Coal & Ironworks

From "Historic Notices and Domestic History of the Parish of Shotts", by William Grossart, surgeon, 1880

Although coal has been known in Scotland for upwards of 600 years, it does not seem to have found favour with the people in general until a very recent period. This indifference is easily explained - transit was difficult and expensive; canals, railways, and roads were then unknown. Turf and peat were cheaply procured, and were the fuel in general use. In the infancy of coal-mining, mechanical appliances were few and simple, and mining operations would then be confined to mines in banks of streams and ravines, and these the miner would abandon as soon as he encountered any difficulty, as water, &c., with which he was unable to contend. It was not till the introduction of the steam-engine, in the early part of last; century, that coal became an article of importance, and since the railway system came into operation coal has been sent to every corner in the country, and peat and turf have nearly disappeared.

When coal was first wrought by shafts or pits, various methods were used for raising the water and coal from the bottom. A very early appliance was a water wheel, having a large axle across the pit mouth, with a chain and buckets attached, filling at the bottom and discharging at top. Windmills were also tried but were too irregular. An early method of working was a circular shaft, with a turnpike stair, up which in the days of slavery, the coal was carried in baskets on the backs of women, the coal bearers of that period. By the introduction of the steam-engine, water, coal, and other material can now be raised from great depths. I have seen a statement that the first steam-engine set up at a coal-work in Scotland was in the parish of New Monkland, in the year 1792, but there appears to have been one at work at Elphingstone, parish of Airth, Stirlingshire, soon after 1720. In a license granted by the patentees to Andrew Wachope "to erect and use" a steam-engine, in 1725, reference is made to a steam-engine at Elphingstone, in Scotland. It was introduced to Glasgow district about 1703.

There is a very simple and inexpensive machine for raising small quantities of water which I have seen at work in the parish of Shotts; and as it is now gone, and will soon be forgotten, a short description will preserve it from oblivion. It is locally called "Bobbing John," and consists of a wooden beam or lever, about 15 feet long, working on a centre. To one end of the beam is attached the pump rods; to the other is fixed a wooden box of sufficient size, when filled with water, to overcome the weight of the pump rods, friction, and quantity of water to be raised at each stroke. By opening a sluice water is let into the box in sufficient quantity to overcome the weight to be raised; when this is accomplished the charged box descends, and by its motion shuts the sluice, stopping the further supply of water. The box having arrived at its proper place, a valve in its bottom is opened by pressing upon an iron pin; the box, now relieved of its contents, rises with the fall of the pump rods, re-opening the sluice to refill, and so on alternately. This little machine requires no attendant.

About a century ago, miners were living in a state of slavery, bound to serve one master all the days of their natural lives, and when a colliery was sold, all the miners were a part of the bargain, and it was not till the year 1775, that an Act was passed for their emancipation, but they did not gain their liberty for some years afterwards. How miners were treated in their state of bondage has never been fully stated, except in a general way, and, excepting their degrading condition as bondsmen, I believe they were as kindly dealt with as their fellow-labourers in other departments of industry at the same period of time, or at the present day.

I have an old manuscript in my possession, dating as far back as 1713, giving some very interesting details of a miner's condition at that period. The manuscript is not complete; several pages at the beginning have been destroyed, but from what remains, the document appears to be notes taken from the examination of witnesses at some trial before Lords Pollock and Ormiston, and may be relied on as a true statement, as each page is subscribed - "Pollock - Ormiston."

The following particulars are given verbatim:- "Each coal-hewer for winning each chalder of diphead coal gets eighteen pennies, and for each fathom of wall of the said diphead coal, twenty shillings; for winning each chalder of roune coal, thirteen shillings four pennies; and for each chalder of chew coal, ten shillings six pennies; and for each cart load of coal sold to landward, eighteen pennies, all Scots money; and that each coal-hewer has a free house and yaird, twenty marks of money, half ane boll of meall, six quarters of iron, and his tire coall free, yearly; and that each collier when he is married has five pounds sixteen shillings money, ane boll of meall, ten quarters of iron, and ten dailies and a tree to make his bed ; and that every bairne that the colliers' wifes bears gets ane load of coal when the mother enter to that work, which is called the entrie load; and when the coall-hewers, their wifes, servants, or bairnes dies, their master furnishes them with daills for making a coffine; and when any of the coalliers or their foresaids falls seik, and unable to work, they have sometimes a peck and sometimes two pecks of meall in the week, with their house, yaird, and fire-coall free, and for their further support their master sometimes allows him his part of a load of coall; and that each coallier that brings a wife from any other parish has five mark, by and attour the above allowance, at their marriage; and that all the coall-hewers have meall yearly from their masters at ten marks, cheap years and dear years; and that each boy when he enters has twenty-eight shillings for the first year, which is augmented four shillings yearly till it comes to ten merks, and continues at that till his marriage. The surgeon who attends the coall-hewers when seik has three bolls of meall and free fire-coall yearly. An oversman had one hundred pounds and a free-house and yaird, and free fyre coal yearly. The redder of the heugh had a firlot of meall and ane pound of candle in the week, and a free house and yaird and free fire-coall yearly, during his service; and that yearly, the coall-hewers have an hundred pounds amongst them after clearing their accounts. The milne wright has six pecks of meall weekly for attending the milne; and the smith has four pounds for every fall of the chain, and a merk for each stone of iron working, and four pounds for mending the grips (picks) yearly, with a house and fyre-coall free."

