The Coal Mines that would have changed the Strath – a fortunate escape !

The 19th century in Strathearn was one in which industry grew and expanded . Auchterarder  was a thriving power and hand loom weaving centre for  cotton fabric . Crieff housed a multiplicity of new and expanding enterprises  including brewing , distilling ,paper making ,tanning , rope making, oil mills weaving and dying !
What is oft forgotten is that in the early 19th century , in common  with so many  other areas not that far distant , there were incredible efforts by entrepreneurs , individuals and corporate bodies  , to explore , discover and develop the vast  coal resources  that lay under Scottish soil . Here in Strathearn , we were  no different  from  our neighbouring contemporaries in Stirlingshire ,Clackmannan and Fife .

The story of the  efforts made locally are  well documented  by Porteous in his “ The History of Crieff “ and I replicate a few  of these tales of yesteryear . It  was in 1819 , just after the Napoleonic Wars  that things began in earnest. Trial sinkings  were carried  out at Cultoquhey some 3 miles east of Crieff. The journal of a local worthy recounts the following :

Friday 31st December 1819 : Went up the Ferntower Road with the intention of going on to Gilmerton  to look at the place they are digging for coals , but poor Major got quite lame with the snow and the intensity of the frost , in pity to him I turned .

Friday 3rd March 1820 : Met young Christy coming out at the door   to see if  I would go east to Cultoquhey to see the boring for coals . Spoke in with Jessy . We all set out together and a cold blast  we got . Went the Old Perth Road thinking it would be warmer . Took us much further about .After having to jump over dykes , hedges and palings got it at last .Five men busy working in the way of boring. Had a great deal of conversation with the projector . Wretched looking men altogether “ .

Despite the failure to find any coal deposits in the vicinity of Gilmerton , searching  continued in other  parts of the Strath . In 1839 it was thought that coals  could be found about Tullibardine , between Muthill and Auchterarder . A Committee  was formed  to consider the best plan to be adopted to carry out a trial bore in that area . On 14th February 1837 they published and circulated a pamphlet  outlining their proposals :

Proposal for Sinking a Coal Shaft in Strathearn
The Tenants of the Estates of Strathallan ,Drummond Castle and a number of the Inhabitants of Auchterarder and adjoining villages met at the Boohall ( Hall of the Home Farm ) Strathallan on the 14th Current, and took into consideration a report which had long prevailed in the country , that there is a seam of coal lying in the Farm of Peddie’s –fauld, on the Estate of Tullibardine. They examined  several witnesses who remembered the traditionary account of a bed of coal being found there , but which was then concealed from the Public  for some reason now unknown .They were also informed that there is a continued stream of water flowing from  the remains of an old coal bore , which leaves a sediment of a dark and glutinous   nature  resembling the slime of a coal pit , and mixed with small particles of black matter which when ignited , burn like the best coal “ .

The result of this pamphlet saw a sum  of money raised locally  to fund the project . Accounts  of this state a total figure of  some £661 of which Crieff and Parish contributed £ 129 . The representatives of the town were Mr Robert McIlvride ,Mr William Kemp and Mr William Taylor of Cornton . The Committee met on the 27th April 1837 in the house of Mr McIlvride in Crieff and appointed William Brown , writer (  solicitor ) as Secretary . They agreed  to proceed to advertise for contractors  to undertake the works . As a result of this a Mr James Snaden of Saline in Fife was appointed and an agreement was  signed  with him on the 15th June 1837 .It was not a very well structured arrangement as  it transpired that Snaden did  not have the necessary plant and equipment to commence  operations at Peddie’s –fauld. The Contract  was terminated  before work had commenced !Undeterred , the Committee now headed to South Sauchie ( near Alloa ) and approached a miner  their  by the name of Adamson and obtained a suitable estimate  for the sinking of the shaft . 

To quote Porteous : “ Shafts were sunk at the appointed places , but no coal was found . The whole undertaking came to a conclusion with a battle royal between the Contractor and the Committee . It is well that there are no coal strata in Strathearn and that the sylvan beauties of the vale have been preserved “ .


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