Miscellaneous Fife Information
Daniel Defoe on Fife
From "A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain" (1726)
Beyond this is the Methuel, a little town, but a very safe and good harbour, firmly built of stone, almost like the Cobb at Lime, though not wholly projecting into the sea, but standing within the land, and built out with two heads, and walls of thick strong stone: It stands a little on the west side of the mouth of the River Leven; the salmon of this river are esteem'd the best in this part of Scotland.
Here my Lord Weemys brings his coal, which he digs above two miles off, on the banks of the River Leven, and here it is sold or shipp'd off; as also what salt he can make, which is not a great deal. Nor is the estate his lordship makes from the said coal-works equal to what it has been, the water having, after an immense charge to throw it off, broken in upon the works, and hinder'd their going on, at least to any considerable advantage. The people who work in the coal mines in this country, what with the dejected countenances of the men, occasion'd by their poverty and hard labour, and what with the colour or discolouring, which comes from the coal, both to their clothes and complexions, are well described by their own countryman Samuel Colvil, in his famous macaronick poem, call'd, Polemo Midinia, thus:
Cole-hewersNigri , Girnantes more Divelli. Pol. Mid.
They are, indeed, frightful fellows at first sight.
NOTICE TO COLLIERS - A Number of colliers are immediately wanted to work at an extensive new fitting on two valuable seams of Coal at Grange Colliery, in the parish of Kilconquhar. Steady Workmen will receive very liberal allowances, and good Houses and Lodgings can be had at the Work. Grange Colliery, 1st June 1836 [Fife Herald 2 June 1836]
NOTICE - Wanted, for Teasses Colliery, from Twenty to Thirty Good Steady Colliers. Those unconnected with Unions will be preferred. Teasses Colliery, February 24, 1838. [Fife Herald 1 March 1838]
COLLIERS AND SINKERS WANTED. Wanted Immediately, at Burnturk Colliery. Twenty Steady Colliers who will Earn good Wages, and receive Regular Employment. Also, Contractors to sink a dry pit, nearly 40 fathoms deep. Apply to Robert Forrester, Manager at the Work. Annfield, 2d October, 1838. [Fife Herald 4 October 1838]
COLLIERS WANTED. Wanted, Eight Steady Men For Kelty Colliery. Liberal Encouragement will be given. None need apply without having a certificate from their former employers. Kelty and Balcormie Collieries, 10th July, 1839. [Fife Herald 11 July 1839]
LAMBERTON COLLIERY TO LET. To be Let, for such a number of years as may be agreed upon, with entry thereto at Whitsunday 1840, THE COAL FIELD situated on the Farm of LAMBERTON, in the parish of Mordington, and county of Berwick, as formerly occupied by Mr John Beveridge. The Colliery has been wrought for some time past, and recently the coal was of good quality. There are a number of Colliers' Houses erected at a suitable distance from the Colliery, the greater part of which tenant can have possession of at Whitsunday next. The Colliery is advantageously situated, being within three miles of the sea-port town of Berwick-upon- Tweed, four of Eyemouth, five of Ayton, and commanding the whole of the populous district to the north and west, there being no other coal work in the county. The Eastern line of the proposed Railway between Newcastle and Edinburgh passes within a few hundred yards of the Colliery. For farther particulars application may be made to John C. Renton, Esq. Lamberton, Berwick-upon-Tweed, the Proprietor; or to George Tait of Langrigg, by Dunse; either of whom offers in writing will received until the 1st day of May next. Langrigg, February 19, 1840. [Fife Herald 12 March 1840]
3 December 1861
Wemyss – The Mining Population - Last week, being in the vicinity of Wemyss, we visited the various coal mines on the estate of the member for the county, James Erskine Wemyss, Esq. We learned some time ago that Mr Wemyss had erected baths in connection with his works for the use of the miners, and were, therefore, anxious to inspect, and, if possible, draw attention to so important a sanitary improvement. It is scarcely necessary that we should attempt anything like a description of works so well known as those of the member for Fifeshire. During several hundred years now they have been in operation. Of late, however, they have acquired a magnitude and importance not dreamed of in earlier times. In that dim antiquity into which we may trace the origin of the mining interest upon this estate, the chiefs of the house, in common with their order, were more devoted to feudal duties than commercial enterprise. We, happily, live in days when the feudal has given place to the commercial spirit, even in our ancient families. Almost all our territorial aristocracy are now more or less intimately identified with commerce. Possessing so important a political influence, it is well that this is so. Placed by their broad acres beyond that absolute dependence upon commercial enterprise which characterises the merchant, their relations thereto are yet sufficiently important to furnish a fair chance of comprehending its interests. The vast public and political advantages this brings with it arc sufficiently obvious to supersede necessity of illustration.
