Coal – the discovery of coal in Blantyre came at an important time, for there were signs that the largest industry in Blantyre at that time, i.e weaving at Blantyre Mills was declining. The arrival of the coal industry was fortunate and allowed for jobs to be transferred and indeed, the town grew and prospered more quickly in the 19th and 20th Centuries on the back of the coal industry, with many miner’s families given Miner’s homes tied to the collieries they worked in.
Prior to the 1840s, coal, needed to power early machines and keep homes warm, was carted into Blantyre from Cambuslang and Hamilton at a time before railways.
It is noted in 1791, coal was being brought into Blantyre from Cambuslang and by 1835, from Hamilton too, at a cost of 6s.6d (33p) per ton and 4s.11d (25p) per ton at Blantyre Works.
The first test borings taking place in the 1850s and 1860’s gave poor results showing little or no coal seams under Blantyre and the Quarter area of Hamilton, something which puzzled geologists by comparison to the discoveries made in other nearby towns.
However, I discovered that the 1868 further test borings noted a slip or faultline in Hamilton. Subsequent double checks in Blantyre found rich seams after all, but they were deep, very deep at 100 fathoms, indeed much deeper than surrounding towns and it was going to take firms of great competence to reach it. The Geological faultline, which caused the coal belt suddenly to drop below Hamilton, reappeared at Dechmont, was was then known as “The Lanarkshire Fault.” These early discoveries are explored here. At least nine major pits were created witin the parish of Blantyre, all explored in detail here on Blantyre Project.
Dixon’s Colleries Ltd the largest coalmasters in the area commenced their test borings in 1867 and large deposits were found throughout the district. Dixon’s No 1 and No 2 were sunk in 1871 and were in production in 1873. Dixon’s number 3 pit was sunk in 1873-1875 and was in production by 1876. These 3 pits were located at High Blantyre congregating around what is now Hillhouse Road. Number 1 pit was situated on land now occupied by Priestfield Cemetery and the adjoining slip road from the A725 East Kilbride Expressway. Part of Hamilton Technology Park stands on the site of Number 2 pit. Number 3 was located near Priestfield Industrial Estate on the exact site of what is now the Redburn Farm Restaurant and of course the scene of the Blantyre Pit Disaster. Dixons sunk a fourth pit at Larkfield, where now the Bing and football pitch is near Stonefield Road and Broompark Road. It was producing coal by 1878.
Merry & Cunninghame were the proprietors of Auchinaith Colliery, which was also sunk in 1872, in production by 1875. It was located on the current site of modern Murray Crescent, near the timber houses in Auchinraith at the east of the town.
Baird & Co owned Craighead Colliery, which was situated beyond the railway bridge on the left of Whistleberry Road adjacent to the railway line. They opened the pit in 1876 and followed shortly after by the Priory Pit, (officially known as Bothwell Castle Pits 3 and 4). It was named ‘Priory Pit’, due to the nearby ruins of Blantyre Priory. Many of the miners would make their way to the colliery by means of a timber staircase at the railway bridge at Station Road, which led to a path that ran parallel to the railway line, a distance of about one mile. All that remains of this colliery is the building that contained the pit baths, which were later used by an engineering company. All Blantyre Collieries and Pits are explored here.
Russell & Summerlea Iron Company was the owned of Spittal Pit, also known as Bardykes Colliery. Although this was located in Cambuslang Parish, it was generally known to be a Blantyre colliery with many of the employees from Blantyre.
AG Moore & Co were the owners of Blantyrefereme Colliery. Other Coalmasters are explored here on Blantyre Project.
Naismiths Directory of 1879, suggested that at that time, the value of the coal industry in Blantyre was worth £9,301 by comparison to Hamilton at £55,465 and Bothwell at £19,271. A multitude of smaller mines and mining activity took place at Crossbasket, Greenhall, Auchentibber, Calderside, Sydes Brae and Parkneuk throughout the 19th Century right into the 20th Century.
The mines brought Irish workers initially to the area and later on many Lithuanians both of whom the coalmasters exploited to full advantage, particularly in times of industrial unrest. In 1891 the census revealed some interesting statistics showing the number of miners in Blantyre. Split into the four main areas they show that: Auchentibber had 119 miners, which made up 68.9% of the male working population. High Blantyre had 1,181 miners, which made up 49.9% of the male working population. Stonefield had 1,792 miners, which made up 71.3% of the male working population. Low Blantyre had 434 miners, which made up 46.8% of the male working population.
The major collieries were plagued by strike actions, each suffering many accidents, the worst of which was at Dixons in October 1877. See Blantyre Mining Disaster. The number of employed miners steadily increased until during the 1920s and 1930s, over 6,000 men and women were employed in the pits. (At the time of the General Strike 1926, men were paid between 4s. (20p) and 8s.4d (42p) per eight hour shift.)
By the 1930’s, there were signs that the industry was in decline, the coal becoming exhausted and slowly, as the mines started to close, unemployment started to soar. Unions fought hard for miner’s rights and were pleased to see the coal industry becoming nationalised in January 1947.
However, a short time later in the 1950s other Blantyre pits closed and in the early 1960’s the last of Blantyre’s colleries, “Priory Pit” closed.
Even in the 1960s, the old miners remembered their harder years by meeting up for annual outings. Such an event took place in June 1968, where a calvacade of 12 buses, some 500 people strong left from the Blantyre Miners Welfare on an outing to Ayr. Dinner had been laid on for them all, with raffles prizes. Many of the men were getting on in advanced years and afterwards they all agreed they had a splendid day out by the sea. In the evening, they returned to the Welfare at Calder Street, where a party had been laid on for them with evening entertainment. See Coal Mining and Collieries for detailed history.
(c) Written by Paul Veverka, Blantyre Project