to price it sold at a higher figure on the hill and to the country people who lived near than any coal in Scotland. Nearly half a century later Mr. Fleming7 wrote that about 400 yards west of the village of Blackness a bed of calcareous ironstone cropped out on the beach, dipping into the sea in the same direction. When carefully prepared this formed a hydraulic cement of a very superior quality, and in the beginning of the nineteenth century had been actually wrought for that purpose. This stratum was covered with a strong shale, otherwise called blea, varying in thickness from one to twenty feet interspersed with halls of clay ironstone. The alum shale was at one time used in the manufacture of soda, but the work had been discontinued and the premises dismantled.

There were many seams of coal in the parish, some of which had been wrought at their crops or outbursts centuries ago. The coalfield in its western division was supposed to extend' across the Forth, and to be connected with the coal formation in the opposite district in the county of Fife. The strata were known to the depth of one hundred and thirty-five fathoms, having been passed by the miners in sinking pits and other operations in the coal mines. The deepest seam then known was the Carsey coal, rising to the north-east along the-seashore. This seam and the Smithy seam came out to the surface a short distance to the east of Burnfoot. The Foul coal and Red coal took on to the west of the road leading to Linlithgow. The western Main coal was only in the south-west-of the parish, as there was not sufficient cover for this seam to the east and north. This coalfield passed through the south-west boundary of the parish into the Parishes of* Borrowstounness and Linlithgow. In approaching the north the dip gradually came round more west; in the middle of the field it was generally north-west. To the east of Burnfoot, after passing the crop of the Carsey coal, no coal was to be found. It was a curious fact that in a district where so many seams of coal occurred whinstone should be found so abundantly. The Irongath Hills consisted of hard whinstone resting in the coal strata; nor did it present itself only in crops on the top of eminences; but it was found in regular seams between, and even-in actual contact with the coal. In these hills there was a bed of coal varying from one to eight or ten feet in thickness which had. whinstone both for its roof and pavement; and between the Western main coal and the Red coal the seam of whinstone was about seventy feet thick. The fossil remains that have been* found in the coal formation consisted of reeds of different kinds. Shells and impressions of leaves were also of more or less-frequent occurrence, and on one occasion workmen fell in with a beautiful specimen of that curious extinct genus of fossil plants, the lepidodendron. The surface deposits in the west part of the parish near the shore consisted of sea sand and .shells resting on blue clay and mud, the clay resting on the coal formation; and in the south-west there was found yellow brick •clay, with sand and gravel. Ice-transported boulders that had been met with were often of trap, their weight varying from 3 or 4 cwts. to 4 or 5 tons.


With regard to the coal in the adjoining Parish of Bo'ness, Dr. Rennie8 has told us that it was wrought here more than three hundred years ago. The depth of the pits in 1796 was about forty-two fathoms. The seam of coal was from ten to twelve feet in thickness, and was nearly exhausted. This was know as the Wester Main Coal Seam. There were various seams— some of them of a superior and others of a very inferior quality. All of them had been wrought in different places and at different times to a great extent, particularly in and about Bo'ness. It 'was proposed to sink a pit to the west of the town. The depth to the principal seam in this quarter might be about seventy fathoms; but there were several seams at a much less depth. Coal was at that time all worked on the pillar or stoop and room -system. The average quantity raised in twelve months for some time before he wrote might be about 44,000 tons. A •considerable part of the great coal had been exported at 7s. 9d. per ton. The remainder was disposed of in the coasting trade .and in the adjacent country. A great many of the chew coals were carried by contract shipping to the London market .at 6s. per ton. What was known as the small coal or panwood was consumed by the salt works, which consisted of sixteen pans, .-and employed about thirty salters and labourers. The annual quantity of salt made was about 37,000 bushels, which was partly disposed of in the coasting trade. Most of it, however, was for the supply of the country to the south and west of Borrowstounness. The number of colliers, coal-bearers, labourers, and carters employed about the colliery was probably 250.

