This is the third of ten stories about how coal was mined in North Lanarkshire.
Coal is usually found deep in the ground and for centuries people have gone to great lengths to get it, using ingenuity and taking enormous risks.
Coal fuelled the industrial revolution. It was burned to heat homes, to power steam engines, to make iron. It could also be heated to extract gas and oil. In fact, coal gas used in most homes until North Sea gas was discovered. Scottish coal production grew from 2 million tonnes in 1800 to a peak of 42½ million in 1913.
Lanarkshire was home to Scotland’s biggest coalfield and at its peak in 1910 the county was home to about 200 coal mines.
Sometimes you were working in water. Lying on our stomachs in water digging out the coal. That was what Shotts was like.
Mr A Shearer
As mines were dug further below the water table, it became critical to keep them dry.
Water posed a serious danger to miners and could slow down or even stop mining operations. One of the earliest recorded mining accidents in the Monklands occurred in 1796 when the Forth and Clyde Canal burst its banks at Coats, near Coatbridge. The nearby Coats Pit was flooded:
The water gushed into the workings, where five men were employed, two of whom escaped, but the other three perished. The pit was filled to the mouth, and the bodies were never recovered; and the father of one of the victims planted a slip of hawthorn at the side of the pit, and the tree still stands to mark the spot.
‘The Rise and Progress of Coatbridge and Surrounding Neighbourhood’ by Andrew Miller, 1864.
In Lanarkshire the dangers were brought home again in 1918 when heavy rain led to an in-rush of ‘moss’ (peat and water) in Stanrigg Colliery. 19 people were killed, two of whom were just 14 years old.
At first mines were restricted to sites where water could be lifted easily by buckets. As water seepage is usually continuous, a constant supply of power was needed for pumping the water out again.
From Roman times, waterwheels and horse gins were used to lift water from mines. The invention of the steam engine made a huge difference and allowed mines to go much deeper. In the 1900s electricity was used to drive very efficient pumps.
Sometimes a coal mine has to be kept dry even after it has closed, to prevent water from its workings flooding neighbouring mines.