We have seldom seen works more complete in every department than the Wemyss Collieries. We do not now refer to extent, for though employing somewhere about 300 persons, there are larger works in Fife ; we allude to completeness of the arrangements. Sufficiently apart from any town or district where that mechanical skill would be available so often needed by the miner, all the branches of mechanics subsidiary to mining operations are carried on in connection with the works. The saw-mill, the smithy, the turning-room, might each form a topic of interesting description. It is, however, not so much with even the completeness of this important mining field, as the amelioration of the condition of the miner, to which we now desire to direct attention. Probably no class of the population has received less or needs more of our sympathy than the mining class. The hardships and vicissitudes of the soldier's life are themes of admiring solicitude, alike in cottage and in hall. The dangers of the deep are the subjects of many a song and story ; but where is the miner's poet, or the miner's historian? At a time when the Court of Session decided that the moment a negro set foot in our "land of the mountain and the flood," he was free, "colliers and salters" were by its decree kept the thralls or slaves of their masters. When Lord Brougham took credit to that Court for the one fact, he would have done well to have remembered the other. So late as 1842, when Parliament issued a commission to inquire into the results of female labour in the mines of Scotland, there was a collier still living who could state to the commissioners that his father, his grandfather, and himself were slaves ; and that he had wrought for years in a pit in the neighbourhood of Musselburgh, where the majority of the miners were also serfs. This slavery was all the more reprehensible that it was no relic of ancient serfdom, but had originated in comparatively recent decisions of the supreme legal tribunal of Scotland. Even the statute passed in 1701, extolled as the "Scotch Habeas Corpus Act," brought these pariahs no relief. After reciting the precautions against wrongous imprisonment and undue delays in trials, that statute expressly states that in no sense and in no degree are any of its provisions to be understood as extending to "colliers and salters." The gigantic proportions which, during the last quarter of a century, the mining interest has assumed, has naturally enough drawn upon it increasing attention at once from the legislature and journalists. That destruction of life so frequent in the mine, called into existence a tribe of inspectors who, clothed with the authority of Parliament, are now constantly traversing the country Without disputing the worth, in its own way, of this protection, we have more faith in the growing conception of the importance to their own interests of a superior treatment of the miner on the part of our mineral proprietors. We were, therefore, specially gratified to observe that the Laird of Wemyss has neglected no precaution modern experience could suggest to reduce danger to a minimum on his mineral estate. Beyond all that law might be supposed to require, or has more or less distinctly pointed out as indispensable, we observed that Mr Wemyss, with a care that discloses the benevolence of his nature, has done much beyond what law could command to ameliorate the condition of the colliers connected with his works. No one familiar with a mining district has failed to note the extreme discomfort in which the collier has to walk from the pit to his home. From the nature of his labours he is always, when work is over for the day, in a condition demanding very formidable ablutions. However tidy the good wife may have made home, cleaning the husband dirties the house. To obviate this inconvenience - so keenly felt by all good housewives - Mr Wemyss has erected baths near every pithead on his estate - an example of consideration which we hope, ere long, to see followed by all the leading proprietors in Fifeshire. Beside each pit at Wemyss may be seen a long brick erection, divided into some six or eight compartments, clean, and plain fitted up, with all the necessary apparatus for bathing. Hot and cold water are supplied, and a pipe leading up to the ceiling enters a shower-bath over-head - to enjoy the invigorating and bracing influence of which, the bather has only to turn a stop-cock, and instantly the water rushes to the roof and pours its torrent upon him. His ablutions accomplished, the bather subjects his pit clothes to something like the same ordeal he has himself undergone, and having put on a clean and dry suit, emerges from the bath-room and proceeds to