top of page

 The Earl of Abercorn had let some of his coal and salt works to an enterprising man called John Biggar, who built a drainage tunnel through the estates of Edmonstone, Niddry, and Duddingston to the sea at Joppa, a distance of three miles.


Woolmet Coal Mine

The same John Biggar received a license to keep a public House over at Cairnie to sell bread, ale, beer, spirits, candles, and other commodities to his collier slaves. who now had to supply their own candles and pay for the sharpening of their tools from his meager wage. (His colliers were still slaves)

So now not only did the Coal-Masters own pits and slaves (serfs), they owned the shops. Colliers were forced to buy all their requirements there. In most cases, no money was passed. goods were to the value of the labor. In a time of sickness, short-time, or unemployment the shop would give credit. Repayment would be deductible from future labor. Even after the law freed colliers from servitude many families were trapped for life in this vicious spiral of debt. Known as the Truck Shop System (part payment in goods) this was by now common practice in mining communities.


Lothian Coal owners met regularly to fix prices.

Copied from archives Oct 2000 Working copy



This parish abounds in coal, and previous to the year 1790, 270 workmen were in constant employment. At that period, thirteen seams of coal had been discovered and partly wrought upon the grounds of Duddingston, and several of these seams were of first-rate quality. The inclinations and dips of the minerals were to the west, and nearly at an angle of 45 degrees from the horizon to the east, which always rendered the working of the coal an extremely difficult and dangerous process, and which, in the end, was the cause of these mines being given up, as they could not be kept clear of the water.  When the lands of Duddingston belonged to the Duchess of Argyle, a machine, named "chains and basket," was employed to raise the water from a great depth. At the time this property was purchased by the late Earl of Abercorn in the year 1745, the coal mines were let to a Mr. Biggar of Woolmet, a man of very considerable enterprise, who opened a level from the sea, in the form of a large drain, more than three miles in extent, which he carried through the estates of Duddingston, Niddry, and part of Edmonstone, as far as Woolmet-bank.

This extensive level proved of great advantage to the proprietors of the more elevated coal-works, but, in the end, completely ruined the collieries of Duddingston by an overflow of water. About the year 1763, the Earl of Abercorn, in order to clear the mines of this water, erected a powerful engine that extended its operations to the depth of fifty-two fathoms. This engine was rendered altogether useless in 1790, when, on the 20th of March, the whole seams were overflowed and choked, from the communication of the parish; and the Marquis of Abercorn has lately leased the mines to an English gentleman. A powerful steam engine has recently been erected, and it is expected that a large supply of coal will shortly be obtained. level with the higher grounds. It may be mentioned also, that, before this time, another engine of even greater power had been erected near the southern boundary of the parish, to work the coal of Brunstane. The shaft of this engine-pit reached to the depth of sixty fathoms, and intersected three seams of coal; the first was seven feet thick, the second nine, and the last fifteen. The other substances through which it descended, were deep strata of a coarse red sandstone; and nearest to the coal, a kind of pyrites schist, which the workmen called "bands of bleas."

bottom of page