Lochgelly – Its Rise and Progress
Series of newspaper articles published in Fife Herald in 1871
Lochgelly – Its Rise and Progress – Early History of the Mining
The rapid advances which mechanical science has made during the current century have greatly equalised the value of property, and thereby enriched many hitherto obscure and unimportant districts, giving to towns and villages a wealth and consequence that no prescience could have foreseen. Nor have these great advances been confined to material progress alone; they have also been distinguished more or less by social improvement. Take, for example, the damask and linen manufactures. As their immense weaving power developed itself, the attendant labour question, in its several physical bearings, was made a subject for thought and discussion, and, ultimately, for legislative operation. The same process, though not perhaps to the same extent, marked the progress of agriculture, until the evils of the " bothy system" were effectually brought to light; and, from time to time, mighty improvements took place in mining and engineering, since which the moral and physical condition of the miners has been greatly ameliorated, and within the past twelvemonth, their period of daily labour has been reduced from twelve hours to eight hours per day. Look, in short, where we will, we now find the question of labour starting up before us - not as it once was, in its material aspect of production alone, but in its true relation to the well-being of the employed. In regarding the more prominent advances which led to the present condition of this country, the improved means of working the produce in mines and collieries, and the salutary effects that have accrued, stand forth in a striking manner.
We purpose, in beginning a short series of papers in connection with Lochgelly and district, to devote the following sketch to Mining: its early history and progress.
It is supposed to be rather more than six centuries ago since coal first began to be used in Britain as fuel. Not until half a century later, however, is our knowledge authentic on the subject. During the reign of Baliol - mayhap in the year 1291 - we had coal mentioned in the Chartulary of the Abbey of Dunfermline, and also about the same period we read of William de Oberwill, then proprietor of Pittencrieff, granting liberty to the abbot and convent of Dunfermline for working a coal-pit on his lands, which were reputed, by some ingenious mineralogists in the neighbourhood, to contain a "black stone called coal." But considerably more than three centuries elapsed ere coal got into general use in Scotland, for prior to that time wood or peat continued to be regarded as the staple fuel. In the beginning of the sixteenth century, when it seems to have been gaining favour among the housewives in the Lowlands, we find Boethius taking special notice of the "black stone" found in Fife ; and later still, in an Italian work published in 1588 at Antwerp - where our own county, in that age of Shakespeare and Bacon, appears to have been commanding particular attention - there is reference made to the fact that in Fife "there is dug a great deal of black stone, and from tho odour that exhales from it, the people live shorter and less healthy." Towards the middle of the seventeenth century, coal had found its way into well-nigh every hearth in the country, and, from that period, it has been almost the only fuel used in Scotland. Coal-pits were sunk successively as the ages advanced, and the Scotch coal-fields, extending from Fife to Ayrshire at an average breadth of about thirty miles, are now literally riddled with coal-shafts.
But it is within the present century that the great demand has been made upon our coalfields, and that those remarkable changes at Lochgelly, common more or less to other mining vicinities, have taken place. Before the application of the steam-engine to the purposes of the mine, there was only one coal-pit at Lochgelly, and then the miner could only avail himself of little more than the mere outcrop - that is, that portion of the seam which approaches the surface. As was customary in those times, the pit was sunk - near to where the railway station now stands - in a slanting direction, and not descending by a perpendicular shaft as is now done. The coals were brought to the pit-head in baskets by women - "bearers," as they were styled - who, being robust and muscular, were wonderfully well lifted for their calling. To facilitate their work, they habited themselves in what in miner parlance was termed a "sod," which was a soft pad tied round their body to enable them to bear off the weight of the heavy baskets, whilst a "head brat," made of strong material, and reaching to their shoulders, prevented them from being molested by any rubble or coaldross ; and in this way, panting and out of breath, they would sometimes carry, up winding stairs from twelve to eighteen fathoms in depth, enormous burthens of coal. A stout woman carried in general from one to two hundredweight, and, in a trial of strength, three hundredweight imperial. It has been remarked to us, by one who did his part in mining operations fifty years since, that these women were of strong constitution - as, indeed, their occupation necessitated - and that those of them who had long and steady practice in the pit could, as a rule, bear away three hundredweight of coal with greater ease than even the colliers themselves. Down to 1843, women were also employed underground for drawing the coal to the bottom of the shaft, from which it was raised to the surface by horse or steam power, and on this account they took the name of "putters." But an Act passed the Legislature in August 1842 prohibiting the employment of females in collieries, and it became law in March of the following year. The colliery at Lochgelly continued for many years to be worked on a very limited scale, and in 1804 the total number of workmen was only 13. Remuneration was at one time equally limited, the ordinary mining wage being on an average 2s per week, whilst that of the grieve was 5s, with a perquisite of two acres of land, the best part of which was usually kept in lea for the accommodation of a cow. A decided increase on the wages had, however, taken place at the commencement of the current century, and, as will be seen by the following rather curious abstract from the Lochgelly account book of 1804, the selling price of the coal had also risen considerably. The abstract gives a week's output - from the 19th to the 26th February - and we have, first the miners' names, then the number of loads (21 stone Dutch) put out by each, then the masters' selling price, and then the wages - called "hacky money" - paid to the miners :
