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(Formerly of 2 North Grange A venue and brother of Jenny Naysmith)

I was born in 1909 at Middle Street, Summerlee. one of a family of twelve. I started working down the pit at Prestonlinks in early January. 1924 when I was fourteen. We started at six in the morning and finished at three and you got a break of a quarter of an hour and that was your piece time when you ate your bread with jam or cheese. The tin piece boxes were made in the shape of a plain loaf - no pan bread for us - and we had tin bottles for water or cold tea. I've been told that there arc still some of these old piece boxes at the mining museum. A group of us used to gather together and have our piece and a wee bit blether and laugh during this break. You didn't gel any other spare time. Quarter of an hour and that was all. We were like zombies!
My first pay was 3/7d (18p) a day and if you wanted extra you had to work overtime which I did as I was a bit of a workaholic. There were no pit baths at that time so we had to walk home dirty and if we had been working in water our clothes were soaking. My mother had no bathroom so we had to wash in a big bath in front of the fire and all the water had to be boiled on the fire. I remember I used to stretch out on the fender stool after I was washed and fall asleep. We had moved along to the High Street by this time to a house opposite the Coronation Gardens.
We wore moleskins which were very heavy trousers and wee canvas hats which had a bit of metal at the front where the lamp hung. Later, we had helmets with electric lamps which were very heavy. weighing about half a stone. The batteries were strapped to you although you never felt the weight when you were working. The lamps were charged even day in the lamp cabin by Wullie Graham. We went down the pit in the cage and the winding engineman was Dick Hamilton. We then walked about four hundred yards and went down an incline of one in throe as far out as the pit went. It was quite a walk but conditions were not too bad. although you got a lot of water from the roof When I started I worked in number five and my father who was a deputy at that time worked there too. Everybody walked, even old Walter Muir who had only one leg walked down that road. He was Hugh Muir the piper's father. The height wasn't too bad but at the face I've seen it being only two and a half or three feet high. Each man had a stretch, about twenty feet or twenty five and you marked it out with chalk every morning.
My first job was coupling on hutches. I always remember on my first day. every time I bent down. my cap caught fire from the old tally lamps. I was actually crying at times. I wasn't very tall. quite dumpy. and I was number Five in the seam. You had to buy your own tools, a pick. a shovel and a hammer, what they called a mash. It was all wooden props at first, but latterly they got the steel props. When you were older you went on to the drawing, that was filling the empty hutches and taking them away. This was done manually.
Tommy Malcolm, who later became my father-in-law, was the faceman who actually dug out the coal and we filled the hutches and pulled them out of the seam. We chalked our mark on them and they went up the pit and were checked by the check weighman. so we were paid according to the number of hutches we filled. In those days there would be maybe six drawers and seven hutches so you had to tear in this road and back out again to try and catch the extra hutch. It was hard work. I did that for two years then I did brushing and back brushing. I worked with an old Irish character who was very witty so we had some good laughs.
As far as safety was concerned, it was up to yourself. I would say 85% of accidents were caused by neglect on somebody's part. I was not involved in any accidents. The worst I had was broken wrists and burst fingers. I remember one explosion where there were two men killed but that was put down to smoking. As I said. neglect again. The worst of it was that when men wanted a smoke they really were in danger because they went into hidden places where there was more chance of being a gas explosion. Canaries were kept in the winding engine house till they were needed to detect gas and when the canary got the first whiff of gas it just fell over. There were ponies down the pit too.
At one time the Links was like two pits. There was a section called the New Mine where you went straight down and then there was the Sea Dook which was nearer Port Seton. but you were not allowed to move from one pit to the other. If you worked in the New Mine, you stayed in the New Mine. If you worked in the Sea Dook. you stayed in the Sea Dook. They were very strict about that. There's still a lot of coal there but I think it starts near the shore and goes up to Tranent where it gradually comes nearer the surface. Going towards the sea the strata went further down. Funnily enough even though it was under the sea it wasn't as wet as inIand pits.
I remember my father being at the cutting of the Hattle rocks, which are whin rocks out in the Forth. You can see them on the surface at low water but they go away down under the seabed. They're situated practically opposite where the old tunnel was. The mining engineers knew there was coal there but when you hit these, you had to cut through to get at the coal which was beyond them. The
coal could be either up so many feet or down so many feet. There was no machinery then. so they had to be drilled with big hand drills and it was very hard work. The first boring machines that came out were just a screw in a barrel with a handle on it and you drilled till the screw run out then changed into another one. In later years we got automatic drills and that's what they use now. The first machine I remember was a number one bar which used to cut the coal well.
The Links had a good system of benefits. You used to get three bags of coal a week. two in the summer and a ton of coal cost 17/- (85p) which was very cheap. In 1934 the baths started and we were able to buy cheap towels which were very good value. Jock Hay was the baths attendant and he ran the baths well. as you didn't dare go through the clean side when you were dirty!
Because of the pits. Prestonpans was a great industrial place, with a pottery, glassworks. ropery. brickworks. soapworks. saltworks. I can also remember boats coming into Morrison's Haven to collect the coal.
We didn't have much time for recreation, but there were always bands at the pits. There was both a pipe band and a silver band attached to the Links and Bob Johnston was the pipe major. My father was a piper at one time. I always remember inarching behind the two bands down to the Gala Day in Prestonlinks Park. We used to have a wee tinny and got a bag of buns and ran races. This gave us a lot of pleasure. There was a Miners' Welfare Institute too where we could go. Peter Edmond was in charge and ran it well. He was strict and if people didn't behave he put them out!
When I got married to Mima in 1937 my wage was £2.8.6d (£2.42p) a week as we worked to contractors at that time. We lived at First in what was Laidlaw's property, renting two rooms from Mrs Murray. The First house we got was at 4 McLeod Crescent then we swapped houses with Lily Edmond who was a great HighIand dancer, so was her sister. This house was a bungalow at 2 North Grange Avenue. The gates arc still there that were made at the pit by my brother-in-law Archie Malcolm and myself. My wife's parents lived in North Crescent, the miners' houses and these were about the best houses in Prestonpans. They were better than the miners' rows as they had gardens and were built in crescents.
Prestonlinks shut down in 1962 and I was transferred to Dalkeith which was a mine so we walked down instead of going down the shaft. I didn't like Dalkeith funnily enough, as it was much wetter than Prestonlinks and the Fleets at Tranent was the same. The inIand pits were worse.
I retired in 1972 and when Mima died I decided to join my family in South Africa, where I still live. but I enjoy coming back to the Pans to see all my relatives and friends. I have always had good health and. looking back. I wouldn't have changed my time in the Links for anything. Even although it was hard work it was all we knew. so they were happy times!

Acknowledgement goes to Betty Wilson for the above as she persuaded John to tell this story on one of his return visits
Prestonlinks Miners ' Welfare Institute

Prestonlinks Miners ' Welfare Institute

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