In 1843 Mr. M'Kenzie9 wrote that the beds in Bo'ness Parish were all of the coal formation. No coal had in his time been found in this district under the Carsey coal. Even yet it appears to be the lowest of the workable seams. Above the strata in the Snab section, which he referred to in detail, were one or two inferior coal seams which had been partially wrought in former times for the salt pans. And at Craigenbuck, further to the westward, a seam of limestone was also at one time wrought, and afforded an excellent building mortar. The seams of coal about Bo'ness were, generally speaking, of good thickness and excellent quality. The neighbourhood of the Snab (known now as Kinneil Colliery) had been proposed as the most favourable situation for a new winning of the coalfield; and the establishment of a colliery there was expected to be a great advantage to the town.

We have thus endeavoured to indicate in a general way the nature of the geological strata. For those who may desire more detailed data, however, we print in Appendix an illustrative and reliable section of the local coalfield.


Situated in the Firth to the north of Bo'ness roads is Preston Island, so-called after the Prestons of Valleyfield, to whom it belonged. Looking from Bo'ness it appears to contain a considerable mansion-house, but a closer inspection dispels this impression, and reveals the ruins of t}ie buildings after referred to. A visit to Preston Island, says Mr. Beveridge9 in one of his interesting volumes, is a very pleasant outing. But let strangers be cautious in straying over it to avoid falling into the open and unguarded coal pit, which is generally full of water. Till the end of the eighteenth century the island was merely an expanse of green turf at the eastern extremity •of the reef known as the Craigmore Rocks, which being within low-water mark all belong to the estate of Low Valleyfield. On Sir Robert Preston succeeding to the property at the beginning of the nineteenth century he conceived the idea of converting this lonely spot into a great centre of trade. The seams of coal which underlie the basin of the Forth were here cropping out -at the surface. It therefore seemed quite feasible to undertake the revival of the coal and salt industries which in former days, under the auspices of Sir George Bruce, had made the fortune -of Culross and its neighbourhood. Sir Robert had attained to great wealth, partly obtained in trade as the captain of an East Indiaman, partly accumulated by speculation, and partly by marriage with the daughter of a wealthy London citizen. He accordingly erected a large range of buildings on the island, "including engine-houses, saltpans, and habitations for colliers and salters. Pits were sunk, fresh water brought from the -mainland, and, for a period, a vast industry was carried on. The Forth resounded with the working of the engines, and the loading of vessels with coal went on almost constantly. But, 'for various reasons, the affair was a losing concern. Ultimately it completely collapsed, leaving the baronet out of pocket to the extent of at least £30,000. Fortunately his means were such that after so great a loss he still remained a man of immense wealth.

After the colliery was stopped the saltpans were let and worked for a considerable period, the last tenant of them .adding to his legitimate occupation that of an unlicensed distiller of whisky. Having received a hint, however, that the Revenue officers were upon his track he decamped. Preston Island has since then remained a deserted but singularly ^picturesque object.


The surface of the parish- sixty years ago, owing to the coal and ironstone mining, must have presented a busy .aspect. Evidences of this are yet to be gathered from the numerous bings of blaes and other refuse still standing in various districts. If we study the matter, moreover, from the old Ordnance maps we find that the place was at one time riddled with shafts and air passages. These shafts, both on the shore in Grangepans and Bo'ness and on the hills above, have been carefully filled up, and the surface as a whole is comparatively secure. All the refuse bings on Grange estate have of late years been removed by the Laird of Grange. Kinneil Colliery Company also are gradually diminishing their old bings.

As we have said in another chapter, Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 shore pits, opened by Messrs. John & William Cadell, and also their No. 5 pit, were all abandoned early last century, and remained flooded till 1859.

More than half a century ago, while the shore pits remained drowned, the Grange mining was practically done on the hill—some of it on that estate, and some at the Burn and Mingle pits, taken on lease from Kinneil colliery.

Four of the Grange pits were near the Drum. The Level pit above Bridgeness; the Meldrum pit, at the head of the old incline railway; the Kiln pit, south from it, on east side of the road; and still farther south the Miller pit. The Meldrum pit and the Kiln pit are both now untraceable, having been lately filled up by the present laird, like all the other old pits at Grange, except the Doocot pit at Bridgeness and the Miller pit. Another busy centre was the pit known as the Acre pit, opposite Lochend, near the Muirhouses. Coal and ironstone were both worked here, and a tramway ran down to the incline at the Meldrum pit. Here was a double 3-feet railway leading down to Grangepans, which was constructed by Mr. James John Cadell about 1845. Although the tramway from Lochend along the south side of the Muirhouse road and the incline railway were all in full working order in comparatively recent times, all traces of them are now effectually removed. The incline was finally dismantled about 1890, when a commencement was made with Philpingstone Road.

