Hood Family and Coal Mining

Duddingston Parish - Old Statistical Account

Old Statistical Account for the Parish of Duddingston, Midlothian


Note: only those portions relating to colliers and coalmining have been included here.



History, Villages,&c.—...
Easter Duddingston has not varied so much in its size and population. It has lately been rebuillt in part, and the new houses according to their original destination, are for the most part occupied by coalliers. ...


Coal.—Thirteen seams of coal have been discovered and wrought upon the estate of Dudingston. They are of various qualities, and some excellent in their kinds. They crop, as indeed the strata of all minerals upon this coals preserve the same inclination, to the west; the dip or declination, is nearly at an angle of 45 degrees from the horizon to the east, a circumstance which of itself must always have rendered the working of the coal difficult. Most of the above seams have been wrought from a very remote period of time, which cannot now be ascertained, where they approach the surface, and as far as a simple free level should clear them of water. Under the Duchess of Argyle, a rude machine composed of, and named, chain and buckets, was employed to raise the water in the mines from a greater depth. When the property fell into the possession of the late Earl of Abercom, the coal and salt works were at first let to Mr Bigger of Woolmet, an enterprising man, who opened a level from the sea, and carried it through the estates of Dudingston, Niddry, and part of Edmonston, up to Woolmet Bank, a powerful drain of above 3 miles in extent of most essential advantage to the more elevated coal works of the neighbouring proprietors, but eventually productive of ruin to that of Dudingston, besides opening the generating source of interminable law pleas. About the year 1763, the Earl of Abercom began to erect a steam engine of very considerable power upon the Dudingston coalliery, extending its operation to the depth of 52 fathoms. This engine was rendered useless in 1790 when on the 20th of March the whole seams of coal were overflowed and choaked from the communication of the level with the higher grounds. Before this period another engine of greater power, and upon a new construction had been erected near the Southern boundary of the parish to work the coal of Brunstane which lies beyond its limits. The shaft of this engine pit reaches to the depth of 60 fathoms, and intersects three seams of coal, the first 7 feet thick, the next 9, and the last 15. The other materials through which it descends, are chiefly very deep strata of a coarse red free-stone, some of clay, and nearest to the coal a kind of pyrites schist which the workmen call bads of bleas. The porous quality of the free-stone rock, the number of cutters, and above all the inauspicious communication of the fatal level, admit such an influx of water, as has all along rendered this undertaking singularly laborious and expensive, and at last reduced it to a very languishing condition. the number of colliers, bearers, and other workmen employed at the coalliery before 1790, used to be about 270. The number is new greatly reduced. If the working of the Duddingston coal should ever be revived, it will require the aid of two steam engines of very great power to carry it on with any success. If both these coallieries should finally be abandoned, though there be still much coal not yet exhausted in the neighbourhood, this may tend to raise considerably the price of that important article, the temporary dearth of which was lately so severely felt in the city and neighbourhood of Edinburgh. Of such unwelcome interruptions of the public supplies of fuel, and of the serious inconveniences which they produce, there are causes which are not perhaps attended to so much as they deserve. Since the period when the coalliers were emancipated by the interposition of the legislature from that state of villainage, by which, like the adscriptitii glebae of feudal tyranny, they have been chained for life to the soil or work upon which they had been born, some conductors of coalworks for a long period, discovered no better methods of binding them to their service, than by plunging them into debt, or alluring them by dissipation.-They were in many cases seduced from their former masters by more enterprising or less scrupulous employers. The debts, contracted in the work, which they were to leave, were paid, and a premium superadded, which they were tempted, like the infatuated raw recruit, to spend in immediate intemperance. More money was often in judiciously lent them, in the vain hope, that the deeper they were involved in debt to their new masters, the more closely would they be incited to labour, and the longer they should be constrained to remain at their new task. But instead of this, the men, as a little less shallow policy might easily have forseen, in such cases have become dispirited at the view of the debts in which they have been so hastily and often so unintentionally plunged; and at last despairing ever to discharge them, they sink into obstinate indolence, despondence, profligacy; or they fairly run off from the work, and repair by stealth to some new contractor, who, though aware of their obnoxious condition, winks at the trick, and when discovered, perhaps pays the fatal debt, and ensures the repetition of the same fraudulent retribution against himself. Thus at last, either from the stubbornness of despair, the relish for bribes, indulgences, and the habitual haste for extravagance, so imprudently fostered, the men get into their rebellious moods, and refuse to work without some new bribe, or perhaps unless their wages be raised in proportion to the increase of price, to which their masters may have chosen to raise the coal itself. There is another circumstance, which, though it does not so much corrupt the morals of the persons concerned, contributes however to aggravate the dearth, and to raise irregularly the price of coals. When it is presumed that the demand and the price of this article will rise considerably in the market, a multitude of carters and coal drivers abandon their common occupations, flock to this new traffic, and become the carriers, in the hope of advance and exorbitant profits. As it is impossible to supply the sudden increase of carriers with immediate freights, many of them are compelled to stand all night, and sometimes all day to boot, upon the hills, waiting their turn for loading. Upon their cart load, they are afterwards compelled to lay not only the ordinary price of carriage, but this extraordinary expense of attendance and risk; while it is evidence, that half the number of carts might remove all the produce of the pits in the same time, and find regular employment with moderate and less hazardous gains. Convenient remedies for these errors might be easily discovered and profitably applied.


