Freedom of Falkirk for miners group that won't forget the 'battles of the past'

Sir William Wallace Grand Lodge of Scotland Free Colliers with Councillor Billy Buchanan. Grand Master William Allardyce is second from left.
-Credit: (Image: Contributed)

The Freedom of Falkirk is to be granted to the Free Colliers of Redding to recognise their tireless support for miners and efforts to keep the traditions of their communities alive.

Baillie Billy Buchanan proposed the honour for the group at a meeting of Falkirk Council today (Wednesday), saying the group - which was formed in 1863 deserved recognition for "supporting miners and their families when the pit was operational, keeping alive the traditions of the mining communities and for their charitable activities in Redding and further afield".

Baillie Buchanan told members that the ‘Sir William Wallace Grand Lodge of Scotland Free Colliers’ - otherwise known as the Free Colliers of Redding had been formed in 1863 to defend miners and their families from the oppressive acts of the mine owners and their Government supporters.

Read more: Plans for homes in Polmont woodland backed by councillors

Baillie Buchanan said: "At the time the men were represented by local associations and there was no proper national union.

"Any man brave enough to speak out against falling pay rates or encourage others to take action was liable to be identified, sacked and kicked out with his family from their colliery-owned homes."

In the aftermath of a failed strike, the inspiring leadership of Redding miner, James Simpson, led to the formation of the Free Colliers, at a time when the defeat meant wages were reduced and conditions even worse.

"The new organisation adopted the name of national hero William Wallace as a symbol of their determination to fight for freedom and justice for all,"

"The Redding Colliers inspired a huge wave of support all across Scotland and within a year there were 65 other groups representing miners in every part of the Scottish coalfield.

"At a crucial time before Trade Unions were fully recognised these collier lodges kept the flame of resistance burning in defence of working people.

"Over the following years responsibility for the fight did pass to the unions but the lodges remained to support collier families and help preserve the traditions of mining communities.

"For over 160 years this vital work has continued unbroken with charitable activities of all kinds assisting the Redding community and people much further afield."

The Free Colliers remain active today and every August they hold a march through the former mining villages of the Braes, ending at Wallacestone "where the crowds are reminded of the battles of the past and pledges are made to guard against injustice wherever it is found".

Over the years, the Colliers have also been instrumental in campaigning to remember the tragic events of the Redding Pit Disaster of 1923 where 40 men lost their lives.

Baillie Buchanan continued: "Their efforts have gifted to our community, present and future, a magnificent memorial which will stand as a reminder of the sacrifice of the miners and their families and also of the debt we owe to the Free Colliers themselves for acting as our conscience and our inspiration.

"There are few organisations that have survived and prospered for such a long time and this success is surely down to the universal admiration the people have for the Free Colliers and for the fantastic things they do on our behalf.

"These seekers after freedom, past and present, have surely earned all the freedoms our community can bestow."

The Labour group leader, Councillor Anne Hannah said she was happy to second the motion as "the daughter of a miner and as a councillor representing the Lower Braes".

She added: "The Free Colliers were instrumental in fighting for freedom and indepence for colliers who were almost like slaves.

"The colliers lodges spread across the whole of Scotland and to some extent developed into the trade unions, including the National Union of Miners."

The motion was unanimously supported by councillors of all parties and Independents.

Conservative group leader James Kerr - whose father, he said, was a former Master of the Free Colliers and a fifth generation miner - thanked Baillie Buchanan for highlighting the efforts of the colliers throughout the years.

For more Falkirk stories, sign up to our newsletter here.