|Hewers' Names||Loads |
|Sale Price |
8 1/2d and 4d
|Hacky Money |
3 1/2d and 2d
|Henry Baxter||50||6 ||£1 17 5 ||£0 15 7|
|Charles Baxter||30||_ ||£1 1 3 ||£0 8 9|
|Hannah Hodge||64||_||£2 5 4||£0 18 8|
|James Hunter||60||_||£2 2 6||£0 17 6|
|George Erskine||53||46 1/2 ||£2 13 0 1/2||£1 3 2 1/2|
|Robert Chisholm||_||_ ||_||_|
| Oncost for the week||£2 14 6|
|£9 19 6 1/2||£6 18 2 1/2|
Hitherto, as we have said, the workings of the colliery were prosecuted but to a limited extent, and the workmen and "bearers" employed were few. About 1816, however, the excavations began to extend materially, and a manager was appointed to take the general superintendence of the work. Six years later - in 1822 - the Earl of Minto (who was the proprietor) leased, for the first time, the colliery to Chisholm & Brown, by whom it was carried on for several years with some amount of success. In the following year (1823, when the third coal-pit was sunk) a condensing steam-engine, fitted up by Mr Scott, Inverkeithing, was at length applied to the purposes of the mine, and it soon set aside the gin and all other rude and imperfect appliances. No day level was then resorted to, and the water was brought to the surface whether the shaft was thirty or a hundred fathoms. Messrs Chisholm & Brown, from too heavy an expenditure or some other unlucky cause, became bankrupt about 1826-27, and the coal at the pit-bank was, to satisfy their creditors, sold by public roup at Lochgelly. The works, after being in the hands of the Earl of Minto for some time, were afterwards leased to one Nichol Thomson, who held them till 1831, when the lease again changed hands, and Mr John Henderson became tenant. Under his direction the colliery made great progress, and in I836 the employees numbered 51, being 12 women and 39 men, of whom seven were employed above and thirty-two underground. The output weekly was 1300 loads, of which 400 were chew coal, which sold at 8d per load, and 900 great coal, which sold at 11d per ditto. The quantity exported - chiefly from the port at Kirkcaldy, whither the coal was conveyed in carts - was 300 loads per week. Mr Henderson took Messrs Granger, Kinnaird, and Russell into partnership in 1846, after which the works were conducted on an extensive scale ; and in the next year two blast furnaces were built, which were followed, nine years after, by the erection of other two. The partnership thereafter assumed the name of "The Lochgelly Iron Company;" who have now continued, with becoming energy and spirit, to conduct the works for the last quarter of a century, during which time they have not only yielded large profits to themselves, but given employment to hundreds of workmen.
Previous to 1840, the principal coal-works in the district of Lochgelly - namely, Lumphinnans and Dundonald - were very small. Mining operations were begun at Lumphinnans about 1826, but, until little more than thirty years ago, no palpable change took place in the extent or workings of the colliery. 23 workmen were employed in 1839, and over 500 loads were the weekly output. Two blast furnaces in connection with the works were built in 1853. Dundonald coal-work, which belonged to R. W. Ramsay, began gradually to extend its excavations about 1830, when there were 7 colliers employed, and the weekly output was 133 loads the selling price of each load being 8d.
We have thus sketched - hastily enough, it may be - the early history and progress of mining at Lochgelly; and the unproved condition of the miners now, contrasted with their condition seventy years since, must be obvious to everyone. The time, indeed, is not so very remote when, by Acts of the Scottish Legislature, the miners in the county of Fife were held as mere serfs by their masters, and when they were little else than grovelling slaves who were transferable with the collieries. Happily, that time has passed away, and the miners have now an equally fair status with other sections of the working classes, although it was not until within the close of the last century that the emancipation of the subterranean workmen was complete. There is yet room for improvement, but many circumstances are now assisting onward mining reform, and the fact that the men themselves are sufficiently aware of their position, tells, as precisely as a dial announces the hour, that, what they need has taken shape, and will have progress.
The present development of the mining will next claim our attention. [Fife Herald 26 October 1871]
Lochgelly – Its Rise and Progress – Present Development of the Mining.
Till within the last sixty years, the coal-pits at Lochgelly, as in many other mining localities in Scotland, were sunk in an inclined direction, the coal being hewn and brought to the surface by manual labour, and without the aid of horse or steam power. The coal-pits have in this century undergone so great a change, both in their formation and mode of working, that, coupled with the extensive railway communication which the locality possesses, we are left in astonishment as to how trade was carried on by our ancestors. The application of steam has overcome many obstacles in the pursuit of mining, and has afforded since then many facilities to those who labour underground, so that now, when its great power is thoroughly developed, operations in the produce of coal are prosecuted to an extent that was never approached in former years. Seven pits are at present wrought by the Lochgelly Iron Company, although several others have been sunk, some of which are exhausted, while others have only been abandoned. The total number of workmen employed thereat is about 390 (besides above eighty who are engaged at the furnaces), and the aggregate daily output of coal and ironstone is near 470 tons. At Lumphinnans, Dundonald, Lochore, Milton, and Crosshill collieries, there are 390 men employed, and the total daily output of coal is 330 tons. These are large outputs compared with those of forty years ago, when the quantity of coal produced at Lochgelly was only about 18 tons weekly, and the output of the different coal-works in the district did not, perhaps, amount to a dozen tons, still they are not so large, we think, as would lead our readers to imagine that the Fifeshire coal-field, somewhat more than 200 square miles in extent, will be "played out" in little more than a century hence. Assuming that 4000 feet, or about 670 fathoms, is the lowest depths at which miners can work, there is, according to official statistics, the enormous quantity of 1,095,402,895 tons of coal in Fife, and yet Professor Jevons, in a work "On the Coal Question," published six years ago, anticipates that our vast deposits of available coal will be exhausted in a hundred and ten years.
