The beginning of the end for the coal industry

Bilston Glen Colliery, Loanhead. Photo courtesy Midlothian Council Local Studies
Bilston Glen Colliery, Loanhead. Photo courtesy Midlothian Council Local Studies

Nowadays, apart from the Mining Museum, there is little sign that Midlothian was once a major coal mining area, but in 1960 there was a mine in nearly every town and village, and as you drove around you couldn’t miss the signs – the winding gear, the pit-head buildings and, of course, the pit bings.

In 1960, there were 13 mines in Midlothian and 8,500 men worked down the pits. However, between 1957 and 1959, some mines had been closed and I think the miners were beginning to realise that there could be trouble ahead.

A meeting at Newtongrange heard that government policy was encouraging the use of oil in preference to coal, and the Gas Board was being allowed to import methane gas. The meeting felt that this would lead to more mines being closed and that Newtongrange and Arniston would become ghost towns.

Although new mines were being sunk at Bilston Glen and Millerhill, 320 miners had already lost their jobs and men over 65 were being forced to retire. But the Coal Board was still recruiting, with experienced miners being offered £10-2-6 for a five-day week (£182 in today’s money), and they were taking on junior miners with a view to the future.

At the Esk Valley College prizegiving, 69 young men gained qualifications in mining, as miners, surveyors, electricians and mechanical engineers. At the time, the college was situated in huts at the bottom of Gowkshill Brae, now occupied by the council’s Stobhill Depot. Plans to build a new college, at Lugton, were announced at the same prizegiving.

Mining was a dangerous occupation and most weeks the Advertiser had a report of a miner being injured or killed. April 1960 was a particularly bad month, when three men were killed. One of them was a neighbour of ours, Thomas Wood of Gibraltar Gardens, who lived in the house opposite. The sad thing is that I have no memory of this happening.

See this week’s Advertiser to read the rest of Alan Mason’s feature. On sale now