the drying-room, where he hangs his dripping attire to get dried for the work of the coming day. This done, he walks home clean and fresh, with the chances of rheumatism - that terror and plague of the miner greatly diminished, and no more likely to mar the industry of his better-half than if he was a clerk instead of a collier. We have said we hoped soon to see the example of Mr Wemyss in this matter universally followed. Our reason for this hope lies in the fact that this sanitary boon to the miner costs comparatively little to the master. A brick edifice can be erected at a trifling outlay, and water, whether cold or hot, can always be had. At Wemyss, the waste steam from the engine of the pits warms the water for the baths, so that beyond the cost of erection and fitting, there is really no outlay, if we except the price of towelling. Not satisfied, however, with giving his workmen superior facilities for cleanliness, Mr Wemyss has set about the erection of a superior class of cottages. The aspect of the ordinary colliery village is usually monotonous in the extreme. The cottages to which we now allude, being somewhat in the antique style, are an innovation upon this monotony. Each cottage consists of the following apartments:- On the ground floor are a room and kitchen, with scullery ; in the attics are two bed-closets. The scullery opens to the back, and thus affords opportunity for the performance of all those domestic duties connected with cooking and cleaning, without putting the house proper in the confusion unavoidable where no such convenience exists. We may mention that all the sleeping apartments have been provided with iron bedsteads by the proprietor, while attached to each cottage is a plot of garden ground for the ' cultivation of potable vegetables. As we looked into these tidy and commodious abodes of industry, an anecdote told by Lord Cockburn in his genial and interesting reminiscences, came back upon us. A discussion had arisen among the heritors of a certain parish about the necessity of better accommodation for the schoolmaster. Nothing more extravagant than a "but and a ben" was proposed, nevertheless a choleric proprietor of that olden time, deeming the proposal too much of a good thing, testily asked, "Do you mean to build palaces for dominies noo?" The old laird's palace for the dominie was but a poor affair, compared with the Laird of Wemyss' cottage for the collier. [Dunfermline Press 3 December 1861]
10 October 1872
Industries of Kirkcaldy and District – Coal Mining - Almost all the rivulets from Fife Ness to Torryburn, in the south-western half of the county, exhibit sections of seams of coal and their concomitant strata. A regular series of coal strata, taking its rise in the neighbourhood of Alloa, skirts the northern shore of the Forth to Largo, and occasionally stretches below the bed of the Forth and to a considerable distance into the interior of the country. It must not, however, be supposed that in this extensive range the continuation and regularity of the strata suffer no interruption ; on the contrary, they are not only subject to very great derangement from various dislocations, but there are also wide spaces in which the coal is either entirely cut off by immense masses of limestone or sandstone, or is so reduced in quality or in the thickness of the seams, as to be unfit for working. Every stratum or seam of coal has some degree of declivity or slope, stretching as far every way as the other strata would accompany it, and running parallel with them to any distance ; for if it sustains any interruption, the concomitant strata generally all suffer the same, and when they have got over such disturbance, they all run regularly again, so that the parallelism of the same range of strata is always preserved. In working coal, however, innumerable interruptions are met with, many of which occasion great trouble and expense, and some of them result in the loss of the mineral altogether. The most frequent of these interruptions is the "slip," or what is improperly called a "dyke" by the miners in Fife and other districts in Scotland. In a slip, the strata are all broken asunder in a transverse direction, and thrown out of their former course, those upon the one side of the breach being slipt up or down a considerable number of feet, perhaps many fathoms, above or below the edges of the same strata upon the other side of it, however, a very obvious advantage to coal mining arises from these slips, as they occasionally throw a strata up towards the surface, and thus bring within the reach of the miner what he could not possibly get at were the strata to keep an uniform and invariable declivity without any interruption.