Of the seven pits at present in operation belonging to the Lochgelly Iron Company, three contains coal and four ironstone. The coal seams vary in thickness, and some of them are extremely valuable. In Foulford (No. 2) Pit, which is 75 fathoms in depth, there are four workable coal seams, viz., splint, five feet thick; minaire, four and a-half feet; parrot, three and a-half feet; and splint, four and a-half feet. Seventy men are employed underground, whose wages average from 4s 6d to 5s 6d per day, and 150 tons of coal are the daily output. There are two winding engines - one of 20 and the other of 16 horse-power - for drawing the coal to the pithead, and a pumping engine of 60 horse-power for draining the mine, with pumps of fifteen and thirteen inches diameter. The Mary (No. 21) Pit, having been sunk only last year, is yet comparatively small, but when the workings are fully opened up it will be very extensive, and a large number of workmen will be employed. There are 10 miners engaged underground, the depth of the shaft being 29 fathoms, and two seams - splint and parrot, the thickness of the former being four feet four inches, and the latter three feet six inches - are worked in different sections. The daily output is 25 tons - 12 of which are great coal, 8 small, and 5 parrot - and the coal is brought to the pithead by a high pressure engine of 20 horse-power. A "special steam pump" is used for the water. This pump, which is double-acting, has no working parts exposed, and it raises the water to the surface with considerable force, the steam being carried down the shaft. The pit is situated on the south side of the railway between Lumphinnans and Lochgelly, and has above ground a substantial brick erection, which is a decided improvement upon the wooden structures that are in general use throughout the West of Fife. The Eliza Pit is the most extensive in the district. It is 100 fathoms in depth, and communicates with two workable seams of parrot and splint coal, three feet and three feet six inches thick respectively. The pumping engine is 100 horse-power, with pumps of sixteen and thirteen inches diameter ; and the winding engine, which is 40 horse-power, draws about 230 tons of coal to the pithead daily. 170 miners are employed, and their wages average from 4s 3d to 5s 6d per day. Almost all the coal partakes more or less of the caking quality of the Newcastle coal, and when ignited it burns with great heat and durability, which renders it exceedingly economical for household purposes. The parrot coal, which burns with a bright name, is used in the manufacture of gas, and brings a much higher price than any other species of coal. Ironstone also abounds in the neighbourhood - it is of excellent quality, being suited for the manufacture of every useful article, and is found in four different pits. The Mine (No. 17), which employs 7 men above and 15 underground, is 100 fathoms m depth, and the ironstone is worked in a fourteen-inch seam. There is a combined winding and pumping engine at the pithead, the diameter of the pumps being seven inches, and the daily output is 20 tons, the average wages of the workmen being 4s 6d per day. Operations in The Minto (No. 18) Pit, which is 12 fathoms in depth, were resumed a week or two since, after being suspended for several years. A winding engine of 12 horsepower is attached to the pit. No. 16 Pit, at which there is a combined winding and pumping engine of 8 horse-power, is 18 fathoms in depth, and the only workable seam of ironstone is twenty inches in thickness. 39 workmen are employed underground, and 40 tons are the daily output. The Foulford Pit, from which a great quantity of ironstone has been produced for a series of years past, is now nearly exhausted, and 7 men are employed. The winding engine is 20 horse-power, and the pumping engine 30, the diameter of the pumps being thirteen inches.
As we have stated in our previous paper on this subject, there are four furnaces, built of the best fire-brick, in connection with the Lochgelly ironstone pits, but only two of them are at present in blast. 82 men are employed, and there are two blast engines of 80 and 90 horse-power, the quantity of pig iron cast daily being from 36 to 42 tons. For the past three years a locomotive has been engaged for the speedy conveyance of the iron ore and pig iron. An oil work has been established here since 1865, and six men and two boys find employment in the manufacture of crude oil. There are also a brickwork (with an engine of 8 horse-power), a mechanics' workshop (with an engine of 14 horse-power), and a saw-mill adjoining the iron works.
When the employees of the Iron Company are so numerous as we have shown, and considering that they must all be residing in the immediate neighbourhood of the various mines, it was deemed highly imperative, many years ago, that houses should be built by the Company for their accommodation. In addition to an excellent school, which will be noticed in a subsequent article, we accordingly find that the following houses have been erected (those at Cooperhall and Launcherhead though belonging to the Company, having been built by Lord Minto before the colliery was leased by him) : -
At Lochgelly there are 4 single and 7 double houses
The Moor - 31 single and 75 double houses
Stationhead - 11 single and 6 double houses
Launcherhead - 7 single and 2 double houses
Cooperhall, - 4 single and 2 double houses
Grainger's Square - 32 single and 13 double houses
Cowdenbeath - _single and 19 double houses
Total 89 single and 124 double houses
For the use of these the workmen are charged - for a single house, 1s 3d fortnightly, and for a double house, 2s 6d fortnightly. They also pay (married men) 7d fortnightly, and (unmarried men) 4d fortnightly, for school fees and medical attendance, the M.D. engaged by the Company being Dr Nelson.
