Cowdenbeath in old picture postcards

Cowdenbeath in old picture postcards

Auteur
:   Eric Simpson
Gemeente
:  
Provincie
:   Fife
Land
:   United Kingdom
ISBN13
:   978-90-288-5851-0
Pagina's
:   80
Prijs
:   EUR 16.95 Incl BTW *

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Fragmenten uit het boek 'Cowdenbeath in old picture postcards'

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INTRODUCTION

The postcard craze and the town of Cowdenbeath have one thing in common. For both the early years of the 20th century were a boom time. In consequence, many of the postcards used in this book depiet Cowdenbeath at a time of rising population and th rusting growth. It was the de mand for coal and the availability within the parish of Beath of rich seams th at explains the town's rapid expansion.

Early 19th century Cowdenbeath was just a tiny settlement at the junenen of two important turnpike roads - one the Great North road from Queensferry to Perth and the north, the other leading to the Burntisland-Granton passenger ferry. By the 1830s three north-bound stage-coaches passed through the village each day, with horses being changed at Cowdenbeath Inn - this inn is named as such on a map of 1828. (Previously the old north road had followed the more direct, but steeper route via Kirk of Beath and Kelty.) The new Great North road was utilised too by local colliery companies. In the 1840s coal from the Cowdenbeath and Hili of Beath collieries was carted south and shipped outward from Inverkeithing. When iron ore deposits were discovered around 1850, development on a larger scale was begun. The real wealth came, however, from the exploitation of the coal seams by the Cowdenbeath Coal Company and other concerns. As new pits we re sunk in Cowdenbeath and the surrounding area, the population soared, going from 1,148 in 1861 to 4,249 by 1891 and 14,029 in 1911. As one local notability proclaimed, Cowdenbeath had become 'the Chicago of Fife'. Becoming a police burgh in 1890, Cowdenbeath now had its own governing body - an elected town council.

By the late 1890s the Fife Coal Company, which had swallowed

up the Cowdenbeath Coal Company, was the dominant firm and by far the largest single employer in the area. This company held, it was said, 'a position of authority greater than th at of any of the old lairds or landed gentry in other parts of the county'. Much of the housing provision was regrettably of a deplorably low standard. Even as late as 1944 two houses out of every th ree had na bath.

Low-grade the miners' raws may have been, but many former residents have testified to the high quality of the community life. This sense of community was seen at its best at times of crisis as, for examp1e, at Mossmorran in 1901, when an inrush of peat and moss engulfed a number of miners from Donibristle Colliery. Eight lives in all were lost, but the selfless bravery of rescuers, four of whom were among the casualties, ensured th at six survivors, and two entombed rescuers were brought eventually to the surface.

Since vast quantities of coal were being shifted, a network of railway lines was constructed. Most of them carried just coal and other minerals, but the main railway lines became of increasing importance also for passenger traffic. The folk of Cowdenbeath saw their last stage-coach in 1859. As in nearby Dunfermline, there was great demand for female labour, the daughters of Cowdenbeath miners used the trains to tra vel to work in that town's booming linen mills. But from 1909 an alternative means of transport became available, when the Dunfermline District Tramways system was constructed. The tramcars remained popular until the advent of efficient motor-buses led to a sad but final closure in 1937.

Cowdenbeath also had a linen miIl, a satellite factory of the

Dunfermline firm Erskine Beveridge and Co. For men, though, Cowdenbeath remained virtually a one-industry town. When their rights were threatened, the folk of the mining cornmunities were not afraid to assert themselves. They knocked down barricades when rights-of-way were closed off and fought in a number of bitter strikes. During the years covered by this baak, there were major disputes in 1894, 1912, 1921 and 1926. The national disputes in the 1920s were bitterly fought. During the 1921 conflict, which involved an owners' lockout and ended in defeat for the miners, squads of police made baton charges in the High Street and troops in large numbers were brought into Cowdenbeath to guard the pitheads. In 1926 the local miners were once again engaged in a nationwide dispute, this time involving a General Strike (4th to 12th May). Although the General Strike speedily collapsed, the miners, obtusely led, held out until August, fighting against owners whose national leaders even Baldwin, the Tory Prime Minister, described as 'stupid and discourteous' . As in 1921, the result was defeat for the miners and a legacy of victimisation, on the one side, and resentment, on the other, which fuelled the class war in Lumphinnans and the other so-called 'Little Moscows' of the Fife coalfields.