From the above statement it would be difficult to realise what a miner's earnings were at that time, unless the value of all the articles mentioned had been given. To summarise - he had a fixed sum of 20 merks or 22s. sterling yearly, free house and coal, with half a boll of meal. He had a weekly allowance in times of sickness, and a perquisite at his marriage, also a little easement at death. The sum, per ton, for raising the coal varied according to quality, and if an average be taken, it would give about 1s. 1d. sterling per ton, which, at a ton per day, would give the miner 6s. 6d., or a ton and a half 9s. 9d. per week. He paid 10 merks for his meal, or 11s. sterling per boll, and if other provisions were equally cheap, he could live in comfort. About the year 1761, the average wage of a collier in the coal-producing counties of Scotland, was 12s. to 13s. per week.

I have no means of knowing how long coal has been wrought in this parish, but I find Robert Lawrie, in Swinstie, had a colliery in operation in 1763. Benhar has been long and deservedly famed for a coal of superior quality. In 1793, then the property of Sir John Inglis, of Cramond, the annual out-put was 12,000 carts, and must have been in operation long before this date. The cart was seven cwts., and sold at 1s. 6d., or 4s. 6d, per ton. Nine miners were employed and received 6d. per cart, which, by calculation, gives 13s. per week to each man.

The Omoa Iron Works, erected on Cleland estate by Colonel William Dalrymple, in 1787, derives its name from Omoa in the West Indies. Colonel William Dalrymple was the second son of Sir Wm. Dalrymple, third baronet of Cousland, and distinguished himself at the capture of Omoa, on the Spanish Main, in the West Indies. His uncle, Hew, left him the Fordal estate in Mid-Lothian, and Cleland estate in Bothwell and Shotts parishes. At first there was only one furnace at Omoa, employing about 40 miners, and 40 smelters and other workmen, and 12 horses. The furnace consumed nine tons of calcined ironstone per day, with casts every eighteen hours, yielding about two tons of pig-iron each cast.

An interesting circumstance connected with the early history of Omoa, and perhaps applicable to other iron-works at the same period, was the scarcity of ironstone and how procured. Any balls found in a stream, or cropping-out by its margin, were carefully collected, and in the case of Omoa, ironstone was collected in streams or otherwise by farmers and others in the neighbourhood, and taken to the ironworks and sold - many a ton went from Shotts parish in this way. The transaction was never called in question, but if practised at the present day, would be called thieving.

Omoa Works have changed proprietors several times since their commencement, the last being Robert Stewart, Esq., of Murdoston, and shortly after his death, which took place in 1866, operations ceased, and the furnaces are now in ruins.

Shotts Ironworks were established in 1802, by a company of private gentlemen, and were under the control of Mr. John Baird, as managing partner, for upwards of 40 years. Mr. Ormiston, the present manager, has introduced many improvements. Connected with the works, there is also an extensive Foundry which has been long celebrated for its superior castings, and is one of the few places in Scotland for the making of tinned hollow ware.

The coal works in the parish at the present day are numerous. In the south-west, from Knowenoble to Greenhill and Linrig, the highest beds in the section have been wrought, but these do not extend to other parts of the parish. They are mostly thick-bedded coals, and consist of the "Ell," in small patches, the "Main," and the "Splint" Coals. Also large fields of "Virtuewell," which is also found in other parts of the parish. For the working of these, pits have been sunk on the lands of Knowenoble, Longbyers, Spindleside, Knowenoblehill, Windyedge, Greenhill, Linrig, and other places. The supply from these will probably be exhausted in a few years. There is a good black-band ironstone, six inches thick, wrought at Bellside and Greenhill, but confined to these localities, and nearly all wrought. In this district large fields of Drumgray coal are still to work, and only partially wrought at Greenhill, Little Hareshaw, North Linrig, and Peatpots.

In the central district of the parish the slatey-band ironstone has been wrought for about 20 years on the lands of Goodockhill, Drumbouie, Duntealing, Montcow, the Glebe, Shottsmyers, Bankend, and Wester Braco. The thickness of this ironstone is very irregular, sometimes a foot, increasing to six and seven. There is another ironstone above the last in position, very partially developed, and about two feet in thickness, wrought at Wester Braco and Stapends. In this district coal is wrought at Springbank, Roughrig, and Gimmerscroft. The lower Drumgray and Shotts gas coal were first wrought in the Glebe nearly 80 years ago, the same coals being still wrought in the lands of Shottsmyers and Duntealing. The Drumgray is wrought for smithy purposes, and is of very good quality. The Shotts gas coal is about three feet in thickness, but not of the best quality, and very local, being only got here and at Hawkwoodburn district, on the south border of the parish. Hartwoodhill contains a small field of Virtuewell and Upper Drumgray coals, both wrought at present. The Upper Drumgray or Shotts furnace coal has been extensively wrought for many years in the neighbourhood of Shotts Ironworks; and in the roof several bands of clay ironstone are got, which are used for smelting purposes.