Coincident with the progress made by the Lochgelly Iron Company for the past twenty years, the collieries in the district of Lochgelly have reached a high state of extension. At Lumphinnans, which is the largest coal work in the district, there are two pits at present in operation, in each of which there are eight workable coal seams, and the number of workmen employed below ground is 110, besides about 50 surface workers, including blacksmiths, joiners, and other tradesmen. The winding engine of No. 1 Pit, which is 110 fathoms in depth, is 84 horse-power, and the pit is drained by a massive pumping engine of 400 nominal horsepower, with an eleven-inch stroke, and pumps of sixteen inches diameter. No. 7 Pit is 75 1/2 fathoms in depth, and the winding engine is also 84 horsepower. The daily output of both pits is 150 tons. There are two furnaces in blast at Lumphinnans, the output of pig-iron per twenty-four hours being 20 tons, and the blast engine is 200 nominal horsepower. The Company have erected 44 double and 36 single dwelling-houses for the use of their workmen. A school in connection with the works was also built by the Earl of Zetland seven years ago, and it is conducted by a certificated teacher and two pupil teachers. Dr Mungall is the medical attendant employed by the Company. Dundonald coal-work is situated about two miles east of Lochgelly. Two pits are in operation, and there is a seam of coal in each pit - viz., the glassee and five-feet splint - of which 80 tons are brought to the pithead daily. 60 miners are employed underground, whose wages average about 4s per day, and the surface workers, including enginemen, &c., number 17. There are 5 double and 36 single dwelling-houses for the accommodation of the workmen, who pay 1s 6d fortnightly for coal, and 4d fortnightly for medical attendance, no rent being charged for the houses. Mining operations were begun at Lochore in 1867, and since then two shafts have been sunk, the depth of the one being 25 fathoms, and the depth of the other 47. Two seams of parrot coal are wrought - one being from two to two and a-half feet thick, and the other from twelve to fourteen inches, but of very superior quality. Below the latter seam, in which a third mine is being driven, there is (about fourteen feet down) a seam of ironstone from four and a-half to five feet thick. The daily output is 40 tons of gas coal, and 14 tons of ironstone. 17 labourers and above 100 miners are employed, and their wages per day average from 5s to 6s 6d. Crude oil is also manufactured at Lochore. The want of dwelling-house accommodation has long been felt here, but this is being remedied by the erection of 13 new houses, in addition to 13 already built. Messrs Symington have also a lease of 16 houses on the estate of Glencraig, and several other houses in the neighbourhood, which are occupied by their workmen. The coal is conveyed by a tramway to Kelty Station; but a movement is presently afoot for the purpose of extending the West of Fife Mineral Railway, which at present terminates there, eastward to Lochore, Crosshill, and Milton collieries. Should such an extension - which is a much-felt desideratum - be carried out, it will not only add materially to the mining traffic of the county, but will have the effect of developing an important portion of the Fifeshire coal-field, thereby enabling the coal-owners (whose energies must, to a certain extent, be cramped by the present system of conveyance) to extend their operations and employ a greater number of workmen. Crosshill coalwork was commenced in 1865, and there are 15 miners employed, who produce, from a seam of parrot, about 18 tons of coal daily. The Milton colliery, which is in close juxtaposition to that of Crosshill was begun two years ago, and its daily output is now 25 tons. 20 workmen are engaged, and there is a seam of parrot coal two and a-half feet in thickness, the depth of the pit being 12 fathoms, with a dook of 25 fathoms, extending, in a slanting direction, from near the bottom of the shaft. The engine is 15 horse-power, the diameter of the pumps being seven and a-half inches, and the water in the dook is brought to the pit bottom by a bucket, which is wrought by a wire-rope attached to the bell-crank at the pithead, and when the pit pump is going down stroke the dook pump is thus going up stroke alternately. The coal is of excellent quality, and yields fully 12,000 feet of gas from every ton, of which the illuminating power is equal to 33 standard sperm candles for every five cubic feet burned during the hour.
It may be added that the great body of the miners in the district of Lochgelly live frugally, and are in comfortable circumstances. The Lochgelly Iron Company's. Sick and Funeral Society was established in 1852, and it now numbers 342 members; a similar society was formed in connection with Lumphinnans Iron Works in 1859, and it now numbers 50 members; and there are other benevolent societies in Lochgelly with which many of the workmen in the surrounding collieries are connected. At present, the wages in the district average from 4s to 6s 6d per day, and though from time to time agitations have been raised for increased remuneration, strikes are comparatively few - the last one, which was general throughout the county, having taken place in 1852 - and an amicable compromise between managers and men is in most cases effected without great difficulty.