In the middle of last century there was quite a congeries of pits in the vicinity of Northbank, which were opened up when-Mr. Wilson of Dundyvan leased Kinneil colliery, and began to search for ironstone. Nos. 5, 6, and 7 were all situated near the Red Brae, on the north side of the Borrowstoun and Bonhard road. There was a waggon railway here also. It ran from Kinneil, by way of Newtown, up through the Mingle-and Burn pits at Kinglass, and on to No. 7 at Northbank. The-empty waggons were taken by small engine right up. Latterly the engine was done away with, and horse haulage was adopted instead. There was also a pit at the top of the Red Brae, known as Duncan's Hole. In fact, the road itself was in-olden times called Duncan's Brae.

What was known as the Borrowstoun coalfield included the-Mingle and Burn pits, and also the Lothians pit at the east: end of the old Row, Newtown.

But there were numerous other pits scattered over the-surface of the district—Kinneil colliery, especially in Mr. Wilson's time, having been very extensively worked. It would; have at one time fully two dozen pits, and these were chiefly known under a number. The Mingle was No. 1; the Burn, No. 2; Nos. 3 and 4 were north of Bo'mains Farm; Nos. 5, 6, and 7, as already stated, near the Red Brae; No. 8 was Duncan's Hole; No. 9 was the Cousie mine, south of Northbank and east of the Cousie; No. 10 was where the new Burgh.' Hospital now is; Nos. 11 and 12 were at Bonhard—the former in the field east from the foot of Red Brae and the latter to the east of the Cross roads; No. 13 Avas below Borrowstoun Farm; No. 14 where the Newtown store now is; and No. 15-west of the present football field at Newtown; No. 16 was in> the field east from Richmond House; No. 17, a small pit, to work ironstone at the back of Old Row, Newtown; No. 18 was the Lothians. An important pit at one time was-at the Chance, and another south from the Gauze House was. called Jessfield. In later times there was what was known as the New Pit on Grange estate, east of the Gauze. Two old pits were the Bailies pit at the head of the Cow Loan, Borrowstoun (sunk about 1830 by Mr. J. J. Cadell, but abandoned because so much whin was found); and the Temple pit, on the lands of Northbank east from the latter pit. There was also the Beat pit, where the new cemetery now is, and the Store pit, near the present store at Furnace Row. Nos. 1 and 2 Snab were in course of being sunk about the period we refer to, the only pit in that neighbourhood being the Gin pit, a little to the east. In the town there were two pits at the foot of the Schoolyard Brae, but although coal was raised they were latterly mainly used for pumping. The condensing engine which James Watt invented and completed at Kinneil was first fitted up at the Burn pit. It was afterwards transferred to the Temple pit, and its large wheel, when in motion, gave the miners much amusement. There are still a number of retired miners of the old school resident about Bo'ness,10 and it is very entertaining to listen to their intelligent description both of the surface when it was studded with pits and of the various underground workings themselves. In nearly all cases ironstone was wrought, as well as coal, and was calcined at the pithead.


The mining in all these years has naturally affected both the surface and.the underground workings. The surface has in some places been considerably lowered. In other places, where the old stoop and room system was used, before the introduction of the long wall method, the ground is to some extent honeycombed, and holes fall in when the roof gives way over seams not far below the surface. Considering the extent of the mining operations here, the calamities which have befallen the mining population have been comparatively few. The most serious of these occurred at the Store pit at Kinneil and in the Schoolyard pit. Four miners were engaged in driving a mine in the Store pit when the water rushed in upon them from adjoining waste workings, drowning all four. Charles Robertson, foreman, already referred to in this chapter, lost his life along with his son and a nephew in the Schoolyard pit. The three were working at the bottom near the main coal. The day was a stormy one, and the air down below had been diverted in some way, with the result that all three were suffocated. A terrible boiler explosion also occurred here. There were five or six boilers in a row at the pithead. One of them had been under repair, but the water not getting in freely, the boiler became overheated, and burst. One portion landed in the garden at the rear of the Clydesdale Hotel. Strangely enough, the men at the pithead escaped. Bricks and stones from the boilei foundations were sent broadcast with terrific force, and for long distances. A woman and child were passing the old post office in South Street at the time. The woman escaped, but the child, who was by her side, was struck by a brick and killed on the spot.

