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Service Record Book of Veteran Employees In The Service of The Fife Coal Company Ltd, August 1945

A Few Notes on the Early Days by CHARLES AUGUSTUS CARLOW

The Fife Coal Company was formed to take over and develop the pits belonging to the Beath and Blairadam Coal Company. The first Directors were:-
Mr. WILLIAM LINDSAY, Provost of Leith, Chairman of The Fife Coal Company Limited and also of The Shotts Iron Company Limited;
The Rt. Hon. W. P. ADAM of Blairadam, at one time Governor of Madras;
Mr. JAMES A. NASMYTH, owner of Donibristle Colliery, which ultimately was taken over by The Fife Coal Company in 1908, a date within the recollection of most readers of these notes:
Mr. THOMAS AITKEN of Nivingston; Provost Cox of Dundee:
Mr. WILLIAM JOHNSTONE of Burntisland;
Sir WILLIAM MILLER, Bart, of Manderston.

The first Manager was Mr. CHARLES CARLOW.

In 1875 Mr. Carlow married Miss Mary Weatherslone Lindsay, daughter of the Chairman, and took up residence at Moray Bank. Kelty. Both took a deep interest in the welfare of the community. In particular, Mrs. Carlow was a Sunday School teacher, and David Beveridge, who afterwards occupied so many important positions in Fife pits, was a boy in her Sunday School class.

About this time, the sinking of the Lindsay Pit. named after the Chairman, was started. It was a big job at the time. Much water was encountered, and, when the sinking neared completion, considerable anxiety was caused by the non-appearance of the Dunfermline Splint Seam. The thickness of strata between the Five Feet Seam and the Dunfermline Splint at Lindsay Pit is unusually great, but in the course of time a flag was hoisted, indicating that the Dunfermline Splint Seam had been reached.

Some of the " Old Timers '" may remember Ebby Hunter. He was foreman joiner at the sinking, and for many years afterwards was a respected foreman at Leven Pits.

One of the interesting occurrences at Lindsay Pit was the introduction of the first electric haulage, about the year 1898. This was designed to haul two hutches up a dook between the Lindsay and the Aitken Pit, which was then being sunk. Everybody was so sceptical about this enterprise that the motor haulage was not taken down the pit until it had been proved able for its work by hauling two loaded hutches up a slope on the pithead.

The pithead was burned to the ground in 1919. The whole colliery has been re-equipped above and below ground, and will last for many years.

This year saw the acquisition of Pirnie Pit, Methilhill. and the beginning of the sinking of the Leven Colliery on the brae above the port of Methil.

Pirnie produced valuable Cannel Coal for gas-making before the general introduction of electric light.

The pit was managed by James Wilson, a very fine man. James was a very voluble speaker, and in moments of excitement his flow of words was apt to get out of control, and his language became far from parliamentary. He was a member of the Parish Council, and a newspaper report of that time contained the following announcement: "After a few cursory words by Mr. Wilson, the motion was adopted"! Jim was universally esteemed, and, when his end came, I attended his funeral with deepest regret and profound respect.

In Pirnie Pit I once found a boy working on the face by himself, and, when he told me his age, it seemed clear that there was a breach of the Statute. I said. "Where is your father?" He answered, "He's no' oot." When I asked the boy if he were the family breadwinner, he said, "Somebody's got tae dae it." I ascertained that his props and sprags were all right and that the fireman would look after his safety, and I passed on with a considerable feeling of respect for that boy.

In this year the lease of the Wellsgreen area was obtained, and sinking started. The pit was not deep - 83 fathoms - and the equipment was fairly modern for the time.

I knew personally, and could name now, many of the Wellsgreen miners, and a fine body of men they were.

One incident about Wellsgreen arose out of a visit of Mr. Gemmell, the eminent mining engineer. Mr. Gemmell always maintained the habit of wearing his oldest and shabbiest suits of clothes. One day, in preparation for going underground, we emptied our pockets on the office table, and out of Gemmell's pocket came a large amount of money, including golden sovereigns, with silver and copper coin. Peter Dunsire, the manager, eyed this pile of cash and innocently remarked: "If I'd all that money, I'd buy masel' a new pair o' breeks."

In this year the Company purchased Hill of Beath Collieries and lands, and acquired the lease of Dalbeath.

Mr. Henry Rowan came at that time to the Company, to manage this part of the undertaking. Mr. Rowan also was in charge of the sinking of Kirkford, Cowdenbeath No. 10, which at the time was an immense task, very successfully accomplished. Everybody who knew Mr. Rowan liked him, and the friendship between us was fast and firm. It is interesting to note that a grandson of Mr. Rowan, in the person of Mr. Henry King, now occupies an important position with the Company and lives at Foulford House, Cowdenbeath, which the Company originally bought as a residence for Mr. Rowan.

This year forms an important link with present-day affairs, because in 1893 the first sod at Aitken Pit was cut. In keeping with the magnitude of the task, the celebrations included the provision of a luncheon in a large marquee, to which a considerable number of persons were invited. The prosperity of the venture was well toasted, and it is understood that some people had just a little difficulty in keeping on the narrow plank, which formed the footpath between the tent and the Railway Station, when it came to the close of the proceedings.

This was the year of the amalgamation with Cowdenbeath, when the Cowdenbeath, Foulford and Lumphinnans Collieries were taken over.

Lumphinnans No XI was sunk under the direction of Mr. Henry Mungall. principal partner of the Cowdenbeath Coal Company.

My chief recollection regarding Lumphinnans No. XI Pit is in connection with the outburst of carbon monoxide in 1906, resulting in the death of two miners - Alexander Black and Thomas Serrie. I led the rescue party, in an effort to save these men's lives. The only protection we had was the canary which I took out of the kitchen before starting for the pit. Everybody seemed surprised, but I carried the canary and the men followed me. To our regret, we were unsuccessful. It may be that some of the "Old Timers," referred to in this booklet, were in the rescue party, and may remember stepping over the bodies of horses overcome by the gas, and our sense of frustration when the canary kept falling off its perch and we had to go back.

This year saw the acquisition of Benarty and the Estate of Lochore, on which Mary Pit is sunk.

Benarty must have been a good-paying proposition, because when Mr. Rowan and I went to see the Manager, old Mr. Ferguson, before we bought the place, we were directed to his house at about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. When we went there and knocked at the door, Mr. Ferguson himself appeared - in gold-embroidered smoking cap and carpet slippers. Things were different then!

This year saw the start of the Mary Pit, and the cutting of the first sod by my mother.

It was a big undertaking. The pumping engine was of the compound condensing bell-crank type, with three forcing sets of pumps, each 100 fathoms head and 30" diameter rams. Below the 300 fathoms there was a bucket lift, in accordance with usual practice. The pithead frame and winding engine were built in Fife, but no British firm could supply pithead pulleys to my satisfaction, and it is interesting to note that I had to get the pulleys from Krupps Works, Essen, Germany. All this plant is doing good service yet, except the pumping engine, which was replaced by all-conquering electricity many years ago. The second shaft of the Mary was sunk much later.

Within these years Kirkford was brought up to full production, the Company acquired Lassodie Mill, Blairadam and Blairenbathie Collieries, and sunk Kinnaird. In these years I made some very good friends - Mr. John Allan, who was Manager at Blairenbathie when we took it over, and Mr. James Hendrie, who sunk Lassodie Mill, and as he often told me, he "sunk the pits and had an output of 200 tons per day coming, all within twelve months."

Last Updated 4th February 2012