Letham has had its fair share of hardship

Residents in Letham village green more than 60 years ago
Residents in Letham village green more than 60 years ago

Last week I was in the village of Letham to see Provost Pat Reid unveil a wall mural marking the centenary of the mining community created by Carron Company in 1913.

Quite a few of the older residents were present and it was fascinating to hear their stories of the village when most of the men worked underground and coal was still the lifeblood of the nation.

In 1912 the Grangemouth Colliery closed after over 70 years production and the following year Carron Company, always desperate for supplies, opened up a new pit in Letham. Many of the former Grangemouth men were offered employment and, to house them closer to the new mine, the company built Letham Cottages.

A few years later the Terraces followed as production increased and within a relatively short time there were over 400 men employed in the village colliery and at the other local Carron pit, the famous William Pit or ‘Garibaldi’ which had been operating since the 1860s.

Although the village was new, the estate of Letham, overlooked by the Bruce family castle of Airth, had a long and interesting history dating back to when much of the fertile land south of the Pow Burn was held by the Abbey of Holyrood.

The main road north from the harbour at Carronshore to Airth and Stirling ran along the Lang Dyke and crossed the Pow by way of the Abbeytown Bridge where many a soldier, packman, pilgrim would have passed.

In the 17th century old Letham House was occupied by General William Baillie whose Scottish Army was defeated at Kilsyth in 1645.

In 1728 the lands were bought by Thomas Dundas who modernised the estate and improving the land. His second son Lawrence went on to become one of Scotland’s richest men, the creator of the Forth and Clyde Canal and ‘father’ of the new town of Grangemouth. His grandson became the first Earl of Zetland.

But it is coal mining in the 20th century that remains the main heritage of the village. Mining was still a highly dangerous occupation and a precarious way of earning a living when working conditions were poor and coal owners were quick to cut wages and lay off men when it suited them.

Strikes and lockouts were common and Letham was one of the places that suffered severely in the 1920s. Things were particularly bad in 1921 when the workers were locked out for months and only the efforts of the Letham Miners Association and their secretary Robert Penman helped prevent a serious outbreak of violence as the hard-pressed families were driven near the end of their tethers.

Further suffering accompanied the General Strike of 1926 and just a few years later the Letham pit was closed altogether and many of the workers lost their livelihoods.

The Garibaldi provided some jobs and the War increased demand for a time so that the pit survived until 1945 when all mining in the area came to an end. But the spirit that held the people together in hard times did not die with the old employment.

The Letham community survived and today a new generation is remembering those struggles for decency, fairness and justice and the hardships endured by so many that we might all enjoy a better life.