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.

Penston Colliery

- parish of Gladsmuir. - (James Deans, Esq., Leaseholder.)

No.121. Mr. Thomas Moore, manager:
I have been manager for James Deans, Esq., five years, during which period has observed very little change in the conduct or condition of the collier people.

The system of working in families or groups induces fathers and mothers to take their offspring down much too early, and the long hours children work are caused by the irregular habits of their parents.

Married women working below causes great neglect of children, and there is a vast difference in the comforts of the homes and children where mothers stop aboveground.

It is a practice here, as in other collieries, for mothers to leave young children under the charge of strangers and the want of parental care has been found very injurious.

Colliers marry here very young to get female assistance; they also decay very early from the early absorption of bad air: those employed on stone below are soon subject to shortness of breath from the dust swallowed whilst hewing.

When colliers are very early affected with asthma, great distress exists until children are able to take their places below.

The want of education of children is chiefly to be ascribed to the unsteady and roving habits of the parents.

We have no provident institution connected with the works. Medical assistance is found gratis in case of accidents: few have occurred within last three years.

No.122. John Hogg, 10 years old, putter:
I push the tubs with mother when she works, and sometimes with sister, who is two years older than me. Father used to work below, but is laid idle now with the black spittel and bad breath. Mother has been off work some weeks, having been confined with a bairn; am thinking she means to gang next week. It is a long time since I was at the school: I could read in the bigspell, not in the Testament. I have heard the boys read the Testament at sabbath-school, but don't know anything about it. Sometimes I work long, and other times short; can't say how many hours; don't know what is meant by hours; it is dark when I go down, and so when I come up, and sometimes light.

I get my corn (strapping) as other laddies do.

No.123. Euphemet Davison, 13 years old, putter:
Works with brother and sister to support mother, who has two bairns, no yet strong for work.

Father died of typhus some time since. I can earn 4s. a-week when the work is regular.

Sometimes on night-work, sometimes day, generally 10 or 12 hours. I could read in the Bible; have nearly forgotten; as there is no night-school here now, cannot get the learning.

I go to Gladsmuir kirk, and the sabbath-school; to say the catechism and scripture verses.

Reads very badly but answers fairly the questions in the short catechism: otherwise very ignorant.

No.124. William Adams, 10 years old, putter:
Began to work when eight years old; came down as mother got her neck knocked out of joint, two years since, and no been able to gang since. I get my licks when the work is o'er sair, and no able to draw. Knows the letters: canna get to school, it is far away. Never go kirk, as have no clothes; would if I had. We were all laid idle with typhus short time since.

[Destitute and very ignorant.]

No.125. James Fairgrieve, 12 years old, putter:
Mother took me down four years ago, as father had died of typhus; I work with three brothers and one sister, usually 10 and 12 hours, many times longer, as we wait our turns for the gig to draw up the tubs; I am no very strong, as my thigh-bone was broken two years since by a cart.

All the family have had typhus within last three years, and I have had it twice.

Putting is very sore work; the coal weighs four cwt. and the tub and cart nearly as heavy.

Mother has ceased to work for two years; she is fashed with pains in the stomach, owing to hard labour.

[Reads very badly, and has no knowledge of Scripture; a few questions in catechism, which he repeats by rote.]

No.126. Esther Peacock, 12 years old, putter:
I think that I work 10 to 12 hours; have done so for eighteen months. I draw my brother's work; mother used to assist me, but she is nearly blind from sore work and canna gang. I never got hurt by the waggons, but I get my licks sometimes.

I went to school to learn the letters when father was in life, but he died three years gone with bad breath. Would like other work, has no choice; mother has seven of us, and all live and sleep in one kitchen; cannot go to kirk, as have no clothes.

[Cannot read; very destitute and ignorant; no religious knowledge whatever.]

No.127. Robert Young, 63 years old, coal-hewer:
Not been able to work since I lost my leg seven years since at the Dolphingstone coal-work belonging to Mr. Aitcheson.

When colliers live as long as I have and the work is out of them, they are left to starve.

Mr. Deans allows me a free house, and I get some coal, but the parish of Gladsmuir only allows me and my old wife 4s. a-month; 6d. a-week each. We sometimes get a shilling for nursing the bairns of the wives who work below. Many of the collier-people go off early with bad breath. Was never taught to read.

No.128. Peter Fairdrie, age uncertain, coal-hewer:
I must be near 20 years of age because I have worked below 12 years. Brother who is going to be married to day is older than me by two years, and mother kens he must be 22 or 24. Minister, Mr. Ramsay, is coming over to marry him to Ann Smith, who I am thinking is a year or two older than him; she had a bairn by him five weeks since; she was below at work on the Saturday morning and bore the young one at evening; she is no needed to gang just now, as she will live with him and mother.

