Miscellaneous Lothians Articles

A Stricken Colliery Village - Holytown, June 21, 1873.

Sir, - When in East Lothian this day, I had the following Information respecting the colliery village of Elphingstone. Fever has been in it for several weeks. On Thursday the number of cases amounted to 75; on Saturday morning, the 21st, there were five dead in it. It was stated to me that the population at the last census was a little over 400. Can anything be more frightful than this - even if they are only miners ? The allegations are that the water is bad, the drainage all choked up, if there be any, and the privies are placed at the very doors of the houses nearly. The inspector is so vigilant that he wanted my informant to write to the proprietors, as he did not like to do it. The major part of the houses belong to Deans & Moore, coalmasters and to Durie and Nesbiitt, coalmasters. We should have fancied that the coalmasters could well afford to at present drain all these slums. We earnestly trust you will give this a place in your next issue. What are the police doing? - I am, &c. Alexander Macdonald, President Miners' National Association. [Scotsman 24 June 1873]

Dalkeith - Removing A Village - The colliery village of Cowdenfoot, erected many years ago by the Duke of Buccleuch for the miners employed at Dalkeith colliery is in process of being removed, through an arrangement with the Marquis of Lothian, to a site at the south end of the village of Newtongrange, in the parish of Newbattle. When the Dalkeith colliery was dismantled a few years ago, the miners were employed at Newbattle, and have since been in the habit of going to their work by train over the colliery's private railway. The houses, which are of a superior description, are to be rebuilt as nearly as possible on the same plan. They are being taken down and removed in sections, so as to create as little inconvenience as possible. [Scotsman 26 March 1883]

EVICTION OF MINERS AT WEST CALDER - Seven persons, mostly miners, holding houses at West Calder and Fell's Row, from Young's Paraffin Oil Company, were yesterday ejected from their houses by a Sheriff officer from Edinburgh, on a Sheriff's warrant, for non-payment of rent. The furniture of the parties was put out, and the doors and windows made secure to prevent their going in again. The scene caused a good deal of excitement in the neighbourhood, and large crowds turned out to see the evictions. [Edinburgh Evening News 25 August 1886]

THE EJECTMENT OF MINERS AT PRESTONGRANGE -The Scottish Miners' Secretary today is completing the arrangements in view of the hearing of the ejectment petition at Haddington to-morrow which has been served on 80 miners at Prestongrange by the Summerlee and Mossend Company, Glasgow. As far as possible, accommodation is to be provided for the families to be turned from their dwellings. There is a strong feeling arising at the action of the Company in refusing arbitration in the dispute. Returns made by the Federation Secretary at Dalkeith today show over 300 men idle. [Evening Telegraph 7 August 1895]

EVICTION OF MINERS AT DALKEITH. The eviction of eight miners who, until few weeks ago, were employed by the Summerlee and Mossend Company at their Prestongrange Works was carried out yesterday by the sheriff-officer from Haddington, assisted by a dozen policemen. There was naturally considerable excitement, but no disorder occurred. [Dundee Courier 17 August 1895]

Mid-Lothian Villages Water Supply - Work has commenced in connection with the leading in of a supply of Edinburgh and District Water Trust water to the colliery villages of Deantown, Wallyford, and smaller hamlets and isolated dwellings in the eastern part of the parish of Inveresk. [Scotsman 12 May 1913]

Easter Duddingston - Last of an Edinburgh Hamlet - Old Coalmining Days

For road widening purposes Edinburgh Town Council has made a start with the demolition of a row of eight cottages, which, with other adjacent properties, forms the last fragment of the once flourishing colliery village of Easter Duddingston, situated less than a mile from the boundary of Edinburgh and Musselburgh.

These cottages were purchased by the Town Council over two years ago for removal, as were also the quaint old two-storey mansion known as Hamilton Lodge, which just out and narrows the roadway by about a half, and a row of agricultural workers' cottages with artistic diamond patterns in the windows.

From the gable-end windows of Hamilton Lodge it is rather more than likely that the tenants watched the approach and passing of Prinec Charlie and his Highlander's on the way to the Battle of Prestonpans, for all the properties mentioned were there in 1745, and it is history that Prince Charlie and his men did pass that way from Edinburgh.

At that time there were cottages to accommodate 300 coal-miners and their families, and also dwellings for agricultural labourers at Easter Duddingston, both on the high road where the widening is to take place, and along the low road skirting the sea front. Water baffled the colliery owners of the locality in the times of the Napoleonic menace to Britain, and the pits were abandoned there in 1790, Miner's cottages fell into decay when they were deserted by men thrown out of work.