We have been led into these remarks by an inquiry into the nature and extent of the great body of coal deposited along the northern shore of the Forth, whereat operations have been carried on from the earliest period that coal came into use as fuel in this country. And as our record of the industries of Kirkcaldy and neighbourhood would be incomplete without some account of the coal mining, we now proceed to notice individually five of the collieries in connection with this great body of coal, namely, those at Dunnikier, Dysart, Wemyss, Muiredge, and Methilhill. It may be proper, however, to premise that coal first began to be worked in Fife five hundred and eighty years ago, and that at that period the ladies - and particularly the London ladies - were bitterly opposed to its being used as fuel for domestic purposes, as they believed the smoke to be injurious to their delicate complexions ; and even went the length of refusing to attend parties at houses in which the objectionable fuel had been introduced, and to eat food of any kind that had been cooked on a coal fire. A law was therefore passed by Government prohibiting the burning of coal in the metropolis, and it is said that a least one man was executed under the Act ; but as the new fuel was ultimately found to be so much superior to wood and peat, the popular prejudice against it gradually died out, and about the close of the sixteenth century the use of coal as fuel had become pretty general throughout the United Kingdom. The application, in the early part of last century, of the steam-engine to the purposes of the coal-pit, gave a great impetus to the production of the mineral, and it has since been one of the most valuable agents in promoting the welfare of the country.
DUNNIKIER COLLIERY. - This coal-work is, as its name indicates, on the Dunnikier estate, and the present lessees are Messrs Walter Herd & Son. Coal has been worked on this estate for four or five centuries. In 1836, when one pit was worked, there were about sixty men and women employed ; at the present time there are two pits in" operation, and a third is being sunk. The Isabella Pit, which is forty-seven fathoms in depth, was sunk seven years ago, and it communicates with two workable coal seams, the one twenty-two inches and the other three feet thick. St Clair Pit, which was sunk five years ago, is forty fathoms deep, and the only workable seam is two and a half feet in thickness, in the working of which about a score of men find employment. In the Isabella Pit upwards of sixty hands are employed, whose daily out-put averages about seventy tons, making the total quantity of coal raised from the two pits daily upwards of ninety tons. The third pit is being sunk a short distance to the north of St Clair, and it is expected that coal will be found at a depth of seventy fathoms.
DYSART COLLIERY is on the estate of the Earl of Rosslyn, by whom, as well as by his father, it has been worked during the last five-and-twenty years. Mining operations were begun on this estate about four hundred years ago. In the early part of the present century - about the year 1825 - there was one pit worked, and forty miners were employed, all of whom resided in the village of Boreland. The lessees at that time were Messrs Barclay & Normand. About fifteen years afterwards, an unfortunate accident occurred through the bursting of the boiler at the pit-head, by which two boys lost their lives ; and when operations in the pit were thereafter stopped, two other pits - Orsmills and Balbeggie - were sunk by Messrs Beveridge & Smith, two gentlemen who succeeded the former firm. As these pits were in the course of time worked out, a shaft was sunk contiguous to the railway at Boreland, and it was exhausted about twenty years ago, after which a new seam of coal was found in the Orsmills pit, in which miners worked for a few years. Since the expiry of Messrs Beveridge & Smith's lease, the Earl of Rosslyn has continued to keep the coal in his own hands. The next shaft was sunk on the Wemyss estate, and being worked out about a year ago, a second pit was put down on the same estate by the Earl of Rosslyn. It is called the Randolph Pit, seventy-five fathoms deep, and in which above a hundred men are employed. The second pit at present working is the "Lady Blanche" at Dysart, the workings of which stretch below the bed of the Forth. The number of men and boys employed at both pits is about two hundred, and the daily output averages nearly 300 tons. A second shaft is at present being sunk on the Dysart estate.
