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.

Devon Collieries & Ironstone Pits

Clackmannanshire and Perthshire.

No. 306 Leslie Meldrum, Esq., managing partner of the Devon Iron Company:
The number at present employed in our coal and ironstone mines exceed 540 workers below ground; nearly one-sixth are females; 50 males and females under 13 years of age, and 98 between 13 and 18 years of age; all can, I believe, read, and many write their own names; but they appear to have an aversion to writing.

No girls or women are employed in the iron-mines, it requiring good strength.

Parents take their offspring below as soon as they think they can get any relief of labour, and frequently much too early. I think a limitation of the age at which children should be wrought below is very desirable, as they are of very little use before they are 12 or 14 years of age; and were the parents restricted from taking them down before that age, they would have the advantage of school.

A good school-house has been built at the company's expense, and is now well attended; there is a library, sick-fund and burial society, but the two latter are managed exclusively by the workers.

Our ventilation is kept up by air-pits and air-courses; and from our roads being high and railed we are subject to few accidents. Within the last two years our engine-keeper, when descending the engine-pit was killed; and a collier, who was supposed to be tipsy, fell down an old pit one Sunday evening.

The usual number of hours depend upon the quantity of coals worked by the pickmen; when the quantity is considerable the females and children are below 12 hours, as each party has to wait their turn for their coals being drawn; the active employment is seldom more than eight or nine hours.

The greatest number of hours young lads and men labour in the foundry is 10; and a limitation there is desirable, for boys are of little use there under 14 or 16 years of age, and have had little enough time for their schooling. An increase of wages would probably be demanded by the parents were the income arising from the labour of young persons abridged.

At many descriptions of work greater proficiency is acquired when the learner commences early, but it is not necessary here, nor in our colliery; there are few colliers who have not commenced at a very early age, but we have many excellent miners who were not taught till of mature age.

In our foundry at present we employ 256 males; seven only are under 13 years of age and work with parents, who are in very necessitous circumstances.

No.307. Joseph Sharp, 12 years old, hewer:
Wrought three years in the mines; usual hours three in morning till two and three in the day; works with one brother and sister; all work on father's account; he is a reddsman [road-maker]; brother Adam is 16 years old, and wrought eight years below; sister Agnes is 18 past, and been more than eight years in the pit; we take 30s. in the 11 days for our own work; can all read and father gives us a lesson at the writing when we home early. [Reads well, and can shape a few letters; scarcely write his own name.]

No.308. Robert Hunter, 17 years old, hewer:
Been five years below; works 12 hours daily, sometimes less; is wrought on father's account; has done nothing at school since down; can read. [Reads, cannot write; dull.]

No.309. Mary Patterson Blackwood, 17 years old, putter:
I have wrought eight years and a half below; the work is very great sore, as there is a great deal of water in the pit; few girls like the work, but when taken down early are fit for no other; we cease to gang below so soon as we get married; I can read - [reads well]; never did any at the writing but do the stockings [knits] and do them below while I am waiting my turn for the coals to be drawn; many lassies do so, but very few sew any. [Intelligent girl and good knowledge of Scripture.]

No.310. Ann P. Francis, 14 years old, putter:
Began to work when eight and a half years of age; not been to school much since; can only read as have never been wrought at the writing; I wheel the carts, which hold 7cwt. to 8cwt. coal; it is very ill sort of work, as we have to put four pins in the wheels, to lessen the rapidity of the movement, as the brae is very steep, and the carts often peel my legs [take the skin off]; never very,long laid idle. [Reads very well; knows the English Catechism well; attends the Episcopal Church, Alloa, regularly.]

No.311. Mary Hunter, 12 years old, putter:
Worked four years in the coal-mine; works 10 hours, six morning till four and five at night; knits, and can read; makes stockings for brothers and granny; does not go a any school, but granny teaches me when home.

No.312. James Thomson, 13 years old, smith:
I am learning in the smithy with my father, and have to work from six in the morning till six at night, but get two rests, - half hour for breakfast and one hour for dinner; do not dislike the work; am to be bound for five years if I suit; my wages will be 10d. a-day for first two years, - rise afterwards. [Reads and writes.]

