Hood Family and Coal Mining

Tranent Parish - New Statistical Account

New Statistical Account for the Parish of Tranent , East Lothian

Written by the Revd. John Henderson in March 1839


Note - Only those parts relating to colliers or coalmining have been included here




Hydrography. — There is no river in the parish, and only two or three trifling rivulets; the greatest discharge of water into the sea is from the coal level, commenced by the Earls of Winton in the seventeenth century, and subsequently carried forward, nearly two miles further, into and the basin of the tremendous coal field, by the Messrs Cadells; but this extension does not seem to have materially increased the quantity of water. Several mills are thus driven, which have the peculiar advantage that no drought during summer makes any perceptible difference in the volume of the water, and from its high temperature, it is not subject to be frozen in winter.


Geology and Mineralogy. — The parish of Tranent, through its whole extent, contains the usual coal measures, or the ordinary strata connected with the coal formation, but the regularity of the stratification is dislocated and intersected by trap or Whinstone dikes, by clay dikes, and other disturbing causes, denominated "troubles" by the colliers.
As in many other places, the strata seems to have been originally deposited in the form of a basin, and afterwards to have been altered by the unexplained convulsions which have taken place in our globe. The principal basin at present existing has its lowest point or trough a little to the west of the farm-house of Carlaverock, nearly a mile south of the village of Tranent; from this the coal seems rise in all directions, and with a much more rapid inclination as they approach towards the verge of the basin, which may be about half a mile in some places, and in others a mile from the centre point, in regard to the uppermost seam, and at greater distances as to the others. Beyond this basin, to the west, north, and east, there are other seams of coal found, but whether they are in continuation of seams lower than those work at Carlaverock, or the same seams cast down and altered, has not been exactly ascertained. At Longniddry Dean, two coal seams crop out, dipping north-west, which looks as if they were connected with the principal basin, and the limestone generally found below the coal formation does not appear until beyond the boundary of this parish. The first of the trap dikes intersecting strata occurs to the north of Portseton; the second at Cockenzie, about 20 yards broad, where forms a barrier against the sea, and runs from north-west to south-east; the third trap dike, not quite so broad, lies about half-a-mile further south, running nearly east and west from the Garleton Hills to Seaton Castle and Prestongrange Harbour, which it may probably connect with the masses of trap at Arthur's Seat, Hawkhill, and Inchkeith. About half-a-mile to the south of the second trap dike, there is a broad clay dike, about 140 feet in width, which throws the strata about 16 fathoms up to the south. The ground here rises more rapidly, and most of the upper seams crop out. From this line the descent to form the basin at Carlaverock. There are, besides, many dikes and faults, especially about Kingslaw, which it would be tedious and out of place to narrate.