During the time of Mr. Wilson there was a great miners' strike in the county. Miners from the Redding district in large numbers made a raid on the town bent on plundering Kinneil store for provisions. This and the general excitement caused Mr. Wilson to send to Edinburgh for a detachment of soldiers. In response, a company of cavalry from the 7th Dragoons arrived on the scene, and were billeted at Kinneil and the Snab. Soldiers and miners fraternised freely, and had great ongoings. The officer in charge was a keen sportsman and challenged Mr. Wilson to run his carriage horses against those of the troopers. Several races came off in the Brewlands Park, the scene of many a former horse-racing contest. The soldiers remained for several weeks, and had many an escapade. On one occasion some of them commandeered the town drum and drummed themselves round the streets.

The leading families in the Newtown about seventy years ago were the Hamiltons, Robertsons, Grants, Nisbets, Gibbs, and Sneddens. The Old Row constituted the Newtown of those days, and about one hundred families resided there. It was a strict preserve for the miners and their families, and no lodgers or foreigners were admitted. Bynames were very plentiful, and there were lords, dukes, and earls among them. Peers and Commoners alike resided in the Old Row. Archibald Hamilton and his family represented the lords; Sandy Hamilton, the dukes; and Richard Hamilton, the earls. The Hamiltons of Grangepans are all related to the earls and lords Hamiltons of Newtown. The dukes belong to a separate branch, and are connected with the Robertsons and Sneddens.


Two alarming subsidences have occurred in Bo'ness during the last half-century. They have been described by Mr. Cadell12 as follows: —

"One Sunday evening about thirty years ago, as a local preacher was addressing a meeting on the subject of the fall of the Tower of Siloam in the Old Town Hall below the Clock Tower, and close to the harbour, the congregation were startled by an uncomfortable feeling as if the floor of the building was subsiding beneath them. No active calamity happened, although a terrible danger was very near, and a kind Providence rewarded the faith of the worshippers and permitted them quietly to leave the building after the close of the service. Next day investigations showed that a huge hole 60 feet deep had formed just under the floor, owing to the giving way of the roof of the Wester Main Waste. In a short time the tower began to sink, so as to necessitate its demolition by- the authorities. A small shaft was subsequently sunk to ascertain the nature of the cavity, and many had an opportunity of going down and wandering through the old workings about 50 feet below the surface. The seam was about 10 feet thick, and the old miners had worked it in large square pillars, with beautifully dressed faces and an excellent roof. The surface, however, was so near that the thin roof at places had fallen in, and one of the ' sits ' had taken place right under the Town Hall. This hole was solidly packed with stone when the Clock Tower was rebuilt.

"On another Sunday evening, 2nd February, 1890, an alarming subsidence took place on the shore end of the old harbour, about 200 feet north of the Clock Tower, and close to the ' tongue ' that existed up till then between the east and west piers. The ground gave way under the railway, and when the sea rose the water gushed down like a roaring river,' enlarging the aperture, and leaving the rails and sleepers suspended in mid-air. The hole was plugged up with timber, straw, and brushwood, and filled to the surface with ballast and clay. All seemed safe, and heavy trains passed over the place until the 20th of February, when a second and larger subsidence took place, into which the sea at high tide rushed in enormous volumes. It looked as if all the dip workings of the Kinneil Colliery were to be drowned, but so large was the reservoir in the Old Wastes that the tide had not time to fill these up before it was excluded. The hole was securely filled with a foundation of slag blocks, covered with clay and ballast, and it was estimated that 2000 tons of material were swallowed up before the cavity was finally levelled over, in the beginning of March. The seam in these sits had a steep dip westward or north-westward, so that the material slid far down as it was dropped in, and was spread over a much larger area of the waste than if the working had been level. Only a few feet of solid rock had been left between the coal and the bottom of the mud in the harbour, and it is marvellous that the old miners were not drowned out a century ago after their temerity in working the seam so near the outcrop below the foreshore. The water that gained entrance during the last subsidence subsequently found its way down into the Kinneil Company's workings to the west, and for a time entailed heavy pumping there."

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