The Rise And Progress Of Coatbridge And Surrounding Neighbourhood.

Andrew Miller, Dundyvan Iron Works, Glasgow 1864


The Blackband ironstone of the district, that source of wealth, prosperity, and industry, is now (as has been previously observed) rapidly drawing to a close. For several years past the supply has been on the decline, which has necessarily caused the opening up of other districts to get the required supplies for the respective iron works, and consequently the additional distance has increased the price of the raw material, and thus augmented the revenues of the Railway and Canal Companies. Such a constant drain upon the resources of the district in keeping so many furnaces in material for upwards of thirty years, has certainly been very great, and now the supplies have to be brought from all quarters. The principal sources are the extensive ironstone fields of Denny and Kilsyth on the north; Bathgate, Shotts, and surrounding fields on the east; Morningside, and Wilsontown, on the south; Possil, Skaterigg, &c., on the west; and even such widely separated places as Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Stirlingshire, Fifeshire, and Ballycastle in Ireland, are all doing duty in the supply of this mineral. Fortunately, there are indications that the district still contains a rich store of another seam of ironstone, known and worked in several places as the "Slaty band," inferior to the Blackband, but excellent in quality, and, as regards quantity, it has been calculated that the adjoining parishes of New Monkland and Shotts contain a supply for all the furnaces, for fifteen years to come. On this subject an experienced mining engineer says, that the position of the "Slaty" in both parishes holds good, but in some places the stone is absent, and replaced by a coal of a semi-anthracite character, very metalliferous, and often found with thin plates of ironstone through it. Still, as a general rule, if the "Slaty" be blotted out in one part of the field, it is not lost to the sectional thickness of 12 inches; the thickest, the thinnest, and the wants, all amalgamated, will average the fall thickness over the whole of this ironstone deposit, at least such appears to be the fact in several workings in both parishes. Calculating the extent to which this deposit, prevails, (so far as is yet known,) at 11 square geographical miles, 12 inches thick, the quantity will not be less than 13,500,000 tons of ironstone calcined and ready for the furnaces, which, yielding 64 per cent, of iron, would produce seven million tons of pig-iron for the market. Such figures are very cheering and pleasing to contemplate; they are, however, borne out, by almost daily or weekly discoveries of the seam of ironstone they refer to. The future prospects are therefore bright, and who can tell what scientific skill may yet accomplish in its researches in the bowels of the earth. But independent of all this, there are other sources of supplies for the works, viz., the Hematite or iron ore of the Whitehaven and other districts in England. This ore, which is said to contain from 70 to 80 per cent, of iron, has been used at the iron works in considerable quantities, for some years past. It is considered to be a first-rate mixture with the various kinds of ironstone, and can be worked to advantage half-and-half, and even more, producing iron of excellent quality, combining all the requisites for strength and durability. Thousands of tons of this ore are weekly imported into the district, and the revenue derived from this traffic alone, by the railway companies, is very considerable. This, of course, may be set down as an additional tax upon the manufacture of iron in this place, as it is a heavy item in the working cost, compared to what it was some years ago when the Blackband ironstone was abundant in the immediate vicinity of the respective works. From these few remarks it will be at once apparent that many years prosperity are yet in store for the district, possessing, .as it does, those peculiar advantages for export of manufactures, or import of the raw material, by means of transit which connect it with every port in the United Kingdom.

