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.

Banknock Colliery

- Haggs, parish of Denny, Stirlingshire. - (William Wilson, Esq., Proprietor.)

No.266. William Wilson, Esq., Banknock:
Since this colliery has been at work no females have been wrought, nor is it my wish that very young boys should be taken to work; I think from 12 to 14 years far more suitable to the kind of labour: the parents alone in this part are to blame. There is not at present any power existing in the masters to prevent children being carried down. The men are ignorant and strongly prejudiced.

I feel convinced that such early forcing into mines is not less injurious to the health and vigour of body than the moral training.

Those who attempt the improvement of miners need much patience; long-rooted neglect has rendered them excessively clannish, and they unite in secret to discomfit any proposed or new arrangements. They hold secret conclaves in the mines, and make rules and regulations which are injurious and absurd. No open strike has taken place for some years, nor are we aware of any extensive unions; but we sadly feel the effect of private combination. Our men make high wages, yet do not apply them advantageously to their own interest.

In order to ameliorate the condition of my colliers I have lately built large well-finished cottages with walled gardens; a large school; appointed a well-trained teacher, and guaranteed the fees of 60 pupils - giving a free house and free coals. Yet many neglect this advantage and children go below untaught.

No.267. Andrew Stirling, overseer of the Banknock Colliery:
We employ about 135 persons below ground: only 10 are under 13 years of age and 27 under 17 years.

Mr. Wilson, the proprietor, some time since tried to exclude boys under 12 years of age; but the men rebelled, and the order was obliged to be cancelled. Our numbers vary, sometimes we have 60 to 70 lads and boys employed.

Females are not allowed to work below: they are altogether excluded from the mines in the neighbourhood.

We have had two accidents only of a serious nature within last two years: one collier [H. Wilson] killed by coal falling over; and a lad [Robert Hogan] had his leg broke. Men certainly prefer going down the pit shaft, as it saves them time, the mine mouth being near three-fourths of a mile away.

The dip and rise being one in six none but strong lads can do the work properly. Men earn upon average 3s. 9d. and 4. a-day.

No.268. Hugh Campbell, age 10, coal-filler:
I have helped to fill father's hutchies 12 months; sometimes I shove them with brother; if I do not do my bidding I get my licks, sometimes the belt and whiles the pick-shaft. I go down at five and six in the morning and return at five at night.

[Reads very badly.]

No.269. Robert Hogan, age 15, coal-hewer:
Wrought below five years; 12 to 13 hours daily: usually 9 and 10 days in the 12 lawful days.

I can read - [reads well] - and am learning to write at night-school. Was recently laid idle with a broken limb which was caused by coal dropping while hewing; expense was paid out of medical fund subscribed by the men. Can earn 2s. 6d. a-day.

Still Colliery, Haggs,

in the parish of Denny, Stirlingshire. - (Mr. Matthew Hay, Tacksman.)

No.270. Mr. Matthew Hay:
Employs about 50 men and boys. No women are wrought, nor have they been since the working commenced. Coal work is not fit for them and I think it very improper to let boys go down until they have instruction, and particularly strength, as the dip and rise in the coal-pits about here are so great that it requires strong lads to work the windlasses which draw the coal to the main-roads.

The colliers are not so well off as they were formerly: they now take away 3s. 9d., before 5s. Having been a practical collier myself for 25 years before I took the lease of the Still Colliery, I feel much assured that the neglect of education, and the destitution arises from the state of the markets; many who used to clothe their children well have not clothes for them even to go to kirk in.

Other tradesmen have not to contend with the difficulties colliers have. Bad air, machinery out of order, want of demand at certain seasons, and many other causes, render the demand for labour uncertain.

No.271. James Miller, 12 years old, coal-hewer:
Worked at picking and riddling coal upwards of two years; does so as often as the state of the pit will allow. Occasionally much wet in the pit, sometimes little bad air. Has fallen asleep often; has na muckle time to do so now, as am over-sore worked.

Before I went down could read the Bible; am out of it now: am trying it again on my idle days.

No.272. Alexander Marshall, 16 years old, coal-hewer:
I have wrought five years in Still Mine, and work occasionally on day and night shifts. My usual hours are 12 to 13 daily, for which I get 2s. 6d. on the average of working days, which are eight or nine in the fortnight. The youngest boys working in our pit is nine year of age; many are older but very few read: those who read a little do not write any.

[Reads and writes well.]

Banton Ironstone Mines.