Already in 1910, the mining communities had turned left, with the West Fife constituency being one of the first in Scotland to elect a Labour M.P. When in 1935 the legendary Willie Gallacher was elected to the House of Commons, the Ieftward turn was accentuated. Heavy unemployment, paar working and living conditions had embittered many. Gallacher, who was for some years the only Communist M.P. at Westminster, kept his

seat unti11950, when he lost to the anti-monarchist Labourite Willie Hamilton.

Nationalisation of the coal mines in 1947 heralded a new era, or so it seemed. Cowdenbeath became an area headquarters for the National Coal Board. But in 1960 the historie No. 7 Pit was shut down and, one after another, the other coal mines of the West Fife coalfield were closed. Then came in 1988 the final blow when the Coal Board's Central Workshops were axed, just a few years after the 1984-1985 miners' strike. Ta compensate for the disastrous impact of pit closures, new industries have arrived, including the manufacture of clothing and, in 1984, a fractionation plant for natural gas liquids at Mossmorran. But the population outflow was considerable, the population of the burgh declining from its peak of 14,215 in 1921 to 10,464 in 1971. With changing patterns of employment and of consumer consumption, the strength of the Co-operative movement, traditionally very weIl supported, has also been greatlyeroded.

Although not an obvious contender in the 'architectural gems of Fife' stakes, Cowdenbeath has cleared away much that was grimy and squalid. There has been a lot of environmental improvement in the area. With many unsightly pit bings removed and much waste land reclaimed, the townscape has been transformed. But the job situation has not yet been transformed. The Shell-Esso ethane cracker plant at Mossmorran has not given the 'downstrearn' development and large-scale ernployment that was sa eagerly anticipated. There is na Iikelihood now that Chicago (Illinois) will be renamed the 'Cowdenbeath of the Mid- West'.

1. This is a close-up of the ornate cast-iron Fountain which appears on the cover picture. Presented by Provost Mungall, the town's first Provost, it commemorated the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Though later it was removed for road widening, the name remains. D.CI. (Dick's Cooperative Institutions Ltd) owned the shops and van behind the Fountain.

High Street !rom W., t.owclenhea.tb

2. Three earts, one with milk-churns, one with coal, and a light spring-cart, fill the foreground of this photograph. The tram heading towards the High Street earries adverts as weil as passengers. One board advertises a D.C.I. Tearoom, neatly complementing the D.C.I. premises opposite. A posed group of Cowdenbeath bairns has been assembied around the Fountain.

3. The toll-house, this relic of stage-coach days, was removed before the First World War. Judging by its design, tolls could have been collected from either the Bridge Street or Broad Street sides. Change of use is indicated by the presence of a barber's pole above the east doorway.

R.R.R.

F

HIGH STREET, COWOENBEATH

4. Now we are on the High Street following yet another cart. Note the fodder bag at the rear. Two painters are hard at work, using rather insecure ladders. Although there are quite a few people around, there is hardly any road traffic. The barber and some of his cronies on the right have an eye on the photographer.

5. The barber's pole seen op po site has been shifted to the gable ofthe building. Many ofthe buildings on th at side of the road have been altered. A branch shop of William Low, the Dundee-based grocery firm, is prominent on the left. The south-bound tram is en route to Dunfermline. This section of line , which was owned by Dunfermline & District Tramways Company, was completed in December 1909.

6. Notice the intricate nature of the ironwork around the stanchions on the otherwise obtrusive tramway poles. Note the electric street lamps. Cowdenbeath, it was the proud baast, was ahead of Dunfermline in th is respect. The Burgh Arms Inn and Boots the Chemist are prominent on the left. On the extreme right we have D. Dryburgh, chemist and optician, and next door Cowan's Refreshment Rooms. The two painters seen in No. 4 have evidently completed their task!

7. On one ofthe railway bridge abutments there is a commemorative plaque which was 'laid with Masonic Honours on 27th April 1889'. The undulating nature of the High Street is evidence of the extent of the mine workings in this central area. The scaffie outside the Buttercup Dairy is sweeping out the gutter. The wamen are wearing Twenties period cloche hats and short skirts. The movie entitled 'The Sire' advertised on the large billboard outside Slora's Cinema must then have been a silent film.

8. Access to Slora's Cinema, which had started off as a theatre, was via an arcade. One of the shops visible here is Reid's Beehive Store, one of a small chain of drapery stores. There was a Temperanee Hotel above which purveyed dinners and teas, and catered for dances and parties. The cinema was destroyed by fire in April 1954. The phrase 'back 0 Slora's' is still in current use.

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