By Dave Berry, former council leader


VISITORS travelling past trim council and commuter houses in the west of the county to reach the rural east see little now of our industrial heritage. But locals would do well to remember it, for it may well gift us a cleaner future.

Medieval surface coal workings from the 12th century at Preston led to a cluster of early industries in the area, including salt pans, soap making and, eventually, Fowler’s brewery.

But it was the 18th-century energy of the industrial revolution that turned Tranent into a town and founded most western villages.

Those surface workings just scratched the tip of the massive Lothian coalfield, which stretches from Penicuik, out under the Forth to connect with Fife’s. Its five seams varied in width from one to three metres, the best coal lying 150m deep and requiring innovative deep mining technology to extract.

The new steam engines solved the perennial problem of pumping out water.

Being next to Morrison’s Haven for easy transport, Prestongrange, by Prestonpans, was the first major pit in the 1740s.

With the help of a beam engine from Cornwall, it went deep in 1830.

A second pit with shafts under the Forth was sunk at Prestonlinks in 1899. One shaft linked with a Fife colliery, making it possible to walk under the Forth.

The 1722 Tranent-Cockenzie Waggonway opened inland pits by connecting them with Cockenzie harbour. These developed into Fleets (1866) and Limeylands (1895) collieries.

These were linked, along with Carberry (1866) and Tynemount (1922), to the North British Railway by the Garvald & Gifford Railway.

Wallyford, Whitecraig, Elphinstone, Ormiston and Macmerry all grew up to house miners working there.

For 500-800 miners at each pit, working conditions were dreadful, being cramped, hot, dirty and dangerous.

Mechanical diggers appeared around the time of the Second World War and pithead baths became universal only with the National Coal Board (NCB) in 1948.

The NCB dug new shallow mines like Winton (1949) and Meadowmill (1952), and the Monktonhall ‘superpit’ (1954), but their future was short. All mines but Monktonhall were closed by 1964.

These forgotten mines offer more for our future than just Prestongrange Mining Museum. The old Prestonlinks site could become a cruise and ferry terminal, boosting tourism.

To offset coal they once produced for burning, old flooded mines could provide geothermal heated water for up to 20,000 homes, replacing thousands of tons of carbon from central heating systems in even modern ‘green’ homes.