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Scotlandís Mineral Heritage

A wide variety of minerals lie beneath the surface of Scotland. Central Scotland in particular had rich deposits of coal, oil-shale and iron-ores and the availability of these deposits contributed greatly to the industrialisation of central Scotland in the 19th century. Limestone, sandstone, granite and slate are available as natural building materials. Fireclay was mined alongside coal and used to make bricks. Salt was also produced, particularly on the east coast of Scotland. Veins of lead, gold and silver have been exploited in the past, particularly in the area around Wanlockhead where the annual gold-panning championships are still held. In the 20th century it has been the oil deposits under the North Sea that have taken over as Scotlandís primary mineral resource.

Coalmining in Scotland

Coal has been mined in Scotland since the Middle Ages. Before the 19th century mining was a small-scale industry for the domestic market mostly based in Fife. During the 19th century new collieries were opened in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire and improved mining techniques meant that mines could be dug deeper. By 1870 70% of the coal mined in Scotland was from central and west Scotland.

The following links lead to a brief selection of other websites on Scottish mining:

Papers on mining in Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

List of collections held by University of Glasgow Archive Services relating to the mining industry.

Map of the National Coal Board Scottish Division

Map of the National Coal Board Scottish Division

Mining memorabilia links to Scottish Coal; New Cumnock and mining; Coal and Iron mining in Ayrshire; the Longannet complex; Scottish mining; Coal mining around Boíness; Fife Mining Heritage Society; Fife pits; Fleets Colliery; Bowhill Colliery Brickworks; Memories of a Fife Collier; mining in Auchterderran; the Bowhill Pit disaster; Redding Colliery, and Falkirk.

Hamilton through time Ė a brief history from the 14th to the 21st centuries.

History of Polkemmet Colliery, Whitburn, West Lothian.

Mine cars arriving at the surface at Dollar colliery

Mine cars at Dollar Colliery


Iron can be extracted from a variety of ores found under Scotlandís soil, and Neilsonís development of the hot blast technique in 1828 made it possible to produce iron from the Lanarkshire blackband ironstone very cheaply by using unrefined coal. A complex relationship grew up between the coal, iron and steel industries. They became dependent on each other for raw materials, technical resources and engineering skills, which resulted in their mutual growth. These industries came to dominate Scotlandís economy with many of the products exported to England and abroad.

Dunaskin Experience - online descriptions of iron making, the blast engine, brick making and social history.

Increasing competition from other industrialising nations in the early 20th century eroded Scotlandís early lead. The dominance of the heavy industries in Scotland led to short-term economic instability. The increasing costs of production and the failure of coal and iron masters to take full advantage of ever advancing technical developments led to the decline, and ultimately to the closure, of many pits and foundries.

All was change then change again: early maps record the multiple transformations of central Scotland in 200 years.


Later in the 20th century however the oil deposits in the North Sea concentrated interest on the richness of Scotlandís natural resources.


A vital preservative, salt production was a major Scottish industry, the country's third largest export in the 17th century. Salt was manufactured by boiling sea water in large pans over wood, and later coal, fires. Pan houses, with their chimneys, were built near the sea, and made full use of the coal deposits discovered on the coast.

An illustration of panhouse chimneys is available here.

The industry failed following tax changes in 1823, which made imported salt so cheap that production in Scotland was no longer economic.

A more detailed description of salt production can be seen on the Bo'ness website.

Gold and Silver

A charter by King David I mentions Scottish gold, mined in Fife, and other deposits have been found throughout Scotland, particularly at Wanlockhead and in Sutherland (where the Kildonan Gold Rush followed the discovery of a nugget in 1869). Sufficient Scottish gold was available to make the crowns for King James V and his Queen, but commercial production apparently came to a stop after 1620.

Silver has been found in Scotland at Alva in the Ochil hills and at Hilderston in the Bathgate hills in the 17th and 18th centuries. Silver was discovered at Hilderston in 1606 and was processed in Edinburgh in mills on the Water of Leith, an area known today as 'Silvermills'. Silver Glen near Alva was mined from 1714, and was the richest silver production in Britain during the 18th century.

Natural Building Materials

Local Scottish building materials include granite, sandstone and slate. Building styles in Scotland reflect the locally available materials. Aberdeen, otherwise known as the 'Granite City', was built from local granite first quarried from Rubislaw Quarry in 1741. Granite from Rubislaw was also used to build the docks at Portsmouth and Southampton, and a steady trade was built up with the rest of the world. At its peak c1900, there were 127 working granite quarries in the Aberdeenshire area.