Such being a general description of the geological structure of the parish, we may now give a more minute account of the coal measures or strata themselves at Carlaverock, the centre of the basin, the upper or main coal seam, between 6 and 9 feet thick, is of good quality, though rather soft, and is about 37 fathoms or 222 feet from the surface, at the lowest point in the basin. The second seam, which is improperly termed the splint coal seam, is about 5 feet thick, and varies from 8 to 14 fathoms below the main coal seam. The third seam, or 3 feet coal, is from 5 to 8 fathoms below the second seam, but has already been worked near the crop, where it approaches the surface. The fourth seam, or 4 feet coal, is still lower, being between 3 and 4 fathoms below the third seam, and is reputed to be of excellent quality; except near the crop, where the quality is inferior, its merits cannot be said to be ascertained. About 16 fathoms below the four feet coal, there is also a 5 feet coal, but it has not been worked in the parish, except that the crop to a small extent. Below these, in the Carlaverock basin, it is probable that the other seams may exist at a greater depth, but they have never hitherto been explored. A thin seam of parrot or cannel-coal so much esteemed for gasworks, has lately been found, and is now worked in the lands of Falside: it is supposed to be the seam of coal next to the limestone.
The geologist is referred for further and more scientific information to a very able paper, "on the Midlothian and East Lothian coal fields," by eight David Milne, Esquire. Recently-published in the 14th volume part one of the transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,-where they learned author has, with admirable industry, brought together a great mass of facts, furnished by practical men, and illustrates important conclusions he has drawn from them by valuable plans and sections.
From the seams of coal cropping out, or coming to the surface, in many places round Tranent, their can be no doubt that this valuable mineral must have been known to the earliest inhabitants of the district, and we are therefore not surprised to find written evidence of coal having been wrought here as early as in any other place. Chalmers, in his Caledonia. ii. p.400, notices a grant by Seyer de Quincy, Lord of the manner of Tranent, to the monks of Newbattle, about the year 1202, of a coal-pit and quarry on their land of Preston, which then formed part of the parish of Tranent, and, from the cropping out of the seams of coal, must probably have been situated in part of the present parish of Tranent. From the thirteenth century downwards, we have abundant evidence from numerous charters, of the working of coal in the neighbourhood of Tranent, and in the middle of the sixteenth century, (1547), the workings seemed to have extended a considerable distance underground, as Patten, the graphic narrator of Protector Somerset's invasion of Scotland, gives an account of many inhabitants of the district taking refuge in the coal-pits few days before the disastrous Battle of Pinkie. The English, finding it impossible to dislodge them, closed up the pits which gave air to their workings, and, placing fires at the entrance, endeavoured either to drive them out by other apertures, or to suffocate the miserable creatures within; and the narrator coolly remarks, "forasmuch as we found not that they dyd the tone, we thought it for certain thei wear sure of the toother: we had doon that we came for, and so lefte them."
At this period, the mode of relieving the coal workings from water, was by what was called "damming and laving," that is, having followed the seam of coal as far as they could for water, they made a dam or bank, rising above the level of the orifice, or of a ditch cut from it; and by laving the water over this bank, gradually escaped from the mouth of the working. A series of these dams could be made one after the other, and thus the workings, with considerable labour, freed from water; but this mode must have been very hazardous, as any injury to the dam would allow the water to flow back on the lower workings, while no considerable growth of water could have been overcome.
In the course of time, a much more efficient mode of one coalworks by day-levels was introduced; but we are ignorant of the precise date at which they were commenced. The day-level is a mine carried forward from the bed of a stream, or the lowest ground that can be found, directly into the heart of the strata, without following seams of coal. This mine, of course, can be made the means of draining all the coal strata lying above it, and if the "level" or watercourse be kept clear, effectually relieves the workings from water.
The family of Seyton having obtained a grant of the lands of Tranent from Robert the Bruce, from their attachment to his cause, seemed to have devoted much attention to their coal-workings; and from the preface to "Satan's Invisible World," by Sinclair, we learn, that the Earl of Winton of that day had run free levels, for several miles below ground, to drain his coal-works, and had excited the admiration of the writer, by "cutting impregnable rocks with more difficulty than Hannibal cutted the Alps," by "deep pits and air-holes" and "floods of water running through the labyrinths for several miles."
This level, commenced probably about the middle of the seventeenth century, still persists in draining the coal, but it has been extended nearly two miles further than the Earls of Winton carried it, and now reaches the heart of the coal-field. Since the application of the power of steam, this mode of draining coal-works has of course been rendered less essential; but still, where the inclination of the surface admits, it is the most convenient mode of relieving the strata above it, and those below, to raise the water to the mine in place of to the surface. In addition to the main level, which runs in a southerly direction, there were two other levels made in former times, the Heugh level, a branch of the main level, and the Bankton level, which discharges, at the surface, near the mansion house or Bankton.
The only other improvements in regard to coal-works which it is incumbent on us to notice, is in the carriage of coal. In older times, coals were almost invariably carried on horseback, as the state of the roads afforded little facility to wheeled carriages. In 1719, after the attainder of the Earl of Winton, the York-Buildings Company of London purchased many of the forfeited estates., and they seemed to have begun without delay to introduce some of the southern improvements. A tram-road or wooden wagon way was formed from their coal-works near Tranent to the harbour of Port Seton, in the year 1722, by which the coals were conveyed to the salt-pans and shipping; this seems to have been the first approximation to the principle of railways, which in our own day are effecting such changes on the country, as well as on the conveyance of passengers and goods. This old wooden wagon way, (each wagon been drawn by one horse, and conveying to tons of coal,) was continued till 1815, when an iron railway was substituted in place by the Messrs Caddells.
The mode of raising coals where the seam lay within a few fathoms of the surface, was formerly by means of women called "bearers," who carried about 1 1/2 cwt. on their backs, and descended the pit by a bad wooden stair. In the deeper pits, coals were carried to the bottom of the shaft by women, and then raised in wooden tubs by means of a "gin" moved by horses. This mode of raising the coal still continues, except where a gig or small steam engine is substituted, which performs the work with more regularity and speed; below ground also, where the inclination of the coal seam admits of it, the coals are now frequently drawn by horses on iron railways, or pushed forwards by men or boys, who are called "putters."
In the coal workings of this parish, there is fortunately no firedamp, which causes such dreadful accidents. Foul air often occurs in certain states of the atmosphere, or where ventilation is incomplete; but this never requires the precaution of Sir Humphry Davy's lamp, and the extinction of the light, with oppression on the lungs, are sufficient warnings for the miner to retire.
In surveying the coal-fields in the parish of Tranent, it is difficult to imagine that it is been so long wrought,-so large a quantity taken from it, and still so much of the principal seams remaining. In the Cess-roll of the County of Haddington for the year 1653, the Earl of Winton's yearly rent in the parish of Tranent is estimated at L.11,591 13s. 4d., while his casual rent, which must have been derived in a great measure form [sic] coal, is rated so high as L.3333, 6s. 8d.. At the time of the purchase of the Winton estates in 1719 by the York Buildings Company, the coal and salt-works yielded above L.1000 per annum. According to the former Statistical Account of the parish, the produce of Elphinstone colliery, was 6053 tonnes, 15 cwt.; in 1791, it was 8348 tonnes, 10 cwt. At present, the produce of the different coal-works of Tranent, Elphinstone, Birsley, and St Germains, must be about 60,000 tons annually, a large proportion of which is shipped at the new harbour at Cockenzie to foreign parts.
Besides the consumption of coal for ordinary purposes, a number of persons have long been employed in this parish, in converting coal into cinders or coke for malting or drying grain. The process of making cinders, as date are here called, is first, to form a large fire and when the mass is completely ignited, and smoke driven off, the fire is then covered up and extinguished, leaving the purified cinders in a fit state for the maltster. An improved mode has lately been adopted in other parts of the country for forming coke, by burning the coal in small furnaces where a small portion of air is admitted, and the mass is more complete fused; but this improvement has not been hitherto adopted in this parish.
From what is above stated of the coal measures existing throughout the parish, it will be inferred, that freestone is generally to be found at a moderate depth. In several places, quarries producing sandstone well suited for building have been opened, though the quality near the surface is rather soft.
The whinstone or trap dike, intersecting the parish about half a mile from the sea, affords excellent stone for the roads, and has been wrought in various places, but it is much inferior for that purpose to the whinstone obtained from the Garleton Hills, which, on been pulverised, becomes a dry sand, while the Tranent whinstone becomes mud. This superiority has induced those having a charge of the great post-roads to bring the materials for its repair from a quarry behind Huntingdon, six miles to the eastwards, although the carriage of it is thus greatly lengthened.
Hitherto, no other mineral strata or veins have been discovered. Near the trap dike at Cockenzie, some faint traces of ironstone are visible, but have no value. When excavating the sandstone to form the new harbour at Cockenzie, organic remains of fossil trees were found, and at Tranent there are abundant specimens of plant of the Fern tribe, in perfect preservation, in the roof of the coal seams, nearly in contact with the sandstone.



