Childrens Employment Commission 1842

The following extracts are from the report by R F Franks to the Children's Employment Commission on the East of Scotland District which was published in 1842.

Hard Hill Colliery

-parish of Bathgate, Linlithgowshire.- (Messrs. Wark and Wyllie, Proprietors.)

No.187. Mr. Alexander Wark:
We employ about 50 persons at present below ground; the number varies with demand; the collieries in this district are not very extensive, as the consumption is chiefly local, and for limeworks; few factories or manufactories of any extent exist near to Bathgate.

The colliers about this district change their places of labour frequently, which has a bad effect upon their children, as it entirely prevents any settled mode of instruction being given. If colliers would settle down in Bathgate, so as to become residents for three years, they would be entitled to the same privileges as other inhabitants, viz. that of having their children gratuitously educated at Newland's academy.

Very few females work in the pits in this part of West Lothian. The men themselves seem to have a strong objection to their labouring below ground, not so much from the soreness of the work, as from a notion they have that it cheapens their own labour. It equally applies to any young children, and rarely will children be found except there be sickness or destitution.

Collier people have an advantage over many others in respect to their families, as coal is in greater demand in winter than summer; so in the former is their labour and in the latter for the labour above ground for children in the fields.

No.188. Margaret Harper, 13 years old, putter:
I work in Hard-hill Mine with sister Agnes, who is 11 years of age; we work 10 to 12 hours in the day; we get porridge before we gang, or it is sent down by mother.

We hurry the carts on the railroads by pushing behind; I frequently draw with ropes and chains as the horses do; it is dirty slavish work and the water quite covers our ancles.

I have never been much hurt; I knock my head against the roofs, as they are not so high as I am and they cause me to stoop, which makes my back ache.

Father gets 1s. a-day for our work, 6d. each; he would not have sent us down but is sore bad in his breath.

[The Father, who was in bed, stated that he was not yet 40 years of age and that the bad air in the mines had so injured his breath that he contemplated seeking employment above ground, as he felt that he could not hold out 12 months longer; necessity made him take his children down, having a large family. Was a member of the Total Abstinence Society and found great advantage; had been a great drinker. The two children read a little and were able to answer the first questions in the shorter Catechism.]

No.189. Thomas Brown, 10 years old, putter:
Wrought below four years; has not been long at Hard Hill; came from Bo'ness Mines with father and two brothers; we all work below.

I go down at three in the morning, and come up at four and sometimes six at night, and work 9 or 10 days in the fortnight; work very hard, as father is no strong the now, and mother is dead.

I hurry the hurlies [draw the carts] in harness; it is the practice here; we used only to push them at Bo'ness; never been much hurt, but often overworked.

I could read before going down; have forgotten all. [Had forgotten all; he could not tell one letter from another; and as to religious knowledge, he exemplified the awful neglect of too many in the district he came from.]

Baubauchlaw Colliery

- parish of Bathgate, Linlithgow. - (Mrs. M. Hervie, Lessee.)

No.190. Mrs. Margaret Hervie, innkeeper:
I keep the Armadale Inn adjoining the colliery, both of which I rent from Mr. Alexander Dennistoun, of Glasgow; at the present moment I employ few colliers, as the trade is off.

No females work in the Baubauchlaw Pit, nor have they for many years; the colliers here are opposed to women working below ground; do not know their reasons, but suppose they arranged it amongst themselves; husband has been dead seven years, and females and very young lads had been discontinued long before his decease.

At present only five boys below; all read and write and live just near at hand.

No.191. Peter Williamson, 12 years old, putter:
I have worked below with father near two years; was born in the village; work about 12 and 14 hours and longer when needed; not much work just now.

The seams are 40 inches high, and the main-roads no higher; the coals are drawn on rails at parts; the flooring is flat, no dip and rise; the carts hold about 3cwt. of coal; the work is no guid; cannot get better.

After work always goes to Mr. Wilson's night-school at Armadale, with brother; most of the collier boys go.

The pit is 16 fathoms deep; 16 fathoms are 32 yards=96 feet; twice 96=192. [Reads and writes very well; well informed.]

[Many of the boys were well educated. Living only two miles from the Bathgate, and being sons of parishioners, they had been instructed at the academy, which is one of the best conducted schools in Scotland.]

