Ormiston | Economy

Previously the main employers in the parish were: the National Coal Board; Wm. Brown & Son, building contractors; John A.G. Anderson (Ormiston) Ltd., joiners; builders Campbell & Smith; the Co-op; local shops; and local farms that needed field workers to harvest the soft fruit crops. Armstrong’s garage, later Dunsmuir’s Ltd., and McNeill’s garage in the former picture house also provided some work.

In 2000, Campbell & Smith; the (much diminished) Co-op; local shops (although fewer in number) and McNeill’s Garage remained as local employers.

New employers include the biotechnology industry – P.P.L. Therapeutics (see Tranent parish) that operates at two East Lothian sites – St Clements Well farm and East Mains, Ormiston, and Inveresk Research (see Inveresk parish). Philip Wilson, corn factors (grain storage and drying facility), was located in the village, although few villagers are employed here. The vast majority of the population find employment outwith the village.

The biggest change to the village between 1945 and 2000 was possibly brought by the national decline of the deep coal mining industry. By the end of the 1960s, there remained no working pits in Ormiston.

Prior to that, there were several mines in the parish:

White’s Pit was located ½ mile due east of the Tyne Brig on the south side. It was a small but very profitable mine; it closed in the 1940s.

Tynemount Colliery was sunk in 1925 and produced about 35 tons per day in 1948. It closed in 1962.

Limeylands was the largest colliery in the parish (sunk 1894). At its peak it employed over 200 men producing 300 tons of coal per day. It closed in 1953 with the miners being transferred to the Bellyford, on the other side of the main road about 200 yards north of Limeylands, which itself then closed in 1962.

Winton Mine started in 1949 and was the last pit working in the village. It finally closed in the late sixties leaving miners to commute to the remaining pits in the Lothians.

Ormiston Station was sunk in 1880 by the Ormiston Coal Company to work the Four and Three foot seams. In 1890 it employed 98 men. It closed in 1901 as did the Cockum mine 1.5 miles west of the station.

Meadow Pit was sunk in 1890 and employed 110 men but was abandoned in 1914.

Bellyford Bing, Ormiston, 1994

Bellyford Bing, Ormiston, 1994

Limeylands Colliery 1894-1953

The Ormiston Coal Company was formed in 1892 with capital of £25,000. John Clark was director. Not much is known of the early working of the pit but in the Haddingtonshire Courier of 1905 it states that a shaft had been driven down to the 5 feet coal and when they got there the coal was over four feet high and of excellent quality.

Working at Limeylands, 1940-50 – David Fleming shares his memories

‘I started work as an apprentice engineer in November 1940. The manager of the pit was Jim McIvor, probably because the McIvors were large shareholders [in the Ormiston Coal Company]. He was a fine old man and very well liked – not suitable material for a mine manager but things went smoothly most of the time.

The shaft was only 360 feet to the coal seam and the coal even after 30 years was still relatively near to the pit bottom. It was therefore still a profitable enterprise. The pit was also self-sufficient. Coal from the mine was used to fire the three Cornish boilers, which produced steam at 100 pounds per square inch. This steam was used to drive a Howden steam reciprocating engine, which in turn produced the electrical power necessary to drive haulages, pumps, coal machines and air compressors. Steam was also led by pipe to the workshops 60 yards away and the steam engine there drove an overhead shaft fitted with belt pulleys, and these belts turned the lathes, drilling machines and fans which supplied air under pressure to the blacksmith’s fires. They also provided power for woodworking machinery.

The workshops had three blacksmiths, John Gardner, Tom Hepburn and Andrew Nisbet. The engineers were A. Montgomery (Chief), J. Fergusson, J. Molloy, W. Gardner, P. Rintoul, A. Brown (turner). The joiners were J. Sibbald, W. Scott, and W. Sinclair. The storekeeper was P. Hook. Electricians were W. Webster (Chief), E. Waterson, W. McIvor, and R. Allan. All maintenance work was done by these tradesmen, they made the hutches for carrying the coal, switchgear for the rail tracks and they repaired and refurbished steam engines, pumps and all the mining machinery.

On the pithead, when a hutch full of coal was brought to the surface (½ ton) it ran rails to a checkweigh hut where it was weighed by a worker for the Company then it was checked by a man for the miner. A token taken from the hutch showed who had dug the coal. The hutch then ran into a tumbler, a boy pulled a lever and the coal was tipped onto a moving conveyor belt. Boys on either side of the belt picked out any stones ensuring that only coal went into the waiting wagon. The wagons were about 30 tons and the coal was weighed again before it went to the customer. Waste and stones from the mine were filled into a tipper and a steam engine pulled the tipper by a wire rope to the top of the bing where it was tipped over. Limeylands bing was huge.

The miners needed a constant supply of timber pit props and boys filled hutches with them and they were sent below to where they were required. The pit also had a sawmill to cut the props etc – Jimmy Wightman was in charge.

The cage held four men – there were two of them. As one cage came up the one next to it went down. A wire rope was attached to each cage and a steam-winding engine lifted and dropped them as necessary to a bell signal. Once you were aboard the cage, the gates were shut, you were dropped like a stone and when the cage slowed nearing the bottom, you felt as though you were floating. Once down the weather was always pleasant. On cold frosty days it was nice and warm and on hot summer days it was cool and comfortable.