[Reads very badly; the father has been dead some years, died of the colliers' asthma. No one would take the sons to be more than 12 or 14 years of age from their decrepit state and unmanly appearance, evidently from overwork; all very ignorant.]

No.129. Mary Hogg, 15 years old, coal-putter:
I have wrought below five years. During the summer I work out by [in the fields] as I prefer doing so to hanging on the pit as many lassies do; coal-work being no certain in summer. I much like to work above, and could make as much money in the fields; I get 8d. and 10d. a-day - below is 1s.; but when I deduct what it costs me for oil and cotton, and pit clothes, the field wages goes the same length, nor is it sair work.

The crushing work below is only fit for horses, and most of the lassies are getting hurts of one kind or other. I frequently get my fingers crushed and my nails torn out.

[Very quick, intelligent lassie. Reads very badly, has not been to any school since below; very desirous to learn. Says she would go, but there is no night-school nearer than two miles.]

No.130. Janet Duncan, 17 years old, coal-putter:
Works at putting, and was a coal-bearer at Hen Muir Pit and New Pencaitland.

I work sometimes very long hours; was going to work when I met you last night, and have now just come home; it must be 16 or 18 hours since; it is not usual for me to work so long; 10 or 12 hours are the common time.

I do not like coal-work, it makes me stoop so much, and being tall I am compelled to bend my legs double.

The carts I push contain three cwt. of coal, being a load and a half; it is very severe work, especially when we have to stay before the tubs, on the brace, to prevent them coming down too fast; they frequently run too quick and knock us down; when they run over-fast we fly off the roads and let them go, or we should be crushed. Mary Peacock was severely crushed a fortnight since; is gradually recovering.

I have wrought above in harvest-time; it is the only other work that ever I tried my hand at, and having harvested for three seasons am able to say that the hardest daylight work is infinitely superior to the best of coal-work.

[Reads and writes well; very well informed, tall elegant woman; the roads in which she works are three feet to four feet high.]

No.131. Isabel Hogg, 53 years of age, was a coal-bearer:
Been married 37 years; it was the practice to marry early, when the coals were all carried on women's backs, men needed us; from the great sore labour false births are frequent and very dangerous.

I have four daughters married, and all work below till they bear their bairns - one is very badly now from working while pregnant, which brought on a miscarriage from which she is not expected to recover.

Collier-people suffer much more than others - my guid man died nine years since with bad breath; he lingered some years and was entirely off work 11 years before he died.

You must just tell the Queen Victoria that we are guid loyal subjects; women-people here don't mind work, but they object to horse-work; and that she would have the blessings of all the Scotch coal-women if she would get them out of the pits, and send them to other labour.

[Mrs. Hogg is one of the most respectable coal-wives in Penston, her rooms are all well furnished, and the house the cleanest I have seen in East Lothian.]

Elphingston Colliery

parish of Tranent. - (Messrs. Durie and Nessbit, Leaseholders.)

No.132. Mr. William Shearer, manager of the Elphingstone Colliery, East Lothian:
Has been 32 years connected with coal working and 15 years manager and mining engineer at Elphingstone.

I consider the employment of women and young children in mines as most demoralizing; the want of agreement amongst coal proprietors is the sole cause of the continuance of this debasing practice; the labour could be cheaper and better done by stout lads or horses.

The encouragement to females working below creates early marriages; causes daughters to leave their parents to cohabit with young lads till they become with child; sometimes have more than one before marriage; anti-nuptial marriages are common.

Women work below till the hour of confinement. Some time since Margaret Reid was delivered of a male child on the road side; she had just time to get out of the pit-basket. She was carried home in a cart and the child is alive now.

There is no sound excuse can be made to justify children or females being employed, as steady men can get constant work in those pits, which are well ventilated. Since our new machinery been put up we have made no stoppage.

The claims made by colliers for privileges, or quarter and half turns for children should be abolished. Coal-masters ought to make their colliers comfortable in their dwellings, and give good education, which would soon change bad practices into good.

No.133. William Wilson, 8 years old, coal-putter:
Assists sister Margaret to push the carts on the railroad in the pit. Mother takes us down at six in the morning, and we come away with her at night. Gets broth or some such like; has been obliged to gang when the lamp would no burn, and scrambled to get up.

Like daylight better than dark; it is awfu' dark in the pit. Never been to school; a teacher came here last week, and father is going to send me; sister has been one week at the school, she likes it fine; we are to wash and change oursel when we gang to school.