Selling of Workers - These men were still serfs, as their fathers and mothers had been for centuries. It is true that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1775 nominally setting the mining and salt making population free from bondage, but it required a second Act in 1799 to make the. colliers and salters of Scotland wholly free. Prior to that, colliers, their wives and families, were sold by one colliery proprietor to his successor, and prevented from taking service with any other master but their owner. Desertion rendered colliers liable “to be punished in their bodies,” and so late as 1782 Dragoons, in execution of a Sheriff's warrant, rounded up Easter Duddingston colliers who had given up working and asked for increased pay. These were bound colliers of the Duke of Abercorn. Two of them were put aboard a Government ship on the Firth of Forth, and the others dismissed on promise of good behaviour. What happened to the two put on shipboard is not related in the newspaper of the day, but the chances were that they were either pressed into naval service or transported. One hundred pounds was the penalty for employing a deserting collier.

An attempt was made to reopen the pits at Easter Duddingston in the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria, but the venture turned out to be unprofitable, and the enterprise, supported by specially installed costly pumping plant, was finally given up in a few years, and eighty years ago the chimney stalk was blown up by gunpowder to clear the ground.

Low-roofed Huts - Piece by piece the old buildings in Easter Duddingston were swept away. In 1865, the smithy the joiner's shop, and the public-house, situated on the north side of the road now to be widened on its south side, were cleared away. A school had disappeared. Just before the last of the old buildings on the low road was demolished. With the present operations, Easter Duddingston will be traceable only by means of old maps, photographs, and pictures. Visibly it will have gone.

Hugh Miller, the geologist writer, who worked as a stone mason in the immediate neighbourhood, referred to the "low-roofed huts uniform in their humble mediocrity," inhabited by the colliers of the district. He and other writers have referred to the fact that before their emancipation the colliers "were as firmly bound to the soil as the serfs of Russia. and transferable, like the hutss in which they dwelt or the minerals amid which they burrowed from one proprietor to another.

It is just one such row of low-roofed cottages which the present clearance scheme is dealing with. Till 1885 the cottages belonged to a colliery company. These single-apartment houses - single, apart from a partitioned-off closet kind of a place -are only 7 1/2 feet high from floor to ceiling, and for the most part wallpaper has been used to brighten up the interior by direct application to the rough interior stonework without intervening wood.

The old tile roofing is off now, and the last tenants provided with modern dwellings at a considerable distance from the scene of their labours. In those humble homes, with outside water supply, families were reared in much happier conditions by contrast with the days of serfdom for colliers and salt makers, when Easter Duddingston was actively interested in salt smuggling into England, women trudged to Edinburgh to sell their salt in the streets, and women and children were compelled to carry coal in creels along the galleries and up the ladders from the working face to day-light. [Scotsman 27 February 1933]

Dryden 1843

Sheriff Court, Edinburgh – Mines and Collieries Act – Procurator Fiscal vs. Mercer - On Friday, the Sheriff gave judgment upon the objections to the relevancy not disposed of at the former sederunt. He sustained the objections founded on the defective allegation of ownership and the latitude as to the persons employed; but on the motion of Mr Brown, the Counsel for the Procurator-Fiscal, allowed the complaint to be amended by striking out the general expressions. He refused to sustain the objection, founded on the conclusions for the payment of fines and costs being to the Procurator-Fiscal, instead of being, in terms of the statute, concluded for as payable, one half to the informer, the other to the poor of the parish, in respect that the prosecution was at the instance of a public functionary, who, it must be presumed, would apply them according to the direction of the statute of recovery.

The case was delayed till Monday, when the following witnesses were examined:-
Duncan Falconer, Inspector of the County Police, was at Dryden Collieries on the 26th October last. Information had reached him which induced him to watch the Dryden Collieries. Saw two young girls coming up the pit at Dryden Colliery between three and four o'clock in the morning. There are two pits on the Dryden estate, close to each other. One of these is worked by an engine. At the other there is a wooden stair. The girls came up the stair pit. He had not seen them go down. He went there about three o'clock in the morning. He saw them half an hour or three quarters after he went. They had on coal pit dresses of canvas, generally worn by women in collieries. They had lights attached to them - one of these attached to the head, the other girl was carrying hers in her hand. They had each a wooden bucket, with leather straps, fastened across the head; the buckets were on their backs, and were both filled with coal. He asked their names. They answered Mary and Margaret Neilson, daughters of Joseph Neilson. He saw them deposit their coals on the weighing-scales about two yards or so from the pit mouth. They then went down again with the empty buckets and lights. About four o'clock he saw two other girls dressed like the former, the foremost having a lamp in her hand, and lighted. They had no buckets. They went down the engine pit, which descends by an inclined plane. The engine was pumping out water. Did not see them again. Being shown the girls Neilson, identifies them. Being shown the other girls (Logan) cannot identify them.

