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Historical Industry in the Area

Quarries (Binny Stone).
At one time there were more then six quarries around the village of Ecclesmachan. The sandstone extracted from these quarries was a good grade and used for building works in the area from about 1790. It was described as being 'a very nice material, less costly to work than others and of better colour; for ornamental carving it is particularly good'. This sandstone contained bitumen which gave the rock a freckled appearance, it is considered to be the cause of its ability to retain 'sooty' atmospheric particulants on it's surface and also prevent the absorption of moisture.

The opening of the Union Canal in 1822 allowed the stone to be transported to Edinburgh and Glasgow economically. (The stone was lifted out of the quarry by a steam driven crane and loaded onto a steam traction engine for road transportation to the canal dock at Broxburn, some 2.5 miles away). It then began make a real impact on building works in Edinburgh, one single block of stone, weighing about 20 tons, was transported to Edinburgh and sculpted by John Steel into the Queen Victoria Statue (1844) and erected at the Royal Scottish Academy. The following Edinburgh buildings were build entirely or partially using Binny stone:

Scott Monument, Princes Street. (1840-1846)
National Gallery, Mound. (1850-1859)
New College & Assembly Hall, Mound. (1845-1850)
Bank of Scotland, Mound. (1802-1806 & 1864-1870)
Bank of Scotland, St. Andrews Square. (1842-1846)
Royal Bank of Scotland, George Street. (now the Dome Bar) 1843-1847)
Donaldson's School, West Coates. (1841-1851)
Daniel Stewarts & Melville College, Ravelston Terrace. (1849-1855)
City Observatory, Calton Hill. (1818)
Holyrood Palace Fountain. (1858-1859)

The introduction of a network of 'mineral railways' throughout West Lothian (c. 1879) resulted in a further increase in transport economy and less use of the Union Canal for transportation. A mineral railway link ran from Uphall via Binny quarry, Newbigging, Faucheldean to the main Glasgow to Edinburgh line at Winchburgh. This carried coal, oil, stone and bricks from the area into the rail distribution network. Although long dismantled, evidence of this railway track is still visible, especially to the east of Ecclesmachan. (Click here to see a recent picture of the remains of a bridge which used to carry the railway over the burn - the centre pillar is actually built along the bed of the burn.) The use of Binny stone continued until c. 1914 by which time all the quarries had closed. The decline from c. 1890 was brought about by stone from Fife and northern England being used due to its cheaper production techniques. The quarry pits were gradually filled in and by the 1940's the areas had completely grown over.

In 1997 the Stirling Stone Group opened a new temporary quarry at Binny. This special project was for extraction of stone for repairing the Scott Monument on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Some 450 cubic metres were accessed to provide the 75 cubic metres required for the repairs. This massive restoration project, costing some 2 million, was completed over a 12 month period 1998/1999. After the stones blocks were extracted, the quarry was filled in for a second time and carefully restored back to grazing land.

The most important type of mining in this area was shale for oil extraction. The massive expansion of this Industry in the late 1800s had a tremendous impact on surrounding villages, new oil related industries appeared and there was a massive influx of miners (and therefore house-building). There was also a mineral railway built primarily to service the shale industry, this network threaded its way throughout most parishes in West Lothian, connecting the mines to refineries and the main railway network

Although surrounded by shale bearing seams, there were no major shale workings in the parish. The only shale mine in operation was situated at Threemiletown, a few hundred metres to the east of Redhouse Cottages. This mine was known as No.35 and was one of the first shale mines to be opened (1895) in the West Lothian area. The No.35 mine did not have a 'slag heap' as the shale was transported away for processing on the mineral railway. As well as being one of the first shale mines to open, it was also one of the last to close, it's closure was on 30th April 1958 with 90 workmen being made redundant on that date. (A further 30 employees were retained for a few months to dismantle the plant). The only other evidence of shale mining works in the parish is an old ventilation shaft on the land to the east of Wyndford Farm. This shaft was probably part of the mining works at Carledubs Shale Mine, Uphall.

The only other records of mining in the Parish were for the mining of coals and clay on a very small scale. In 1660 coal mining began at Newbigging Farm where they extracted what was considered to be coal of the 'best quality', the mine was very small (employing only 10 or 12 'Pickmen'). The works on the farmland expanded to eventually include (c 1780) a Clay Mine and Brick & Tile Works, by this time the mine works started to decline until its eventual closure in the early 1800s.

From early accounts of the area, it can be seen that as far back as 1790 smaller farms were amalgamated together to create larger units. This process left some 11 farmers operating in the Parish, and the population had declined to some 215. In 1839 a private census ascertained 263 inhabitants, of those 11 were farmers, 3 blacksmiths, 2 carpenters, 1 mason, 1 tailor, 2 weavers, and 10 day labourers. The rest of the males and many of the females were employed in agriculture (either as servants to the farmers or carriers of butter & buttermilk to Edinburgh).

The land in the Parish was (and still is to a great extent) composed of heavy soil highly retentive of moisture, areas being enclosed mostly by hedgerow and ditch. It has however, always been cultivated to the edge of available technology and been fairly fertile (helped by the long period of cultivation and the application of 'Police Manure' in the 1800s brought from Edinburgh by canal and railway). As the valley slopes west to east from higher ground to lower, so the change in the use of the land is apparent. The higher ground to the west supports green crop, hay, barley, oats, dairy and beef herds as well as some sheep. The lower levels are more suited to wheat, barley, beans (not recent), rapeseed (recent), hay, oats and some pasture on poor or hard to cultivate land.

With modern methods and equipment, it is now common practice to see farm equipment working from 4am until 10pm as seasonal demand is met (and weather permits). It is also commonplace to see a field harvested, ploughed, furrowed and re-seeded within 1 week, the new crop germinating prior to the winter frosts arriving.

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