No.313. David Chalmers, 17 years old, smith:
Wrought seven years at smith's work; never was bound, but considers he must serve the five years from 14 years of age as justly as if indentured; has 21d. per day. [Reads and writes well.]

No.314. Thomes Dugald, 12 years old, dresser:
Wrought one year; works with father, who keeps me at it, as most undertakers do; work is heavy, but no very sore. [Reads and writes.]

[The evidence taken from other lads was of the same kind; the work requiring considerable physical strength as well as good judgement, none could be useful without the possession of both faculties.]

Ironstone Pits, Vicars Bridge,

parish of Fossaway, Perthshire.

No.315. John Mucklejohn, mining overseer:
The works being under repair we employ only 34 male adults and 15 lads - none under 15 years of age; the numbers are returned by Mr. Leslie at Devon.

Our work being heavy and very fatiguing, the hours are shorter than in coal mining, and the wages greater in proportion.

The lads employed are generally well educated, being free of the Dollar Institution, as most parents live in that parish.

No.316. James Hine, 15 years old, ironstone hewer:
I howk [pick] the ends of ironstone clay, and wheel the carts; the work is heavy, as the carts carry 8 to 9cwt.; have tried the coal, but prefer my present work, as the hours are shorter and pay better. [Reads and writes well.]

No.317. Charles Ramage, age 15 years, picks ironstone:
Been at ironstone work six months; never tried any other; work eight and nine hours. It is heavy sore work for the time I continue at it. I can get 2s. to 2s. 4d. a ton for houking the ironstone balls; frequently able to earn 2s. 4d. to 3s. 6d., and make my nine days in the fortnight; works on father's account; was six years at Mr. Dow's school at Blairengone. [Reads and writes well.]

Woodlands & Devonside Collieries,

parish of Tillicoutry, county of Clackmannan.-(Robert Bald, Esq., Proprietor.)

No.318. Mr. Robert Maxton, manager:
The number of males and females employed do not exceed at this moment 58; six females and seven males are employed above ground; four boys below under 13 years old, and six girls under 17 years. We give no encouragement to parents to work children young in mines, and I think no children should be employed under 12 years old, and then have an educational qualification.

Few accidents have taken place here for some years; last April an old collier had both his legs broken by a fall of the roof through his own carelessness and died two days after.

Our mines are well ventilated by air-pits, and the air conducted through the working parts by shutting out all useless openings.

We have no school, but contribute to the support of the village academy, and most of our workers send their children.

No.319. Jane Patterson, 17 years old, putter:
Wrought below four years; works with brother; brother picks - I wheel his work. We have no father or mother alive; mother died of consumption, and father was brought home dead a few years since; he was supposed to have been murdered but no one ever sought after those who killed him. We live with aunt, who keeps the house; two younger brothers and one sister all are supported by the labour of myself and two brothers. We all do a little at the reading, and I was going to try writing, but the night-school closed, as so few attend in summer. [Reads well.] Never met with any accident of a serious kind. Helen Patterson, a lass who works in same pit, had her ankle smashed out of joint a short time since, and was away some weeks.

Sheardale Colliery, parish of Dollar

county of Clackmannan. - (Messrs. Stevenson and Co.)

No.320. Mr. Joseph Lyell, manager:
We employ below ground upwards of 40 persons as hewers and wheelers of coal; 12 are under 18 years of age and as children and women are under the control and charge of parents or relatives we never interfere. There is no necessity for children being employed and I would recommend their being kept out until 12 years of age; most of the children are well instructed; the parents, if parishioners of three years' standing, can claim a free education for all their children at the Dollar academy.

No.321. John Hynd, 12 years old, hews coal:
I have wrought on coal two years with mother and father; my usual time of working is 11 and 12 hours; have no objection to the work.

[Reads and writes very well; was instructed at M'Nab's institution at Dollar.]