WEMYSS COLLIERY. Forty years ago, when four pits were working on the Wemyss estate, there were nearly three hundred and fifty people employed, and the annual estimated produce was 40,000 tons, which was valued at £20,000. At present two pits are worked - one being fifty and the other seventy-five fathoms in depth - and the miners employed number about 200. The average quantity of coal brought to the surface daily is 250 tons, 130 from the Victoria Pit, and 120 from the Lady Pit. The cannel or parrot coal worked at Wemyss is made use of in various articles of a useful and ornamental character such as chairs, tables, beds, picture-frames, inkstands, brooches, &c.
MUIREDGE COLLIERY, on the estate of Wemyss, is worked by Messrs Bowman, Cairns, & Co. There are three pits in operation, and their respective depths is 80, 70, and 32 fathoms. Upwards of 180 hands are employed, and the gross daily output is about 220 tons.
METHILHILL COLLIERY is also on Wemyss estate. The lessee is Mr Binnie. There is one pit working ; it is sixty fathoms deep ; and the estimated daily out-put is 80 tons. The Scotch parrot coals are exceedingly valuable because of the high proportion of gas and oil which they yield ; and the Methilhill variety gives ninety gallons of crude oil, or ten thousand cubic feet of gas, per ton.
The gross annual value of the coal produced at the five collieries in the district, calculated at something less than the present enormous price per ton, is about £140,000, of which Dysart and Wemyss contribute the two largest proportions. There are upwards of 4000 miners in the county, and of these there are in the district of Kirkcaldy 730. The relations between master and servant have been seldom disturbed by strikes or fluctuations in trade ; and it may be said that the miners are superior in every respect to the same class in the west of Scotland. This arises much from the fact that the miners in Fife are almost without exception Scotchmen, whose forefathers have pursued the same avocation in the same locality for generations; while in Lanarkshire and the west of Scotland a great proportion of the miners are Irishmen, who are generally very ignorant and of a remarkable rough type. A century ago the wages paid to miners, who worked from twelve to fourteen holus daily, averaged from 7s to 8s a-week ; but of late years a very marked change has taken place, and the wages now average from 7s to 9s a-day. A considerable improvement will be effected among the mining classes by the application of the Mines Regulation Bill, which was passed during last session, and which will become law in Scotland on the 1st of January 1874. According to this Act, on the application of the teacher, the employer is to pay for the schooling of a boy and deduct the cost out of his wages ; a parent who neglects to send his boy to school is to be liable to a penalty of £20 ; there is to be a prohibition of the payment of wages in public-houses and places of entertainment; certified coal managers are to be appointed, and on the representation of the Secretary of State a public enquiry may be directed into the competency of the manager ; and other provisions are to be enforced for the regulation of mines, and for the safety of the persons employed therein. [Fife Herald 10 October 1872]
27 August 1873
An extraordinary disturbance, arising out of a quarrel between two miners, has occurred in the colliery village of Kingseat, Dunfermline. The whole inhabitants of the village, male and female, are said to have taken part in the fight, and a number of persons were severely wounded with missiles. [Scotsman 27 August 1873]
7 June 1897
New Ventures In Fife - In the mining districts of Kinglassie, Cardenden, and Glencraig the outlook is improving considerably. Some few weeks ago the colliery known as Kinninmont, near Kinglassie, which was started recently by the Fife Central Coal Company, was brought to a standstill, which left the miners and other workmen to shift for themselves. It is now stated with authority that the Company has been reconstituted, and that the colliery is about to be restarted. This would prove of very considerable advantage to the Kinglassie district. At Cardenden the Bowhill Coal Company is vigorously proceeding with the sinking of one of the largest pits in the country. The fittings are of the most modern description. Several seams of coal have been reached, which, it is believed, will secure the success of the new venture. Some of the most valued seams are yet to be reached, but they are at a great depth. For some years the mining industry of Cardenden has been at a low ebb, but when once the new undertaking is developed employment will be given to a far greater number of miners and others than was ever done before. At Glencraig too, the new pits are being rapidly prepared, and several valuable seams have been reached. The pits and fittings are of the best description. Two hundred miners' houses are about to be built, and should the Company be able to find an outlet for the coal the output promises to be large. Glencraig, between Lochgelly and Lochore, will add another to the many coal districts of Fife. [Dundee Courier 7 June 1897]