No.134. Isabel Wilson, 38 years old, coal putter:
When women have children thick (fast) they are compelled to take them down early, I have been married 19 years, and have had 10 bairns; seven are in life. When on Sir John's work was a carrier of coals, which caused me to miscarry five times from the strains, and was gai ill after each. Putting is no so oppressive; last child was born on Saturday morning and I was at work the Friday night.

Once met with an accident; a coal brake my cheek-bone, which kept me idle some weeks.

I have wrought below 30 years, and so has the guid man; he is getting touched in the breath now.

None of the children read, as the work is no regular. I did read once, but no able to attend to it now; when I go below lassie 10 years of age keeps house and makes the broth or stir-about.

[Nine sleep in two bedsteads; there did not appear to be any beds, and the whole of the furniture consisted of two chairs, three stools, a table, a kail-pot and a few broken basins and cups. Upon asking if the furniture was all they had, the guid wife said, furniture was of no use, as it was so troublesome to flit with.]

No.135. Betsy Sharp, 11 years old, draws coal:
Worked at carrying coal and putting more than three years; was first wrought on the Edge Seams at Drum, near Gilmerton; works with brother and four sisters on mother's account.

Father is dead; it was the oppression of bad breath that killed him; I dinna ken how old he was: he was na very old.

I have just been one week at school and beginning with the letters; the teacher says I shall learn if I pay attention.

I work from six in the morning till six or seven at night; mother never misses sending porridge down at eight or nine in the morning.

[Destitute of any kind of religious knowledge, knows scarcely the three first letters of the alphabet.]

No.136. Elizabeth M'Neil, age 38 years, coal-putter:
Was sent below before 10 years of age; has been married 20 years and had eight children seven alive; three work below.

Must confess children are sent down too early, but it is better for them than running wild about, there being no teacher here till the last week to give them education; the children, are now wrought at the school, they are to be taught the reading; cannot say whether they are to go the length of writing after.

Women think little about working below when with child; have wrought below myself till last hour and returned 12 or 14 days after.

I knew a woman who came up and the child was born in the field next the coal hill. Women frequently miscarry below and suffer much after; vast of women are confined before they have time to change themsel.

I read but am no able to write; husband can sign his name.

No.137. John Scott, 12 years old, coal-hewer:
Was nine years old when first taken down; father died of cholera six years ago; am learning to hew the coal; I get porridge when mother comes down at six in the morning; we leave at three and lowse at four and five.

Was often fatigued when first at the work, and used to fall asleep; have had o'ermany licks with the shaft of the pick to do so now.

I and mother work on father-in-law's account; sometimes have a bawbee on pay-days given to me.

Never been but once injured so as to be off work any long time; it was occasioned by pit roof falling on me; have one sister infirm in the feet from a stone crushing them; it fell from the roof while she was at work; she is no able to work now. I cannot say who made me; not been to kirk since I was baptised; was never at school till last week, when new teacher came.

No.138. John Haddon, 9 years old, coal filler:
I and brother fill the carts in the coal-room, which is wet and water covers our shoe-tops; have done so for two years.

We gang at three and four in the morning, and return at four and five at night; we get porridge and pieces of bread; frequently falls asleep; for the work is gai sair; was very awfu' at first.

I shift myself of a night now, as I gang to the school for an hour to learn the letters; have been one month; father pays teacher 3d. a-week ; am not yet the length of the letters; never been to kirk, yet means to go as soon as can read; has heard that God made us all out of nothing, and if we curse and swear we shall be burned in brimstone; does not curse and swear, as should not like to be burned in brimstone.

No.139. Martha M'Neil, 16 years old, draws coal:
Been six years below; works for manager from seven in the morning till five at night. I often fall asleep, sometimes the pit is warm, and the reek makes me drowsy; most children do. I am learning to read. [Reads very badly] No holidays, as father makes no throwing off. We have been stopped from going to school, as father wants teacher to learn us for 2d. per week each.

No.140. Janet Dawson, 17 years old, draws coals:
I work 12 hours below ground, and have done so more than six years; the work is very severe; when the cart is on the brae am obliged to get another putter to give me a lift.

Often been injured; am now laid aside, having lost the tops of my two middle fingers; been idle eight days.

I do not know whether work above would suit me, as I have been so long in the pit, never tried other labour.

I can read, never was taught writing; can make my own pit-clothes; can earn when full employed 14d. a-day.

Have some recollection of the catechism but never troubled myself about the books since I left school, which is full six years.

