Last Sunday four generations of my family enjoyed an afternoon out at Lochore Meadows Country Park and a fine time was had by all. This lovely spot in central Fife was once home to many now lost mining communities. The astonishing revitalisation of the region from slag heaps to summer playground prompted me to have a look at the history of the area.
Coal was king in this part of the country from the middle of the 19th century until the second half of the 20th. At its peak in the 1950’s Glengraig Colliery for example employed 1500 miners. The work was filthy and brutal and many died in innumerable accidents over the century including my wife’s Grandfather. However despite the horrors there seems to have been an extraordinary sense of solidarity and community here. Glencraig even had a Ladies Football team in the 1920’s. This part of the world was also home to one of only three Communist MPs ever to serve in the House of Commons, Willie Gallacher. MP for West Fife from 1935 to 1950. The 50th anniversary of his death will be on the 12th of August this year.
Lochore Meadows Country Park holds a few reminders of these past times. A winding wheel stands idle in a corner of the park, a small engine once used to haul the trucks underneath and there is a representation of just how cramped the working conditions were so deep underground.
The area was once home to seven pits, the Lindsay Pit which opened in 1873, the Nellie Pit 1880, the Aitken Pit 1895, Lumphinnans Pit 1896, Glencraig Pit 1896, the Mary Pit 1904 and Benarty Pit 1945. All these mines closed between 1959 and 1966 and left behind a scarred and desolate landscape. Reclamation work commenced in 1967 and over several years the area was transformed into the wonderful landscape you can experience to this day.
The park centre houses the Lochside Café, a shop, conference facilities, public toilets with baby changing facilities as well as offices and visitor information.
Currently Fife Coast and Countryside Trust are developing plans to replace the current building with a new Visitor Centre. Details of the progress so far can be found here.
The dramatic changes to this part of Scotland could stand as a metaphor for how Scotland has changed over the last century or so. We have gone from the workshop and powerhouse of the Empire to a new place redolent with renewable energy, tourism and culture. The bedrocks of our economy are now banking and service industries; (though we still have a large oil & gas sector) software pioneers, universities, writers and artists, and high value food producers and many others. Our products are now more of the intellect than the blood sweat and tears of heavy labour and industry. In many ways and for many people this transformation has been a traumatic experience. Much has been lost and left behind, but we should not be too nostalgic for the past. We should be grateful that few if any of us will ever experience the filthy, hot and dangerous work that was coal mining and be forever grateful to those who’s huge effort gave us this chance to be what we are.
There are many web sites that I have plundered in the writing of the blog, and I am grateful for the chance to read their stories, here’s a few if you are interested.
http://benarty.org.uk/ (Reading through some of the old newspapers on this site is an education in itself!)