The day Miss Clark drove the col­liery ‘pug’

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 - Miss Clark drives the train.

On April 25, 1895, Miss Clark climbed aboard the foot­plate of a small lo­co­mo­tive, blew the whis­tle, opened the reg­u­la­tor, and set off with the first train of loaded coal wag­ons from the Bridge­cas­tle pits to the main line at Cous­ton sid­ings.

On a mile-long jour­ney through the green coun­try­side that lies be­tween Armadale and West­field, her train rat­tled east­ward from Whi­terigg No.1 pit across the lands and min­eral re­serves owned by her mother.

Level cross­ing gates were closed across the pub­lic road to West­field as she steamed on­wards, skirt­ing the grounds of The Brig­house be­fore bear­ing north to meet the North Bri­tish Rail­way’s Black­ston branch near South Lo­giebrae farm.

It might be imag­ined that Miss Clark re­turned to the pit­head by car­riage to re­join the cel­e­bra­tions mark­ing the open­ing of the new pit and rail­way. Here friends and busi­ness as­so­ciates shared wine and cake, and toasted the suc­cess of the Eas­trigg Coal Com­pany.

It seems that “Miss Clark” was El­iz­abeth or Bessie Clark, who was then aged 29. Bessie was the el­dest daugh­ter of Whit­burn GP Thomas Clark, who was Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer to the parochial board and a man with var­i­ous prop­erty and busi­ness in­ter­ests.

It seems likely that Bessie was born at Al­mond­bank Cot­tage in Whit­burn; an el­e­gant villa which was home to a fam­ily of five, two ser­vants and a nurse. The doc­tor owned other build­ings in Whit­burn, and also Ben­har Cot­tage; a size­able res­i­dence that was fam­ily home in later years.

Dr. Clark died at Ben­har Cot­tage in 1889 at the age 69, and his prop­erty passed to his widow Agnes, who was 16 years his ju­nior. Daugh­ter Bessie and her younger brother Alexan­der seem to have sup­ported their mother in main­tain­ing the fam­ily busi­ness in­ter­ests.

Dr Clark’s brother Alis­tair was also a man of many busi­ness in­ter­ests and was at one time owner of Inch col­liery in Bath­gate.

It was per­haps through his brother that Dr. Clark came to ac­quire the lands and min­er­als of Bridge­house, Wheat­acre and North Lug­giebrae some­time dur­ing the late 1880s. In about 1889, the Lan­rigg Coal Com­pany sunk their Bridge­house pit on a site close to Easter Wheat­acre farm, but this was aban­doned and the site cleared by 1893.

Soon af­ter­wards, the Eas­trigg Coal Com­pany es­tab­lished their No.1 pit on a site a few hun­dred yards away, and con­structed the rail­way branch line along which Miss Clark drove her in­au­gu­ral train. The Eas­trigg com­pany seems to have pros­pered and soon ex­tended their rail­way across the road to link to their new No.2 and No.3 pits.

Op­er­a­tions were trans­ferred to the Drumpel­lier and Craigrigg Coal Co. Ltd in 1905, who con­tin­ued devel­op­ment of the coal­field, es­tab­lished a brick­works, and in 1923 built the last of the “Craigrigg rows” that makes up most of the present vil­lage of Bridge­house. The pits closed in 1930, mak­ing 150 men re­dun­dant.

By 1911, Agnes Clark and her grown-up chil­dren Bessie and Alexan­der had moved from Whit­burn to a smart ter­raced villa in fash­ion­able Morn­ing­side. All were recorded in the cen­sus as be­ing of “pri­vate means”, with Alexan­der be­ing noted as “doc­tor of medicine – not prac­tis­ing”.

Agnes lived well into her 90s and she and her fam­ily con­tin­ued to own the lands of Bridge­cas­tle at least into the 1930s.

It might be imag­ined that Bessie set­tled into the gen­teel life of a Morn­ing­side lady, en­joy­ing a so­cial cal­en­dar of dainty teas, recitals and soirees; but such plea­sures seem un­likely to have matched the thrill of the wind and steam in her hair on that spring day in 1895 when she drove the col­liery pug.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.