Limestone quar­ry­ing left ground full of pock marks

West Lothian Courier - - Memory Lane -

The Courier has teamed up with our friends at the Al­mond Val­ley Her­itage Trust to bring our read­ers pho­tographs and sto­ries from West Loth­ian’s past.

This week - An alien land­scape at Har­burn­head.

Viewed from space, you might imag­ine that the re­mote moor­land around Har­burn­head had been hit by a me­teor shower. How­ever, the mossy land­scape pock-marked with deep craters does not re­sult from ob­jects fall­ing from the sky, but from ac­tiv­i­ties be­neath the earth.

The Bur­diehouse Limestone was once greatly sought af­ter as a flux in iron and steel pro­duc­tion.

It oc­curs at var­i­ous sites across West Loth­ian and was ex­ten­sively worked to sup­ply the iron fur­naces of the west of Scot­land. Limestone had been quar­ried and mined at Har­burn since the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury, but work­ings were aban­doned in 1916 fol­low­ing col­lapse of the min­ing com­pany.

In about 1922, min­eral rights at Har­burn were ac­quired by the Glas­gow Iron and Steel com­pany, who op­er­ated a steel­works in Wishaw and had many other min­ing in­ter­ests.

The com­pany ex­tended the branch rail­way that had served the old work­ings and es­tab­lished a new mine in moorl near Har­burn­head Hill.

The mine had two en­trances, one for haul­ing stone from the in­clined work­ings by nar­row­gauge rail­way, and the other equipped with a fan for ven­ti­lat­ing the mine.

The seam of limestone was 27 feet high and was worked by the stoop and room method, pro­gres­sively re­mov­ing the limestone while leav­ing pil­lars of un-worked stone to sup­port the roof.

The mine em­ployed about 40 men and con­tin­ued to pro­duce limestone for the steel and ce­ment in­dus­tries un­til clo­sure in 1962.

The mine build­ings were sub­se­quently cleared ex­cept for two mas­sive con­crete pil­lars close to the main mine site and a small build­ing near the ven­ti­la­tion shaft. The shal­lower parts of the flooded mine work­ings soon col­lapsed caus­ing the sur­face above to spec­tac­u­larly sub­side into a pat­tern of steep-sided round “shake holes”, some part-filled with wa­ter.

Conif­er­ous trees were planted on much of the moor­land, and the site of the mine grad­u­ally dis­ap­peared within the grow­ing for­est, sel­dom vis­ited ex­cept for mem­bers of the clay pi­geon shoot­ing group, who es­tab­lished their club­house on the site of the main mine.

The land­scape rad­i­cally changed with the con­struc­tion of Har­burn­hill wind farm, which opened in 2017. The for­est was felled, and a net­work of road­ways con­structed to link the 22 tur­bines.

A con­sid­er­able pro­gramme of site in­ves­ti­ga­tion works was car­ried out to en­sure that tur­bines were sited well away from the un­der­mined area, and the planned route of some of the ac­cess routes had to be changed.

The small build­ing on the site of the ven­ti­la­tion mine has en­joyed a se­cond lease of life as con­trol cen­tre of the wind farm.

A de­serted land­scape of felled trees and raw new roads, cou­pled with the whis­tle and flicker of the stark white tur­bines con­trib­ute to a scene that feels slightly odd and un­earthly.

Doubt­less, how­ever, na­ture will grad­u­ally soften and heal the raw edges and the tur­bines will be­come ac­cepted as just a fur­ther chap­ter in an un­fold­ing his­tory.

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