Coal Mining
Prestongrange Industrial Heritage Museum

Coal Mining

Have you ever wondered what coal is and how you can make your own pottery? Do you know who the first people to dig coal were?

Prestongrange was a very important site as pottery and bricks were made here. There was also a coal mine here so it was an extremely busy place to be. Maybe your grandfather or great grandmother worked here?


What is coal?

Millions of years ago the earth was covered by hot wet forests. When these trees died they sank into the swamps and were covered by layers of mud and rock. As the rocks pressed down on them over millions of years, the trees were turned into coal.


Who were the first people to discover coal at Prestongrange?

The first people to discover coal at Prestongrange were monks in the 12th century. The monks began digging holes to cut it out. When these holes became full of water, the monks just dug other holes.

As new machinery was created and coal became more popular, deeper coal pits were dug to reach the coal that was far under the ground. This required more workers and so mining communities sprung up around the country. The workers went to work in the mines and lived nearby. Many towns such as Prestonpans and Wallyford grew up because of mining.


Who worked down the mines?

Men, women and even children worked long hours down the mines. Sometimes gases trapped in the coal seams exploded when the candle flames (used to light the mines) or sparks set them on fire. Many miners were trapped or killed.


In 1842, a report was commissioned to investigate children working in mines. During the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, there were so many mines and factories around the country that they hired children to work. Their jobs were badly paid and often dangerous. One girl describes her day:

Janet Cumming, 11 years old

“I gang with the women at five and come up at five at night. I work all night on Fridays and come away at 12 in the day. I carry the large bits of coal from the wall face to the pit bottom and the small pieces called chows in a creel. The weight is usually a hundredweight…The roof is very low and I have to bend my back and legs and the water comes frequently up to the calves of my legs. I have no liking for the work, father makes me like it. I never got hurt, but often am obliged to scramble out of the pit when bad air was in.”


Could you work in a coal mine?

Towards the end of the 19th century, many laws were passed that banned the use of children down the mines and in factories. Instead they were free to go to school and grow up with a proper childhood, rather than having to work from the age of five!


What are the other buildings at Prestongrange?

Other buildings at Prestongrange are related to coalmining. You might recognise them from visiting here.

The Pit bathhouse was used for the miners to wash themselves after a long days work. It was built in the 1950's.The miners went in one door covered in coal dust, showered and came out the other side clean and ready for home.




The Beam Engine was used to pump water out of the coal pits. As coal pits are dug underground, water seeps in and floods the pits making it difficult to get the coal and also making it dangerous for the miners. The Beam engine helped to get rid of the water so the miners could get back to work.



 The Visitor Centre used to be the Canteen. It was where the miners went to for their lunch and breaks.