Image of mining headgear

Landscape Legacies of Coal Mining

It is not so long ago that coal had a place in everyday life in Central Scotland. At its peak in the post-war period, the industry employed around 140,000 workers and met roughly 90% of the Nation’s demand for fuel.

The local landscape of the colliery towns and villages were dominated by the bing, the headstock, colliery buildings, the railway sidings and the associated housing, clubs and bowling greens. Rapid decline from the 1960s brought closure, demolition and subsequent repurposing and/or redevelopment of the colliery sites that erased much of the industrial archaeology of one of Scotland’s foremost industries. Although often hard to discern, visible traces of coal mining remain in the landscape today, ranging from sunken hollows, patches of colliery waste and piles of building rubble through to communication networks, reclaimed bings and repurposed buildings.

About the project

Project overview

The project has two distinctive but interlinked stands, the creation of the ‘coal app’, a series of co-produced and curated heritage walks, and a self-contained but underpinning research project exploring how the public experience, understand and value post-extractive landscapes.

coal mining landscapes

The ‘Coal App’

Catherine Mills (history), together with post and undergraduate students from the University collaborated with local community groups and individuals. Together they produced an expanding series of curated heritage walks that narrated the story of Scottish coal mining through the medium of, and active engagement with, the disappearing landscape legacies, using a mix of historic maps, plans and images and oral testimonies. The walking routes were available as a free to download mobile phone app. 

In October 2020 the coverage of the Coal App was expanded to include the wider UK beginning with the Northwest Leicestershire coalfield and Desford Colliery. For the full story behind this shift in focus see The Coal Bunker: Blogs from the Landscape Legacies of Coal Team.

The aims of the project were to provide a dynamic record of the rapidly disappearing landscape features and industrial archaeology, and to increase local cultural understanding of mining heritage and of the social and economic significance of the coal industry.

The initiative offered a sustainable method of community co-production that provided a new medium for individuals and community groups to express issues around their heritage, a novel method of heritage recording and preservation and the creation of artistic artefacts.

The Coal App was generously supported by MacRobert Arts Centre and dedicated to Alastair Ross who passed away suddenly and never saw the project fully accomplished.

The App is no longer available to download as support for the generic template that it was designed to has been withdrawn. If you have already had it downloaded to your phone or tablet it will continue to work, after five years of operation, however, it is also coming to the end of its functional life. 

We are exploring new funding routes to development a new, more sustainable, and accessible web-based platform that will allow us to bring the current contents of the Coal App, the blog, website, and social media under ‘one umbrella’ and rebrand as an Eco-museum of Scottish Mining Landscape. The emphasis of the current routes will also be expanded to include a greater focus on a) the diverse and ‘feral’ ecology of former colliery sites, particularly the waste tips; b) to narrate the next phase in their story by including afforestation and carbon capture and the black to green energy transitions with geo-thermal, methane and wind power; and c) the geology and understanding the ground beneath your feet.

‘Value, Perceptions and Understanding’

This is a self-contained research project that parallels the ‘Coal App’ initiative and is led jointly by Catherine and Ian McIntosh (sociology).

Academia and policy makers primarily understand post-industrial and extractive landscapes in adverse terms, often within a social and economic policy context. These environments are degraded wastelands representing loss and social dislocation, strongly associated with health inequalities and deprivation particularly within an urban setting.

Less visible are the counter-views that suggest that these spaces offer urban wildscapes where flora and fauna can flourish, they also provide leisure and ‘play’ opportunities that are free of overt regulation and they have an affirmative role both in narrating past industrial glories and shaping communal memory, identity and place.

These studies are generally approached from a ‘top down’ perspective and often skewed by the researcher’s individual view point. Community collaboration on the coal app offered the opportunity for a ‘bottom up’ approach and to explore how the public value these spaces.

Traditional historical research, to create landscape biographies, combined with ethnographical approaches (on site observations, face to face interviews and an online questionnaire) captured public perception, understanding and use of these sites. Tentative analysis of the data suggests a more nuanced and complex mix of negative and positive values determined by individual site histories, notions of identity and personal memories. In terms of use, leisure pursuits were a clear component, together with space for both reflection and appreciation of nature.

You can view the published article ‘I see the Site of the Old Colliery Scotland’s Landscape Legacy of Coal here Everyday’. Thank you to everyone who participated the project, completed the questionnaire or took time out to be interviewed in person.

The Coal Bunker: Blogs from the Landscape Legacies of Coal Team

The blogs began in response to the cancellation of series events to mark the first anniversary of the Coal App as a result of COVID-19 guidelines. Read The Coal Bunker to check out what the Team has been up to and if you have a coal mining story to share contact Catherine   

Coal App

Legacies of Coal app logo

The ‘coal app’ featured information about the route, start points, parking, route distances, nature of the terrain with real time tracking, together with suitability for families, buggies, bike and wheelchairs. Also indicated are opportunities to extend or shorten the walks, mid route parking, public toilets and coffee and cake stops and you can choose between map and satellite.

mobile phones showing coal mining app

The ‘coal app’ allowed you to not only explore but to connect and engage with local and historic coal mining sites. Users were also encouraged to share their stories and images, discover additional features in the landscape for inclusion on the app, suggest ideas for new routes and importantly report and record landscape changes as with the Meta Bath House (below). This was demolished in September 2019 and replaced by a new agricultural building. (Thank you to Peter Howson for reporting the change and sending the image).

meta-baths-760x470 new-meta-baths-760x470


Find out more about the walking routes in the Landscape Legacies of Coal app and see their location on Google Maps.

View walking routes

New research project: An exploration of social haunting in a former Scottish pit village

Under the broad umbrella of the Landscape Legacies of Coal Initiative, Ian McIntosh (Sociology) and Catherine Mills (History) are working on a small research project exploring the concept of ‘social haunting’ (Bell, 1997) as applied to the process of de-industrialisation.

Find out more about the research project

Abandoned and derelict coal mine

News and events

Find out more about our latest news and events.

Get in touch

Follow Landscape Legacies of Coal on Facebook and X to stay updated with the project’s developments. You can also find out more or get involved in the project by emailing us.