Collinshield Colliery

- parish of Bathgate, Linlithgowshire. - (Messrs. Moore and Duncan, Leaseholders.)

No.192. Mr. Henry Duncan:
I am in partnership with Mr. Moore, a farmer, near by, in the Collinshield Coal-works, and we employ about 40 men, women and children at present; we consider the number employed few, as the work is limited at this season.

The roads are railed in our pits, and the ventilation produced by the two shafts - the shaft up which the coals are drawn, and that which the people descend by stairs.

The coal-seam is three feet high, and the roads are the same height. The carts contain 2 to 3cwt. Of coal, which children and young persons draw on the railed roads.

Females did not work in mines at this part till lately, as some years since the men agreed amongst themselves to allow no females to labour below; but time and the want of assistance has caused many to neglect the regulations.

Masters in this part never advised or interfered with any moral regulations made by the colliers; but must admit that females and young children could be dispensed with; their exclusion now might cause the coal to rise.

I am quite aware that there is a very strong feeling hereabouts against employing females and children, but as they work below at the pleasure of parents how is it to be prevented? [The mines in this part are all badly managed, ill-ventilated and the consequence is that colliers rove much, and are speedily afflicted with bad breath.]

No.193. Ann Harris, 15 years old, putter:
Works 10 to 12 hours daily; has done so about four months; never was at coal-work before, and heartily hates it; could get no other profitable work or would not have gone down. “It is no woman's work, nor is it good for anybody; am obliged to do the work, as father houks [hews] the coal below.”

[Reads pretty well; very ill informed; the cottage was most filthy, and the few seats and household necessaries were of the most wretched description. The houses are in a complete morass, and it was with difficulty that I could jump from one to the other.]

No.194. John Harris, collier (hews coal):
I am about 40 years of age and have, within the last 3, taken to hew coals, as I hope that it would be more profitable than my old trade, which was that of a candle-maker.

The work is very hard, and from bad air and limitation of output, rendered uncertain.

I can hew two tons per day, the quantity usually sent up by experienced workmen who hew in the narrow seams in these parts; was first down at Dykehead, near Airdrie.

I am rather disappointed, as I thought the work would have been more profitable; it is with difficulty that I can get average wage of 2s. 6d. a-day, after paying oil and tools.

No.195. John Baxter, age 15 years, coal-hewer:
I work from two in the morning till six at night; done so for five years. My adopted mother puts my coal, and we earn about 2s. a-day together. The work is gai sore for both of us, but the woman has been a real kind friend to me, as I lost my mother soon after my birth, and my father was murdered seven or eight years ago; he was thrown into the canal and the murderer was never sought after, as there was no talk about the death and therefore no inquiry. I was reading - [reads a little] - and was going to the writing but the night-school was dropped.

[A very steady lad; weakly, arising no doubt from over labour. Spoke with great feeling of the kindness he had experienced from his foster mother.]

Crofthead Iron-Stone Pits

- parish of Whitburn, Linlithgowshire, on tack to Messrs. Houldsworth and Co.

No.196. Mr. John Reid, contractor:
I have been contractor for raising the iron-stone from the Bockercroft and Eastfield Pits upwards of two years, and employ men and women in considerable numbers; at times many more than at present are employed. The work being of a heavy kind, weak or very young persons are useless, and only create confusion. We cannot prevent men taking down children, though we do not sanction or approve of it.

I am of opinion that no children should be employed under 14 years of age, and it would be of great advantage to them, as they would be better attended to at home, and miners would more regularly attend their work.

Men who are wrought upon iron-stone make their own roads, which rarely exceed 54 inches high, and, from the softness of the roof, soon settles down to 40 inches.

The whole of the iron-stone is wrought out, and the walls, or support, made up of the waste, on the long-wall system.

The hurrier receives 6d. per ton for all iron-stone raised in its uncalcined state.

No.197. Mary Brown, 13 years old, putter:
Wrought in Crofthead iron-stone Mines six months; goes down at seven in the morning, returns at five and six in the evening, if our work be up. We have no meals below; sometimes we take pieces of oat-cake.

