Coal Mining in the East Neuk

As the author, John McManus, writes: “The East Neuk of Fife was blessed with a mineral resource that was relatively easy to access”. This resource was coal – the driver of the industrial revolution and, even before then, a crucial element to the area’s industrial development from medieval times (or even Roman times) to the late twentieth century.

The East Neuk of Fife is situated on the coast, near St Andrews in Scotland. “Neuk” is the Scots word for nook or corner, and the East Neuk is now a tourist destination for the exploration of its beautiful fishing ports and the beaches along its craggy coastline. However, this interesting book covers the geology and social history of the mines, and the effect on the people who explored, owned land and worked in the area, from the inception of the coal industry to its ultimate decline.

McManus goes into some detail, covering the geological setting, the rocks and tectonics of the area, together with providing a discussion of the origin and formation of coal and related Carboniferous strata. The book also covers the social history of the mining that took place there including, for example, the catastrophic effect of the plague and the social deprivation caused by the much later unemployment the area suffered in the early twentieth century. It also covers the main methods of extracting the coal and provides a detailed (by my standards) discussion of the main coal seams (and some of the smaller ones) and mines of East Neuk. It also provides a useful glossary of the technical and mining terms used in East Neuk.

John McManus graduated from the Royal School of Mines at Imperial College in London and was made professor in 1993 at the University of St Andrews after lecturing at the University of Dundee. He has also published over 200 scientific papers and a similar, but shorter, book to this one, entitled ‘Mining between Ceres and St Andrews’.

Given the very specific subject matter of this book, it is surprising how enjoyable it is to read. Therefore, if you are interested in mining and coal, and the related social history, I would very much recommend it to you.

Coal Mining in the East Neuk of Fife by John McManus, Dunedin Academic Press Ltd, Edinburgh (2017). 188 pp., hardback, ISBN: 781780460727.

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