Of the various collieries which we have thus noticed, it will be found that there are sixteen engines, varying from 8 to 100 horse-power, employed for the purposes of the Lochgelly coal and iron works, their total strength being 542 horsepower. Four engines, from 84 to 400 horse-power, are in use at the Lumphinnans furnaces and pits, and their combined horse-power is 768. Adding these two totals together, we have an aggregate of 1310 horse-power, or (assuming, according to James Watt, the celebrated engineer, that five and a-half men are proportionate to a horse) a strength equal to 7205 men. What a concentration of power! The uses of steam are so endless that we dare not attempt a summation of them ; we "put a hook in the nose of the leviathan, play with him as with a child, and take him for a servant for ever " [Fife Herald 2 November 1871]
Lochgelly – Its Rise and Progress – The Common, The Gipsies, and the Elliot FamilySeventy years ago, when Lochgelly was only a few thatched houses, the interior of Fife was intersected by wild tracts of moorland, extending, in some parts, for miles, and overgrown with luxuriant heather and whins. "The general term for such seeming wastes," says the Rev. Wm. Blair, of Dunblane (we quote from memory), "was the Common, and the Common Law recognised four kinds of prescriptive right - namely fueling, turfing, fishing, and pasture. The village had its Common annexe to it [illeg] feuar had his share in the use thereof." The Common varied in extent. When of small dimensions, it got no higher name than that of the Green, and, when patches of it served the purposes of grazing and turfing, it was called the Moor or Muir (which orthography it latterly took), and hence the number of places in "the kingdom" which assume the secondary appellation of Muir. There are many villages and hamlets which bear this distinction, such as Dairsic Muir, Carnock. Muir, Cupar-Muir, Cameron Muir, Magus Muir (where Archbishop Sharp was assassinated), Patiemuir, Beath Muir, and several other places. These extensive belts of moorland are now, for the most part, cultivated ; and the ground which erst was overrun with rank heath and broom is now covered with crops and plantations, not to speak of numerous dwelling houses.
Lochgelly Muir was of great extent, and in the memory of people now living the whole tract of country from beyond Cowdenbeath to Lochgelly was one vast prairie of heather and whins, which was all but impassable to those who attempted to make their way through it during the summer months. Nor did sound of any kind disturb the ear, save the hoo-poe of the curlew, or whaup, as it is called, and the shrill cry of the lapwing, or pease weep, as it flew wheeling round and round. The Muir was, till within fifty years ago, intimately associated with a colony of gipsies who were long established here.
" A plundering race, still eager to invade,
On spoil they lived, and made of theft a trade."
Their wayside encampments; the blazing fire, with pot suspended over it; the panniered ass, and tho little dark-eyed, tawny-faced children slung in the baskets; the sunburnt swarthy men and equally swarthy women, lounging lazily under their canvas shade - these, and other gipsy reminiscences, are still vividly retained in the memory of the "oldest inhabitants." The lines in Dr Leyden's "Scenes of Infancy," descriptive of a colony of gipsies, apply equally well to Lochgelly : -
“From Nubia’s realms their tawny line they bring,
And their brown chieftain vaunts the name of the king:
With loitering steps, from town to town they pass,
Their lay James rock’d on the pannier’d ass,
From pilfer’d roots or nauseous carrion fed,
By hedge-rows green they strew the leafy bed,
While scarce the cloak of tawdry red conceals
The fine turn’d limbs through every breeze reveals;
Their bright black eyes through silken lashes shine.
Around their necks their raven tresses twine,
But chilling damps and dews of night impair
Its soft sleek gloss and tan the bosom bare
Adroit the lines of palmistry to trace,
Or read the damsel’s wishes in her face,
Her hoarded silver they charm away –
A pleasing debt for promised wealth to pay.”
There was for many years a distinct communication kept up between Patiemuir and Lochgelly, the gipsies having what they termed a palace at the former village, where their chiefs - whose reign was for life - were installed and crowned, and at the election of whom deputations of the race were present from every part of Scotland. It is said that Will Faa, who was famous in his day as a fiddler, a smuggler, and a swordsman, and who, subsequent to the time of which we write, sat on the gipsy throne, was present on one of these occasions, and that in the course of an erratic tour through this part of the county he visited Lochgelly, and, in consort with several others of his tribe, bivouacked here for some time. At many a farmstead was Will's sojourn felt, and the depredations he committed in the district were such that no one wished to see a return of his visit. Of Will's prowess (he was, by the bye, of ancient descent, having traced his lineage to Pharoah's daughter, whom Solomon married !) many astounding stories have been told; and one night in autumn, when engaged in smuggling gin, he was suddenly assailed by a possee of gaugers with their cutlasses. Armed with a stout hazel cudgel - Will's favourite weapon - he boldly defended himself against desperate odds, and dealt fearful blows on all sides, laying several of his antagonists insensible on the ground. He would probably have been the victor had he not, in the heat of the fight received a severe wound on the right wrist. When he felt the stroke, he instantly dropt his cudgel, which was almost wholly cut to pieces, exclaiming, "Ye hae spoilt the best bow-hand in a' Scotland," in allusion to his skill on the violin. Ever afterwards, till his athletic frame was bent with age, Will's life was spent in a more honest and peaceful calling.