2 June 1903
Fife Miners Gala Day - Scenes and Incidents - With the Big Trip at Stirling (By a Correspondent.) During a twelvemonth we have many a Trades Union demonstration, but before the annual gala of the miners of Fife, Kinross, and Clackmannan all fall into insignificance. Thirty-four times now the men of the respective Unions have met in an annual excursion organised for the purpose of perpetuating the introduction of the eight hours' day, if this is at all necessary, although I don’t think it is, for the old miner is already very much cognisant of the real benefits of the short shift, and his younger brethren soon learn. There was no holing or blasting in the three counties yesterday. All the pits were down, and in the early dawn of a grey summer morning bands of hardy miners were to be observed in their usual postures (i.e., sitting on their haunches) discussing many and varied subjects, but generally coming round to social problems. The lasses, as befitted their nature, scurried hither- and thither, making ready for the great trip to Stirling, and as train time drew nigh the male sex also seemed touched with a hilarious infection, for when the miner is on pleasure bent he looks for enjoyment with abundance of life in it. Altogether some dozen "specials" made up of "loose boxes'' and corridors alike emptied their living freight at Stirling Station, and from morn till night the business of the auld toon was brisk indeed. In the carriage I travelled several of my companions for the day got set a-talking about the probable number that would be present that day, and after careful working out, one gave it as his opinion that the number would be as great as the membership of the Fife and Kinross Union, or something over 11,000.
The Ubiquitous Humorist was in our midst, although we had not unearthed him ere then, and with calm indifference he remarked, "Ay, but ye've got to consider that some of the Union men are in jail." There was much laughter at the unexpected announcement, but all thought the Gala Day preferable. However, our friend could not have been far out of it with his figures, and at least 10,000 people - miners, their wives, and bairns - patronised the excursion, which was the largest yet held. Important speaking was billed to commence at noon, and almost immediately on my arrival I made my way through dense crowds to Park. On route several bands passed me, and I was at once struck by the stirring and symphonious playing. A round dozen bands were present, and the bandsmen, poor chaps, must have been dry ere evening. At noon Mr Michael Lee the President of the Fife Miners' Board, took the chair, and was supported by Mr Eugene Wason. MP., Mr J. D. Hope. M.P., Mr Robertson, Vice-Chairman, Scottish Miners Federation, Mr John Weir, whom every miner knows, his assistant. Mr Adamson, and Mr Cook, Secretary, Clackmannan miners. I needn't say I was surprised altogether, yet I expected a larger crowd than gathered round the gentlemen mentioned, but it is seldom such an opportunity is given for enjoyment. The miner cares to do it right royally when he is about it. On the face of it, two and a quarter, or two and a half hour's speaking does not seem protracted, but on such a day it was rather tedious, one explanation being that too many spoke. All, however, were earnest, and I was struck with the unanimity of opinion on many knotty points. Several of Mr Cook's doctrines are perhaps just a little socialistic for a number of the men, but they agreed thoroughly with him and Mr Weir that direct labour representation was required. By being late Mr Wason lost this bit, and when, it came to Mr Hope's chance to speak he good humouredly resented being called one of the old stock. The much baited "Joe," of Parliamentary ken, came in for all round and sound criticism, several of Mr Wason's bits being remarkably good. Amongst all the speeches I was particularly taken with that of Mr Adamson. He indulged in nothing but commonplace language, but his matter was excellent, and he was heartily congratulated on his maiden speech. From one o'clock onwards there was a raid on all edibles and drinkables, but Stirling has heard of the miners' Gala Day before, and was fully prepared. The afternoon was entirely given over to merrymaking, and almost every imaginable form of sport was resorted to. Unfortunately the whippets and the game cocks had