The village of Rosewell in Midlothian grew-up around the coal-mining industry. Mining had been taking place in theMidlothianarea since medieval times. Monks from Newbattle Abbey were known to work the local area. Whitehill colliery in Rosewell was owned by Wardlaw Ramsay. It was situated at the top end of the village where the houses ofRosedaleand Fairmeadow are now. In 1856, Archibald Hood, an engine manager, acquired the lease for Whitehill Colliery from Ramsay. Hood modernised and extended the workings of Whitehill and extended the railway to service his pits at Carrington, Eldin, Gorton, Polton and Skelty Muir. Hood also improved the social conditions of the miners. Houses were built to accommodate workers and their families. The houses were built in a hierarchal system with managers and foremen having bigger houses than the ordinary mine worker. Unusually, every house had a garden attached to it so that workers could grow some of their own food. In 1846, the population of Rosewell was just 133 people, but by 1881 it had risen dramatically to 2129. This rise was due to many Irish immigrants coming over to find work and escape the effects of the Irish potato famine. This influx of Irish workers led to Rosewell becoming known as ‘littleIreland’.
By 1885, Rosewell had a church, post office, school and a savings bank. In 1890, Whitehill colliery was amalgamated with the Newbattle collieries, which were owned by the Marquis of Lothian, to form the Lothian Coal Company. It was at this time that Archibald Hood’s son James took over as general manager of the company. James Hood was also a Midlothian County Councillor. He was closely involved with many of his father’s projects, such as the Rosewell Co-operative Society which was founded in 1862 and was the first of its kind inMidlothian. Rosewell was known as a ‘company village’, which meant that the coal company owned and controlled every aspect of life, apart from the school and the church. The co-operative retail society was encouraged and a ‘Gothenburg’ style system was adopted with the opening of The Tavern in 1909. The coal company stipulated that a proportion of the profits from the sale of alcohol went towards the creation of the public park and community facilities, such as abowling greenwhich opened in 1901. This was a win-win situation for the mine owners as the wages that they paid to their workers were handed back at the shop and the Tavern. If a worker lost their job then they also lost their house. There were strict rules about maintaining a tidy garden and planting. Failure to comply with these meant that a worker would be brought up in front of the infamous ‘green table’ to face the consequences.
Life was undeniably hard in the early days. There was no electricity or running water, and water had been drawn from wells situated in the village streets. However, there was a strong sense of community. For example, on25 February 1892, the Rosewell Co-operative annual soiree and concert took place. James Hood was in the chair and guests were entertained by soprano singers and a ventriloquist. On21 July 1892, Rosewell Athletic Games were held in a field adjoining the colliery. Games were also held on29 September 1892under the auspices of the Rosewell Brass Band. These games included a pigeon race from Hawick to Rosewell, and there was also a trotting handicap. Rosewell had many different clubs at this time, including football, pigeon-racing and dramatic arts. By 1900, Rosewell was a self-sufficient village. Nobody really needed to venture outside of it as their needs were met. Local people worked hard and had few material possessions, but in many ways they appeared to be happy with their lot.
Written by Maureen Moffat, Local Studies Assistant