No.141. Margaret Crookston, 16 years old, draws coal:
I work in the Old Gavenslee Pit, which is no so crowded as the new working and I lowse [leave work] when my brother lowses; the carts I push hold five cwt.; five cwt. is a quarter of a ton; the road I push or draw on is a great length, and there is a steep brae which brother helps me up to the level road; I used to bear coals on my back; drawing is no easy work, but we get more money for it than work above, therefore do not dislike it; can earn 7s. week. I work for mother, as father died three years since with colliers' complaint.

[Can read and write very badly; cannot answer many of the questions in short catechism and has no knowledge of sewing or making own dress.]

Pencaitland Colliery

parish of Pencaitland. - (A. G. Cuthbertson, Esq., Pencaitland House.)

No.142. Mr. Robert Henderson, manager of Pencaitland Colliery:
We employ children and young people in considerable numbers at times in this colliery, and I regret to say many are taken down much too early; consequently their schooling is neglected and the positions in which they are obliged to work causes them to loose their forms.

There exists no necessity for taking very young persons below; for lads, if kept up till 14, would not be of the stunted growth they are, and be infinitely more useful.

It would be, morally, a great blessing to remove women from the mines, but it would increase the price of coal.

During the summer months we limit the output of coal and many go into the fields to labour.

We have much affliction of the breath in these parts and many go off early in consequence, or linger above useless.

No.143. Mr. Adam Kent, teacher, New Pencaitland:
I am teacher of the New Pencaitland school. The school-house and my residence were built by Lady Ruthven, and the former endowed with a yearly payment of 40s., free house and coals. Mr. Cuthbertson, the colliery proprietor, pays for the schooling of five boys 1s.. 3d. per week. My salary is made up by small fees received from parents of the children.

Teachers are not held in much estimation here, although colliers much desire that their children should be educated; yet the irregularity of the night and day shifts prevents children coming to school. Only 40 colliers' children, out of 150 now at an age for instruction, attend.

Taking children down very young is very injurious to them; they soon lose their good natural forms and become physically weaker. There is an immense difference between the strength of few ploughmans' boys I teach and those of the colliers'; but I have noticed that the collier children are much more acute, and have a greater aptness for knowledge.

I think the early age parents are taken off; by disease common in those parts called the black spital, in a great measure forces children to be employed so young.

No.144. Robert Robinson, 14 years old, draws coal:
Began to work below ground at Pencaitland four years gone, and been there ever since; works about 12 hours; is paid l 1/2d. per tub of four cwt. which have to bring from wall-face to the main road, and draw afterwards to the pit bottom; it is very hard work, as the roofs are low, and the roads bad.

Would not have gone so early to work, but father died of the black spittal; he was off work months before death, and spit his lungs up, all as black as ink; he was not 50 years old.

After father's death mother sent younger brother and two sisters below.

My two sisters were sair horrible crashed by stones falling from the roof; their bowels were forced out and legs broken and both died soon after. It is two years since.

Have three brothers and three sisters remaining; two work below besides myself.

Never was more than four or five months at school. I cannot read much; my mother is paying younger brother at present, therefore cannot afford me schooling, though I should like to gang.

[A very steady, intelligent boy; mother very poor but apparently takes every possible care of the children; she has no allowance from parish.]

No.145. Andrew Gray, 11 years old, draws coal:
Was nine years old when first taken down to wheel the tubs; the drawing is difficult where there is much slush, and there is plenty of that in the pit. I go to work at three in the morning; get my porridge at nine, and come up at two and three, sometimes one, in the day.

Been laid aside with crushes from stone falling from roof more than a month.

Have just commenced the reading at Mr. Keat's school at New Pencaitland.

No.146. John Duncan, age 11 years, coal-bearer:
Began to work at drawing coal two years since. Has only been a coal-carrier three weeks; can't do much at it yet: it takes me 30 journeys; bring up 8cwt. or half a ton.

The shaft is 60 feet deep, and the panwood which I bring up 300 feet from the bottom.

Father put me to this work, as the other pits were full, but I do not like it; it is so very sore. Does not read or write.

No.147. Andrew Grey, aged 57 years, coal-hewer:
Colliers in this part of the country are subject to many oppressions: first the black spittle, which attacks the men as soon as they get the length of 30 years; next rheumatic pains, from working in low seams, where water oozes out, or rises and severe ruptures occasioned by lifting coal. Many are ruptured on both sides: I am, and suffer severely, and a vast of men here are also.

I have had 12 children, nine alive and my wife wrought below till within last eight years when she got crushed by a stone, and no been able to work since.

