Miscellaneous, Strikes & Court Cases

Half A Century’s Work In Fife Coal Pits.

It has frequently been stated that coalmining is an unhealthy occupation, and that those who go down to work in the pits have to cease their labour at a comparatively early age. But the presence among us of men such as Mr Andrew Scott, our Long Service Medallist this week, with his 50 years' record of mining industry, shows us the erroneousness of these statements. Fifty-one year ago, at the age of 11 years, Andrew descended the pit, and from then till now he has earned his livelihood down among the black diamonds. His first acquaintance with the mine was when in charge of his father, also a Lochgelly man, he made a start in an ironstone pit situated in Haggishaughfield. Ironstone was worked to a greater extent than coal in these days, and the iron works and furnaces, situated on the north side of the railway station, and which have long since gone into disrepair, were then in full swing, illuminating the district at night for miles around.

From this ironstone pit Andrew went to the No. 12, situated near the "haunted houses," and was working there when the Crimean War broke out. At that time he read "Reynold's Newspaper," and has still vivid recollections of the war stories and exposures which appeared in that journal at that stirring time. Wages then were fairly good, and the lad of 12 could make his 1s a day. This No. 12 Pit was considered the deepest in the district. Its depth was barely 40 fathoms.
The next scene of Andrew's labours was in what was popularly known as The "Tattie" Pit. Its official designation he doesn't remember. At this place there were no cages for ascending and descending the shaft, and for the want of a better the men had perforce to resort to the coal hutches as a means of conveyance between the pit bottom and the pit bank. The value of steam power, too, had not been fully realised in these primitive days, and the men and coals alike were drawn to the surface by a horse yoked to a "gin," an apparatus with a revolving wheel.

Mr Scott talks of many other old pits, whose existence are scarcely known to the present generation. The old Jenny Gray was drawing coals when Mr Scott was yet a boy. Another pit he worked in was situated in front of what is now the Established Church Manse. It was when working there he received his only accident during his 50 odd years of toil. A stair was in this case the means of ingress to the mine, and while descending one dark wintry morning be slipped. Fortunately his fall was broken by some projecting timber, but he sustained a severely bruised arm, which necessitated a six months' idleness. Mr Landale was manager of the Lochgelly pits as far back as Andrew's memory goes. This captain of industry is still alive, and resides at Dunfermline, whence he went on his retiral from active work.

Women in Pits - Asked if he remembered of women working down the pit, Andrew said he could mind of them only as drawers of the coal, but not as hewers. He remembered seeing the pit women on their way home from a pit situated near the "Roondal" with flannel mutches on their heads and leading their ponies. These latter belonged to the late Bailie Robert Dick, who had the contract for drawing, and Andrew, when a bare-footed laddie, often followed the ponies and their picturesque drivers to the stables in East Main Street.

Lochgelly, before becoming known as a coal raising centre or gaining notoriety through its Police Court, was noted for its gipsy encampment and its cattle markets. Andrew was born too late in the century to remember anything of the famous Gipsy Smith and his merry nomadic tribe, but he has vivid recollections of the markets. These were held on Lochgelly Moor, now entirely built over with miners' houses. The Moor was then a common or no man's land, but as has happened in many other places it was appropriated by a neighbouring landowner. In those days "they took who had the power" to the pecuniary benefit of themselves and progeny and to a community's loss. At any rate, Lochgelly lost its common. The market was a great event in the village life, and the usually quiet streets were ringing with the shouts of the drovers as they chased and marshalled their herds of cattle.

The Last Market held in the town, he informs us, was where the Catholic Chapel and Manse now stand. Andrew also talks with avidity about the "big wages" time, which was in '78, and of the great strike which followed, lasting 16 weeks, and which entailed much sacrifice and suffering. Andrew still looks hearty and healthy, works regularly, and feels and looks like wielding the pick for many years to come. [Evening Telegraph 12 September 1903]


How Cities Grow – An Example From West Fife – The Sudden Rise of Mining Communities – A Remarkable Story (Specially Contributed.) - Invariably the starting of an industry in a town is responsible for an influx of inhabitants, and in a colliery district when a new pit is sunk the same rule applies, and, indeed, is far more evident. The coalfields generally cover a wide area, and when the black diamonds are to be wrought in some new spot, perchance situate on a bleak moorland, and the miners' houses begin to appear in the vicinity, then the growth of an entirely new village and community becomes more markedly apparent than in the case of the city, where any strangers are lost in the busy throng. In Fife, comprising as it does one of Britain's most important coalfields, there are many examples of this, but of these the thriving village of Bowhill, in the parish of Auchterderran, crowns all in the matter of rapid growth. 

To-day the few detached cottar houses of some half-a-dozen years ago are represented by a large village of nearly 2000 inhabitants. The reason of the mushroom-like growth, which, by the way, continues still, is not far to seek. In 1894 pits which had been worked with more or less success for a considerable time were shut up, but several gentlemen saw their opportunity, and forming themselves into the Bowhill Coal Company, Ltd., decided to commence as soon as possible to work the minerals .in the central part of the parish. Two succeeding years saw the sinking of the now great Bowhill Pit. Many unforeseen difficulties in the strata cropped up, but at the end of that time a first-class seam of coal was struck, the present output from which oft times reaches 2000 tons per. day.