Until the middle of last century, the greater part of the population of this parish, consisting of colliers and Salters, were little better than slaves, being bound to their works for life, and after having engaged in them after the years of puberty, were not permitted to leave their employment, and less the trade was given up. This cruel practice was happily done away in 1775, but the evil effects of it were not so easily overcome. A class thus an urgent in bondage, enjoying little intercourse with others, and the religious instruction not much tended to, could hardly have been expected to keep pace with the civilisation of the country. The vice of drunken this spread is pernicious influence very widely among them, and both families frequently make about £2 per week, the rarely lay by eight any of their wages, and have not there dwellinghouses so comfortably furnished as a farm servants and labourers, you do not and half that amount. …. [this section not complete]


Character and Habits of the People. — Among a population of colliers, it cannot be expected that the habits of the people should be cleanly; and the injurious practice of women working in the pits as bearers, (now happily on the decline with the married females,) so tends to render the houses of colliers most uncomfortable on their return from their labours, and to foster many evils which a neat cleanly home would go far to lessen. Colliers, from their high wages, generally partake of the best butcher-meat, and may be said to live well, but unfortunately they indulge very freely in ardent spirits,-that bane of our working population.
From the above remarks, it is evident that the mass of the people cannot be said to be intellectual, moral, or religious. There are,however, several marked exceptions; and it is big to be hoped, that the present exertions making for the diffusion of religious knowledge in the parish may, by the blessing of God, have a favourable effect upon the character of the inhabitants.



Quarries and Mines. — There are several sandstone quarries in the parish adapted for building, though too soft to bear long exposure to the atmosphere without injury. The trap dikes also, described under "mineralogy," afford good materials for the roads. The extensive coal mines of the parish have already been pretty fully described under mineralogy. It is only necessary to add, that about 300 males, 100 females and children, are generally employed at them.
The mode of working the coal strata is that usually adopted, namely, "stoop and room," or a sufficient number of pillars of coal left to support the roof. Few horses have yet been used, the baskets of coals being pushed by men along iron railways below ground, to the bottom of the pit, where they are raised by a horse gin or steam power. Most of the modern improvements in mining have been introduced, and of late years some of the pits have been "tubbed," or cased round with cast iron segments which former a cylinder. The operation is performed bus: a "wedging crib" or circle formed by pieces of oak is laid upon hard stratum, the cast iron segments are then carefully placed on it, and a thin piece of fir wood is put betwixt every joint. After all the segments required are built round the sides of the pit, and the whole kept down by a building of stone above, wedges are driven into the joints of the segments until the whole was made perfectly watertight; the water been thus prevented from getting out of the porous strata and escaping down the pit. In former times, this was attained more rudely by casing the pit with wood; behind which, fine clay was carefully puddled.
From the numerous old coal pits in the western parts of the parish, and the breadth and number of the roads in that direction, it is probable that the greater part of the supply of coals for Edinburgh, was derived from this quarter back in former times.



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