Coal Mining: Oral Histories

“It was a hard life for my mother because John was working in the pits and more so, there were five sets of working clothes from the pits. They all worked there and my brother was killed in the pit - he was 25 years old. There was a fall in the pits and Davy had went for a fireman or something, I don't right mind. When he came back, Samuel was under a boulder and he had been killed outright. He wasn't married. My uncle Bill, my Mother's brother, and my Aunty Meg came and told my Mother and she was never right after that - she took a slight stroke. They got something in compensation, ah, but I don't know what it was. My Mother really had a hard life after Samuel died because she just really didn't know what was wrong with herself. I remember Teeny Boyd lost her son and her man in the pits; my brother went in to help with that, to help carry them out the pits – oor Davy. Davy was next door, helped to carry them out the pit. Everybody seemed to come round and see if they could help, in my Mother's case, and the neighbours were good. We were angry when my brother got killed in the pits. I can't remember any management coming to see us but I was only 17 years old.”
Mary (Brown) Kennedy

Dumbreck Pit No.1
- William Baird & Co.
“They worked for a private company, it was William Baird & Co. the and the NCB (National Coal Board) didn’t come into existence until, I think, 1946.  But everything you done in Twechar, William Baird controlled it…coal and steel baron he was in this area. Pop worked in Dumbreck No.2, which was down towards Queenzieburn. And there was No.1 pit, which was just across the canal, and there was a pit called St Flannan’s, but there was also an iron ore pit. It was as you came up over the bridge, to the left. Over to the left there was an iron ore pit, and these were all owned by William Baird & Co., and you lived, breathed and danced to William Baird’s tune. If William Baird’s, what you call it, factor, didnae like you, you were out. You didn’t go anywhere after that, you just were out. You lost your house. You lost your job. I mean it was tyranny. Luckily, in ’45, ’46, the mines were nationalised. It was never a great job, but it was more of a job that the men were in control of rather than the coal baron.”
Andrew Bell

– The Rescue Boy
“…Andy McNichol, miner, but he was at the piling. He was my supervisor for forty years. Aye, he was a gentleman. He was at the Cardowan disaster. He was a rescue boy. He was only twenty odds but after that, he, och, he came away. Getting him tae pull bodies out. Sitting in the bogie, you know. Aye, he never went back. Quite right, life’s hard enough without that.”
Archie Fulton

– Down the Pit
“It was a horrible job, but it was a horrible job done by good men who cared about each other. You couldnae go doon the pit and no care about the lad who was next to you. You had to care about him, because he had tae care about you, because you’re three hundred and fifty feet underground and you’re working in a section...the main road would probably be half up this thingummy, but the smaller roads were probably about four feet high. And where my father worked it was probably two feet, two and a half feet high….and he had, there was probably twenty men on. The coal face was probably that length (demonstrates just under a metre), and then you had to go in four and a half feet. You’d tae take that coal out. It added up tae roughly ten tonnes of coal a day. He’d to lie on his side and shovel it out….and when I started doon there, I delivered trees, we called them trees. They were pit props. They were about this height (demonstrates)...for tae hold the roof up while he was doing this. He was doon the same pit as me. It didnae always work that way, you know, there were different people worked different places. But, it was a good, you couldnae say it was a good job, but what it was, was good men doing a rotten job tae the best o’ their ability, but they had to care. There was very few people in the pit who didnae care who survived. You know, you could be miserable if you put your workmates in any line o’ danger. You had tae care and, as I say, I was only down it three and a half years. Pop, was down it - fifty-four years he worked in the pits, and he got £2.25 a pension after fifty-four years.”
Andrew Bell

“It was quite a good apprenticeship, I think, you got in the coalboard [National Coal Board – NCB]. Ah mean, one o’ the things you learned - every year you had to pass your exam before you could move on to the next year... you’d a practical exam as well as theory and, plus, as I say, further education college. So, I think, rightly so, the coalboard apprentices were deemed as very good….and, I think, we see that when we look at the other industries, people who have moved on and went to other industries, ‘specially things like the North Sea industry.”
Nicky Wilson, President, National Union of Mineworkers

– Beyond the Pail!
“[No toilets]…they had pans, see the likes o’, what would they put you in mind o’? See the likes o’ paint tins? See this man – this was the man - he used tae come doon, and this was his job. The pans were taken up the pit…the hutches went up the pits. They’d be full o’ coal, with dirt, and there was a space left for these pans - full of jobbies, and sometimes they were stinking. They were terrible. You just wonder how hygienic that was. If they needed the toilet - there’s nowhere tae wash their hands you know, and what if you’re doing a jobby or something like that? See, if you think, you’d never get away with that now, hen, never….”
Robert Hardie                     

"My father worked when it was Baird’s…  my father was what they called a tramp brusher, they moved from pit to pit. He was from Motherwell and he left Motherwell and went to Bo'ness, and then from Bo'ness to Twechar, and he finished up working in Grayshill. That's how we came to Twechar.”
Jim Cowie

