Drumpellier Iron Works, Coatbridge

Extract from 1871 Truck Report

The Drumpeller Ironworks belonging to Messrs Henderson and Dimmack, are situated at Coatbridge. About 370 hands are employed at the works and the adjacent coal pits. The wages both at the ironworks and at the pits are given fortnightly, and whatever is due is settled once a fortnight. Advances to account are made two or three days a week, and about three fifths of the men take advantage of these. There is a store, leased by the firm in Buchanan Street, Coatbridge, close to the ironworks. It was opened 10 or 11 years ago as a store, and, as Mr. Henderson, the managing partner, told us, at the request of the men. Coatbridge is now, however, a considerable place, with about 16,000 inhabitants and a large market.

The store is managed by a storekeeper and an assistant; the former of whom besides his salary is allowed a commission of 5%, on the returns at the end of the year, and is expected to turn out a reasonable percentage, i.e., a percentage varying from 8 to 10%, upon the sales made.

It is expected that the moneys advanced from time to time previous to the pay shall be taken to the store "to purchase goods,'' and it is the duty of the cashiers both at the ironworks and at the colliery to stop the advances of any who do not carry out this expectation. The system by which the advances and the store are worked is much the same throughout Scotland, and it may be convenient to describe it here.

When a man wants an advance before pay day, he goes to the cashier or the clerk with his book, in which is entered the amount of work he has done. The cashier or clerk marks on the book the sum which the workman is to receive, and hands the book back to him with the cash. On receiving the money, the workman is expected to take it to the store and deliver it to the head storeman, who in return provides him with a line or ticket for the amount. This line is available for articles at the store to the extent of the figure written upon it. In some cases the man is permitted, either by the clerk or the storekeeper, to carry away a small proportion in actual cash, one to two shillings or two shillings and sixpence in ten being the usual allowance.

The greater portion of the money paid over, in the shape of cash advances, comes back into the cash office the same night through the shop.

The total amount of wages paid at Drumpeller in 1869 was £16,944 1s. 6d.; of this £5,579 3s. 7d. were advances.

The total amount received by the store for the same year was £3,416, of which 90 per cent, came from the cash advances, and 10 per cent, from outside customers.

The store is thus supported almost entirely by the advances. "It is supported" as the cashier admitted, "by those who are compelled to go to it." Some evidence was adduced regarding the understanding which existed between the storekeeper on the one hand and the cashiers on the other, and also (though the evidence in this point was less than satisfactory) between the cashier at the coal pits and the overseers and managers, in order to induce the men to spend their advances at the store. It was admitted that the storekeeper and cashiers compare notes the day after the cashing day, and that the storekeeper furnishes the cashiers both at the ironworks and at the collieries with a list of the names of "slopers," or those who have not taken their cash advances to the store. Marks are made by the cashiers against those slopers in their books to indicate that the man against whose name the mark is put is to have no more advances. The oversmen also from time to time have been known to go over to the store to make enquiry as to how the men under them spend their money, while the cashier who pays the men at the colliery has on one or two occasions spoken to the oversmen to give a hint to the men in reference to the disposal of their cash advances.

The pay men, i.e., those who do not require advances, but who wait till the regular payday, are not expected at Drumpeller to spend any part of their wages at the store. But at these works the storekeeper who preceded the present one had made an attempt to examine the cashier's books in his absence, with a view, as the cashier supposed, of seeing how much the pay men were earning, and in order, as he also supposed, to put some inducement upon them to come to the store. It was allowed by the cashier that there was no guarantee in other works that such pressure was not general, except such as might be in the character of the cashier, and in the character of the storekeeper.

The store is licensed to sell beer and ale; the men are expected to consume it outside. Mr. Hendcrson says, " I cannot say that this is always done, but it is expected." Spirits are sold there. Mr. Greig, who was storekeeper till May 1st, 1870, said that drinking in the store was a daily occurrence, and that he had seen the police in the store when drinking was going on.

