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.

Alloa Colliery.

- (Alloa Coal Company Proprietors.)

No.291. John Craich, Esq., managing partner:
There is employed in the Alloa mines at present upwards of 350 males and females, and the whole of the mining population of the Alloa coal towns may be estimated at about 1000 to 1100 men, women and children. Married women have ceased to work below for some years, and very young children are not allowed to be wrought; some few exceptions exist, as children of widows, or where the families are very large, then the young ones are placed at trap-doors, or some very light employment is allotted to them.

The late Earl of Mar took great interest in the condition of his colliers; and by giving education to the rising generation, improving the cottages, introducing rewards for gardening, and restraining the wives from working below ground, he raised their character and habits to an extraordinary degree. He likewise introduced a system of self-government, and bailies were appointed, sanctioned by the lord-lieutenant, from amongst the colliers, to settle disputes as well as disputed payments, which has been of great advantage; and though the disputants have the power of appeal to the higher courts, there has scarcely been any for years, - in truth, not more than two or three since the appointment of bailies, which is upwards of 25 years.

As the colliers have increased in knowledge they have also in wealth. The Provident Society of the Alloa Colliery at present has upwards of £1200 in the bank.

No.292. Mr James Hunter, mining overseer:
The females in the Alloa mines work by themselves - they do the putting or wheeling; very few lads or boys ever work with them; when girls are very young, a brother sometimes assists where the dip and rise is great, - not otherwise. Women never ascend the shafts, but go down bout gates by steps which are driven in all the pits.

Accidents occasionally occur but few have happened in Alloa Colliery; within the last three years four fatal only, three by overwinding at shafts and one by falling of roof. Men are subject to the asthma who work on stone in the coal-mines, but many could avoid the disease if they were more regular at work.

There are penalties inflicted for ascending the shaft without permission, and the men have the fines deducted at the count-table when wages are paid. The permission to ascend the shafts by the machinery is only granted to old men who are infirm.

When accidents of a fatal nature have taken place the sheriff sometimes comes down. He did in the last case, after the death of John Patterson, which was occasioned by being over-wound at pit-head; after looking at the ropes and examining their strength, he walked away, and no further notice was taken; this is the common practice.

No.293 Jane Fyfe, 14 years old, putter:
I have been six years below, and work from six in the morning till five and six at night; do so every day with brother and sisters, as mother has need of our work, and father cannot work every day, being badly ruptured.

I got injured a short time since, as the cart came with such vengeance down the brae that it crushed my foot and broke my toes, so was laid idle some weeks; they brought me up in a tub and carried me home.

I could read in the Testament; am trying again at the night-school; so is sister Mary, who is 10 years old and been down three years; James is 17 and been nine years below.

Mother has 11 children, and she is obliged to work above the pit at the corving [weighing] when father stops at home.

[All read; eldest lad can write; does so very badly.]

No.294 Jane Snaddon, 17 years old, putter:
Began to work at 11 years of age, and does so from five in the morning till five and six night; wheeling the hurlies [carts] is dirty slaving work, and it has frequently overset me; was off work seven months from drinking some water below when the work had sweated me; a violent bowel complaint followed, and nearly caused my death; would not work at the coals, but am the last out of 12 at home and father and mother are very old and the kirk-session will give them no assistance; nor have they had any since the old Earl's death till within a few months; the New Colliery Company have allowed them 2s. 6d. a-week. [Reads and writes; very well informed; extremely delicate.]

No.295. Jane Patterson, 13 years old, putter:
Wrought four years in Alloa Coal-mines; employed to wheel the tubs of coal from men's rooms to pit-bottom; distance is 150 fathoms; 150 fathoms is 150 times 6 feet; can't say its amount in feet; knows that 150 fathoms is 300 yards; I can read - [cannot write] - and do the stockings [knit]; the coal-work is much too wearying one; I am no very strong, and obliged to get brothers to help me; have three of them below; two are younger than myself; never was hurt so as to be idle; can work 11 out of 12 days and my earnings are 9d. a-day, but have to find own oil and cotton, which costs 10d. a-week, as the hours are from four in the morning, till six and seven at night - so canna gang to night-school; lives in New Sanchie, near the works. [Reads very well; very delicate.]

No.296. Mary Izett, 15 years old, putter:
I have been below three years; do not work the long hours, as the work is very sore, and obliged to have sister to assist, as the dip and rise is very great - oversman says 1 in 3; the pit is very dry where we work; the roads are very long, near 400 yards; my sister is 17 years of age, and went down four years since; we go at six in the morning and return at four and five in the evening; meals are sent down to us. [Both girls read and write very well, and knit stockings, which is the common employment here.]

No.297. Margaret Archibald, 9 years old, putter:
Began work two months since; goes down with father at five in the morning and comes up at five at night; gets porridge and pieces sent down; the work is o'er sore for me, as I have a boiling foot [very sore foot, which discharges much matter]; was off work eight days out of last fortnight - could not gang; my employment is to wheel the tubs [carts], which hold 8cwt. of coal; brother John has been three years below, and is 12 years of age; assists to wheel, as the distance is great from dyke to the pit-bottom and the dip and rise 1 in 6.