“I remember a man, Gilfillan, being killed in Twechar 1 and my dad had two or three accidents. He had a bad one (he worked in Bedlay at the time) and never worked again.”
Agnes Hendry

- Mining Accident, 1982
“The mine’s rescue came, but the honest truth is that the guys who were down there… went intae that and started getting the men out long before the mine’s rescue got there. And I always admired that, because, I mean, when an explosion happened, as I say, speakin’ to the men that were down there, it blew all the air doors open, and things like that… and a massive noise… but, none of them had any hesitation tae go intae where it had happened and get the men out.”
Nicky Wilson, President, National Union of Mineworkers

“When I left school my first job was with a carrier, delivering for 'Ingles' in Kirkintilloch. I left there to go to the pit; I was 16/17. I didn't go down the pit at that age. I served so long at the pit - a year or two. Then you went to the training centre at Twechar. You did your training there, then back to the pit, that was you qualified to go down the pit then. When you were training at the pit-head, you picked the slats and separated the stones from the coal. You went from there up to the pit-head, uncoupling haunches, putting clips on the ropes. The training school was at Number 10; it was good, you had 16 weeks of training there. You had your underground training there, you could go to Dumbreck or Twechar 1. Underground the two pits were connected.  It was quite a long walk to get to Dumbreck underground from Twechar 1 and they didn't have underground trains at that time. My first pay was about £2.00 odds. I remember some of the people who trained me - Tam Anderson (Kilsyth), James Bell (Kilsyth), Jake Bell, Tam Bell and other local people.”
Jim Cowie

– Clearing the Bings
“Up there (Gartshore pit) there was a coal recovery plant and that continued beyond the mining period, so they recovered a lot of coal from the bings there. And they basically cleared away all the old bings, taking the coal out of them, but at the same time, they also took the shale out of the bing and mixed that with furnace ash and such-like - made breeze blocks out of it for the construction industry. So, they did a good job up there. One of the actual problems, in a way, is that a lot of, with clearing away all the bings, most of the buildings, and all the rest of it, there’s actually very little for people to see and say, “Ah, we were a pit village.” And therefore, we’re always needing to remind people of that, and that’s why I give various talks. In fact, I did one for the Cumbernauld History Society just last week.”
Paul Carter

"When I first went down, I wasn't frightened, it was high roofs, I wasn't scare, I was alright. You went into classrooms in the training centre, each classroom was for different thing, then they told you where you would be going. You would be walking to Dumbreck or Twechar 1. After you were down the pit, you did so long in different jobs and if anybody asked you if you wanted to go to the face-line to do your training, you were allocated to a man - he took over you and you worked with him for so long, then go to another job and work with another fella. It was interesting. There would be about 30 of us at the coal face at a time. There was a great sense of camaraderie. I worked with boys from Motherwell, Bellshill, Lesmahagow. They travelled here when I worked up in No.s 9 and 11. Then I went to Bedlay and worked with people from the same places. Then I went to Fife. There were even boys from Ayrshire working – they travelled from Ayrshire to Fife. I liked them, good company, good men. I always worked for the National Coal Board. When I worked down the pit, we just stopped and had our tea where we worked. We had no toilets, we just went to the darkest corner and put our light out. I never saw a rat down the pit. There were mice at Grayshill and we used to trap them with milk bottles then send them up to the pit-head again."
Jim Cowie

“My dad worked in Twechar No.1, he was a miner. He went from there to Dullatur, then to Bedlay, he cycled everywhere to pits. His last pit was Cardowan and he took early retirement at 60. He worked down the pit all his life. He was a methane borer. I remember asking him what a methane borer was and he said that when they open up a new seam and boring their way in for the miners to dig the coal, they had to test the gas and they had to draw some of the coal to see how much gas was in it.”
Emily Bamford

“My father worked in the pits, No.3 and No.11 - I think he was a fireman. I didn't have my father very long; I was 21 when he died. I knew more about my Mother's second husband, Jimmy McLean, who was a rope splicer down the pit. When my father was down the pit, we used to meet him - I used to run from Whitelaw Terrace to Willie Hamilton's shop to meet him coming off the pit bus. We would run to see who got his piece box first, to get his jammy piece with cheese in it, ah! When I think of it! I couldn't eat a piece with jam and cheese now – we thought it was wonderful. I can't tell you much else about him, he died when he was 59. He died of pneumoconiosis. He was ill for a while and he had arthritis too. He used to do his ‘bookies runner’ down there at the rent office. Big Pete McCulloch and the Cairns used to do it, there was a few of them sat down there. A ‘bookies runner’ takes the lines off the punters when they were backing a horse and he done his ‘bookies runner’ for a bookie at the top of the town in Kilsyth. And he had a bag that had a lock on key on it and when the race started the bag got locked. Sometimes, I had to run into Kilsyth with the bag containing all the bets. It was illegal but the police were good at telling them when they were coming. Sometimes they were along the back line or the Coachie, and they would tell him if they were standing tossing pennies, when they were coming, and they would scatter. A lot of men played at tossing on a Sunday.”     
Christine Kelly