Cross examined -Was there about an hour. He saw some men go down the engine pit, but no one else, and none go down or come up the other pit. Saw no coals brought up except two buckets full.

William Rutherford, coal grieve to Mr Mercer, examined - Has been so for nearly twenty years. There are two coal pits on the Dryden estate ; the one at the engine is the only working one. It is six months since the wooden stair one was given up. There is an air course between them, and a passage from the one to the other. No coals to his knowledge have been taken out of the stair pit for months past, but they may have been. It would not answer to take coals from the engine pit to the other through the air course. The easier and more natural way is to take them up by the engine. He has never been in the passage, so that he cannot say whether coals could be carried up by that passage. He has never been down the pits. His duty is to attend to the out-put, and to the sale. Does not remain up all night in discharge of his duties. There is a weighing machine close to the pit. Never weighs coal in the night time. Begins his duty at six in the morning. Never knew of coals being brought up during the night. Taking up water is the only work which the engine performs from six at night till six in the morning. There is a man who takes charge of the engines during the night. When returning to his work in the morning, never found coals lying which had been brought up during the night. Mr Webster is the manager of the men. The miners are paid by the out-put, Does not know of any employment by the miners of members of their families. The miners are perhaps down at three o'clock in the morning, when work commences. The coal pits belong to Mr Mercer and are in his occupation. Mr Mercer resides in town during winter. Thinks he left Dryden about the 1st of October. Knows Joseph Neilson, who is employed at the coal pits, and has been so for a year or two. Thomas Logan has been employed for some months.

Cross-examined - Got instructions from Mr Webster, the contractor. He said "if you allow any female to go down, you will lose your situation." This was in March last. Has never permitted any women to go down since then. There were hand-bills put up at the work, forbidding them to go down. They were written. The substance was, that no females were to be employed at the works. Coal hewers to be fined it they infringed this regulation. The output is regular. The stair pit was disused in October as a place for working in. Never would have expected coals to be delivered at that pit mouth. The engine men stays in the engine-house when on duty.

Mary Neilson is daughter of Joseph Neilson, who works at Dryden Colliery. She digs coals. She goes to work about five in the morning. She never works along with him. She was down in the pit before all the bearers were put out in March last. She put out coals at the bottom of the pit where the engine was. She was dressed in pit clothes, and carried a lamp. She shoved the coals on wheels in trucks, and had no bucket. She never “put" coals after that time. Recollects in October last being down in the stair pit for a pickle fire coals for her father. Her father was not well. There was no coals in the house. She was down "hidden." Was dressed in pit clothes, because she had no frocks but one. Her sister Margaret went with her. They had always buckets before the month of March, so they had not put them away. They had them that night. They might hold as much as a coal scuttle. They went down to the pit about five in the morning. Daylight was breaking when they came up. They flung down the coals when they came up. She did "nae mair." She did not go down again. Her sister and she went home. They had not been down the night before. That was the only time they were down the pits since the bearers were put out. They flung the coals down on the coal hill, took a rest, and then lifted them home. Their father was unwell ; they were sitting wanting a fire; and they went for the coals. The day before and all the night they were wanting a fire. Nobody sent them. Two policemen were at the pit mouth. They took it into their heads in the morning, just when they rose. They rose, as usual, at five o'clock. They "dinna do naething" during the day. Sometimes go into a neighbour’s house. Don't go to school. Helps her mother about the house, which does not take her very long.

Margaret Neilson corroborated her sister's testimony.

George Porteous, police constable, was along with Falconer on the 26th of October, at Dryden. They went about three o'clock in the morning, and remained about half an hour. They saw two young girls coming up the stair pits, each had buckets, with coals and lamps. They put the coals into the scales. They did not see him and Falconer, as they concerned themselves. When they approached the girls emptied their buckets, and when asked their names they got up a-crying. They told their names, and said they were Joseph Neilson's daughters. The girls did not go home, but went down into the pit again with the buckets and lamps.

The Prosecutor stated, that as from the proof which had now been led, he was satisfied the evidence was not sufficient to inculpate Mr Mercer, he would consent to decree of absolvitur.  The Sheriff then pronounced judgment accordingly, assoilzing Mr Mercer simpliciter from the charges of the libel. [Caledonian Mercury 28 December 1843]