County Folk Lore is a collection of stories written by Ewart Simpkins John in 1914, and is released for free on www.archive.org. The book explores the different uses of the social sciences, and we have selected the specific chapters that highlights life, old sayings and superstitions from around the Fife area and specifically in Lochgelly.
Written in 1896 by an old miner, A.C., Lochgelly, (aged about 70 years)
I will now give you my little essay on the rise and progress of the mining industry in Lochgelly for a hundred and fifty years back. You will find it both interesting and amusing, and at same time all truth.
Their work and mode of living was the constant fire-side talk. We are the oldest race of miners that belongs to Lochgelly, and have been all born in that little old row of houses called Launcherhead, and the mines where they wrought were round about it.
It was the custom at that time for the man and his wife to work both. The man digged the coals, and his wife carried them to the pit bank on her back. They were called Bearers, and if anything went wrong with the man she had to be both miner and Bearer both. Such was the case with my Grandmother. She was left a widow with five of a family, three girls and two boys. My Father was six months old, and my uncle B. was two years, there being no other way for her to support her family but to make herself a general miner.
So she put her two boys in her coal creel, carried them down the pit and laid them at the stoop side until she digged her coals and carried them to the pit bank on her back. When she rested she gave my father a drink and my uncle a spoonful of cold stoved potatoes. Potatoes formed the greatest part of their living at that time. That was in about 1725! (The date is possibly wrong and is reckoned it is meant to read 1795)
There was only nine miners in Lochgelly at that time, and at the end of the year my grandmother had the highest out-put of coal on Lochgelly work. Their daily output was little over ten tons. Last time the mining industry of Lochgelly was brought up she was the leading character. After her family grew up she drove both coal mines and stone ones. She drove a great part of the day- level leading from Water Orr. The air was sometimes that bad that a light of no description would burn : the only light she had was the reflection from Fish Heads, 2 and her family carried the rade to the bank. The name of this remarkable female miner was Hannah Hodge.
Sir Gilbert Elliot was the laird of Lochgelly at that time. He had them all up to Lochgelly House two or three [times] every year and had a proper spree with them. There was two Englishmen, father and son, the name of Chisholm, took Lochgelly work and kept it as long as they lived and their sons after them.
They invented the first machine here for raising coal and that was a windlass and they raised the output from ten to fifteen tons. The only machine for raising coal before that was the miners’ wives. As time rolled on the Father and Son got married on my two aunts. Such a marriage has not taken place in Lochgelly for one hundred and fifteen years [before that].
William Stewart carried on the work after their father’s death. They introduced a Gin and brought the output up to 25 tons. Mr. Henderson and company got the work next and they raised the output up to 30 tons. And it has increased every year since that time. When the Nellie workings got up through on the old workings that I heard them talk so much about I travelled (walked) a whole day to see where my Father and Mother wrought, and I saw my Uncle B.’s mind (‘mind’ = mine, Fifeshire) where he made such a narrow escape of his life. He was driving a mind from the parrot seam to the splent to let off a great quantity of water that was lying there. It blew the side out of his mind. It knocked him up to the high side which saved his life. If he had gone out the day level with the water he never been seen (again).
He was very jocular and about as good of walking on his hands as feet. He got himself rightly arranged with his lamp hanging on his back-side and walked up and down past Launcherhead doors and every one that looked out thought they were no use of them going to work that day after seeing a man walking about the place wanting the head. All the miners in Lochgelly lived in Cooperhall and Launcherhead and was full of superstition.”
After dealing with Lochgelly in recent times the old man says:
“For every holing a miner takes off he can sit down and say to himself ‘ I sit here where human foot has never trod nor human voice has rung/ and that is more than Stanley could say ‘after his travels through Africa.’
Miners’ Freits. The old-fashioned miner had a strong objection to meeting a black cat or a woman, especially an “old wife,” and more so one with a white mutch on, while on his way to work. Many colliers even yet will turn back and lose a day’s work rather than proceed in face of the possible ill-luck involved. It is supposed to mean accident, either to the man or to the place he is in. The cases are cited of a man who, in spite of the meeting, went to work and got his leg broken, and of another who went to work and found his ” place ” fallen in.
When an accident happened in the pit, all who heard of it used to ” lowse,” i.e. cease from work. In these days of large collieries the news does not always reach the working places; but in the event of any serious accident, involving say, two or three deaths, the whole of the men employed usually come to the pit bank and cease work for the day.
County Folk Lore VII
Author: Ewart Simpkins John
Publisher: Sidgwick And Jackson Limited
Download Link: http://archive.org/details/countyfolklorevo030979mbp