The character of the Lochgelly gipsies, like that of all other gipsies and nomadic tribes, was not immaculate, albeit kidnapping of which they were blameless was sometimes imputed to them. Without, however, much conjecture, it was perhaps someone or other of them who carried off Adam Smith, when a child, from the door of Strathendry Castle. Their settlement generally was at the top or south side of Lochgelly, and one or two old people, who were in their young days then, can still remember how timidly they approached their humble tents, and how glad they felt when they had passed in safety; for, certes, their traditionary character was not well fitted to induce confidence in their tender mercies. Addison represents his Sir Roger de Coverly as saying of such vagrants, "If a stray piece of linen hangs upon a hedge, they are sure to have it; if a hog loses his way in the fields ten to one but he becomes their prey ; and if a man persecutes them with severity, his hen-roost is sure to pay for it." This, no doubt, was also true of the tribe at Lochgelly, though one redeeming feature of their character was that few, if any, thefts were committed by them in the immediate vicinity, while they exercised, to the chagrin of many, the full scope of their assumed liberties in the more distant parts of the district. Extensive plunders they often made, and for one of these robberies Charlie Graham, a tinker, was seized upon and hanged at Perth. Not only by his tribe, but by the people generally, Charlie was held in estimation ; his character was superior to most of his race, and this, coupled with a certain reserve in his manner, commanded respect. After committing the theft, and knowing that a picket of soldiers were in pursuit of him, Charlie, with his favourite dog, took flight-to the north, and had managed to elude observation till, in the neighbourhood of the "Fair City," he found that the soldiers were on his track. Escaping for "dear life," he reached Kinnoul Hill, then a wild upland, and, with characteristic stratagem, had surreptitiously ensconced himself among a thicket of whins and bushes, when an incident of touching pathos occurred. His faithful dog, whose fidelity had overcome its sagacity, sprang forward in a clamour of threats on hearing the footsteps of the soldiers, and, spite of the earnest solicitations of its master, was thus the unwitting means of his whereabouts being made known, he was thereupon apprehended and conveyed to Perth where he was afterwards committed to the gallows. And thus ended the tragic life of Charlie Graham! "Aye, aye," was the remark of the old woman, in summing up, at the winter fieside, the story of his life-" aye, aye she said, " Charlie Graham wus a canny, weel-faur’d chiel ; he wus a fine obleegin' neebor, an' wadna meddle wi' ony body, no even a hair o' their head."
It is many years since the last of the gipsies were seen at Lochgelly. Few of them, indeed, are now to be found in Scotland. They are being absorbed in the population. The education of their children with the prohibition of encamping, have done much to break down the walls of their isolation. The influx, too, of the low Irish, who have driven them from their accustomed rounds as hawkers, has also contributed to the same result. But we shall have done with the gipsies.
The only place about Lochgelly deserving notice in the antiquarian line is Lochgelly House, presently the residence of Captain Elliot, R.N., and in propinquity thereto the ruins of Sir Gilbert Elliot's mansion, which stood near to the fine sheet of water known as "the loch" (from which Lochgelly derives its name), and at an elevation of near 600 feet above the level of the sea. Sir Gilbert, who was born about the middle of the seventeenth century, was ancestor of the Earl of Minto. The third Gilbert, who was at one time a candidate for the Speaker's chair, spent his earlier years in France, where he learned to play the German flute, the first of which he is said to have introduced into Scotland about the year 1725. He possessed considerable poetic abilities, and was author of what Sir Walter Scott calls the "beautiful pastoral song" beginning –
"My sheep I neglected I broke my sheephook,
And all the gay haunts of my youth I forsook;
No more for Amyanta fresh garlands I wove
For ambition, I said, would soon cure me of love."
Miss Jane Elliot, the fourth daughter of Sir Gilbert, was authoress of that fine old version of the "Flowers o' the Forest," written on the desolations which followed the battle of Flodden: -
"I've heard the liltin' at oor ewe-milkin',
Lasses a-liltin' afore the dawn o’ day ,
But noo they are moanin’, on ilka green loanin'-
The flowers o' the forest are a' wede away."
For minute observation of rural character and manners, this version holds a prominent place in ballad literature. The following lines are replete with artless beauty : -
"At buchts i' the mornin', nae blithe lads are scornin'
The lasses are lonely, an' dowie, an' wae,
Nae daffin', nae gabbin', but sichin' an' sabbin'
Ilk ane lifts her leglin and hies her away."
The first Earl of Minto was son of the third Sir Gilbert, having been born in 1751. Besides holding many important offices under Government, he was Governor-General of India from 1807 to 1813, and on his returning to England in the following year he received the thanks of Parliament. He died on the 21st June 1814. [Fife Herald - Thursday 16 November 1871]
Lochgelly – Its Rise and Progress – General Aspect of the TownOne of the most remarkable circumstances connected with the rise and progress of Lochgelly is the rapid increase of its population. There are people now living who can look back to the time when it was but a small hamlet, with its limited complement of weavers and miners, and indebted for any little reputation it had to its extensive, though yet only reputed, mineral deposits. The two rows of cottages named Cooperhall and Launcherhead were the principal dwelling-places which constituted the village of Lochgelly, the portion of the town - including the Muir houses and those in their proximity - lying to the south of Launcherhead having then no existence. In 1831, the population was 780 ; in 1851, it had risen to 870 ; and, according to last census, it is now 2902, showing that the number of inhabitants have been more than tripled in the course of twenty years. The population is just 248 less than that of the whole parish of Auchterderran in 1851. It is, therefore, only within the last four lustrums that the subject of our sketch has made its greatest progress - progress not in point of population merely, but in the production of that mineral which has given it not only a local celebrity, but a reputation that has extended, far beyond the bounds of our own county; nay, that has carried the name of Lochgelly to many a snug hearth across the briny waters of the Atlantic.