A very good ironstone, now exhausted, was wrought a few years ago at Bowhouse Bog, and occupies the same position as that at Stapends, already noticed. At Baton, the Virtuewell coal, from its proximity to trap rock, has been changed to blind-coal or anthracite, and has been partially wrought.

The east end of the parish, or Harthill and Benhar district, where operations have lately commenced for the development of its mineral resources, is now a scene of great activity; streets and long rows of houses are springing up at several places, principally concentrated around Harthill, and what was a few years ago a small, quiet, rural village, is now one of the greatest hives of industry within the parish. Churches and schools have been built to supply all the wants of the community. The dram-shop is also well represented, which, I believe, does more harm morally and physically than the churches are able to counteract.

In this district, part of the Virtuewell or Benhar coal is still to work ; both it and the upper Drumgray are wrought at present, and there are some other beds of coal under these still to work. The most important mineral in the district, however, is the slatey-band ironstone. Some pits have been sunk to this ironstone, others are being put down, some of which will be upwards of 120 fathoms in depth.

Besides coal and ironworks, there are several other industries within the parish, employing many hands. There is a papermill at Caldercruiks belonging to Mr. Craig; a drain tile-work at Auchenlee, belonging to Mr. Alexander Lochhead; fire-clay and composition bricks are made at Greenhill by Mr. Robert Young, and at Auchenlee by Mr. Gibb, where he also works an excellent freestone quarry. There is also a good freestone quarry on Bellside estate, wrought by Mr. King of Motherwell, where he also conducts the making of composition bricks. A few years ago, a chemical manure-work was established by Mr. James Munro, at Tealingburn Cottage. There is an establishment at Little Hareshaw for the manufacture of water and sewage pipes, fire-bricks, chimney-cans, and other fire-clay goods, but it is not in operation at present.

When the publication of this little work was first contemplated, I intended to give a brief account of the geology of the Parish, but on considering that a great many of those into whose hands the volume might fall, would be unable to follow me through the many complicated changes that have taken place in the earth's crust, and in the deposit and subsequent breaking-up of the stratified rocks, I thought it better to depart from that arrangement, and give only the economic minerals of the district, under the heading of "Coal and Ironworks," which will be of more interest to the general reader. I will, however, add, as supple-mental to this section, a few geological features of general interest.

Like other parts of Scotland, the surface gives evidence of having been, at a far distant period, covered by ice, as Greenland is at the present day, and shown by the well-polished surfaces of rock, covered by large ruts and striations, all trending in one general direction, mostly east and west, showing the direction in which the ice moved - the polishing and striations being formed by pieces of rock fixed in the ice.

Following the ice period another remarkable change took place. The earth's surface was lowered, and sank beneath the wave, giving place to an extensive sea, on which floated icebergs carrying large pieces of rock, brought from the mountains on which the ice or glacier had broken away. As the icebergs melted the carried pieces of rock fell to the bottom of the sea, and are now found in valleys and on hilltops. These consist of granite, mica-schist, and other rocks, which must have come from the Western Highlands of Scotland.

Some will be surprised when I state that Shotts was once a volcanic region, and that all our whinstone hills were once liquid fire, like slag flowing from a smelting furnace, and in this state found its way through the stratified rocks. In one or two places in the parish may be seen the vent or narrow neck through which the whin forced its way through sand-stone rock, and then spread over the top of the bed in a thick sheet. On looking at the craggy face of a whinstone hill, the observer will see no trace of stratification such as he would find in a sandstone quarry or ravine, but a series of large tabular masses heaped one a-top of another.

Shotts whinstone belongs to the variety called Dolerite, composed chiefly of felspar and magnetic iron. Some of the outbursts undergo no change from exposure to the atmosphere, except the bleaching of the felspar; others decay and fall off in concentric layers, and ultimately into brown sand. When the sand is well washed and placed under a magnifier, little black crystals of magnetite are found in abundance, which adhere freely to the magnet. The whin has frequently a greenish tint, especially when found near stratified rocks, and the fissures sometimes contain a dark green mineral, which is probably the new mineral lately discovered called Bowlingite. I have also found in weathered whin two specimens of Scotch pebbles of small size, but very well variegated.

The changes produced on stratified rocks by contact with molten whinstone, are very curious - shale loses its black colour, and becomes of a greenish cream colour, and is often used as slate pencils. A bed of shale on the south side of Fortisset Hill has been converted into black lead or graphite. Common coal becomes smithy coal, steam coal, and anthracite, burning without smoke or flame. Coal beds have been burned to a cinder, or into a good prismatic coke. The whin itself does not escape a change; it loses its crystalline appearance for a few inches near the contact, and where the sheet is thin the whole thickness is entirely changed, and assumes a brownish cream colour, often resembling the claystones of the Isle of Arran. I have seen a thin sheet of whin near a coal bed changed to a dirty white, resembling a piece of hard chalk.

With these general remarks, which will be more easily understood than a more elaborate detail, I will conclude this section, hoping it will create a desire for further information on this very interesting subject.