The people employed in these works complained both of the quality of the articles sold, more particularly in respect of the sugar and butter, and also of the prices charged. These complaints were here, as elsewhere, couched in strong and some of them apparently in exaggerated language. Mrs. Armstrong for instance denounced the sugar as "enough to scunner a ' taed,' and the butter only fit to oil cart wheels." But making allowance for the force of the Scotch expressions used, it would appear that there was something in their complaints, as Mr. Gray, the works manager, informed us that remonstrances as to the high prices and inferior articles sold at this store were made to him almost every day, and that on one occasion " he had proved that they were well founded." The manager did not himself buy his goods at the store, but would do so if the store was as good and as cheap as the shops about. Samples obtained last year by Mr. Cameron from one of the stores belonging to this company, were also examined by Mr. McCulloch, who reported as follows:- Sugar, short weight and bad value; cheese, American, short weight and very dear. Odd farthings are not given back "at the store;" as Mary Garvin put it "They always keep the odd farthing ; if you get half a thing at 6 1/2d. they charge 3 1/2d. for it."  This grievance we found to be prevalent in Scotland, and such a tax cannot but be felt by the poorer classes. But the interests of the poorer classes of customers suffer in other small ways. The storekeeper said that in many cases the best quality of goods only was kept, and as those who earn a small wage cannot afford to buy at the highest price, they must do without. And where there is a variety, it appears to be customary at Dumpeller to fill into the customers "line" or ticket the most expensive class of goods, should he omit to state the price at which he desires the article.

We are informed by Mr. Henderson, that the profit, after deducting every charge, was 8 ½% on the turnover, while the return on the capital invested in the store was about 32%. "It is a very good return," Mr. Henderson said, "for the money invested in it, more than is made off the making of iron or coal raising. .... " We have no bad debts, and purchasing in the lowest markets the store ought to be able to compete with anybody in the trade."

Mr Gray, the manager of the collieries, whose opinion, like that of several managers in Scotland, was strongly against truck, told us that "the feeling among the managers was universally against the truck system," and that the "workmen would be better without the stores." The best men, as was admitted by Mr. Henderson, the proprietor of the works, "never set their foot in it," they prefer to go elsewhere. "They may think they do better elsewhere, and perhaps they do." And Mr. Gray told us that he had difficulty in getting good men to work at Messrs. Henderson and Dimmack's, owing to the store, and that the " better men never go to it."

Abstract of Evidence

Robert Henderson, Managing Partner.

