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
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.
The ‘Coal App’
Catherine Mills (history), together with post and undergraduate students from the University are collaborating with local community groups and individuals, to produce an expanding series of curated heritage walks that narrate the story of Scottish coal mining through the medium of, and active engagement with, the disappearing landscape legacies, utilising a mix of industrial archaeology, historic maps plans and images and oral testimonies. The walks are available as a free to download mobile phone app.
In October 2020 the coverage of the 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.
You can download the ‘coal app’ for free here, or visit your mobile store and search for 'Landscape Legacies of Coal'.
The aims of the ‘coal app’ project are 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 offers a sustainable method of community co-production that offers 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 project was generously supported by, and owes it origins to a community heritage initiative by MacRobert Arts Centre that focused on coal, delivered in autumn 2017. This consisted of a series of interlinked activities centred around a contemporary dance performance by Gary Clarke depicting the miners’ strike. An exhibition by Falkirk artist Philip Gurrey entitled Undermined that depicted mining past present and future, community art and drama workshops and community screening of the film Still The Enemy Within.
The coal app is dedicated to Alastair Ross who passed away suddenly and never saw the project fully accomplished.
‘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.
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. Click here to check out what the Team has been up to and if you have a coal mining story to share contact Catherine firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ‘coal app’ features 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.
Downloading the ‘coal app’ will allow you to not only explore but to connect and engage with local and historic coal mining sites. Users are 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).
Download the app
If you have downloaded the app and walked the routes already we would love to hear from you either use the formal feedback mechanism on the app or contact Catherine Landscapelegaciesofcoal@stir.ac.uk.
We are also building a photographic collection of the routes on Flickr. If you would like to share your pictures of walking the routes please send the image(s) to Catherine at email@example.com.
Find out more about the walking routes in the Landscape Legacies of Coal app and see their location on Google Maps.
Coal Mining history has been explored through an economic, social, technological, labour, health, and community lens but with limited discussion of mines and miners in relation to their physical environment. Here the emphasis is on post-abandonment and issues generally relate to environmental social impacts such dereliction and the close association with deprivation.
This project will seek to explore how miners, and those who lived and worked in mining communities, represented their landscape in poetry, song, art, fiction and oral testimony. Tracing these representations from the 18th Century to the present, this project will investigate depictions of the place of mining, the site itself and its situation within the local landscape and how it has changed over time.
In exploring mining sites as represented by ‘their’ communities, this PhD project will unite an existing body of knowledge with the intangible heritage of memory, attachment and community experiences of mining landscapes and how these have evolved over time in response to progression and decline of the industry.
The aim of this project is to address gaps in the knowledge of our understanding of the history of the coal industry by emphasising the mining landscape and its significance to a mining community’s collective memory and sense of place. It also presents an opportunity to demonstrate the importance and contribution of the arts and humanities in valuing Scotland’s industrial landscape legacy beyond the derelict and contaminated.
Key research questions
1. How did the historical communities/workers who had close engagement with coal mines view them as part of their local environment? What representational strategies did they use in describing these environments, and what do these tell us about the 'place' of Scottish mining?
2. How do these representations develop from the eighteenth century to the present?
3. What value does the study of historical and literary texts, and use of oral history narratives, add to landscape history approaches to mining sites?
4. How might this research be used, both by industrial heritage museums, and in current/future reclamation projects?
Julie Ann McHale: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Download the Landscape Legacies of Coal app
Actively celebrate Scottish mining history.
Through a series of curated heritage walking routes, the Landscape Legacies of Coal app promotes active engagement with the often hidden, but valuable legacy of Scottish coal mining. It highlights the story of coal and the communities that depended on it through the physical remains of the industry.