Town gets ready to stand tall with memorial to mine tragedy victims

Gardner Molloy gets to work on a scale model of the statue
Gardner Molloy gets to work on a scale model of the statue
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A TOWERING memorial is to be built to pay tribute to hundreds of miners who died in a Lothians town.

Prestonpans Miners’ Memorial Statue Group is raising the funds needed to build a memorial in recognition of 200 workers who died in the town’s pits.

A design for the sculpture has now been settled on and a planning application has been lodged with East Lothian Council.

Tom Ewing, town artist and member of the group, said: “Prestonpans is a well-known mining town, we had two or three mines in the town, and a lot of people died.

“There is nothing to commemorate the miners in the town at the moment.

“We thought it would be a great gesture to create this memorial, which is something that Prestonpans really needs.”

The mining of coal in Prestonpans began in 1210, and continued for centuries.

Cockenzie-based stonemason and artist Gardner Molloy has been brought on board to create a three-metre-high sculpture, which will be situated at The Shrine, at the junction of Schaw Road and Bankton Terrace.

Mr Molloy, 48, who has lived in Cockenzie all his life, said: “It’s great to re-visit things because you can come at them fresh with a different sort of spirit.

“The sculpture is going to be huge – my plan is to have two quarry blocks, and each block might weight five tonnes.

“One of the two figures will be throwing material and one is charging his shovel up.

“The blocks will be placed on top of one another with the space in between – where the figures will be placed – representing the mineshaft.

“I’ve worked as a stone mason for the past 25 years, but this is my first sculpture commission.”

Mr Molloy hopes to sell three prototype model sculptures at the town’s 3 Harbours Art Festival next month in order to raise funds for the project.

It is hoped that if the fund-raising goes to plan, the full-size memorial will be in place by the end of the year.

Some form of structural survey may need to be carried out at the site because of the weight of the stone, but the Prestonpans Miners’ Memorial Statue Group said it was confident the memorial would go ahead.

Mr Ewing said: “We’re confident we’re going to meet our funding target.

“We’ve raised more than half already – just more than £1600 – so that puts us in good stead for match funding.

“In the last year-and-a-half, the project has really begun to pick up momentum.”

A competition is being organised at Royal Musselburgh Golf Club – the golf course having been paid for by Prestonpans miners – to help reach the target.

Dangerous life

Mining in Prestonpans was the lifeblood of the community for hundreds of years but was also fraught with danger.

In 1925, a pithead labourer lost his life after attempting to save the life of a fellow worker.

Robert Moodie was, along with James Peden, at a burning refuse bing at Prestonlinks Colliery when its foundations collapsed.

Peden was thrown over the top among the burning ashes while Moodie, although he was in complete safety, attempted to rescue him and was severely burned, later dying in hospital.

In the Prestonlinks Colliery explosion in 1929, John Morton, 26, died in hospital from his injuries, with John Byrne, 19, losing his life two weeks after the explosion.

It is believed the explosion was caused by a match to light a cigarette.

Also in 1929, 40-year-old Charles Baillie was crushed between two loaded waggons while working at the Prestonlinks pithead. He died from his injuries.