The work is very heavy and sore fatiguing, as I have to shove 15 to 20 hutchies [carts] every day, and the distance is far away from the shaft. The weight of iron-stone varies in hutches sometimes 5 1/2cwt., at others 8cwt.; the roads are all well railed; would prefer day-light work better.

Has worked near five years in mines; was last at Sir George Suttie's, at Preston Grange, as a bearer of coals in that part where machinery was not employed, it being too steep for putting.

Have two sisters working below, one 12 years of age, the other 19; the eldest married two years since upon her full cousin, Thomas Brown. After the first child was born he deserted her. I live with father and step-mother.

[Does not read, nor recollects going to school; sisters do not read; has no knowledge whatever of the Testament or the questions in the Catechism.]

There are many children work below; none of them like it, nor would they go down but their fathers or elder brothers force them; whenever they come up to daylight they run home, and often get their licks for so doing.

No.198. Richard Brown, 14 years old, iron-stone miner:
Works from three in the morning till four, at Green Burn Pit. Houks the iron-stone ends; can raise four to five hutchies a-day, which tells, after waste is deducted, for l 1/2 ton. I started to ironstone work two years gone, and was upon coal at Edgehead three years and a half prior, with little sister, who is not the length of 12 years. She shoves my work, and that of father; the hutchies hold 8cwt. of iron-stone and refuse; it is gai sair work for her; yet no so sore as coals at Edgehead, as our floors are more flat and roads higher, but the roofs are gai low and drippie [wet]. I and sister read in the Testament, but not yet at writing, no school being nearer than Fauldhouse, two miles away.

[Reads. Much neglected; very large family - seven, all young.]

Shotts Company, Green Burn Pits, Iron and Coal.

- Crofthead, parish of Whitburn, Linlithgowshire.

No.199. Mr. Thomas Stevenson, overseer of the mines worked by the Shotts Company at Green Burn, and the underground workings at Shotts, in the county of Lanark:

It is not the practice in Lanarkshire to take females or very young children below, but the four years I have superintended these mines I find that parents will take their young ones below and do so at the early age of eight years. There appears a desire amongst the men to keep the females out, and many who keep their wives at home object to the conduct of others who continue the bad practice.

The employment is very fatiguing, and unfit for women, still many married ones continue to labour while pregnant and do so as long as they dare venture to keep from home.

It would be of great advantage to the people themselves, and no injury to masters, to keep boys out of mines till they had good strength for the work and had got well educated; the work is heavy and requires both strength and skill. I would not permit my own sons to work until they were of full age and strength.

No.200. Agnes Archibald, 14 years of age, putter:

Works from seven morning till four in afternoon; gets porridge before going to work, and dinner when home again.

Hours of work depend upon the length of time the iron-stone is being drawn up, as we have to wait our turns.

The distance I have to shove the hutchies is very far; cannot say how many fathoms or yards; it is a great bit, and sore fatiguing.

I have two sisters beside self working below; the eldest, not yet 17 years of age, is just married to Robert Murray, and going into the west country; she expects husband's father will bide with them, and then she will not be needed below, as she has no liking for the work.

Father suffers much from bad breath; mother is no able to do much, as she has had 13 children, 8 of whom are alive. We can all read, none write.

[Reads pretty well; has no recollection of the questions in the Shorter Catechism.]

No.201 Mayday Lumsden, 13 years old, putter:
Been working in mines six years; used to carry coals on my back; did so until lately, at Sir George Clerk's colliery at Branston Muir; work with sister on father's account; she is 17 years of age and has wrought 10 years below. Sister cannot read, nor can I; never been to school.

Polkemmet Colliery

- parish of Whitburn, Linlithgowshire. - (Proprietor, Sir William Baillie, of Polkemmet, Bart.) In an open moor five miles South- west of Whitburn.

No.202. Mr. Thomas Bishop, mining overseer and manager of Sir William Baillie's mines at Polkemmet:

Has been connected with Sir William's works upwards of 30 years, and been manager 18 months.

The colliers who work in these mines are what we call home-born, and very seldom change their employers; we ascribe the regularity of their habits to self-dependence, as females are entirely prohibited from working below ground, or do anything connected above that has to do with mining operations.

Boys never descend till 10 years of age, and that is much too early, as they are not strong enough for the labour.

