The development of the coal industry in Mid and West Lothian, 1815-1873

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 1976
Thesis identifier
  • T2(1976)
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • The nineteenth century Lothians' coal industry was based on two fields: the Mid and East Lothian field, to which the following comments primarily apply; and the West Lothian field, which presents many points of contrast. Towards the close of the eighteenth century the supply of Lothian coal was becoming increasingly inelastic. With fuel demand rising rapidly in Scotland a crisis developed in the Edinburgh coal market. This coal shortage, which lasted until the mid-1810s, revealed serious shortcomings in the methods of producing and marketing Lothian coal. These deficiencies left the industry ill-equipped to face the much more competitive state of the coal trade over the next thirty years. The Lothians’ industrial structure of the late eighteenth century appeared to promise much for the future evolution of coal demand. During the Industrial Revolution, however, there was a shift of emphasis in Scotland’s industrial development to the Glasgow region. The Lothians did not become an important manufacturing area, partly because earlier relative advantages with respect to the supply of vital industrial raw materials disappeared. The chief impact of transport improvement during the first half of the nineteenth century was to undermine the already deteriorating competitive position of the Lothians' coal industry: fresh supplies of coal invaded the important Edinburgh market, which Lothian collieries had previously dominated. Only from about mid-century were the modernized Lothian collieries able to utilize the growing railway network with effect for the expansion of sales. Reliance on the slow-moving Edinburgh market had vitiated mining entrepreneurship. Stagnationist tendencies were only overcome when more favourable market conditions emerged after 1840, which created new opportunities for Lothian coalmasters. This development of demand elicited significant changes on the supply side. Up to about 1850 landed proprietors were responsible for most of the Lothians' coal output. The subsequent modernization of the industry was carried out primarily by the mining tenant. By the early 1870s the local industry was growing as fast as the Scottish coal industry, and was to the forefront in the adoption of new techniques and methods of business organization. Social change followed an even more backward path than economic development. Until the early 1840s in the Lothians large numbers of women and children were employed in the pits, the mining villages were squalid, and the colliers fitfully participated in violent unrest. High wages, spasmodic working patterns, and oppressive methods of social control in the early nineteenth century, gave way to low wages, regular working behaviour, and subtle methods of social control after the 1840s. The servile mining community was transformed into the community of deference. Paternalistic coal owners provided much improved social amenities. Trade unionism became docile. Between 1840 and 1870 the social significance of the landed presence in the mining communities increased, while its economic role declined. The chief influences on the economic and social development of the Lothians' coal industry during the period under study were the evolution of the market, and the relative stability in employer-worker relationships.
Advisor / supervisor
  • Duckham, Baron F. (Baron Frederick)
Resource Type