MEMORIES OF PRESTONLINKS PIT - John Cunningham
(Formerly of 2 North Grange A venue
and brother of Jenny Naysmith)
I was born in 1909 at Middle Street, Summerlee. one of a family
of twelve. I started working down the pit at Prestonlinks in early
January. 1924 when I was fourteen. We started at six in the morning
and finished at three and you got a break of a quarter of an hour
and that was your piece time when you ate your bread with jam
or cheese. The tin piece boxes were made in the shape of a plain
loaf - no pan bread for us - and we had tin bottles for water
or cold tea. I've been told that there arc still some of these
old piece boxes at the mining museum. A group of us used to gather
together and have our piece and a wee bit blether and laugh during
this break. You didn't gel any other spare time. Quarter of an
hour and that was all. We were like zombies!
My first pay was 3/7d (18p) a day and if you wanted extra you
had to work overtime which I did as I was a bit of a workaholic.
There were no pit baths at that time so we had to walk home dirty
and if we had been working in water our clothes were soaking.
My mother had no bathroom so we had to wash in a big bath in front
of the fire and all the water had to be boiled on the fire. I
remember I used to stretch out on the fender stool after I was
washed and fall asleep. We had moved along to the High Street
by this time to a house opposite the Coronation Gardens.
We wore moleskins which were very heavy trousers and wee canvas
hats which had a bit of metal at the front where the lamp hung.
Later, we had helmets with electric lamps which were very heavy.
weighing about half a stone. The batteries were strapped to you
although you never felt the weight when you were working. The
lamps were charged even day in the lamp cabin by Wullie Graham.
We went down the pit in the cage and the winding engineman was
Dick Hamilton. We then walked about four hundred yards and went
down an incline of one in throe as far out as the pit went. It
was quite a walk but conditions were not too bad. although you
got a lot of water from the roof When I started I worked in number
five and my father who was a deputy at that time worked there
too. Everybody walked, even old Walter Muir who had only one leg
walked down that road. He was Hugh Muir the piper's father. The
height wasn't too bad but at the face I've seen it being only
two and a half or three feet high. Each man had a stretch, about
twenty feet or twenty five and you marked it out with chalk every
My first job was coupling on hutches. I always remember on my
first day. every time I bent down. my cap caught fire from the
old tally lamps. I was actually crying at times. I wasn't very
tall. quite dumpy. and I was number Five in the seam. You had
to buy your own tools, a pick. a shovel and a hammer, what they
called a mash. It was all wooden props at first, but latterly
they got the steel props. When you were older you went on to the
drawing, that was filling the empty hutches and taking them away.
This was done manually.
Tommy Malcolm, who later became my father-in-law, was the faceman
who actually dug out the coal and we filled the hutches and pulled
them out of the seam. We chalked our mark on them and they went
up the pit and were checked by the check weighman. so we were
paid according to the number of hutches we filled. In those days
there would be maybe six drawers and seven hutches so you had
to tear in this road and back out again to try and catch the extra
hutch. It was hard work. I did that for two years then I did brushing
and back brushing. I worked with an old Irish character who was
very witty so we had some good laughs.
As far as safety was concerned, it was up to yourself. I would
say 85% of accidents were caused by neglect on somebody's part.
I was not involved in any accidents. The worst I had was broken
wrists and burst fingers. I remember one explosion where there
were two men killed but that was put down to smoking. As I said.
neglect again. The worst of it was that when men wanted a smoke
they really were in danger because they went into hidden places
where there was more chance of being a gas explosion. Canaries
were kept in the winding engine house till they were needed to
detect gas and when the canary got the first whiff of gas it just
fell over. There were ponies down the pit too.
At one time the Links was like two pits. There was a section called
the New Mine where you went straight down and then there was the
Sea Dook which was nearer Port Seton. but you were not allowed
to move from one pit to the other. If you worked in the New Mine,
you stayed in the New Mine. If you worked in the Sea Dook. you
stayed in the Sea Dook. They were very strict about that. There's
still a lot of coal there but I think it starts near the shore
and goes up to Tranent where it gradually comes nearer the surface.
Going towards the sea the strata went further down. Funnily enough
even though it was under the sea it wasn't as wet as inIand pits.
I remember my father being at the cutting of the Hattle rocks,
which are whin rocks out in the Forth. You can see them on the
surface at low water but they go away down under the seabed. They're
situated practically opposite where the old tunnel was. The mining
engineers knew there was coal there but when you hit these, you
had to cut through to get at the coal which was beyond them. The
coal could be either up so many feet or down so many feet. There
was no machinery then. so they had to be drilled with big hand
drills and it was very hard work. The first boring machines that
came out were just a screw in a barrel with a handle on it and
you drilled till the screw run out then changed into another one.
In later years we got automatic drills and that's what they use
now. The first machine I remember was a number one bar which used
to cut the coal well.
The Links had a good system of benefits. You used to get three
bags of coal a week. two in the summer and a ton of coal cost
17/- (85p) which was very cheap. In 1934 the baths started and
we were able to buy cheap towels which were very good value. Jock
Hay was the baths attendant and he ran the baths well. as you
didn't dare go through the clean side when you were dirty!
Because of the pits. Prestonpans was a great industrial place,
with a pottery, glassworks. ropery. brickworks. soapworks. saltworks.
I can also remember boats coming into Morrison's Haven to collect
We didn't have much time for recreation, but there were always
bands at the pits. There was both a pipe band and a silver band
attached to the Links and Bob Johnston was the pipe major. My
father was a piper at one time. I always remember inarching behind
the two bands down to the Gala Day in Prestonlinks Park. We used
to have a wee tinny and got a bag of buns and ran races. This
gave us a lot of pleasure. There was a Miners' Welfare Institute
too where we could go. Peter Edmond was in charge and ran it well.
He was strict and if people didn't behave he put them out!
When I got married to Mima in 1937 my wage was £2.8.6d (£2.42p)
a week as we worked to contractors at that time. We lived at First
in what was Laidlaw's property, renting two rooms from Mrs Murray.
The First house we got was at 4 McLeod Crescent then we swapped
houses with Lily Edmond who was a great HighIand dancer, so was
her sister. This house was a bungalow at 2 North Grange Avenue.
The gates arc still there that were made at the pit by my brother-in-law
Archie Malcolm and myself. My wife's parents lived in North Crescent,
the miners' houses and these were about the best houses in Prestonpans.
They were better than the miners' rows as they had gardens and
were built in crescents.
Prestonlinks shut down in 1962 and I was transferred to Dalkeith
which was a mine so we walked down instead of going down the shaft.
I didn't like Dalkeith funnily enough, as it was much wetter than
Prestonlinks and the Fleets at Tranent was the same. The inIand
pits were worse.
I retired in 1972 and when Mima died I decided to join my family
in South Africa, where I still live. but I enjoy coming back to
the Pans to see all my relatives and friends. I have always had
good health and. looking back. I wouldn't have changed my time
in the Links for anything. Even although it was hard work it was
all we knew. so they were happy times!
Acknowledgement goes to Betty Wilson for the above as she persuaded
John to tell this story on one of his return visits
Prestonlinks Miners ' Welfare