to be left, at home, but what I wish to convey by sport is athletic sport. The King's Park was like the scene of a huge fair, and the side shows did a roaring trade. Here there was football, there cricket, and in many a quiet knowe coteries were enjoying a hand at "nap," while the great majority were dancing. Many of the more staid did the sights, an example followed by lads and lasses who cared not for the madding crowd. The day passed all too soon, and hours before Old Sol hid his beaming countenance the first of the "specials" was speeding homewards. In the evening the scene in the vicinity of the station was a memorable one. and it could not but be observed that in several instances the heat, - or something stronger - had been overpowering. For my own part I think the "something stronger" was the cause, but there was nothing like a rabble, and all in all the great excursion was well behaved, and Stirling will welcome it back. Happy are the miners of Fife, Kinross, and Clackmannan with their eight hours' shift and their Gala Day. [Evening Telegraph 2 June 1903]
Fife Miners And Their Houses
Marked Preference For But and Ben - Coalowners' Opinion of Conditions. (From Our Own Correspondent.)
The housing conditions of miners have been a subject brought prominently before the Coal Commission in the course of its present sittings.
It is generally agreed that there is a serious shortage of houses in the colliery districts, and many comments have been made on the conditions under which the miners and their families live. With a view to ascertaining the position in Fifeshire, I have made a number of inquiries, and received reports from various colliery companies.
But and Ben popular. It would appear from these that the type of house most popular with miners is the room and kitchen, with rent of not more than 3s 6d per week. I am informed by the Earl of Rosslyn's Collieries, Ltd., that they seldom have request for a house with more than three rooms. For the last few months they have experienced a great demand for houses, and they state that they intend immediately to start building houses of the cottage type.
The Fife Coal Company, Ltd., declare that the most popular type of house with the miners is the room and kitchen, with scullery, coalhouse, &c., in the case of small families, and in the case of large families, or where it is desired to keep lodgers, then the two rooms and kitchen, with modern sanitary arrangements, preferred. The Company say there does not appear to be much demand for larger houses, though they admit that the larger houses built by them have always been occupied. They agree as to the shortage of houses at the present moment, and state that many of the existing ones are occupied by soldiers widows and invalided soldiers.
No Demand for Baths. The bathing question was considered by the Company several years ago, and an offer was made to supply baths at the Aitken, Kelty, if the men would subscribe a penny per man per week. A vote was taken, but only 200 out of 12,000 employees are stated to have favoured the proposal.
With regard to the Wemyss Coal Company, Ltd., the type of house most popular with the men is that of two and three apartments, with scullery and wash-house. They are particular about having large rooms, so that they can get two beds in each. The kitchen particularly appears to be very unpopular when it can hold one bed only, for the information asserts that men like to sleep in room with a fire it.
A newly-married couple, I am told, will not take a house of more than two apartments, and in the three-apartment house, even where there is a small family of children, it is declared that one room is often set aside as a "best" and very rarely occupied.
Wemyss Company's Experiment. - The Company have built 215 new houses and rebuilt 61 old ones, but there is still a great shortage, and I am told that young and married couples in a number of cases are living in rooms within their parents houses owing to the lack of accommodation. This Company, like the others, assert that their workmen's houses will bear comparison with any dwellings, whether tenanted by miners or other classes of workmen. The Company have 17 single-apartment houses, 693 double, and 624 of three apartments and over, and they state that 2185 persons of the 5400 they employ are provided with houses by the Company.
An experiment was made in miners’ baths in 1914 when a bath-house was fitted up at the Wellesley Colliery, but only 220 used the baths, which were quite free of charge. The war, however, seems to have inculcated greater desire for cleanliness on the part of the miner, and I am told that there has been a greater demand on the baths in recent months and the facilities being much appreciated by many of the returned soldiers.