No.322. Mrs. Hynd, mother of John Hynd, putter:
I wheel the coals wrought by my husband and son, sometimes my son only, as his father is afflicted with bad breath, and keeps away; can't say the work is fit for women, but having a large family am obliged to assist; have five children in life, which my youngest boy minds whilst I am at work. Husband being a parishioner has claimed education for children. We take away in wages 30s. to 40s. in the fortnight and work upon average eight to nine days.

No.323. John Fyfe, mining oversman:
Wrought on Sheardale works 20 years; no accident has taken place within memory. The colliers here are fixed in their habits, owing to advantages which the parish affords for educating their children; and the employment of females below is principally the want of other kind of work.

No.324. Rev. Dr. A. Mylne, minister of Dollar:
The collieries and manufactories about Dollar cause parents to take their children away from school too early [at very early ages] merely for the paltry wages they can get. It operates much to the children's injury in after-life, for they seldom complete their education: indeed they have no opportunity afterwards, except by attending a week-day evening-school for a few months in winter.

In this parish we have an endowed school, where children of parishioners are taught gratis not only elementary but the higher branches; connected with which there are female teachers who give instruction in all sorts of needlework, knitting - but very few attend after going to labour; even the Sabbath-school is not attended by children employed in labour.

Middletown Colliery

parish of Muchart, county of Perth.

No.325. Robert Maxton, Esq., taxsman:
The Middletown Colliery is conducted upon the same plan, and the same description of people employed, as at Woodlands and Devonside Collieries, which are under my management. In my colliery there are employed 31 males and 13 females. As females and children - of the latter there are only three, - are under charge of parents, there is no discretion exercised as to the age they are allowed to labour, or the number of hours; our usual hours of working do not exceed 10 or 12.

I have no school, as most of the children are entitled to free education at Dollar academy.

Blairengone Colliery

parish of Fossaway, county of Perth.

No.326. Mr. James A. Naysmith, tacksman:
I employ only 23 persons at present, - l1 are females; employment of numbers depends on demand, which is not very great at this part of the county.

The seam of coal being six to seven feet thick upon which I am now working, no very young children need be employed,- nor are they at any time necessary.

When children are too soon employed it has a tendency to disfigure their bodies, especially where the roads are low.

I should say 14 years of age soon enough for children to work in mines, as the work requires strength and in this colliery none have ever been employed below 13 years of age.

We have had two accidents within the last two years, - a broken thigh by fall of a stone from roof, and a broken leg occasioned by a coal falling; both parties soon got well.

There is a subscription school, kept by the Rev. A. Noble and a library; all who attend the school or the Sabbath-school have a right to take books from the library gratis, others pay 6d. a-quarter.

Castle Bigg Colliery

parish of Fosaway, county of Perth. - ( Mr. Robert Fyfe,Tacksman.)

No.327. William Fyfe, overseer:
We employ only 18 colliers at present; five are females, and three boys above 10 years of age.

Two women drive the coals on hurlies below ground, and three women carry the coals on their backs to the surface; the roads in which they carry are the same height as the coal, which varies from three to four feet; they then ascend the stair-pit to the day, which is 13 fathoms [78 feet] high, and lay their coals on the hill.

We have no school, nor do we subscribe to any, as the children are under the charge of their parents, who attend to their education and morals.

Brucefield Colliery

parish of Tulliallan, county of Perth. - (Mr. Robert Jamieson)

No.328. William Simpson, agent:
We employ only 11 males and two adult females at present, as the coal-working is now nearly given up, owing to the Kilbagie distillery being driven out of the London market by an unjust and unequal law.

No.329. Rachel Sneddon, aged 17, coal-putter:
Works at Middleton Colliery; has done so six years; hours eight in morning till six at night; men go down earlier to prepare the work; never been seriously hurt: a short time since Ann Ranger broke both her ancles, and Jane Fyfe had the bone of her arm crushed by a cart coming too quick down the brae. Some of the women carry the coal on their backs where the braes [hills] are steep; they manage 1cwt. To 1 1/2 cwt. Works nine days in the fortnight, if there be no bad air below; earns 1s. a-day. [Reads and writes well.]