Working in the coal mining industry Coal mining in Scotland dates back to the middle ages when powerful monasteries held rights to quarry ‘Carbonarium’. The Forth basin developed as a popular place for mining and by the beginning of the 17th century coal heughs and trenches had appeared at places such as Carriden and Grangemouth. The foundation of Carron Iron Co increased the demand for fuel in the area and transport was made easy with the opening of the Forth and Clyde Canal. As a result more and more coal mines were established in the Falkirk area and these provided employment for many local people. Working in the mines Up until the Industrial Revolution mining techniques were fairly simple. Quarries, trenches and ‘in gaun een’ were built in order to access the seams of coal underground. ‘In gaun een’ or ‘in going eye’ was the name given to a tunnel bored into the side of a hill. This type of mining often led to cramped conditions where miners had to lie on their sides or on their backs to hew out the coal from the seam. Coal production, however, increased substantially with the advent of steam power. Steam engines were used to pump water out of the pits and as technology improved, mines were sunk deeper into the ground. Men women and children were sent down these deep mines to hew out the coal and carry it to the surface. Usually the men would work at the coal face while their wives and children (known as bearers) carried the coal up to the pit -head. The earliest method of taking coal to the surface was for the bearers to carry the load on their backs in a basket. They had to climb a series of ladders to reach the top of the pit and it is estimated that some women and children climbed the height of a modern skyscraper two or three times a day! In other mines women and children acted as putters, which involved pulling or putting a hutch full of coal to the shaft, where it could be mechanically wound up to the surface. Small children were also used as trappers where they had to ventilate the pit by opening and closing the air doors. Women workers at Redding Pit, circa 1890 Up until 1799 miners were bound to a specific pit. Once a collier started work at a mine he was tied to it for life, he could not move to another mine without written permission of the colliery owner. Women and children continued to work underground until 1842 when the government banned women and boys under the age of 10 from work down the mines. As a result women then took on surface jobs such as the role of a picker where they separated stone from coal on moving conveyors. They were sometimes also known as pit-head lassies. Over time, jobs inside the mine developed to cope with the amount of coal that was being produced. A brusher had the sole duty of repairing any damage to the roofs and sides of the passages inside the mine. Ponies began to be used to haul the hutches of coal, so a driver was needed to take the animals through the underground tunnels. At the pithead a banksman unloaded the coal and sent the Men at the pit head, empty hutches back down the shaft to be filled Castlecary Mine, 1924 again. In many pits, miners were paid according to how much coal they produced so coal companies employed a weighman. The job of the weighman was to weigh the coal as it came out of the mine and to keep a tally of each miner’s work. After 1860 Check weighmen could be appointed by unions to ensure the miners were paid fairly. Health and hazards Most miners suffered from ill health caused by dust inhalation, malnutrition and unhygienic living conditions. Mining families usually lived in company run villages where the houses were small and cramped. In the mining village of Standburn the houses lacked basic washing facilities up until 1920 when James Nimmo & Co erected a village bathhouse. Working in the mines was a dangerous job and accidents were common. Heavy loads falling on miners could cause serious injuries and roof collapses were a constant threat. Gas was also a major hazard as it could cause an explosion or poison the miners. In 1895, 13 miners were killed in a gas explosion at Quarter Pit in Dunipace. As pits were sunk deeper, the danger of flooding also East Row in Standburn, 1930s increased. In 1923, 40 men were killed in the Redding Pit Disaster when the pit flooded, trapping the miners. After 1911 it was made compulsory for mines to have rescue stations and train men in rescue techniques. Firemen were also employed in the pits to try to ensure the safety of the miners. It was their responsibility to check the mine for gas before the miners went to work and make sure that the men were supplied with props to support the roof. Despite these efforts mining was still regarded as one of the most dangerous occupations in Scotland until the mid 19th century. Sources You can find out more about mining and the people who worked on them through books and primary sources in the archive. Mining from Kirkintilloch to Clackmannan & Stirling to Slamannan by Guthrie Hutton has information on local mines. You can find out about photographs, objects and archives held by Falkirk Archives & Museums by searching our Collections Browser on our website http://www.falkirkcommunitytrust.org/heritage.
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