In the present method of winning and working the coal fields, the contrast is great, when comparing the system in use some forty years ago, and even earlier. The rapid strides of science and its application in pit working is at once apparent at the respective coal works, in the machinery, ventilation, fittings, safety-signals, slides and cages, all on principles calculated to protect and preserve the lives of the miners and colliers, who have to toil daily in the dark subterranean passages in the bowels of the earth, exposed to unseen dangers from firedamp, falling roofs, fire, or in descending and ascending the shafts. As a class of workmen, they are beset with dangers unknown to those who earn their bread under the light of the sun, for the latter may avoid approaching danger, but the former are often helpless to avert it, as was the case in the melancholy catastrophe at Hartlepool Colliery, and many others of a like description. Accidents often occur that are the results of carelessness, or recklessness, and often through ignorance. A naked light carried into a part of the workings where the explosive gas may have collected, has often destroyed many lives and much property, and non-attention to the proper signals has resulted in death to the careless. The following extract on the subject of accidents will give an idea of their extent and character. This district forms a portion over which Mr Alexander, the Government Inspector of Mines, has the supervision. "Fatal Accidents in Coal and Ironstone Mines. From the reports of the Inspectors of Mines, which have just been printed by order of Parliament, we learn that the total number of accidents in the Coal and Ironstone Mines of Great Britain, during the year 1861, were 811, as compared with 769 the preceding year, being an increase of 42. Of these, 39 occurred in the Eastern district of Scotland, and 36 in the Western district of Scotland. In the collieries of the Eastern district there were three explosions of fire-damp, 10 accidents caused by falls of coal, and 12 by falls of the roof of the mine; 5 accidents in shafts from various causes; 3 underground, and 6 on the surface. In the Western district there were 4 explosions of fire-damp; 21 accidents caused by falls in the mine; 7 in shafts; 1 underground, and 3 on the surface. Mr Alexander, the inspector for the Western district, estimates the gross output of coal from the collieries of that district, at 6,100,000 tons. The number of deaths caused by the accidents in these collieries, was 37, or 6 per million tons of coal raised. The output of ironstone is estimated at 1,700,000 tons, and the number of deaths by accidents was 13, or 7.6 per million tons of ironstone raised. The larger proportion of deaths in ironstone mines is accounted for by the fact that ironstone is more difficult to work, independent of the large proportion of rubbish which requires to be taken out, in some cases greatly exceeding the weight of the ironstone; whereas in working coal seams there is generally sufficient space at a convenient distance underground for stowing purposes, and very little rubbish requires to be drawn to the surface. 'The statistics of ironstone mines' says the Inspector, 'are yet incomplete, but further experience will probably prove that coal mining is a more hazardous occupation than ironstone mining, in proportion to the number employed and the work performed.' For the past year the loss of life from the destructive effect of fire-damp has been considerably reduced. The accidents from falls of coal and roof, in the Western districts of Scotland, are exactly the average of the last six years."


It has been observed in the preceding part of this record, that in 1793 only four collieries were in existence in the district, which gave employment to upwards of 400 men. The following statistics, with regard to collieries and mines, were obtained in 1862, and the whole of them were taken as accurately as they could be obtained, and may be considered as a fair average of the men employed at the time, and even yet may be assumed to be nearly correct, and is presented to show the great increase or consumption of our coal-fields at present going on, in comparison of what it was at the period above referred to.

In some pits in the district, there abounds a rich shale or blaes (as it is termed), which requires to be taken out of the mines along with the coal or ironstone. For many years it was considered to be of no use, and, consequently, great hills of it were allowed to accumulate at these pits. But science has been brought to bear upon this worthless refuse, and a manufactory was erected some time ago, at Palacecraig Colliery, by Mr Greenshields, who is extracting large quantities of oil from this shale - which has so long been considered of no value - and the proprietors of the estate, Messrs Baird, of Gartsherrie Works, are drawing a handsome revenue from it for lordship.