Another centre of the granite quarrying industry was Dalbeattie in Dumfries and Galloway. Dalbeattie was the first place in the world where granite was commercially polished: a piece polished by D. H. and J. Newalls, on display at the Great Exhibition in 1851, started a fashion that led to a boom in granite polishing. More information on the granite quarries of the Dalbeattie area is available.

The New Town of Edinburgh was built from sandstone mined locally at Craigleith Quarry in Edinburgh and Cullallo Quarry in Fife. Both quarries mined the same seam of sandstone which was famous for its beauty and durability. Local sandstone quarries closed down during the 20th century due to cheaper imports from England.

An almost continuous band of slate stretches from west to east across Scotland. The west coast quarries of Easdale and Ballachulish were particularly famous, but there were also smaller quarries at Aberfoyle, Birnam and Luss in Perthshire, Huntly in Aberdeenshire and Stobo in the Borders. The islands of Easdale and Luing lying in the Sound of Lorn to the west of Argyll are rich in slate. Originally exploited by their owner, the Earl of Breadalbane, Easdale slate was used for roofing right across Scotland.

The Marble and Quarrying Company of Netherlorn was set up in 1745 and continued to trade until 1866, exporting between seven million and 19 million roofing slates a year to New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies amongst other countries by the mid 19th century. In the late 1860s the latest Earl died and the quarrying operations were leased to a consortium of Glasgow businessmen who established the Easdale Slate Quarrying Company. Industrial operations declined into the 20th century however, due partly to lack of investment that made production inefficient, and partly to a disastrous storm in 1881 that flooded two of the quarries. By 1914 production on Easdale had almost ceased although slate continued to be extracted from the island of Luing until 1965. Further information about Easdale slate can be found on the Slate Islands Heritage Trust website and in The Islands that Roofed the World by Mary Withall (Edinburgh, 2001). Records of the Marble and Slate Company of Netherlorn are held in the National Archives of Scotland - reference numbers GD112/18/10/1, GD112/18/28 and 31; as are the records of the Easdale Slate Company (1866-7) - reference number BT2/244.

There were four quarries north west of Aberfoyle, which produced 1.4 million tiles a year in the 1930s. The quarries closed in 1958. Records of the Aberfoyle Slate Quarries Company Ltd are held in the National Archives of Scotland - reference number BT2/1143. The Stewarts of Ballachulish first quarried at Ballachulish in 1693. A major quarrying industry was underway by the early 1700s which continued until 1955 when the quarry closed. Records of the Ballachulish Slate Quarry are held at the Glencoe and North Lorn Folk Museum, with further records held in the National Archives of Scotland - reference number BT2/2609.

Overseas competition and the use of concrete tiles instead of traditional building materials contributed to their demise of all these quarries. There has, however, been a recent renaissance in the use of traditional building materials - for further information see the Scottish Slate Study Unit report.

The following sites provide information and background history relating to the quarrying of granite, sandstone and slate in Scotland:



Scotlandís mineral heritage has made a huge impact on the history of the Scottish people, from population distribution to their economic and social history. The following list offers links to sites that may be of interest:

SCRAN - Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network - a subscription site containing a large number of images and information and educational resources including histories and classroom resources.

RLS - Resources for Learning in Scotland. Freeview searches of some of SCRAN including short histories of coalmining in Scotland and ĎUnderground Scotland Ė the mineralsí. Also has links to the SCRAN subscription site which contains more information and further educational resources.

SCAN - a gateway to holdings of local archives, curriculum resources for 5-14 year olds on coalmining.

Gateway to the Archives of Scottish Higher Education (GASHE) includes archives of the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Heriot Watt, St Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow Caledonian, Dundee and Napier, with the Glasgow School of Art and the Edinburgh College of Art.

NAHSTE (Navigational Aids for the History of Science, Technology and the Environment), is another gateway to collections and includes information on material held at Edinburgh University Library Special Collections Division, Heriot Watt University Archive, Records and Museum Service, and Glasgow University Archives and Business Records Centre.

Charting the Nation: maps of Scotland and associated archives, 1550-1740.

Old (1791-1799) and New (1834-1845) Statistical Accounts of Scotland.

The Gazetteer for Scotland.

The minerals of Scotland, a collector's guide including panning for gold in Scotland.

Godís Treasure House - primary mineral deposits in the Wanlockhead area.

Gemmology and gemstones in Scotland.

The Scottish Quarry Trade.

Scottish Stone Liaison Group – project team trying to promote the use of indigenous Scottish materials.

More images can be seen in the image gallery.

sponsored by: The Coal Authority
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