[Footnote at the end of section to do with Church, schools, poor].
*a fund, or box as it is commonly named, is also supported in this and some of the neighbouring parishes, by the coalliers and carters, for the maintenance chiefly of their sick or disabled members. Little or nothing is provided for their widows or surviving children. But, if the scheme were placed upon a more liberal and advantageous footing: where is objects in some sense reversed, and its chief expenditure devoted to the support of the widows and orphans, instead of being consumed in expensive funerals, and engrossed in this selfish sustenance of the subscribers themselves, it might become a truly valuable and praiseworthy establishment. [end of footnote]


Population.—The state of population has been for some time very variable. From the late interruptions and threatens decay of the coalworks, the great body of the people employed in them have removed to seams more favourable to the regular and durable exercise of their occupations. In one village alone, Joppa, which was solely inhabited by coalliers, above 30 houses have been deserted, or suffered to fall to ruin, within the space of the last 4 years. To counterbalance in part, this deficiency of population, several families of new manufacturers, &c. have in the same period settled in Portobello, &c. A migratory colony, besides, of bathers, summer lodgers, &c. upon the same coast, continues every year to increase their numbers. But these cannot with propriety be rated among the established inhabitants of the parish. By the accounts returned to Dr Webster in 1755, the number was 989. In the year 1794, the number of souls was found to be 910, of whom there were 428 males, and 482 females. Births the same year, 45. Death cannot so accurately be ascertained as they are not registrated by those who belong to the associations, or boxes of carters, &c. No individual of very great age at present lives in this parish; but there are 7 persons above 80, in vigorous health; one of whom verges towards 90.


Character of the inhabitants.—The people in general of the parishes in immediate vicinity of the metropolis, are necessarily of a very mixed character, and too frequently more corrupted, comparatively, in the lower ranks, than in situations more remote, and less exposed to the contagious effects of such a neighbourhood. In every country, persons employed in the active exercises of husbandry, have generally displayed an inoffensive simplicity, and laudable regularity of manners. For this character, they have probably been much indebted to the order, which they obliged to observe in all their proceedings, to the returning, continued regularity of their employment, to the moderate but uniform profits, which they draw from their labours, and to their happy seclusion from civil communications and scenes of corruption. The labourers and husbandmen of this district preserve the same general character, though the frequent and unavoidable intercourse with the city, which they are necessitated to maintain, has not been without its polluting effects. Coalliers have generally exhibited a direct contrast to the simplicity and regularity of manners; and where they have not enjoyed the singular advantages of prudent directors and wholesome discipline, they have been unhappily too often distinguished by rudeness, disorder and profligacy. The degrading operation of that state of villainage from which they have so recently escaped, the corrupting tendency of that injudicious management by which they have since been influenced, their irregular and sometimes exorbitant gains, which at one time over stocks, and at another starves them, and which commonly puts it in their power, by the fruit of three days labour, to pass the rest of the week in absolute idleness, or in sottish indulgence; nay, it, the very darkness, dirt, and unrestrained intercourse which prevails in their subterraneanoeus regions, unawed by the eyes or the opinions of the world above, may all combine to produce or to aggravate this degradation of manners. In the coaliery of Duddingston, there have been some agreeable exceptions to this general description, though it's application to the prevalent hue of such scenes of darkness, is too legitimate and congrous. Manufacturers of every kind have commonly been thought unfavourable to purity of manners. The profits which they afford are greater, and more irregular than those of husbandry. In truth, where ever men are collected together in considerable numbers, corruption is generated; and as there will probably be some amongst them, found of depraved manners, the contagion is tooapt to spread around. Where the conductors themselves are men of steady principle, or where the more respectable workmen acquire an ascendancy, a spirit of serious inquiry, and strict behaviour is sometimes introduced among the manufacturers, which may tempt the world to call them too good. And where the reverse takes place, a spirit of licentiousness and disorder will prevail, which even the indulgent morality of the world may pronounced to be too bad. Of both these descriptions of characters, the manufacturers of this district afford examples. Though such moral and secondary causes may thus tend to communicate a general complexion or colour to the manners of the country, possession, or family, the spirit of religion may certainly powerfully counteract the evil peculiar to each situation, or improve and perfect the good. The spirit of religion however, is not so prevalent or general in this place, as to produce effects which can be very ostensibly visible, or extensively felt. A great proportion of the people, however, are regular and decent in their attendance upon religious exercises, and display a correspondent practice in the integrity, usefulness and beneficence of their common conduct. The more defective are certainly, in the language of the usual comparative consulatory apologies of the world, not worse than their neighbours.


© 2012   A Russell