Women working below cause men to marry early, as we have need of their labour. I was 17 when I married, and my wife was about same age.

The rheumatism has so contracted my joints that I have scarcely left my bed for 14 months.

No.148. David Wood, 15 years old, coal-hewer:
Began to work at nine years of age. Did work on night-shift: went below at two afternoon, returned six following morning. Pit has been very wet for some time, which had caused me to have cold sweats and fever. Have been confined five weeks; cannot move at present. When I can use my hands can write some, and read very well.

No.149. Jane Wood, wife of James Wood, formerly a coal-drawer and bearer:
Worked below more than 30 years; has not done so for six or seven years, as the family has not needed me.

Women in this part of the country dislike the work below ground and some lassies are now trying to get to service.

Females are more neglected in their education than males: the men foolishly think they have no need of so much knowledge, and they follow the old practice of taking girls down earlier than boys.

I have two daughters below, who really hate the employment, and often prayed to leave, but we canna do well without them just now, for I have one son aside with rheumatic cold caught below.

The severe work causes women much trouble; they frequently have premature births. Jenny M'Donald, a neighbour, was laid idle six months, and William King's wife lately died from miscarriage, and a vast of women suffer from similar causes.

No.150. John Duncan, aged 59, was a coal-hewer:
My father was a collier, and I left this part many years since, and joined the Scotch Greys. Was in full service many years. I left the army to come to coal-work, which I am sorry for, as the mining has caused my breath to be affected, and I am, like many more colliers obliged to hang upon my children for existence.

The want of proper ventilation in the pits is the chief cause, and no part requires more looking to than East Lothian; the men die off like rotten sheep.

No. 151. John Robinson, 10 years old, draws coal:
Been below two years. Not been to school since the last harvest. I don't like the work below, and have tried twice to run away, but they brought me to it again. Cannot read.

[Very good tempered, and appeared quite frightened at the idea of work below ground.]

No.152. John Duncan, 57 years old, coal-hewer:
I have wrought more than 47 years. Bad breath has nearly disabled me; it is the colliers' bane; it arises from scant of air in the pits.

It must be admitted that children are sadly overwrought; have been sorry always when two of my own wrought hard, still I had need of their help, although not nine years of age.

I have a good knowledge of colliers, and I feel confident that the average life of men part of the country will not exceed 40. The colliers are subject to the black-spittle, rheumatism, ruptures and piles, very much more than other tradesmen and they rarely pass 28 without getting a first attack; many earlier.

No.153. George Hogg, 32 years of age, coal-hewer:
Unable to labour much now, as am fashed with bad breath: the air below is very bad; until lately no ventilation existed.

My wife did work below till she met with a serious accident last year. The cage which brings the coals up the shaft suddenly descended, and crushed her almost to death. She was then four months gone in the family-way; is now quite disabled from work and no hopes given of her ever being able to return.

No.154. Agnes Grey, 14 years old, draws coals:
I work with three sisters below for support of parents: my father's affliction is bad breath.

The work is very sore from bending, as the seams are so low. Not very strong; had typhus not long since. Sister is just laid by; has been so six weeks, from a severe fall on the iron rail, which cut her knee open. Have one sister deaf and dumb, learning the straw trade in Edinburgh. Mother, who has been off work two years, is going to try again next week.

Blindwells, St. Germains, Bearing Pit

No.155. Mary Duncan, 16 years of age, coal-bearer:
Began to carry coals when 12 years old. Went to school prior, and can read and write. Do not like the work, nor do the other women, many of whom have wrought from eight years of age, and know no other.

My employment is carrying coals from wall-face to the daylight up the stair-pit.

I make 40 to 50 journeys a-day, and can carry 2cwt. as my burthen. Some females carry 2 1/2 to 3cwt., but it is overstraining.

Father is off work at present, being a little touched in the breath. Mother is now staying at home helping him.

Have two brothers and two sisters working with me below on father's account.

Has another brother, Francis, who is on his own account. His wife, Jane Law, had a child two weeks since, and has just returned to her work.

[A well-informed, intelligent girl. Several of the elder colliers in this mine were well-read men; James Smith quoted Addison with great precision.]

No.156. James Smith, coal-hewer:
I have been many years on work at the Blindwells, and witnessed with great pain the sore oppression of the women and young children. There is no keeping them out of this pit just now, as many females are old and fit for no other service.

I have had to struggle for a large family, and have taught them all to read and write, as well as some of my neighbours' children, which is no little trouble, as work is irregular in these parts.

The Legislature would get the blessing of all the women if they were excluded from such oppression.