Coal working being sore heavy labour, lads of 14 years of age, if strong, are more fitted, and are enabled to form themselves well, as also to become better workers.

We have no restrictions as to boys reading and writing before down, all the lads read, as there is a school just a full mile away in parish of Shotts in Lanarkshire, and a good teacher resides there.

Few accidents have occurred; lately two boys were injured by a stone falling from the roof - one had his leg shattered and suffered its loss, this other the leg broken, from which he is fast recovering. We have no kind of record of accidents, nor is it customary to keep such, not even of accidental or sudden deaths: it is the only serious accident I recollect occurring 30 years.

No.203. William Baillie, Esq., of Polkemmet:
I think a limitation of the age children should be employed in mines is very desirable. None ought to work before 13 years of age, that they may have some years for their education and at that age they would be of more assistance to their parents in the work.

No.204. Peter Andrew, 11 years old, coal-putter:
Works about 12 hours daily, three or four morning till three or four afternoon. Gets porridge or tea sent, as live just convenient to the engine; work sometimes all night when the men break through the mine to get to the main road; night work is longer than day, but rarely occurs.

Father and three brothers work below; two of my brothers write very well; I am not the length of writing yet; do not go to school at present, shall do as summer advances; the moor is not good to cross, and the teacher lives far away.

[Reads and repeats his Catechism; is not very far advanced in Scripture knowledge.]

No.205. Robert Beveridge, 15 years old, coal-hewer:
Been below near five years; work 11 and 12 hours, sometimes longer. I hew coal till the gig yokes, [draws] and then I push the hurlies.

Roads are very dry now, and have not much to stoop, as the coal is not less than four to five feet thick; if I worked for myself could get 2s. 6d. to 3s. a-day without slaving; the work is guid sair and requires strength as well as to be used to it.

Mother was a farmer's daughter, and she had nine of us; she never wrought below, nor have any women here; the lassies go into the fields or to service.

[Reads and writes well; very well informed.]

No.206. Rev. Graham Mitchell, minister of Whitburn, Linlithgowshire:
I know of no school in the mining district, except at Falla, in this parish; the teacher is a Mr. Williamson, and about 30 children of the working mining population attend his evening class.

The teachers are all miserably paid, and the Government would confer an important boon by appropriating £20 to £30 a-year to each teacher; were this plan adopted, where necessary, a well qualified class of teachers would be at all times secured for the benefit of the community whether parochial or otherwise.

Ballenerief Colliery

- parish of Bathgate, Linlithgowshire. - (John Johnson Esq., Proprietor,) Bathgate.

No.207. Alexander Turner, overseer of the Ballenerieff Colliery:
We employ few colliers at this season [April], as the demand decreases and our hill is full. Lime coal and coal for land consumption are chiefly our trade, consequently we lessen our hands at seasons.

Our colliers employ whom they please, males or females; and as our mine is entered by a bout gate [a private way generally along the level of the water to the hill side] the people work as they please.

No.208. Margaret Baxter, 50 years old, coal-hewer:
I hew the coal, have done so since my husband failed in his breath; he has been off work 12 years.

I have a son, daughter, and niece working with me below, and we have sore work to get maintenance; have had nine children, seven are in life, the youngest is 10 and has wrought below two years and more.

I go down early to hew the coal for my girls to draw; my son hews also; the work is not fit for women, and men could prevent it were they to labour more regular; indeed, men about this place don't wish wives to work in mines, but the master's seem to encourage it - at any rate, the master's never interfere to prevent it. With my children I can make 2s. 6d. a-day, and the heavy family requires me at home; I often have to work night as well as day; been obliged to work when in family way till last hour.

No.209. Thomas M'Culloch, 17 years old, coal-hewer:
Wrought six years below; work 12 and 14 daily; never been to school since in the bowels of the earth; not had time; has now lost all taste for reading, though could read in the Testament before below ground. Father works below; mother never did; she is an Irishwoman; and don't like the pits.

I hew 20cwt. and run 20 hutchies in a day. Strong lads can do this, but not boys or girls as they are sent down over early.

No.210. Mary Boxter, 10 years old, putter:
Wrought below full two years; can read in the Testament; don't know the names of the writers; God wrote the book; goes down with mother at four in the morning; mother leaves them at mid-day to do work at home, as father is bedridden. I cannot sew any as I am left-handed; sister Helen can sew her pit clothes and make letter on the paper. I was born two years after father ceased to work in the mines; a good many colliers have the same affliction about here.