Until within the last few months, the west division was considered to contain no ironstone; but a bore lately put down at Swinton has overturned this idea, by the discovery of what is said to be the " Slaty band" seam, in its proper position in the strata - viz., 75 fathoms under the Kiltongue coal. The seam is represented to be 23 inches in thickness, and should it prove to be equal in quality to the ''Slaty" ironstone at present produced from the mines in the Shotts parish, it will be a rich storehouse for the iron works in the district, and add materially to the wealth of the west. Many years ago, several bores were put down by scientific gentlemen connected with the iron trade, in the hope that the "Blackband" ironstone existed in the western field, but nothing valuable for blast furnaces could be found under the Kiltongue coal. The recent discovery of the "Slaty" is perhaps a proof that there is some truth in the theory regarding this seam - viz., that the stone is sometimes absent, and it may be that the bores formerly put down may have struck on such parts in the strata. It is to be hoped that this is so, and that the west division will yet equal the mid and east divisions in producing abundant supplies of excellent ironstone. With regard to the strata of these three divisions, they lie in what is geologically termed the "Clyde Basin," The principal seams in the middle and south part of this field, generally called the "Glasgow Basin," are the "Upper Ell" main and splint coals, followed by the "Humph" and under seams. Those of the east lie deeper in the series. The richness or quality of either the coal or ironstone varies greatly, according to the locality.

Let us now refer once more to the foregoing table as to the number of underground workmen employed in the three divisions of the district. In these there are upwards of 3000 colliers . and miners; and allowing 2000 for the former and the remainder for the latter, the quantity of coal produced falls little short of 4000 tons daily; and of ironstone, after being calcined and ready for the furnaces, about 1200 tons daily. The output of coal in the whole district, about the beginning of the present century, averaged about 40,000 tons annually. This quantity is now produced in ten days, and there are prospects of a still further increase.

The estimated daily consumption of coal at the blast furnaces in the district is about 2000 tons; the other half is consumed by the Malleable Iron Works or forwarded to the market. This constant drain on the minerals for so many years must have made a deep inroad on the supplies, and imagination may fancy what a honeycomb of tunnels lies underneath the surface. It is calculated that in the course of forty years these subterranean workings will have been filled up by the gradual subsidence from the old workings up through the series of strata. But for the debris which have blocked up portions of these workings, the whole district from the east of Airdrie to the west of Baillieston could be traversed as through a great tunnel miles in length.