We employ 370 men at our ironworks and collieries near Coatbridge. We pay fortnightly. In 1869, the gross wages were £10,547 at the ironworks, £6,396 at the colliery; and the amounts given to the men in advance of their pay to oblige them were £3,951 at the ironworks, and £1,627 at the colliery. 10 or 18 years ago we were asked by a deputation of the men to open a store. The deputation was not set in motion by our influence. The works are close to Coatbridge, which is a large place with 16,000 inhabitants. Our system is as follows: When a workman goes for an advance he goes to the cash clerk in the first instance. It is expected that the moneys advanced from time to time previous to the pays are taken to the store. The only pressure or compulsion that is exercised is that if we think proper, or if the cash advance clerk thinks proper, if he knows that workmen go past the store and are in the habit of doing so, he may not give them cash if they want it till the pay-days. There is a. compulsion to this extent that if they are in the habit of going past the store, they may not have the money during the fortnight. That has been the custom of the store. 62 per cent of all the cash advanced goes into the store. 10 per cent of the receipts in the store come from the general public, and from workmen who do not take advances, the other 90 per cent from cash advance men. The storeman, if he wishes it, may see from the advance clerk the advance cash books, and if he thinks proper, will inform the pay clerk that so-and-so has not been doing any business with him, and if he thinks proper he may stop the advances to that man. If any man systematically disregarded the store he would cease to get advances, and would get his wages paid to him on the pay-day. There is no sort of understanding or expectation that the men should take to the store any part of their wages except the advances. Our store is licensed to sell beer and ale not to be consumed on the premises. It is sometimes consumed on the premises, but is expected not to be. One reason why we took the store was that we could regulate the drinking of the men so that no man should get more than was for his good. If he were allowed to get more it would injure us. I investigated a complaint 18 months ago as to the price of oil and oatmeal and I was satisfied that the price was as low as in Coatbridge. The men have often complained to me about not getting cash. I tell them that they will get their money on the pay-day, and that if the pay-clerk and they cannot arrange it I do not interfere. The best men do not use the store; they never set foot in it. The respectable workmen never want cash to carry on with. I have known a man refuse to work with us because there was a store, but that is quite exceptional. The best men prefer to go elsewhere. I think if the majority of the workmen were polled they would have nothing to say against the store. But for the system of advances our store would be a great deal less. I believe the Truck Act is necessary. If masters could pay in goods, the practice would be so much abused that I think the Act is necessary. I am not prepared to say the Act should be repealed. I think it quite stringent enough, but I do not see why, because I happen to be an ironmaster, I should not be a grocer. We carry on trade at this advantage, that we have no bad debts, and purchasing in the lowest markets, we ought to be able to compete with anybody. The nett profit for 1869 was £271, being 8 ¼ or 8 ½% on the sales. We have had it more. This may be 1 or 2% below the average for the last 10 years. That profit amounts to 32% on the capital invested in trade. It is more profitable than iron or coal raising. The stores are not kept as a matter of love, but they are a convenience for the workmen. Weekly pays would be a very great nuisance. If a retail tradesman wished to know the profit he was making per annum, he would calculate it on the addition made to his capital.

Francis O'Neill, collier

When I worked at Baird's we were paid cash every other day, and the settlement was monthly. At Drumpellier we are paid fortnightly, with one lie week. When I got an advance I was compelled to leave it in the store. If I took 3s. in money out of 10s., the cash was stopped. I could not carry away more than 1s. or 2s. I have been often threatened by the clerk that my book would be stopped if I did not pay money to the store. He told me that he would give me no money because I sloped the store. The articles are dear - a great deal dearer than in ordinary shops. Every article that came from the store was mostly a bawbee dearer than the articles that came out of a shop. Some were fairish enough in quality, some were bad. The clerk spoke to me within the last fortnight about my not dealing. I never heard a man say he liked the store yet.

William Garvin

When I cashed 10s., I got 1s. in money, and had to leave 9s. at the store. My wife was refused an advance last Wednesday because she had sloped the store. She told the storeman she would not slope this time, but he said she would not get the chance, as she had tricked him too often.

Mrs Mary Garvin

My husband's evidence is correct. I can get everything cheaper at other places than at the store. Tea is 10d. at the store, the same as 8d. elsewhere; sugar 5d. at the store, the same as 4d. Elsewhere. Bread is always a halfpenny or a penny above all other places about, and at the store they always keep the odd farthing. If you get half a thing at 6 1/2d. they charge 3 1/2d. for it.

George Armstrong

I worked at Drumpellier till 12 months ago. The articles were dearer there than in Coatbridge. The reason I had to leave Drumpellier was because I got into trouble for sloping the store.

Mrs Margaret Armstrong

My husbands evidence is true. The sugar at Drumpellier was enough to scunner a toad, and their butter was only fit to oil cart-wheels, the time I was there. They were better in Coatbridge for the same money that I paid at the store. Their sugar was not worth putting in tea.

John Dowland, collier.

I can get advances by leaving them at the store. A man cannot get money back after he has left it with the store, but only provisions. My wife has been asked by the storeman and the clerk, to go to the store. One day she took 6s. out of a pound, and he told her it was a shilling too much, and she must not do it again, or he would stop the advance. The rule of the colliery is that we can take only 5s. out of 20s. I never heard of any man being dismissed or threatened to be dismissed because he did not go to the store.