 - (Carron Company.)

No.273. Mr. Walter Jarvie, manager to Mr. Cadell, of Banton and contractor for raising ironstone for the Carron Company:
I have the management of sixteen mines, each worked by three, four, and six men and lads; the mines varying from 8 to 24 fathoms in depth, and the strata 14 in quantity from 2 and l0 inches in the mines.

There is a vast deal of carbonic acid gas in the mines, arising from the metals, which causes the men to drop off early, as it creates a kind of asthma. In the small village of Banton there are nearly 40 widows; and as the children work always on parents behalf, it prevents them having recourse to the kirk-session for relief.

The iron-miners hereabout have of late years much improved. Are equal in education, and in many cases superior in domestic duties to other tradesmen. Nearly all belong to the total abstinence society; and those who have not joined are of very temperate habits. Much is owing to the excellent school here established, and the well-trained teachers.

Townhead and Ironbrae Collieries,

parish of Kilsyth, Stirlingshire.- (Mr. J. Marshall, Tacksman.)

No.274. Mr. James Marshall, jun.:
We employ at Townhead Colliery 13 adults and 14 or 15 boys. The number is much less than our usual complement, but the works are partially stopped at Ironbrae. The present numbers do not exceed 35, men and boys together. Few lads are taken down earlier than 12 unless the parent be destitute, or the mother is a widow; then any amount which a boy, a mere infant, can earn is more than double or treble what she would get by applying to a kirk session.

No.275. Robert Hardie, 15 years old, coal-hewer:
Wrought four years below: works 10 and 12 hours. Makes 10s. a-week: work no so certain here, or could carry away 15s.

Fire-damp is in this [Townhead] mine; was sorely burned with it two years since, and obliged to lie idle eight weeks. Doctor was paid out of medical money stopped at the count-table. Works for support of mother, as father died of bad breath some time gone. Could read and write before down: has quite forgot the writing [cannot read writing], knows the Catechism and a few verses in Psalms.

No.276 William Marshall, about 10 or 11 years old, putter:
I draw father's coals: have done so 12 months. Wrought three years before with father at handloom weaving but it was no good, as father said the loom would na get us oatmeal. Coal work is more sore, but no so confining. I pull in harness, and little brother pushes. Cannot read, and never goes to church, as have no clothes, and mother has nine of us.

No.277. Duncan M'Kinley, aged 60, collier:
I was wrought many years at Townhead, and my sons work below now, and have done since childhood. Wife and I are supported by them. Poor bodies like us after the work is out might as well die, for the kirk session care nought about us. There are many old couples hereabout who have no bairns near them that after great begging only get 2s. 6d. a-month out of the poor's money, and my sons would sooner we should hang upon them than be starved by the parish.

I have had short breath for 10 years, and not been able to go below; there is a vast of the disease hereabout.

Colliers, though they drink a deal less than formerly, are by no means so well. off At this part they used to keep cows, now they can't keep themselves. Markets are all changed. What is the use of getting fine clothing thing cheap if our baggies [bellies] be empty.

Hirse or Netherwood Colliery,

parish of Cumbernauld, Dumbartonshire. - (Mr. John Watson, Kirkintulloch, Tacksman.)

No.278. John Marshall, oversman, Netherwood:
Been upwards of 20 years superintending the Hirse Colliery; and at present employs 40 colliers and 20 boys; the latter under the control of parents, with whom we never interfere.

We have no school, nor any society for sickness or old age belonging to the works. I believe most colliers subscribe to some such kind.

Accidents take place here as they do in other mines. Six weeks back a boy [Robert Russel] 13 years of age met his death by a hutchie passing over his body and crushing him - he never spoke after; and another [William Blair] of 12 years of age was crushed to death by a falling stone from the roof. Two men were killed within last two years [Wm. Gillus and J. Johnson] by roofs falling. It is not the custom to notice those accidents: we neither give notice, nor do the friends of the parties. The practice is to bury them a day or two after decease.

Our colliers live two and three miles away from the mines; and the road from the mine-mouth to face of coal-wall is near a mile, so that very young boys cannot bear the fatigue; the youngest is eight years old, and employed at the air-doors.

Our ventilation is good, conducted by perpendicular shafts over the mine-mouth. No accidents have occurred for a long time by foul air or fire.

