A time of mixed fortunes for Midlothian workers

Ferranti's New Factory at Dalkeith - Lord Hume pauses for closer look at work
Ferranti's New Factory at Dalkeith - Lord Hume pauses for closer look at work

The National Coal Board issues a pre-Christmas bombshell when it announces that more than 1000 Midlothian miners will lose their jobs.

The Advertiser reported (November 9, 1961): “Miners and their families in Roslin and Gorebridge, where the local pits are to close next year, are shocked and angered over the news, released by the Coal Board on Monday.

“At Arniston Colliery, nearly 700 men will lose their jobs as a result of the closure and at Roslin 650 men will be out of work.

“Certainly in Roslin, and to a lesser extent in Gorebridge, the closures will possible cause hardship to other tradesmen and shopkeepers in the towns, and many feel that Roslin will soon be a ‘ghost town’.

“Arniston Colliery opened up 111 years ago and many of its 700 workers come from Gorebridge and nearby but news of the closure was taken there very calmly and philosophically. An air of certainty pervades the town, however, and women seriously discussed the situation in the shops and streets.

“They are worried about their children and the future in store for them now and many of the older women, with middle-age husbands, fear that there will not be sufficient jobs to go round in other pits in the area. The younger men will naturally be the first to find alternative employment in other collieries.

“People like Mr Alec Young, a 60-year-old living in Roadside Cottage, Gorebridge, and a weighman at Arniston for over 45 years, are sorry to see the pit closing after so many years and they wonder whether there will be another job for them anywhere.

“In addition to the miners who will lose their jobs due to the closure, other employees such as canteen staff, most of whom are women, will be thrown our of work too. So houses where there had previously been two pay packets coming in each week will shortly have none at all.

“At Roslin, where the population is 1280, and the number employed in the pit is 650, the situation is even more serious. Many of the townspeople, among whom it was naturally the chief topic of conversation, fear that the town will not be able to recover from such a staggering blow to its economy.

“Mrs Rita Brown, whose husband is 60, was of the opinion that it would turn Roslin into a ‘ghost town’. Others pointed out that when the pit closes there will be no employment available as the carpet factory of Henry Widnell and Stewart, which used to be in Roslin, has been moved to Eskbank.

“One ray of hope is provided by the proximity of Bilston Glen Colliery, one of the biggest and newest pits in the country, and it is hoped that some of those who lose their jobs will find employment there. The only other pits in the area are Burghlee and Ramsay (Loanhead) and Whitehill (Rosewell).”

Meanwhile, fortunes are on the up in the Dalkeith area with work underway on the new Thornybank Industrial Estate.

The Advertiser reported (November 2, 1961): “Despite weather conditions which are making the ground soft, work goes on speedily at Thornybank where Dalkeith’s industrial estate will take shape and bring added prosperity to the town.

“Ferranti Ltd have finalised their plans for a big expansion on the estate and building of the factory should soon be underway. Meantime, the company have also preparations in hand for the training of more and more workers who will be offered jobs in the new factory after they are efficient.

“In addition to the Corn Exchange, where over 100 people are now working regularly and where early teething troubles have been overcome, the company are searching everywhere in the burgh and nearby landward areas in the county for more space in which to set up training establishments.

“The old school in Newton has been taken over and some 40 people are being trained there.

“The latest development is in Buccleuch Street and the company have now secured the old church halls on a temporary lease until May next year. Here also training is being given.

“Although Ferranti have taken a big bite out of the space available at Thornybank there is still room at this 56 acres of ground for further industries and development.”

Ferranti eventually opened its Dalkeith factory in 1963. At one stage around 600 people were employed at the firm. In 1994, Ferranti’s receivers put the Dalkeith factory up for sale.