On the east side of the shaft lay the cross-cut section and walking along was quite pleasant. The roof was about 6 feet high. After about quarter of a mile you came to the cross-cut pump house, which was in a huge cavern dug out of the rock/coal. Inside were three turbine pumps which pumped water from a sump, which was a large hole, again dug out to collect water from pumps further in. They pumped about 200 gallons of water a minute. Water was a great and costly problem in these collieries. Water was pumped from sump to sump until it reached the surface.

Going further in you passed groups of hutches (six); they were clipped to a moving wire rope, which took the coal to the pit bottom. About a mile from the bottom you came to the section where the coal was being won. At the face conditions were bad. There was a low roof with a constant flow of water coming from it, which was pumped away by a small pump driven by an electric motor. The coal was undercut to a depth of three feet over a distance of between 60 and 100 yards then holes were bored in the top of the coal, which was blown down by sticks of gelignite. Everybody had to get out when they fired – the reek and coal dust was horrendous and took ages to clear. It was a dangerous business with many injuries and a few fatalities over the years.

After the coal was down, the face men filled the hutches brought up to them by the drawers. When the hutch was filled the drawer pushed them to a road head where the haulage took over. It was backbreaking work. If you worked hard you could make a good wage and most of the young lads worked like horses.

With the gelignite reek, stone and coal dust, and the effects of water and dampness – many men were finished at 40 – some lasted longer but eventually they too paid the price. As the money was good they made hay while the sun shone.

Farther to the east side of the pit lay Winton mine but before you got there, there was a very steep dook (brae). They called it a wheel brae – it was a horrendous affair- the full hutches coming down dragged the empty one up. It took a highly skilled boy to work the brae. Most boys in the mine were skilful – they had to be to survive.

Going to the west side of the pit was Glen’s section. On this side conditions were awful – dooks all over the place. The roads to the face where the hutches had to be pushed were very narrow and low and every so often a large piece of newspaper would be inserted in a roof girder. When I asked what it was for the drawer said “Well, when ye see a paper take yer hands off the top o the hutch or ye’ll get yer hands taken off!” The top of the hutch scraped the roof and many more awful things had to be put up with. I remember working with an engineer at the coalface ”Take yer hands off the top o’ the machine”. “What fer?” says I. “Jist dae it” the engineer growled, so I removed them. Seconds later a big stone fell from the roof onto the machine.

In general, the day shift started at 7am. At 9.40am you had a 20 minute break for your piece. The “ piece” was bread sandwiches with roast beef, cheese or dried egg, which came from the States. To drink, it was usually tea. There was not much coffee. You got the piece at the canteen – old Churchill wanted the miners fed well enough to produce coal for the war effort. You held your bread with a piece of newspaper for if your hands had been in water where rats had urinated, you were in danger of catching black jaundice. Between 1926 and 1946 black jaundice killed three Ormiston men and made many more ill. The dayshift finished at 2.30pm.

During the war, there were no pithead baths – they came in the early 1950s. The pit was producing 350 tons of coal a day in 1947. The new Labour government nationalised the mines. The colliery was never the same again as the tried and trusted men who ran the pit were gradually replaced (political appointments). The union delegates more or less took over. Nothing could be done without their approval. Stones instead of coal were put in the hutches by some miners since more weight meant more money. There were many more abuses and by 1948 the colliery was unprofitable. The coal was too far away and incurred extra transport costs.

In August 1948, very heavy rains over a few days flooded fields west of the pit to such an extent that the water burst through to the workings. I was down the mine with another engineer when we felt a rush of air on our faces. We knew something was wrong so we made for the pit bottom with the rest of the men and we just made it before the water started to come up the shaft. All the machinery was submerged including 37 electric motors. The pit was closed down and special submersible pumps were brought from Newtongrange. The water was eventually pumped out but it was a long time before things returned to normal. Production was resumed but on a smaller scale.

The colliery closed in 1953 after a life of nearly 60 years. The neighbouring pits, Bellyford and Oxenford, closed in 1962 thus ending nearly 400 years of coal extraction in the area’.

The big change in agriculture between 1945 and 2000 has been the change from stock to white crop, which is less labour intensive. White crop has taken over a good proportion of the land. Oil seed rape was farmed for a time but is no longer being grown in the parish. The smaller farms have been incorporated into the larger farms – such as Dodridge, which is now part of Whitburgh estates. Two market gardens, that run by Sleight at Marketgate and that by Watson in Ormiston Hall, have also disappeared from the village in this timespan.

The number of people employed in agriculture has also greatly diminished with more machinery being utilised and thus farms becoming less labour-intensive. In the 1950s, Ormiston Mains employed five men; now this farm can be operated by two men, and casual labour at harvest time.

Sheep are not now farmed in the parish but merely wintered. The sheep at P.P.L. Therapeutics (see Economy – Industry) are bred for their antibodies and are not agricultural stock. There are dairy cows at the Murrays where there is also a production dairy for Fairfield Dairies. A piggery is in operation at House of Muir.


  • Denise Brydon – Homes; Economy
  • Dr Andrew Davies – Health
  • David Fleming – Homes; Economy – mining
  • T. Gifford – Economy – agriculture
  • Francesca Loening – Townscapes, Buildings & Landscapes of Distinction – Ormiston Hall
  • J. Nichols – Belief
  • Mabel Smith – Homes; Shops & Services; Economy