No.279. Robert Rennie, collier:
Young boys are used in the narrow seams to draw coal in bogies [small carts] from the wall to the waggon-road. It is very hard work: the distance now is 70 to 80 yards. The seams vary from 13 to 24 inches in thickness. They crawl on their hands and knees. The harness they wear is similar to horses, and they draw the bogies up and down the braes. My younger brother, Allen Rennie, was killed a short time since in this mine by the roof falling while he was slyping in a narrow seam: he died momentarily. Another died from similar mischance very lately [John Forsyth]; but these matters are taken no notice of in Scotland, even among the most respectable classes.

No.280. Crawford Freeman, 8 years old, trapper:
Father makes me gang with him in the morning at half five [half past four], and I return at half six. We live at Banton, two miles away. I don't mind the daylight but is awfu' dark and a long road after we get in the mine-mouth. Am glad to get home, as have only oatcake and water in the place I work. Been three weeks at work: was wrought at the school in the big-spell and twopenny book.

[Cannot read: very delicate little fellow.]

Stronne Colliery

south bank of Glasgow Canal, near Kilsyth, parish of Kirkintulloch, Dumbartonshire. - (Mr. Alexander Wallace, Tacksman.)

No.281. Robert Jameson, oversman:
I have been banksman and oversman to Stronne Colliery seven years. Males are employed, and those only who have good strength, as the dip and rise are one in three. We have two shafts and one inclined plane 150 yards in length. The work is so very steep that men only can use the windlass to draw the coal from wall-face.

Our system here is divide the gains of work. Two men hew and two draw, and then they divide the gains.

We have much fire in the pits at times. Two men were killed [Stirling and King] a short since by explosion. Stirling had a Davy in his pocket, but descended with his oil lamp lighted, when explosion momentary took place.

A short time since four men were drowned by accidentally pricking into an old working. No notice of accidental deaths: they are sent home to their friends [relations], and afterwards buried.  We have no society for sickness or accidents.

Men are induced to work by high wages: they get here 2s. a ton, and hew generally two full tons daily. Many strangers try; and we have had some few Irishmen, who never like to go down unless they have countrymen there: we never encourage them.

Plean & Auchinbowie Collieries

Plean Colliery, parish of St. Ninians, Stirlingshire (Robert Lowes, Esq., of Plean, Proprietor), and Auchinbowie Colliery parish of St. Ninians, Stirlingshire (Messrs. Munro and Lowes, Coal-masters.)

No. 282. Mr. John Robertson, manager of the Plean and Auchinbowie Collieries:
I have had the management of these collieries some years and, from my situation, have had the opportunity of observing the characters and condition of the collier population of ours and neighbouring works. Within the last seven years men have been more steady to their work, as well as less changeable in their places of work.

We employ in the two collieries 149 below ground; 45 are single females and 28 are boys and young lads, and the regulations we enjoin go to prevent females working below after marriage, and boys and girls being taken below before they are educated; indeed, I do not allow children to go below under 12 years of age, even if they are forward, unless it be necessary for the sustenance of some widowed mother or very large family.

Colliers' habits have improved commensurate with the increase of comforts; and since wives have kept their homes the children have had much better protection, are better schooled, clothed, and fed.

The heads of families do not drink so hard as formerly; they attend to their garden, are great cultivators of flowers, and, in order to encourage a taste for horticulture, we give prizes twice during the year - 26 prizes of small articles for household uses and 32 prizes in September of books and chairs, &c.

The colliers pay 2d. per week each after 17 years of age towards the village schools. In consequence of the teacher leaving the school at Auchinbowie Coal Town, the men memorialised the proprietors to be allowed to select their own teacher, and stated in their memorial that they had no objection to double the school payments to procure a resident good teacher for their children, which has been acted on and it appears to have the approbation of all concerned. In addition to the school, the men have a fairly selected library of books, which is constantly increasing subscriptions and contributions.

No.283. Margaret Brown, 13 years old, putter:
Wrought at Plean Colliery four months; draws the hutchies in ropes and chains [harness]; works from six in the morning till three and four at night. The small hutchies contain 2 1/2cwt., the large 5cwt. The length of road I draw on is 200 yards at present, chiefly rails. The seam is 22 inches, and the second cut through to near five feet, therefore have not to stoop much in the roads; certainly a little crawling in the narrow seam. I get my porridge before going down and dinner on return home with father.

[Reads very well and writes; very intelligent, religious girl.]

