National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Coal Mining Records

Coal Mining Records

Coal mining is probably Scotland's oldest major industry. Mines on monastic estates, such as Carriden and Preston, are mentioned in early charters. For the later period customs accounts reveal shipments of coal for foreign markets. Coal was never a leading Scottish export but it has been estimated that by the 1680s one in every two vessels leaving Scottish ports carried coal.

We hold the main historical records of coal mining in Scotland - the records of the National Coal Board which include the records of earlier coal companies   This guide covers these records and references to mining in other record series.

National Coal Board records (reference CB)

The National Coal Board was set up to run the mining industry throughout the United Kingdom. It changed its name to the British Coal Corporation under an Act of Parliament of 1987. The Corporation continues as a residual body within the Department of Trade and Industry. The Coal Authority was established under the Coal Industry Act 1994 to provide a framework for the future of the industry. Our holdings largely predate the British Coal Corporation period.

The records include output books, wages books, account books and sales books. Details of coal operations throughout Scotland are given in the coal holdings register (CB16) and related release files (CB17) and plans (RHP 10 000) gathered under the terms of the Coal (Registration of Ownership) Act, 1937.

Also useful are Robert Bald's reports on various collieries throughout Scotland between 1808 and 1825 (CB27) which give details of mineral deposits, workings, buildings and drainage at the collieries. Bald (1776-1861) was one of the earliest and most eminent mining engineers and land surveyors in Scotland. He managed collieries in Alloa and later went into partnership with John Geddes as consulting engineers in Edinburgh. He also wrote a General View of the Coal Trade in Scotland (1808).

Records of colliers survive among the records of coal companies in the Coal Board records or private collections. These include wage books, pay books and output books.

Records of Earlier Coal Companies

The National Coal Board records also include the papers of earlier coal companies before nationalisation in 1946 under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act.. These include:

  • Alloa Coal Company 1835-46 (CB24)
  • Archibald Russell Ltd 1901-46 (CB12)
  • Bairds and Dalmellington Ltd 1898-1952 (CB4)
  • Coltness Iron Company Ltd 1885 (CB11)
  • Darngavil Coal Company 1943-45 (CB22)
  • East Wemyss Coal Company 1891-1948 (CB1)
  • Fife Coal Company 1872-1961 (CB3)
  • Fordell Colleries 1798-1940 (CB30)
  • Lochgelly Iron and Coal Company 1847-1953 (CB2)
  • Lothian Coal Company 1741-1919 (CB9)
  • Niddrie and Benhar Coal Company Ltd 1880-1937 (CB18)
  • Shotts Iron Company Ltd 1871-1946 (CB21)

Accidents in mines are investigated through a public inquiry held by the Home Office.  Home Office records are kept at The National Archives.

Other Sources
Acts of Parliament (reference APS)

Acts relating to the exportation and regulation of the coal trade. There is a comprehensive index in volume XII of the printed 'Acts of the Parliament of Scotland,' edited by T Thomson and C Innes (1814-1872).

Court of Session (reference CS)

Many cases relating to individual coal companies appeared before the court. Business records extracted from coal company processes can be found at reference CS96 and include:

  • Cairns and Simpson, colliery owners, Merrystow - wages book 1819-20 and 1853-4 (CS96/44)
  • Dryden Colliery - daybooks 1756-70 (CS96/57)
  • Green Coalwork Company - business and sales books 1791-7 (CS96/1087-1124, 1205 and 2972-8)

The CS96 Court of Session productions, c.1760-1840, are printed by the List and Index Society (1987). A supplementary unpublished list for the years 1840 to 1947 is available in our search rooms.

Dissolved Company Files (reference BT2)

Files of dissolved mining and quarrying companies from 1856 onwards.  For further information please go to our Company Registration Records guide.

Exchequer records (reference E)

These include customs books recording the export of coal.

Friendly Societies (reference FS)

The rules and regulations and statements of constitution of a variety of societies, including many operated by colliers and mine workers, such as the Kilmarnock Coal Cutters Society (FS1/2/41) and the Carfin Colliery Friendly Society (FS1/16/29). Details of these and other societies are given in Ian MacDougall's Labour Records in Scotland (Scottish Labour History Society, 1978)

Private Records (GD)

Many collections of private landowners hold material relating to coalmines and colliers. The material ranges from business records, rules and regulations governing the pit, to bonds binding colliers and their families to the mines. A source list of mining material found in private papers is available in the Historical Search Room.

Register of the Privy Council of Scotland (reference PC)

The business brought before the Privy Council includes licences to export coal, restrictions on the export of coal and regulations relating to the employment of miners. The published registers cover the period 1545-1691 (Edinburgh, 1877-1970) and are fully indexed.

Register of Deeds (RD)

Contracts and other deeds relating to coal and coal-mining.  For example, a contract about coal workings in the Bo'ness area of 15 June 1615 is recorded in the Register of Deeds (RD1/274, folios 105-111)

Plans Series (reference RHP)

The Register House Plans series contains plans relating to coal mining. Read the guide to topographical, architectural and engineering plans for more information.

Records Held Elsewhere

The Coal Authority holds many records relating to Scottish mines at their Mining Records Office near Burton on Trent in Staffordshire. These include coal abandonment plans, geological prospecting data, the coal holdings register and associated records and the Licence Register.

The National Archives holds a considerable amount of material relating to coal mines nationwide.

Further Reading

Our illustrated booklet 'The Coalminers'.

Duckham, Baron F, 'A history of the Scottish coal industry' (Newton Abbot, 1970)

'The history of the British coal industry' in five volumes (Oxford, 1984-1993) commissioned by the National Coal Board (now British Coal)