The pit is one of the deepest in Scotland, but the percolation of water is troublesome, and necessitates the use of an expensive pumping system. Naturally, with so much coal at hand there was a big demand for mining labour, and although for the last three years at least building operations have gone on rapidly and unceasingly, there is yet a never ending cry for more. Some 600 men are employed at the pits - 200 a shift of eight hours- and not a few go to Bowhill to work only, preferring to have their homes and spend their leisure time - for which many a town employee might reasonably yearn - in the surrounding towns and villages of Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy Cowdenbeath, Lochgelly, Leslie, &c. This jaunting to and fro may seem somewhat strange to an outsider, but it is easily explained. The greater the demand the greater the price, and so with regard to the houses in Bowhill.

The majority of the houses have been erected by the Coal Company, but no spirit of philanthropy exists between master and man, and somewhat stiffly has the latter to pay for the luxury of living in the vicinity of the colliery. Private feuing is out of the question, for the miner and even the merchants find it hard to pay £16 an acre for land of the agricultural value per acre of 20s or 25s. Thus there is a cry for cheaper dwelling accommodation. The miner, too, does not hide his aversion to what he terms a "Company” house (i.e., one which belongs to a Coal Company) from which he may be peremptorily chucked -to use a vulgar expression - on the cessation of his employment, or maybe for some slight fault. He makes good wages, wishes to be independent, and gets his wishes in the latter respect carried out to some extent by occupying a " ta'en" house (One which he takes from term to term) in a neighbouring town, where rents are also cheaper, although by no means low.

With all said, however, Bowhill is a prosperous village, which takes its place alongside any and above many mining townships in Fife. It possesses an ample water supply, the water pumped from the pit being utilised. A certain distance down the shaft a reservoir has been formed, and from here the water is transferred to a large filter in the vicinity, ultimately finding its way to the village by gravitation principles. Curiously enough 6d per fortnight is charged extra on the miner's rent for this all important necessary of life and owners of private property have to pay the maximum, rate of half-a-crown per £1 on their rental - a high price many think for what is practically a nuisance to the Coal Company. General merchandise shops are numerous while licensed houses are perhaps too much in evidence. Applications for premises of the latter description are never far off on Court day but it would undoubtedly be to the great and lasting benefit of the community were they to show their disapprobation of an increase in " pubs," and enter with spirit into an endeavour to secure a reading-room for the village and district. There is no "Gothenburg" at Bowhill - although there is a growing feeling that the next license must be one of this description. The future should be one of prosperity for Bowhill which is the centre of a rich coal district, in which extensive developments are in progress. A new railway is also about to be constructed to join Bowhill and Cardenden to Auchtertool. thereby forming a direct line to the coaling ports, and this of itself should make Bowhill Collieries more accessible and important than ever. [Evening Telegraph 7 February 1903]

27 February 1903

Hutch Pinning In A Fife Pit - John Auld, miner, Sixth Street, Bowhill, admitted, at the Dunfermline Sheriff Court yesterday, having been guilty of what is known among miners as hutch-pinning. He had removed the tally, or pin, from a hutch filled with coal, gotten by another miner, and put on a tally, or pin, belonging to himself, with the object of defrauding the other miner of wages amounting to 1s. In passing sentence of twenty-one days' imprisonment, and ignoring an appeal for a fine, Sheriff Gillespie said that if such a serious offence were overlooked confidence in the working of the pits would be destroyed. [Scotsman 28 February 1903]

6 August 1921

Seventy Years In The Mines - Mr Alexander Mathieson, miner, Bowhill, has retired after nearly 70 years work in a coal mine. Mr Mathieson has had experience of five strikes embracing a period of 57 weeks, two of which were sectional strikes at Bowhill. He went to Bowhill twenty years ago, and worked at the colliery there all that time. During his long years in the mines he has been blessed with good health, and was always at his post when the pit was open for work. During Mr Mathieson's mining career of nearly 70 years he has never once met with an accident. [Dunfermline Journal 6 August 1921]

22 September 1926

WEST FIFE MINERS - ATTACKING SAFETY MEN - AN UNPLEASANT AREA (BY OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.) An American visitor who was in Edinburgh some time ago expressed disappointment with the coal strike because it was too quiet and peaceful; in America industrial strikes are on occasions conducted with some zealous gun-firing and a more or less noteworthy flow of blood. However, while it is true that the vast majority of the miners throughout the country have been, from the beginning of things, orderly and of good temper, there are some areas where the atmosphere has been more disturbed. Among these is the district of Lochgelly and Lochore in Fife. Here, while the American might complain that he could see no gun-firing, there seems to be some fermentation going on among the populace, and the police had to take action twice on Monday—first in the early morning at Glencraig—as was reported in The Scotsman yesterday—and again in the late evening at Lochore.

