I like to think of coal as the “saviour of Blantyre”. By the late 1860’s the mills that had put Blantyre on the map were starting to decline. Modern milling techniques had lost many jobs and competition was fierce. Indeed, if coal hadn’t been found in Blantyre that decade, the town would have likely declined in size and population. Instead though, the 1870s saw many pits sunk in Blantyre and coal providing a massive expansion of job opportunities and influx of people from all walks of life, who nested and thrived to make Blantyre the place it it today. Demand for these new jobs was high, but strangely not from the local mill workers or farm hands. They understood the dangers of new pits and there was a reluctance in the town that mill works would ever stop. The workforce for the pits was largely external primarily from Ireland to escape the hardships of famine in that decade, settling as new inhabitants.
Priory Pit was a coal mining pit located in the North end of Blantyre. Owned by Baird & Co, the pit opened in 1876 and was one of two in that location commonly known as “the priory pits” due to their proximity to the old ruined Priory at Blantyre. The pithead was immediately adjacent to the Blantyre Railway line at Blantyrefarm Road. However, it wasn’t accessed from there. A timber staircase led down from the railway bridge some distance away at Station Road, Low Blantyre. This led to a path that followed the line of the railway westwards all the way to the pit at Priory. Not having to endure the hardship of the mine itself, the miners had to walk this mile or so every morning and evening just to get to work. Nothing much remains of the pit today with most of the industrial signs now gone. The picture shows Priory Pit photographed in 1951 which belongs to Jessie McKinnon and share here with permission.
During the 1870s and 80s, Blantyre was reputed to be, at this time; “a district of pits, engine houses, smoke and grime”, this description no doubt led to the nickname the town endured for many years as “Dirty Auld Blantyre”.