“….and another important thing we done in Scotland, in ma time, was the, it used to be pneumoconiosis, that if they said you’d simple pneumoconiosis… you couldnae get a disablement percentage to get you a pension or anything….and it was when oor reps, Mick Lennon, that actually took a case to the commissioner, Commissioner May….and he won it! And May said, it disnae matter what your percentage is, if you’ve got the disease you’re disabled.”
Nicky Wilson, President, National Union of Mineworkers

– Both Parents Worked in the Pit
“Well, I know mum, she worked in the pithead when she was a young girl. Quite a few women in Twechar worked in the pitheads. She had friends that worked in the pitheads. I never seen a photograph of her, but I know people, when we were young - they used tae come and see my mum, the ones that did work with her at the pithead. The likes o’ that, there must have been quite a few of my mum’s friends worked at the pithead. My Da, he worked in the pits for years too. In fact, we’re all from mining stock, you know, all my dad’s family were miners. I think he was, called it a brusher or something like that. He didn’t have many jobs down the pit, he didn’t have many jobs you know….and then when they finished up, he was sent to do wee jobs, just to get their retirement and all that. You know, it was all change after the coal board took over, to the better, and the unions helped a lot there too; they helped a lot.”
Robert Hardie

“It was after the 1974 strike… the miners’ pension scheme was crap, tae be quite honest wi ye. I think ma pension fae ’67 till aboot ’74 was probably worth aboot £2.00 a week… and, ah mean, when we were payin’ in up tae decimalisation, it was one and sixpence a week and that’s what you were contributing… but, after the 1974 strike, one o’ the things we got, we got a number o’ things, we got the pneumoconiosis agreement… we got the updated mineworkers’ pension scheme, and we got workwear introduced intae the coal mines and that. But, the pension scheme became a reasonable scheme efter that, because for every pound the miners paid in, the employer paid two pound. From 1975 onwards. It certainly didn’t help a lot o’ the older miners.”
Nicky Wilson, President, National Union of Mineworkers

“Twechar Yard must have had a couple of thousand, a thousand anyway, worked in it.  Every trade was learned there. All the pit stuff was repaired there, all the machinery, also joiners - when it shut, that was Twechar finished then. There were no pits left, well, the pits started finishing up. You would never have thought that place, the yard, would have shut...  I don't think they should have shut the pits. It was an industry and now you wouldn't have the conditions that we worked in, it wouldn't be so dusty. I still think there should be pits still there. Health and safety was nothing then, there is now.”
Jim Cowie

“I mean, one o’ the things aboot the pit. It was good, because the men, what I learned very quickly - I didnae come from a mining background - but, what I learned was that miners always look after their sels, you know, they were really good that way. And even when I was a young lad, you know, they made sure you dinnae do nothing silly or dangerous or that. It was always that way in the pits, you know.”
Nicky Wilson, President, National Union of Mineworkers

“The miners’ strike, 1984-85. We got £6.70 per week to keep us a family of four. Our William was just joining the army at this time and he needed all this kit - they gave him a big list, we didn't have savings or anything. We hung on to bits and bobs of money to pay our way. Thank goodness, I have good family and they were all buying him a wee bit each. We were also fortunate that the good people of Twechar also came to our aid and they were handing in things to the Club and making up bags of shopping that we got. Each week we got two bags of shopping, we were very grateful for everything.  They also had a wee soup kitchen but I didn't like going to it. It was a lovely meal, homemade food, set out lovely, but I didn't like going. It was over in the Bowling Green. That lasted a year and eventually the parcels waned out, people had their own to look after. The council waived our rent for a year, they were fabulous, but the £6.70 that we got every week from Social Security (and my husband had always worked), had to be paid back - a man came to the door from Social Security one day, saying we owed them £320 or something like that and we had to pay that back at £1.00 a week.”
Vivien Cowie

“And that was the power the coalboard had at the time, you know, they could manipulate situations to make a pit look uneconomic… which is what they done at Cardowan. And that was why, eventually, when the strike came in ’84, ’85, the Scottish miners… we’d already seen 6 pits shut fae 1981… so, we didnae need anybody tae tell us we’re oot on strike, because…..actually, Scotland, Wales and eh, the North East, which had five pits shut, Wales had seven, we’d been agitating tae try and get the national union tae enter into a dispute, tae try and save wur pits and wur communities, and it wisnae delivered. And it was only, we know history now, it was only when Cortonwood shut… the Yorkshire men walked out. That is how the strike happened.”
Nicky Wilson, President, National Union of Mineworkers