Free Colliers celebrate 150 years in the Braes

The Free Colliers link pinkies as a symbol of unity during their annual march. PICTURE: Lisa McPhillips (131849)
The Free Colliers link pinkies as a symbol of unity during their annual march. PICTURE: Lisa McPhillips (131849)
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One hundred and fifty years of workers’ solidarity in the Braes was celebrated at the annual ‘Pinkie March’ last weekend.

Members of the Sir William Wallace Lodge of Free Colliers linked their pinkies once more on Saturday as they paraded their proud history through the streets of former mining communities.

The Free Colliers' 'Pinkie March' highlights the symbolises of workers over the centuries

The Free Colliers' 'Pinkie March' highlights the symbolises of workers over the centuries

While Falkirk’s coal and shale mines are long gone the tradition of unity for workers is still cherished and celebrated in the villages of the Braes and the movement is even getting more popular as it gets older.

Grandmaster Willie Allardyce said: “It’s very important to preserve the history of the colliers and remember their struggles in different times to what we know today.

“The reason we are still relevant and the march is so popular is that there are still so many families in these communities who have ties to the mining industry and the parade is a great spectacle for people to see.

“We are getting busier and busier all the time now as well. We are attracting members from other areas of Scotland as well as here in Falkirk and are being invited to parade in more and more events.

“Saturday was one of the biggest turnouts I’ve seen for our march and I’d like to thank the general public for its support.”

Nearly 120 colliers marched on Saturday among a fanfare of flags, bowler hats, packed streets, bands, pipers, horses and carts and invited dignitaries such as National Union of Mineworkers president Nicky Wilson and Falkirk Provost Pat Reid.

The walk is traditionally held on the first Saturday every August, marching ten miles through the villages of Redding, Reddingmuirhead, Sheildhill, Westquarter and Laurieston. It celebrates the rights of mining forefathers who fought for their freedom from mine owners and for decent working conditions in the dangerous pits.

A wreath is also laid at the Redding Pit Disaster memorial to commemorate the 40 men who lost their lives in one of the worst incidents in Scottish mining history on September 25, 1923.

Provost Pat Reid, who walked the whole route on Saturday said the march was “outstanding” and served as a reminder of struggles workers still faced today.

“The facts surrounding the treatment of the miners and their children in the 19th century are truly shocking and difficult to comprehend in 2013,” he added.

“Reading the accounts of miners and their children who worked in the pits up the Braes brought home starkly the task that the men faced to break free from economic slavery and the courage and nobility of spirit which they showed in facing and eventually defeating those who held them in bondage.

“The event was a celebration of all of that, but also a reminder too that there are those, nowadays multi-national companies, who still continue to exploit their workers.”