Grand Lodge of Scotland Free Colliers

The Sir William Wallace Grand Lodge of Scotland Free Colliers was formed on July 21st 1863 by trade union activist James Simpson.

On the first Saturday of August each year for as long as people can remember, close on a hundred men of all ages, many dressed in tail coats and top hats and linking pinkies with their neighbours, walk behind marching bands and flags for over ten miles through the villages of Redding, Westquarter, Brightons, Wallacestone and Laurieston.

Until the end of the 18th century the Scottish collier was a serf, bound in servitude to his master, the coal owner, almost as tightly as any slave on the cotton plantations of the Americas. Although he could not actually be sold as an individual, he and his family were ranked with any other article attached to the colliery to be bought and sold along with lengths of rail or stacks of timber. Once bound to a pit they had no right to move to another place of work and could be brought back to face severe punishment if they tried. Many did just that and were returned in manacles to face the wrath of the owners. Convicted criminals, beggars and other homeless people were gifted as 'perpetual servants' to the masters and, children born to collier families were, on payment by the owner of a small sum of money, bound like their fathers to the owner and his pit for life. No surprise then that few outsiders would volunteer to join the ranks to labour in Scotland's dangerous pits even when the industrial revolution increased demand for coal and pushed up wages. Only by loosening the legal ties could the owners hope to cash in on the boom and it was with a good deal of reluctance that the colliers were granted their freedom in grudging stages, first the new recruits in 1775 and twenty four years later the whole workforce.

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