In researching background information for the excellent Landscape Legacies of Coal project, Catherine and her students have spent many hours at the National Mining Museum Scotland’s library and archive. The chance to write this blog is an ideal opportunity to introduce you to our library collection.
The aim is to give a brief history of our museum before highlighting examples from our diverse and wide-reaching collection. I hope in doing so you’ll be encouraged to pay us a visit (and of course take a walk around the area using the Newtongrange trail).
Lady Victoria Colliery opened in 1894. Created by the Lothian Coal Company, it was at that time the largest colliery in Scotland. The company built hundreds of houses for its workforce and the Gothenburg pub the Dean Tavern furnished the village with a cinema, reading rooms, a park, and a variety of sports facilities. Over the years, further buildings were constructed to expand the colliery, and of particular note is the construction in the 1950s of a pithead baths, canteen and laboratory, all linked to the main colliery by a concrete gantry over the A7. The gantry still stands today.
When the colliery closed in 1981 it was ear-marked to become the National Mining Museum Scotland. Some parts of the conversion meant little more than ensuring visitor safety and introducing signage. However some parts of the estate required a more drastic overhaul – we’d obviously prefer mining accidents to stay a thing of the past. By 1989 the museum visitor experience enjoyed today was complete.
From the early 1980s, with the fairly swift demise of the coal industry, the museum acquired vast amounts of items. The haul includes not only machinery, equipment and papers from other collieries, but also items from former miners, surveyors, engineers and also individuals with an interest in industrial heritage.
So to our library collection. We hold a plethora of technical and academic publications covering engineering, mining machinery and geology. We hold all relevant acts of Parliament relating to the industry, as well as annual reports from the Inspectorate of Mines. Beyond these drier tomes though, we have books with more of a human element: histories of the Labour movement and the unions, and memoirs and accounts of mining lives in communities across Scotland.
My favourite books are our complete collection of Coal magazine (latterly called Coal News), established in 1947 by the newly created National Coal Board. The magazine ran until 1989, and as well as reporting on the nitty gritty of production and changing techniques in the industry, it focussed on the social lives and hobbies of not just miners but the whole mining community. Within its pages you can read about the latest film reviews, gardening ideas, ladies fashion and horse racing tips, as well as short stories, cartoons sent in by readers and recipes. As a social snapshot of the second half of the Twentieth Century, it is an amazing resource.
Another treasure is what we call “The Filing Cabinets”, although I’m told that curatorial staff should really use the term “Ephemera” – paper items that are not books, are not part of an archive collection but are deemed to be useful and therefore worth keeping. The folders in the cabinets are headed either by individual colliery or subject, and contain newspaper clippings, handwritten research notes, photocopies of photographs and pamphlets.
I should mention further aspects of interest. Our archival materials are mostly made up of Lothian Coal Company and Trade Union documents such as minute books and accounts, but contains much more including papers relating to the Scottish Spitsbergen Syndicate, a company created to exploit the mineral resources of the Svalbard archipeligo north of Norway.
Also of interest is our extensive and easily searchable photograph collection, which covers Scotland-wide subjects including colliery landscapes, underground workings, gala days and the local village (our museum website hosts a selection of our photograph collection). Finally, a mention for our map and plans collection, which contains some fine nineteen century Geological survey maps, in addition to surveying drawings showing underground workings, architectural drawings and thousands of engineering drawings.
So there you have it. I hope this piece has helped explain why the Stirling University team have been very welcome guests here over the past year or two, but just as importantly I hope you will be tempted to come and visit yourself. As part of our Covid response, we don’t expect to be able to host library visitors for some time yet, but the museum website will keep you updated and we look forward to seeing you.
David Bell, Assistant Curator August 2020