James Marshall, cashier at Drumpellier.

There is an understanding that when a man gets cash he should spend it at the store. The storekeeper compares notes with my book the day after the cashing day, and when he stops a man's advances he gives me a list of names to be stopped, and I put a mark in my book. Unless a man had a reasonable excuse, and if he made an habitual practice of taking the money away, we would stop it altogether. A former storekeeper once tried to make men who did not take advances deal at the store, but I prohibited it. I cannot say why, if the store is as good and as cheap as the shops, the best men do not go to it. I think they have an idea in their heads that they are wronged in it. Out of every 5s. paid by me in cash advances 4s. comes back into my hands through store the same night.

William Morrison, store manager

The expectation is that three-fourths of the advances go to the store. I understand that 10% is the general percentage stores should realize, that is nett profit on the sales. There are very few bad debts. The largest profit is on beer, and such articles, but only about one-fourth of the whole business of the store is in them.

Alexander McLaren, cash advance clerk

I have spoken to the overmen or managers about men not dealing at the store. I have spoken to Mr. Gray. The storeman would occasionally remark on men not spending their cash at the store, and how they should be treated. Those men in general we esteem as being decent men who get advances. Possibly I might have spoken to Mr. Gray six or seven times in the last six or eight months, to give the men a hint to spend their advance money at the store. We have at present only one contractor who pays his own men, but his men are expected to spend their advances at the store, the same as others.

James Gray, manager

I find a difficulty in getting men to come to our works. The workmen say the store has something to do with it. It is more severely worked than the store at my former place. I have heard complaints about the quality of the articles every day. As to high prices and inferior articles I proved that the complaints were well founded, that the prices were high, and that the articles were inferior, but not the whole of the articles:. The better men never go to the store. The men talk to me about the store almost every day. I do not approve of the store system that is carried on. I do not buy my goods at the store myself. If it was as good and cheap as the shops about I would decidedly go there myself. I have myself been dismissed for not going to the store. The word " store " was not mentioned, but it was called " the big house." That was a long time ago, when I was a miner. When men are stopped they leave the works of their own accord, because they cannot get advance cash. I have never known men dismissed except in my own case.

The store is a bad system for the men. Perhaps the wife goes to the store with money, and she may use it badly; the husband is not there, and cannot prevent it. What the last witness said about speaking to me is a great mistake. I never used any influence to induce men to go to the store.

Alexander Armstrong, miner

Drumpellier store was considered severe. None of the articles were good at all. I have known people in great distress because they could not get cash. I had to leave that work myself through that. I have known a good many leave for the same reason.

William McCulloch, wholesale and retail grocer in Glasgow

I have examined samples of provisions supplied to me from the store. My report on articles from the Drumpellier store was as follows:-" Sugar, short weight and bad value; cheese, American, short weight and very dear; butter fairish value." We consider the tea supplied by the shops to be fully 1s. a pound better value than that supplied by the stores. The substance of my report was that stores were invariably dearer than the shops - much dearer, and that even the shops in the mining district were rather dearer than they ought to be, though nothing to compare with the stores.

Miss Miller

I bought goods at the Drumpellier store for the purpose of testing their quality and prices. Sugar at 6d. a pound did not appear to me any better than the 5d. sugar at other stores. Butter was 1d. a. pound dearer than at other stores.

James Cunninngham

When I worked at Drumpellier they used to press the men who lived near the store to deal there.

James Greig

I was formerly storekeeper at Drumpellier for seven years till last May. I got some articles from the store myself. I never used to give lines without receiving any cash for them. The practice was, the cashier would pay me the amount of the goods I had given out, and come in the evenings for the cash which I had received. I do not remember whether he used to give me the money itself or merely to give me credit for the money. I do not think that he would be likely to hand me over the money with one hand and take it from me with the other. I cannot say how it was.

W. P. Pattison

I am a consulting actuary. The Drumpellier balance sheet is properly classified.

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