Kipps Colliery

- parish of Torphichen, Linlithgowshire. - (Messrs. Heming & Witherspoon, Leaseholders.)

No.211. Mr. Magnus Aitkin, manager of Kipps Colliery:
I was formerly partner in the colliery which I now am manager to - the works requiring an increase of capital they have passed into new hands. New seams have been discovered, and machinery and preparations are nearly complete for very extensive coal and iron-stone operations.

Heads of families take down whom they please into the mines, wives, daughters, or strangers; very young children are taken below and are often left to do the work of idle parents.

The coal-work can be much better done by men and stout lads than any forced assistance of wives and infants, and it is a folly to suppose that colliers cannot do without such auxiliary labourer when they who work moderately can carry away 4s. and 5s. a-day.

No.212. Margaret Chirce, 12 years old, putter:
I shute the carts with sister, who is much older than me, in the Kipps Pit. I do not know my sister's age, am sure she is much older, as she is a big bit bigger than me; after shuting [pulling and drawing through the unrailed part of the seam] up the brae, I throw the coals over with a shovel into the hurley, which is pushed to pit bottom.

I do not like the work so well as what I did before my father forced me down; my work was that of a herd-kye [cowherd] at Whiteside, where I was much better fed and clothed. Father has the dropsy from sitting in wet work, and frequent attacks of bad breath; mother has a large family dependant on our labour.

[Reads very badly; very ignorant.]

No.213. Thomas Smith, coal-hewer:
Can't say what age I am, nor what place was born in - I may be 12 or 14. Father who I work with first took me down at Airdrie, four years ago.

I work 12 to 14 hours daily at houking the coal [cutting or picking] with father; sometimes I draw or push the carts; the carts hold four hutchies, which is equal to 14cwt. - this is the usual weight drawn and pushed by girls and boys.

Mother used to work below; will not do so now as the roads are too low for her, and the work o'er sore; never slept over the work, as have not time; cannot read at all, does not know the letters; has been to kirk, does not know what he went for; was told he might gang to it.

Preistinch Colliery

- parish of Aberdo, Linlithgowshire. - (Mr. Finly Thomson, Leaseholder.)

Preistinch Colliery is situate one mile north-west of Winchburgh, and its operations are impeded by the diggings and levellings to form the Glasgow and Edinburgh Railway, so that few colliers are at present employed. The seams are near the surface and produce iron-stone, smithy coal and house coal. The colliers appear to be supported upon the truck system.

No.214. Alexander Bell, 22 years old, coal-hewer:
Worked below as long as I can recollect; it must be 14 or 15 years. In these parts many persons are boarded and lodged merely for their work. I live with the Williamson's family, who take in lone children [bastards], who work below; they get their meals, and if they work hard have 2s. 6d. a-fortnight kept for them. I think the children are fed well; some of them take away the half-crowns to give to their mothers. They work very hard. Iron-stone working is very sore and not fit for young ones. Our food is brought from Mr. Thomson's store; it is kept by his brother.

No.215. William Johnson, 14 years old, coal-hewer:
I belong to Carriden and first wrought, five years gone, at Mr. Cadell's pit at Bo'ness. Am a natural child, and works a little for mother, who can only earn 1s. 6d. a-week by tambour or hand-sewing. I board and lodge with the Williamsons, and work for my meals and 2s. 6d. cash in the fortnight, which I give always to master. Could earn more if on our own account. I can fill two hutchies and two of smithy coal, which, if paid for, would yield me 20d. a-day. I never see money pass. Most boys board. Am going to leave as soon as I can.

[Very ignorant; scarcely reads at all. No knowledge of Bible history, or the short Catechism.]

Bo'ness Colliery

- parishes of Bo'ess and Carnden, Linlithgowshire. - (John James Cadell, Esq., Lessee.)

No.216. John James Cadell, Esq.:
There are at present employed below ground in our coal-pits about 200 men, women and children; full one-third are females. No regulation exists here for the prevention of children working below.

