Scotlands History

Coal mining

The incredible success of James Watt’s steam engine greatly increased the demand for coal.

Many Scottish coalfields were opened up to provide coal to heat the steam. Coal had been used on a smaller scale for centuries in Scotland for domestic heating, to boil off seawater to produce salt and for making lime powder for farmers who wanted to enrich their wheat fields. In those days the coal mines were on the surface of the ground.

Large-scale industrial mining dug deeper and deeper into underground coal-seams to meet the huge demand. Women bearers carried heavy baskets of coal up to the surface, and children heaved sleds laden with coal. Pit ponies dragged heavier loads but they were more expensive to keep.

Hauling, flooding, and ventilation problems (when the canaries stopped singing the colliers fled) were constant dangers.

Finally, the Miners Act of 1842 forbade the employment of women and girls underground; no boy was to work until aged ten; and mine inspectors were appointed.

  • A photograph of a miner's shovel.
  • Image of Miners working on the coalface at Bilston Glen mine

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