I visited the district yesterday. The journey by bus from Dunfermline, passing through Cowdenbeath, disclosed the same appearance of stagnation which has been observable in the mining areas since the beginning of the strike. But in these days the quietness seems stagnation intensified, and it becomes depressing to notice, in passing through the larger towns, the number of lamp-posts which are apparently being supported by reflective miners, who, in turn, are supported by the Parish Councils and their own relief committees. A certain number of the men are, of course, employed in connection with relief measures and the collecting of funds, but the majority have little or nothing to do except walk about or stand still or sit in rows on the pavement.

USEFUL STEEL HELMETS. In Lochgelly a considerable number of police , patrolling in pairs, were on the streets. On making inquiries it was found that a hall in the town had been set apart for the billeting of a reserve force of temporary constables who were drafted to Lochgelly early in the strike. Each man is provided with a steel helmet of the regulation service type, which is worn when trouble is coming to boiling point—which is generally after darkness has fallen. These steel helmets were declared to be very useful. Two or three months ago a number of policemen were injured in a disturbance in Lochgelly, but now when steel helmets are worn the stones and other missiles are much less dangerous.

The recent trouble is in connection with the safety men, who are the only men in the pits in this area. Safety men are working all over the kingdom , but in Lochore district there has lately been an agitation among the miners to have these men withdrawn. Such a step would, of course, be foolish to a degree, but it is alleged that the safety men have been working coal below ground, and on the strength of this belief the strikers, without regard to consequences, are doing their best to intimidate the safety men into staying at home. In Cowdenbeath no such trouble has arisen, the strike committee having agreed to the working of safety men, provided their number is not increased. But such a spirit of reasonableness does not prevail in the Lochore area. In this area a majority of the men are members of the Fife Mineworkers' Reform Union, which is not affiliated to the mining Federation, and which is generally a more extreme body than its parent Association.

STONES, CLUBS, AND CATAPULTS. On Monday evening, following the morning affair, a fireman, returning from the pit to the village of Lochore, was threatened by the strikers, a large crowd of whom gathered outside his house. The police appeared and dispersed the crowd. Shortly afterwards, as the police were leaving, they were attacked at some distance from the fireman's house by a large crowd, who proceeded to demonstrate with stones. Two baton charges sufficed to quell the demonstration, and yesterday doctors were called to the district to attend to a number of sore heads among the miners.

While no serious injuries have occurred hitherto, or, indeed, any rioting of a grave nature, the district is unpleasant, I saw two useful club like weapons which were dropped on the road by miners during a hurried retreat. One was the iron handle of a large pot, and the other was a theivil, the thin end of which was screwed into a heavy iron nut. Such implements, it was pointed out, although doubtless intended for striking, are usually thrown, while the owners of them scatter from the police. It is also stated that the strikers have armed themselves with catapults, with which they shoot blocks of iron about an inch square by half an inch thick, or larger.

As a result of the opposition, a number of safety men, including; underground firemen, have withdrawn from service. Others resolutely refuse to be intimidated by a species of mob-law and are carrying on under protection from the police in their journeys to and from the pits. Arrangements are made so that any man going to or coming from work at the pit is within hail of the police the whole time

£1000 A WEEK FOR RELIEF. Meanwhile relief measures continue at Lochgelly and the surrounding district. The Parish Council of Auchterderran, which includes Lochgelly burgh, have up to the present time disbursed £18,000 since the beginning of the strike. Some considerable time ago the bank refused to enlarge an already cumbersome overdraft, and the Scottish Board of Health took over the responsibility of finding the money. At tho present time the Council is spending £1000 per week, representing a rate of 4d. per £1 per week on last year's valuation. The parish population is 20,000, including 12,000 in Lochgelly, and with the exception of a few shopkeepers—some of whom are badly hit by this strike —the population is a mining one. The Parish Council provides the maximum relief of 12s. in goods to the wife and 4s. in goods for each child under five years of age. Children over five years of age receive three-meals a day from the Education Authority, and the adult-miners receive meals at the communal kitchen run by the miners' relief fund. It would be idle to deny that there is poverty in the area, but it would be equally misleading to assert that the populace are starving. When the colder weather comes things may look bad—and it is then that serious trouble may be expected - but up to the present the miners and their families are being sufficiently fed. [Scotsman 22 September 1926]

24 January 1939

The death is announced from Lochgelly of Mr William Penman, of Mid Street, a well-known West File personality. He was a director and former chairman of Lochgelly Gas Company, Ltd.; a founder director of Lochgelly Public-House Society. Ltd., and a member of Auchterderran Parish Council for a time. Mr Penman, who was 85 years of age, had a long connection with Lochgelly collieries as a mines contractor. His mother, who was a nonagenarian, was the last survivor in Lochgelly of a time when women worked as colliers. She left the coal pits on the passing of the Act, early in the last century, which prohibited women from working underground. Mr Penman was well known in Fife bowling circles before the war, and had taken part in the Scottish finals. [Scotsman 24 January 1939]