We have hinted that at one time the greater part of the inhabitants was composed of weavers, for, fifty years ago, handloom weaving was the staple trade of the district. The "four stoops" (we shall withhold the rest of the quotation !) were to be seen in almost every house, and the chitter-cum-chatter of the loom was the only sound that greeted the ear of the passing pilgrim. Several of the feuars were growers of lint, and the lint, after being pulled, underwent the steeping process in the Muir, where the feuars, by the power of their title-deeds, dug lint holes. The weft for the weavers was brought from Kirkcaldy, between which town and Lochgelly a carrier plied his vocation once a week, and, in those days when the roads were nearly inaccessible to wheeled vehicles, the weavers who were expecting webs with the carrier anticipated his arrival by meeting him as he approached the village, and, putting their shoulders to the wheel, thus enabled his fagged horse to "take" the brae all the easier. It was not till after 1820 that the roads in the district were thoroughly improved and ramified. Prior to that date, down to about the end of the last and the beginning of this century, few wheeled carriages of any description were in use, and the whole trade of the county was carried on by trains of horses, each bearing its own load, slung across the back of the animal in bags or baskets. Such being the mode of conveyance in bygone times, there was, in consequence, no urgent call for our ancestors bestirring themselves in the repair of the roads, and this state of matters was attended - with one advantage - there were no tolls to pay; but we believe that no one who may be old enough to remember the exigencies in the way of travelling sixty or seventy years ago will for once depreciate the efforts of those who did most to establish our present system of roads. When, at this late period, heavy and clumsy carts were at length brought into operation, the task upon the poor animals then employed was often very severe ; and we may conceive what it must have been when these vehicles had to be dragged up and down old hill roads which consisted merely of hollow tracts beaten down by the feet of horses in former ages. The carrier's cart which went between Kirkcaldy and Lochgelly is said to have often been, during winter, up to the axle in mud, and it was not unfrequently after many trying difficulties that the sturdy carrier could accomplish his journey of fourteen miles. About 1830, a vast improvement had taken place in the condition both of the turnpike and subordinate roads in the district; and we must not omit to mention that among those public-spirited gentlemen who were the means of this amelioration being brought about was the late Dr Nelson (father, of the present doctor) and the Rev. Wm. Reid, of the United Presbyterian Church.
The progress of Lochgelly is also marked by its line ecclesiological and private buildings, which are indicative of a thriving trade and a prosperous community. It must, we think, strike every stranger, on approaching the town from the railway station, to see the substantial edifices and handsome villas, beautifully tesselated with flower borders in front, which adorn the north entrance to the town. The Iron Company's School is a very elegant and commodious erection, with ample play-grounds enclosed. It was built in 1849, and during the past twenty-two years it has met with an amount of success that has exceeded the most sanguine anticipations of its promoters. The number of scholars on the roll at present is 450, and the evening classes, which are of inestimable benefit to the youth of the locality, are attended by about 40 young men. A pleasing feature of the seminary is that there are cooking and sewing departments in connection with the female branch, so that young women are taught not only the various branches of scholastic education, but those principles of household management which so well qualify them in after years to their part efficiently in the "bivouac of life." The head teacher of the school is Mr William Beveridge, and the female ditto, Miss Shepherd besides a staff of pupil teachers. A substantial building for the local branch of the Union Bank was erected in 1809, from a design by Mr Railton, architect Kilmarnock. It is situated on the principal thoroughfare leading to the railway station, and Mr Stevenson, who takes a warm Interest in all that concerns the weal of the town, has acted as agent for the last four years The town has been supplied with gas since 1853 by Mr Andrew Leitch ; and a scheme is presently projected to supply the inhabitants with water from Benarty Hill, which is about a mile south from Lochleven, and rises to a height of 1000 feet above the level of the sea. The project is thought by practical men to be a very feasible one, and is estimated by Mr Sang, C.E., Kirkcaldy, to cost £3500. During the summer months, the present supply of water, from wells and other fluctuating sources, is often exceedingly limited and inferior in quality, and there can be no doubt that the adoption of such a scheme would be a great acquisition to the prosperity of the town.
