Soon after Robert Cunninghame inherited his uncle's estate in 1678, he enthusiastically began work on surveying the coal field. He began his operations with the Deep Shank Pit to the east of Stevenston Kirk and Burn. He erected a water-wheel which harnessed the power of the Stevenston Burn. Buckets of water were wound up from the pit to the surface where they were emptied into a runnel that drained back into the burn. He also put down several shafts or pits in the coal-field, at considerable distances from each other, to ascertain the thickness, quality and declivity of the various strata, as well as the position of the chief 'troubles'. The skill with which this survey was carried out provided detailed information of ongoing value to his successors.
He also drove a level mine for a mile and a half westwards through his own coal field and part of Lord Eglinton's to surface at Townhead, Saltcoats. The coal which was mined was carried up stairs on the backs of the wives and daughters of the colliers. Keeping mines free of water was always a major issue.
The Stevenston coalfield continued to be a site of innovation. An abortive attempt was made in 1719, only five years after the steam engine was first used in Newcastle and only the second that had been set up in Scotland, to instal a Newcomen engine. At only 18 inches in diameter, however, it was too small. Later, a new Boulton and Watt steam engine (an improved development of Newcomen's original model), constructed by John Nelson of Glasgow was installed. At 5 feet in diameter with 8 feet stroke and 15 and a half inch bore pumps, it discharged four tons of water a minute and was probably the first of its size in Scotland.
Now capped by concrete, the abandoned, flooded workings of the Deep Shank Pit was the probable source for the catastrophic flooding that killed 9 in the Auchenharvie pit in 1895.
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