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When coal was king

The memorial in High Valleyfield to remember those killed in the 1939 disasterIt is hard to believe that until a few decades ago, mining played such a major part in the daily lives of West Fife villagers.

Whole communities grew up round the industry but today there is little evidence of mines and miners, apart from some memorials, reclaimed land and clubs.

Among the hardy band of workers who were employed at local pits is Eddie Martin, of Newmills, who was based at Valleyfield Colliery until it closed in the late 1970s.

He was head lampman for almost 20 years and was also surface foreman in the final four years of the colliery.

Eddie, who spent 36 years at Valleyfield, has written a short history of the colliery and some of the people who "made it."

Coal was mined in the area for many years and two of the first to work the upper seams extensively were Lord Archibald Cochrane, 9th Earl of Dundonald along with the Prestons of Valleyfield.

Eddie recalls: "One of the Earl's pits, known as the Milton Engine pit, was sited some 50 yards to the east of numbers 1 and 2 pits at Valleyfield.

"The Earl deepened the shaft of the pit, which he acquired around 1793, and worked the coals to the North and East to the rise.

This statue marks 70 years of mining in Valleyfield"The coal was of good quality and, writing in 1793, the Earl stated that at Valleyfield valuable seams of caking and splint coals had been discovered."

Work on Low Valleyfield Colliery began in 1908, with the engine houses built before sinking commenced in 1909.

"The coal field was enormous. In the early days of the sinking, part of the coal seams cut through were those worked by the Earl of Dundonald and the Prestons of Valleyfield.

"The Valleyfield coal was to prove to be of the best coking and navigation quality in the country," says Eddie.

In 1911, the first year of production, a sinker was killed after falling off scaffolding in No 1 pit, followed later in the year by two men and a boy (15) who lost their lives in a methane gas blow-out.

There were few years that were fatality-free, but the biggest tragedy struck in 1939 when 35 men were killed and 26 injured, two seriously, following an explosion.

An inquiry lasting three months found that there were serious breaches of regulations, the owners and management being charged with neglect.

Eddie compiled a special, very moving poem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster, which also saw the unveiling of a memorial in High Valleyfield.

Working practices also changed over the decades, with up to a dozen ponies being used until 1930 for haulage work underground.

At one time there were also around a dozen pit head girls employed on the picking belts, "tables" and tipplers - with one losing their life.

After the Second World War, development continued at Valleyfield and, in 1954, work started on sinking No 3 pit.

As several neighbouring collieries closed in the 1960s, Valleyfield received an influx of manpower but, through a combination of factors, the last mine cars of coal were delivered up the Valleyfield pit in April 1968. Valleyfield had lost its identity as it became Kinneil Valleyfield Colliery, operating from Kinneil, the pits having become linked by a tunnel under the Forth.

In the 30 years from 1942, another 17 workers lost their lives at Valleyfield.
When the colliery closed in 1978, many of the men were transferred to other undertakings, but those operations too came to an end.

Our thanks to Eddie Martin for the above information taken from 'Valleyfield Colliery and some of the people who made it'

Blairhall Bogside Cairneyhill Carnock Comrie Crombie Culross Gowkhall Kilbagie Kincardine Newmills Oakley Saline Steelend Torryburn Valleyfield