With a view to promote a taste in the cultivation of the gardens, with which almost every house in and around Lochgelly is provided, a horticultural society was formed in the spring of the present year, the area of membership including the parishes of Auchterderran, Ballingry, and Beath. The first annual show was held in September when first and second prizes in money were offered for upwards of fifty different entries. A number of gentlemen offered special extra prizes, to the aggregate amount of £7, besides implements, such as spades, pruning knives, &c. The entry money is purposely kept low, in order to secure a large membership- the sum of one shilling not only entitling the member to compete, but conferring the privilege of free admission to the show. The membership mounted up to 154, of whom the larger portion, as was to be expected, is resident in Lochgelly. Many individuals are interested in floriculture, and they only require to be brought together and have a little rivalry excited, that they may become hearty and vigorous promoters of the objects of the society. This might be made to be a powerful instrument in the regeneration of the people, by bringing them into contact with the beautiful forms of nature, and encouraging them to exercise care and taste in their gardening operations. While in some of the gardens in Lochgelly a great deal of taste is already displayed, still, in the majority of them, there is room for making more improvement. We do not seek the people to fill their gardens with flowers, but we would wish them to bear in mind that there is a way of arranging and displaying even the most common-looking vegetables, so as to give the idea of tidiness and regularity, and though these qualities are often overlooked in a kitchen garden, yet they are qualities, if cultivated, by which more space is obtained and a better crop reared.
Sixty years ago, Lochgelly fairs were points of attraction to the surrounding country. They were held on the Muir ; and many are the times when, on its soft sward, "honest men and bonnie lasses” tripped it with elastic step to the stirring strains of the violin and the bagpipe. Within the past thirty or forty years, however, the fairs, though forming, half a century ago, the prospective talk of weeks, had gradually fallen off, and they were effectually put a stop to when, in 1858, the Earl of Minto, by a litigation in the Court of Session, obtained possession of the Muir, upon which, shortly afterwards, dwelling-houses were erected. The following story is told in connection with one of these periodical gatherings ; and the reader must know, by way of preface, that near the Castle of Balwearie, the scene of the tragedy related in the old ballad of Cammakin, stands a singular rock yelept the Bell Craig, from a cave in which, tradition affirms, there issued, at particular seasons, an intoxicating vapour, which caused belated travellers who imbibed it to experience very peculiar sensations. The legend runs thus : -
About a century ago, a drunken piper, returning from Lochgelly fair, was arrested by the "air from heaven or blast from hell" Instead of availing himself of the propitious moment to learn the probable duration of Christmas doles, penny weddings, and other customs in which it may be supposed a person of his calling would be especially interested, the infatuated mortal only testified his exhilaration by a tune upon the bagpipe. Probably, being already vini plenus, he felt the aura of the cavern to occasion an uncomfortable distention about the midriff, to relieve which he had recourse to his instrument. A signal punishment, however, awaited him for the unhallowed use to which he had applied the divine afflatus. The instrument with which he perpetrated the profanation was destined, alas ! never more to pass from his lips. The night was stormy; but the louder the wind blew, the louder did the enchanted bagpipe sound along the strath. Such a piping was never heard before or since. The cushats left their roost in the woods of Raith ; the rookery of Inverteil was in commotion all night long. In the clachan of Auchtertool a party of bacchanals availed themselves of the minstrelsy to season their orgies with a dance, without being aware till afterwards that the orchestra was a long Scotch mile from the ball-room. Nor did the music cease till sunrise, when a peasant going to his work found the piper lying dead at the mouth of the cave, with the chanter between his lips. It rests on what the Ettrick Shepherd would have pronounced excellent authority, that the Spectre Piper is still heard, on very stormy nights, playing a coronach on the Bell Crag –
"In a wild, unworldly tone,
To mortal minstrelsy unknown."
Like many other towns and villages in Fife - for, as a leading journal recently observed, Fife has been "a county prolific of illustrious Scotchmen from the earliest periods of our national history" - Lochgelly has given birth to, and has been connected with, several well-known persons, who not only did much, when alive, to influence the opinions of their fellow-men, but who, now that they have entered upon their reward, have left undoubted traces of their excellence behind them. Besides the Rev. David Greig (whose ministerial career we have noticed at length in a former article), we may mention the name of the Rev. John Ballantyne, who was the son of a quarryman, and who received his rudimentary education at Lochgelly school, where he subsequently, doting the intervals of his College studies, acted as teacher. He was born at South Piteddie, parish of Kinghorn, in May 1788, and died at Stonehaven, the sphere of his labours, in November 1830, at the premature age of forty-two. He was author of two works entitled "An Enquiry or Examination of the Human Mind," and "A Comparison of Established and Dissenting Churches." The school, at the end of last century, was also under the tuition successively of the Rev. David Inglis, afterwards of Pert-Glasgow, and the Rev. Andrew Lothian, Portsburgh, Edinburgh, who were both eminent Secession ministers in their day. Another name of which Lochgelly can boast is that of Dr Page, F.R.S.E., F.G.S., the accomplished geologist and literateur, who several weeks ago was appointed Professor of Geology. He was born here about the beginning of the present century, and from his earliest years he devoted himself exclusively to literary pursuits and to the study of the natural sciences. Geology always possessed for him peculiar attractions, and the result of his youthful researches was not based on mere speculation, but on facts drawn from mountain and valley, hill and plain, and tested as far as possible by the scrutiny of actual experiment. He is now author of several works, among whom may be mentioned "The Past and' Present Life of the Globe," "The Philosophy of Geology," the "Introductory Text- Book of Physical Geography," &c. A late biographer of Dr Page says that “he has, without doubt, done more to place the science [of geology] on a firmer footing - to reconcile it as far as possible with our received notions of creation, and to popularise and spread a genuine love for the study of it, than any man living." [Fife Herald - Thursday 30 November 1871]