I think the parents are the best judges when to take their children below for assistance, and that it is of consequence for colliers to be trained in early youth to their work. Parents take their children down from 8 years to 10 years of age, males and females.

The colliers are perfectly unbound at this colliery; they have large families and extremely healthy ones. I believe most of the children can read. There are two schools, at which children can be taught common reading for 2d. per week. There exist no compulsory regulation to enforce colliers paying for their children's education, or sending them to school.

Every precaution is taken to avoid accidents; several have occurred, and always occasionally happen from parts of the roof and coal coming down on the men; one lad was killed a short time since.

The work is carried on about 12 hours per day and the people come and go as they please.

No.217. Archibald Ferguson, 11 years old, putter:
Worked below four years; pushes father's coal with sister, who is 17 years of age from wall-face to horse-road. Pit is very dry, and roofs lofty. Sometimes works 12 and often 16 hours, as we have to wait our turns for the horses and engine to draw. Never get hurt below. Get oat-cake and water, and potatoe and herrings when home. [Very ignorant; cannot read.] The river which passes through Bo'ness is called the Water. Fishes live in the water; has often seen them carted from boats; never caught any. When I walk about I pick up stones or gang in the parks [fields] after the birds.

No.218. Janet Borrowman, 17 years old, putter:
I put the small coal on master's [Mr. Cadell's] account; am paid 2 1/2d. each course and run six courses a-day: the carts I run contain 5 1/2 cwt. to 7 1/2 cwt. of coal. Father and mother are dead. Have three brothers and five sisters below; two elder brothers, two sisters and self live at Grange Pans. We have one room in which we all live and sleep. There has been much sickness of late years at the Grange; few have escaped the fever. A short time before the death of my parents we were all down. Father and all, with low fever for a long time; mother only escaped, who nursed us. Fever is always in the place. [Reads very indifferently.]

The village of Grange Pans has been much visited with scarlet fever and scarletina; the place is nearly level with the Forth and the houses are very old, ill ventilated and the foul water and filth lying about is sufficient to create a pestilence.

No.219. Mary Sneddon, aged 15, putter:
I have only wrought at Bo'ness Pit three months. Should not have ganged but brother Robert was killed on the 21st January last. A piece of the roof fell upon his head, and he died instantly: he was brought home, coffined and buried in Bo'ness kirk-yard. No one came to inquire about how he was killed; they never do in this place.

Mother has had 13 children, five only are alive; she does not work below just now, as no need; four, including father, work below. Reads in the Bible; knows very little of its contents.

No.220. Mr. Charles Robertson, overseer of the Bo'ness Coal-works:
Since the building of the New Town the colliers have been more settled as to their place of work, but they still continue to take very young children down, which impedes instruction.

Most children can be instructed if the parents please, and fairly so - and there are two schools; the one in the New Town has a well-trained teacher from Bathgate academy, and one is shortly expected at Grange Pans.

Men would do well to let their children remain up till 13 years old, as they would be of more use to them hereafter.

No married women now go below; the elder females who are down are single or widows. There are many lone children [bastards] in the pits that do not get any education.

A man with two strong lads can get his 6s. 6d. a-day, fair average wages, as there is no limitation of work.

No.221. Rev. Kenneth M'Kenzie, minister of Borrowstownness, Linlithgowshire:
When children once go to work in the collieries they continue at it; and they go as early as eight years of age; but the age is quite uncertain, depending entirely on the convenience, cupidity, or caprice of parents.

The tendency to remove children too early from school operates to the injury of many in after-life; it proves an obstacle to future advancement and renders the mind much more liable the influence of prejudice.

With regard to the people employed at the colliery, education is at present in a very unsatisfactory state, and will continue so if the matter be allowed to rest with the colliers. A good plan is adopted in some collieries. Every man employed is obliged to pay a small weekly sum for education: a sufficient sum is thus easily raised, and a properly qualified teacher is appointed by the proprietor or master. Individuals are thus constrained to send their children to school, who otherwise might be apt to neglect their education.

The day and evening school in Bo'ness New Town is especially for the colliery population, but is not attended: at present the teacher only receives 7s. a-week in voluntary fees.

The teacher has not been trained, but teaches reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as adventurers do.

The parochial school is one of the best in Linlithgowshire, but the colliers seldom send their children to it.