No.284. Robert Wilson, age 12, coal-hewer:
Wrought below three years. Starts at one in the morning, returns at one in the day. Gets porridge sent down for breakfast. Father dead; mother no able to work below, as she broke her thigh-bone in the pit some time since and is laid aside. Brother and I work for her, and Jane Duncan draws our work, whom we pay.

I have never been much hurt; got my back a wee bit ruffled awhile since, which kept me idle a week.

[Reads and writes very well.]

Bannockburn and Greenyards Collieries

parish of St. Ninian's, Stirlingshire. - (Bannockburn & Greenyards Coal Company.)

No.285. Henry Geddes, Esq., managing partner:
We employ at present in the Bannockburn Mines near 300 persons; 74 are under 18 of age, and 20 children under 13 years of age; out of the gross number some 78 are females; some few are widows, and those females who are above 16 years are single, it being a practice in our colliery not to employ women after marriage and it rarely occurs that they ever go below after; some few may but, not to continue long.

The greatest distance of our present roads from the wall-face to the horse-way is about 400 yards, and the weight of our corves 8cwt.; these are hurried by females and children, sometimes one and at others two, on the railed roads to the horse-road, and carried to pit bottom.

I am not acquainted with any machinery that could render the employment of children of the age commonly employed in our mines unnecessary; nor do I think any such practicable. Nothing but human labour will answer the purpose, as far as I can judge.

Unless in very rare instances no children are employed to work coal under 10 age; nor are females, except to open and shut doors, placed in the air-courses. Children and young persons work usually the same number of hours as the adults.

I think a limitation of age at which children should be employed in collieries desirable; if proper means were devised for education, the minimum, I think, should not be less than 10, not more than 12. It would not be productive of any great inconvenience to the working of mines were the latter age fixed. But unless the means and existing system of education be improved, and especial provision be made for keeping the children at school, as also furnishing proper books, I fear the limitation of age will be of no real advantage to them.

The introduction of an improved and efficient system of education for the young, not merely elementary branches but such other departments of knowledge as may be suitable to their condition, combined with sound religious and moral training. The evils and inefficiency of the present system are chiefly owing to these two causes-

1st. The inadequate remuneration of the teachers, and consequent difficulty of finding individuals properly qualified for the office.

2nd. The indifference and negligence of parents, leading to the irregular attendance of their children, their not being adequately supplied with school-books, and their being taken away from school altogether at too early an age; as also the means of religious instruction provided for the adult population being inadequate.

As far as the health and safety of our mines are concerned, every known improvement possible to be applied to our mines we have had recourse to. Means are employed to secure constant operation of currents of air along the wall-faces and properly constructed air-courses and furnaces for rarefying the air, are resorted to. Hydrogen gas exists in our mines, two explosions have taken place within last two years, but not of a fatal nature. Davy-lamps are used where and when necessary, and are always in oversman in charge ready use.

No. 286. Jane Allen, 13 years old:
Wrought as putter two years below. [Reads well and writes.]

No.287. Elizabeth Stevenson, 15 years old, coal-putter:
Wrought below four years; works 12 and 13 hours. Got once injury on the head by a fall of coal; laid by only two weeks. Works on father's account. Can only read. Has a knowledge of some of the questions in short Catechism and repeats by rote a few verses of Scripture taught at the Sabbath-school.

No.288 Alexander Robinson, 13 years old, horse-driver:
Wrought three years below ground. Works 12 to 14 hours daily. Takes oat-cake or bread and cheese below and gets flesh twice a-week. Thinks the horse-road in the mine is a full quarter of a mile long; has to drive 80 or 90 journeys daily; rides on the carts. Gets 10d. for his labour, which is long but no very hard. Gives wages to father, who is banksman.

[Reads and writes very badly.]

No.289 James Anderson, 17 years old, coal-hewer:
Wrought six years below; can earn 3s. 6d. a-day, provided I work 13 and 14 hours, which I usually do, as in the 22-inch seam I can hew 25cwt. and can get 10 1/2d. each for four baskets of 5cwt. each and 4d. for one basket of small coal. Could read and write before wrought, and does so now. After work assists in the garden or field. Has occasionally attended school and the kirk but no very regular, as hours of work will not admit.

No.290 John Allen, 12 years old, hewer:-
Wrought full two years; has no dislike for the work now. Works 12 to 13 hours daily; is very much fatigued at times, as most are after hard work. Works in the Plean Pit, which is full of water; the water having risen above the dip. Works with father and on his account.

[Reads and writes very well indeed, and otherwise well informed.]