This book looks at the history of Fife's most extensive industrial railway. It covers the development of the collieries and ports. The wider implications of the social changes are also considered. The Wemyss Coal Company was incorporated into the National Coal Board in 1947. The railway was not absorbed, it continued to be run by the Estate. A chapter on the Wemyss and Buckhaven Railway is contributed by Alan Simpson.
This title has an A5 format, 272 pages, 230 photos, plans, maps, etc.
It is casebound with a full colour dust jacket.
HardCover: 272 Pages
Photos / illustrations: 230
Publisher: The Oakwood Press
Publication date: April 1998 1st edition
Book Dimensions: 21.4 x 15.2 x 2.2 cm
It was in 1879 that RGE Wemyss, as soon as he was 21, finalised plans for what was to become known as the Wemyss and Buckhaven Railway. It ran through the estate from Thornton Junction to Methil where he wanted to improve the Harbour before the Leven Harbour Company might succeed in developing Leven as the coal port of the district. He successfully managed to do this, at the same time considerably improving the Harbour at Methil which was opened in 1887 and which his ancestor, the second Earl of Wemyss, had originally constructed in 1664.
However, it was not until 1897 that Randolph Wemyss announced his intention to build the Wemyss Private Railway, and in 1899 entered into an agreement whereby the Wemyss Coal Co. Ltd would construct a railway to join lines between Methil dock, which was adjacent, to the near Denbeath Colliery. The eventual plan was for traffic coming from Lochhead, Earlseat and Michael Collieries to be dealt with independently of the North British Railway Company. The actual focal point was the Baum mechanical coal preparation plant strategically built nearby the docks in 1905 and planned to serve all Wemyss Collieries.
Eventually, RGE Wemyss became concerned that traffic was outgrowing the capacity of Methil Dock and managed to persuade the NRB Co. (to whom he had sold the docks) to build a new No. 3 dock. This was opened in 1913.
At the outbreak of World War I, shipments from Methil were considerably curtailed. Later on in the early 1920’s the Wemyss Coal Co. Ltd put through a last and major project by sinking a much deeper shaft at Michael Colliery in order to be able to work much lower-lying seams under the Firth of Forth. This opened in 1932 and I remembered during the sinking of this shaft, as a child, being taken down the shaft in a large contractor’s bucket, stop-start signals being given by knocking the side of the bucket with a large hammer! The Michael Colliery was now the deepest and most productive pit in Scotland producing nearly 1,000,000 tons annually until 1967 when a disastrous fire caused the pit to become finally abandoned.
By now, with the closing of the Michael Colliery and some 70 years after the inception of the Wemyss Private Railway (WPR), there was little traffic to be carried and some years later it closed down.
The WPR had a colourful history. Coal has been mined on the Wemyss Estate for centuries without a break and since David, second Earl of Wemyss, was granted a charter by Charles II to build a harbour at Methil for the shipment of coal, much of which, even at that time, went abroad. The whole story of railways on the Wemyss Estate is bound up with the lifting of the coal from the extensive deposits under the estate and Firth of Forth adjacent, and the shipment of the output.
Although Randolph Wemyss was my grandfather, I never knew him. He died in 1908 at the age of only 50, from illness contracted in the South African War some 12 years before I was born.
David Wemyss of Wemyss
Invermay by Perth