No Demand for Gardens. - It appears that the miners employed by the Lochgelly Iron and Coal Company are not keen gardeners. The demand for gardens is small, and it is stated that in many cases where these have been supplied they have not been cultivated. It is said the average miner has desire to occupy a house of more than two apartments.
Many years ago several houses of kitchen, parlour, three bedrooms, and pantry were built the Company, but it is said they were not favoured by their occupants. It was found that some tenants of these houses used only part and sub-let the remainder, or turned it into a shop or for other purposes.
The Company says it was proposed some years ago to build houses giving similar accommodation after the type of the most recently constructed miners’ houses in England, but the proposal was abandoned after inquiry owing to the desire of the workers for two-rooms-and-scullery houses.
Results of the War. The cost the proposed houses would not have been greatly in excess of the house with few rooms, as although there are more apartments these are smaller in size. As to the shortage of houses the company assert that private building enterprise has done comparatively little to maintain the supply modern houses in colliery districts. In the last 18 years the company has built over 400 houses, some with three rooms, but mostly with two rooms and scullery, but houses are scarce, partly owing to a number of them being occupied by dependents of soldiers and partly because the war has stopped the building of houses. The older houses belonging to the company have been altered and improved.
About 42 per cent of the workmen employed live in houses belonging to or leased by the company, and 58 per cent in houses belonging to themselves or to independent proprietors.
Low Rents of Colliery Houses. One reason given why houses have not been built more extensively by private builders is that the rents charged by the colliery owners have been so low that they have afforded little or no return on the money expended.
It is stated that few old houses reminiscent of the early mining days of Fife still remain. Many have been converted and improved to meet modern requirements. It is freely admitted that the houses should contain apartments to enable the occupiers to live in decency and comfort, but domestic customs are difficult to change, and the houses have been designed to meet the desires of the workmen.
All houses built for many years are well and substantially built, with large apartments and provided with damp-proof foundations and walls and modern sanitary fittings.
Colliery Houses Compare Favourably With Others. – Townhill Colliery Company say:- There is no demand for houses larger than three apartments, with scullery and conveniences. Houses of this size built before the war were quickly taken up, and the building of similar houses would have been continued had it been possible to do so during the past four years. The houses were built in blocks of four, the idea being to do away with the "row." There is undoubtedly a scarcity of houses at present, and this has been made much worse than it would have been owing to various coal companies not being able to carry out their usual building programme during the war.
Except in the older mining villages in Fife, where there .are some very old houses, the general condition of the miners' houses will bear favourable comparison with what exists in any other mining district, and also with the houses provided for workmen engaged in other industries in the country. The bathing question at collieries has not been taken up seriously the workmen employed the mines in the country. [Dundee Courier 23 May 1919]
Electric Lighting For West Fife Miners’ Houses
Considerable difficulty has been experienced for some time back in connection with the lighting of miners houses in mining villages of West Fife, where the only available means has been paraffin oil.
The result of arrangements between the employees in Hill of Beath and Lumphinnans and the Fife Coal Company is that the houses in these villages are to be lit with electricity supplied the Fife Coal Company at a charge of 1s per house per week.
Satisfaction is being expressed at the result of the negotiations, and it expected that the system will be adopted in other mining communities. [Dundee Courier 12 January 1920]
25 April 1925
Sixty Years In the Pits – Mr John Halley, who was one of the oldest Scottish miners, has died at Kirkland, Leven, at the age of 94 years. He was a native of Kennoway, and worked in the Fife pits for sixty years, chiefly in the Methil district. Deceased had great immunity from accident, and enjoyed exceptionally good health. He was well known in Methil, where he resided for many years, but latterly he returned to Bonnybank, his native village. On the death of his wife two years ago he began to fail, and returned to reside with his grandchildren at Kirkland. In addition to 26 grandchildren, Mr Halley is survived by six great grandchildren. [Dunfermline Journal 25 April 1925]