In proportion to the extent of the mining operations, the mineral produce raised, and the number of hands employed, there is not perhaps another mining district attended with fewer casualties to life and property than that of Coatbridge. Whether this is owing to the physical condition under which the minerals are met with, or to a more careful system of working, it is difficult to say. The accidents that have occurred are mostly of an individual character, and hitherto we have escaped those terrible pit calamities that swamp the fortunes of the owners, make a gap in many households, and scatter scores of widows and hundreds of helpless children on the charity of the world. But while we have escaped those terror-striking visitations peculiar to mining districts, still experience enough has been given us to form an idea of the great danger to which the miner is exposed in the course of his everyday labour; and among these suggestive casualties the Drumpeller underground fire was perhaps the most remarkable, from the amount of property that was at stake, and the ways and means adopted to overcome and subdue the fire, which for a time threatened the entire destruction of the colliery. This calamity occurred in 1851, the fire originating from the flues in connection with a furnace which supplied heat to the boilers of an engine required at the bottom of the shaft in No. 9 Pit. The smoke from the fire was carried along by means of the flues to another pit, some 50 fathoms distant. But before proceeding further it will perhaps be judicious to present the reader with a verbal sketch of the field, including the number, thickness, and depth of the respective seams worked, and a rough estimate of the acreage over which the operations extended. This colliery is situated on a part of the Drumpeller estate, lying on the north side of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Road, and extending from near the town of Coatbridge to about two miles westward. It is divided into two triangular patches by the Monkland Canal, and contains the principal coals of the district, from the Pyotshaw coal downwards. The workings embraced the seams locally known as the Splint, Main, and Pyotshaw. The Splint is a strong coal, at that time extensively worked for furnace purposes; the two latter seams are soft, more bituminous, and better adapted for household use, or in manufactures where a strong heat and flame are required, The operations extended in a series of different winnings, situated at respective distances on the banks of the canal, covering an area of nearly 800,000 square yards, or about two miles in length, by, say, 300 yards in average breadth. The workings were drained by two pumping engines, one at the east and another at the west end of the field. The deepest winning was about 80 fathoms, the others were to the rise of the field, or near the outcrop, and did not average more than 40 fathoms. Within the above range, over which the workings extended, there were twelve pits, and of this number there were only three in operation when the fire occurred, the rest having been exhausted, but were still open to daylight, and accessible from one another. Scattered through the old workings there was a large quantity of irredeemable coal in the shape of pillars, necessarily left for the support of the roof, and forming an aggregate area of perhaps one-sixth of the entire field. These pillars of coal, 9 feet thick in Pyotshaw and Main coal seams, which are together, and 3 1/2 feet thick in the Splint, were in many parts crushed, broken, and spread, and just in that position most accessible to fire. In short, all the materials were there, and every facility for a grand subterranean fire. With such space, containing some hundreds of yards of old propwood, thousands of tons of coal, and an immense quantity of semi-combustible rubbish in the shape of shale, all that was required was a simple spark to set the devouring element in motion. Under these circumstances, great alarm was felt for the safety of not only the Drumpeller Colliery, but also those fields adjoining, when it became known that the pit was actually on fire. The cause of the subterranean conflagration could not be certainly ascertained, but it appeared to have commenced close to where the flues were situated, which carried off the smoke and gradually extended the fire along the face of the old workings. Almost superhuman efforts were at first made to subdue it by water. One of the Glasgow fire brigades, with hose and other appliances necessary, dashed an abundant supply of water from the Monkland Canal over the burning mass. The water appeared to feed rather than extinguish the flame, and this process was kept up for days with little or no effect. A valuable and extensive coal field was at stake; one plan had failed, and another was decided on, and carried out at once by Mr Mackenzie, manager, Dundyvan Iron Works, and Mr M'Creath, mining engineer. The principle adopted was to exclude the air from the fire, and destroy the latter by carbonic acid gas or choke damp, to manufacture which an apparatus was erected near the pit. This consisted first of an open furnace, into which a quantity of coal char was placed and fired, and a boiler was built to generate steam, from which pipes were conducted to the pit mouth. The underground workings around the fire were built up airtight ; the steam from the boiler descended the draft, causing a strong current of air to pass downward through the furnace, the gas from which was propelled by the steam blast, and thus the deadly choke damp was forced in. A constant discharge of this gas was kept up daily until the contracted part of the workings was filled, and allowed to stand for about three months. When opened and properly ventilated, men of experience in mining descended and found all underneath cold and damp, the plan having proved completely successful in saving from destruction this coal field and also those lying contiguous. It was a matter of satisfaction to think that, except a considerable pecuniary loss to the proprietor, the late John Wilson of Dundyvan, and the temporary pinch to which the colliers were subjected in consequence of the suspension of the works, not a solitary individual was injured in the slightest manner.

In the month of February, 1859, a fire occurred in No. 9 Pit, Rosehall Colliery. It was supposed to have originated from an iron funnel which conveyed the smoke from an engine at the bottom of the pit, the fire from which ignited the wood-work in the upcast shaft. A few men who were working during the night in the pit were attracted to the bottom by the smell of burning wood, into which the burning timbers were falling fast, and blocking up the only road for the men to escape. Two of the number promptly volunteered to ascend the shaft, through the burning mass, and give the alarm. The brave fellows were successful in reaching the top, and at once caused the water from the engine-pumps to be turned on, and dashed down the shaft. Those who were below also worked with desperation in throwing water on the portion of fire within their reach. The flames rose to the pit-mouth, but at last succumbed to the continued torrents of water, and in about 24 hours were completely extinguished. The other workmen were got out in safety. The energy and firmness of the men on duty probably saved a portion of this coal-field from destruction. In concluding this portion of our remarks on collieries, it may be observed, that although such quantities of coal are daily extracted from the various seams at present working, there are other seams which lie deeper in the series, of excellent quality, that have scarcely been touched yet, and these will afford an abundant supply of this useful mineral for an almost unlimited period.