[Reads badly. The mother states that she was compelled, from circumstances, to send this child; although she was bound to acknowledge that the work had quite broken the child's spirits, as well as spoiled the form of her feet.]

Clackmannan Colliery,

parish of Clackmannan, Clackmannanshire.-(Clackmannan Colliery Company).

No.298. James R. Wilson, Esq., managing partner:
At present we employ 226 males and females below ground; about one-third are females, and one-ninth are children, male and female, under 13 years of age; few are taken under 10 years old, but that depends on the discretion of parents.

Children are employed to hurry the corves [carts,] on the rails; the weight of coal or ironstone therein varies from 4cwt. to 7cwt.; few accidents have taken place with children; a boy, a few weeks since, had two of his fingers crushed off, and a man was killed by falling down the shaft of a pit.

We have a sick-fund connected with the colliery, and also a school; the fees to the same are stopped every pay-day at the count-table.

The limitation of age at which children should be employed in mines I think is not desirable.

Children work always the same length of time as their fathers or masters, which is generally 10 to 12 hours.

No.299. Joseph Patterson, aged 11, putter:
Been two years below; helps to wheel the corves; work is very sore, as there are bits of braes [risings] to wheel up; works from five in morning to five and six at night; gets porridge and broth sent down; was five years at school; learned to read and write - [reads well, writes badly] - cannot gang to night-school now, as am over-fatigued; I go to the Episcopal Chapel at Alloa always with father on the Sabbath; sometimes to Sabbath-school to learn verses of Psalms and Catechism [which he repeats very well.]

No.300. Janet Mitchell, aged 14, putter:
Wheels coal below ground - has done for three years; it is good sair work; have two sisters and one brother below; sister Christy is 20 years of age; has been eight years in the mines; she cannot read; I could read, but have lost it all - [knows the letters, cannot spell] -I never did anything at the sewing, or the stockings [knitting]; there are six days in the week and a Sabbath; cannot gang to kirk, as have hardly any clothes; father, I, two sisters and brother, can earn £4 to £5 in the 10 days, if we work; mother drinks when father's away and he does so when he comes up. [The girls were 20 and 22 years of age, strong tall women; they had been some hours out of the mine when I saw them, and had not washed or changed their pit-clothes; extremely ignorant, and the cottage was in a filthy condition; two beds, two chairs and short stools, with scanty covering to bed, in which young and old slept together.]

No.301. James Wilson, aged 10, putter:
I work in the ironstone-pit, have done so for two years and a half, and my employment is wheeling the carts, which contain 7cwt. to 8cwt.; the distance I run them is about 200 yards, from the ironstone ends to the foot of the incline, when they are drawn up.

I gang at six in morning; get porridge before my broth is sent down, as the hard work makes me want food.

Was off idle three months with smashed hand; lost two of my fingers. [Reads very badly.]

No.302. Francis Wilson, mining oversman:
Have been connected with this colliery since 1832, and have not perceived any very great change in colliers' habits, although the proprietors have done much to encourage them, by improving their houses and enlarging their gardens; some few of our men have joined the Teetotal Society, and seem to be more rational, and have certainly improved their condition; many colliers send their children to school, but it is of little use to them, as they are taken below so young that they forget it all, and few go after to night-school; very little work can be got out of such infants, and the proprietors have tried to discourage the practice without effect.

Aberdona Colliery,

parish of Clackmannan, Clackmannanshire. - (Messrs. Andrew Christie and Co.)

No.303. John Beveridge, mining oversman:
We employ 36 adult males, 30 females, and about the same number of young persons and children; probably out of the latter 30 are females; we have no discretion or power over parents; they take children down as they think they need, and too much so for their strength, and instruction at school ceases the moment they go below.

Our workings are new, and near the surface; the shaft is not more than 16 fathoms deep, and longest working little more than 100 yards from pit-bottom; but our dip and rise 1 in 4 and 1 in 6.

We have no school connected with our works, and the nearest parish-school is one full mile away, at Forest-mill; accidents of a serious nature only one within two years and a half - a man killed by a coal from pit-roof; some children have been roughed [crushed], - not fatally.

No.304. Janet Brown, age 12, putter:-
Worked below four years; works 10 and 12 hours; wheels 4cwt. of coal in hutchies; pit-roads are very wet, and as I have an o'erstiff ancle canna work without great pain; sister Margaret, who is 10 years old, has wrought two years, and her feet are so sair that she canna wear shoes, and the rails cut her feet so as to make her lie idle often; eldest sister, 17, with deformed ancles, cannot wear shoes. [Cannot read.]

No.305. James Beveridge, 13 years old, hewer:
Is wrought 12 and 14 hours; been below four years and a half; picks, and helps to draw; father died 12 months ago of bad breath; he was 45 years of age; had been many years afflicted; had my head caught between the roof and cart some time since, which caused my lips to be cut open and head crushed; was off three months: can read and write a little; was taught when father was on Lord Elgin's work. [Reads and writes, very intelligent.]