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.

Tranent Colliery

parish of Tranent - (Messrs. William and H. F. Cadell).

No.157. James Wood, 12 years old, coal-hewer:
I have worked below ground three years, except when I was laid idle by a pick striking a piece of metal, which cast fire, and caused me the loss of my eye. Was off idle near 12 months.

I go down at five in the morning, and come away about seven at night; except when bad air is in the pit, when we are compelled to stop away sometimes for three and four days together.

A little tea, which is made overnight, and pieces of bread, is all that we get to eat till we return, when we have broth or some such.

The part of the pit I work in is very wet and am obliged to sit on a bit of coal to keep the water off.

Sometimes I change myself after work; do so when home early; never on full long days.

[Reads well and writes tolerably.]

No.158. James Neil aged 10 years, coal-hewer:
Been below 18 months; the work is gai sore. Place of work is not very dry. Never got hurt, but the work has given me the piles, which pain me when I sit. I work from four and five in the morning till six and seven at night, and it fatigues me much. Sometimes I change my clothes; not frequent, as it is so late.

[Can read and write a little; knows a little Scripture history.]

No.159. William Martin, 10 years old, coal-putter:
Have wrought 18 months below on my father's work at putting; sometimes I pick the coal.

Works on night and day shifts. When on night, go down at six and seven in the evening, and come up at ten and eleven next morning. Work the same number of hours when on day shift.

I fall asleep sometimes when we canna get the coals away, but the shaft of my father's pick wakens me up. Don't get other licks.

My place of work is wet the now; the water covers my shoe-tops and am obliged to sit in it to work.

No one takes anything but cake or bread below; and we seldom change our clothes, as it is so late before we are at home.

Could read and do the writing but not been at it for 18 months.

[Reads a little, and can sign his name; very much behind in the Catechism and Testament.]

No.160. William Kerr, 11 years old, coal-bearer:
Wrought below five years. Goes down at five in morning, returns six and seven at night. Gets my bread as other laddies do.

Carries coal on my back. Can fill a basket of 5cwt. in six journeys. It is 150 fathoms from father's room to pit bottom.

I am o'er sair gone at times, as the hours are so long and the work gai sair. Never have the opportunity to get some sleep.

[Went to school once; reads very badly; has no scriptural knowledge whatever.]

No.161. Barney Walker, 10 years old:
Sometimes pushes the carts, and at others carry big bits of coal; done so for two years and a guid time.

Works on Johnnie Scott's account, and gets my licks. Johnnie's work is very wet; the water gets into my shoes.

I go down at six in morning, and go home at seven, when mother sends me to bed, as am so fatigued. Do not change myself.

When I get 3s. or 4s. a-week, mother gives me 3d., which I spend in sugar-alleys and sweeties.

Never been to school. Has some brothers and sisters; don't know how many.

[Very ignorant, filthy, and most sickly appearance.]

No.162. George Wright, 12 years old, coal-putter:
Works 12 to 14 hours with father.

The place I draw in is wet; the water comes up to my knees. Am much fatigued by the work, which is distressing, being 300 fathom from coal to pit bottom, and makes me very sick.

Never been able to get the knowledge of the letters, as am so sore wrought.

Never change my clothes; very few do who live just bye.

[Poor, ignorant, miserable object. Has four brothers and sisters. The eldest lass would not go below and got to service in the town of Tranent.]

No.163. John Martin, 11 years old, coal-hewer:
Been 18 months at the coal wall. Cannot say I like it muckle, as the hours are so long, and the work so sair and wet.

Have not been to school since wrought below. Could write some, and now can put down my name.

Since living in Tranent have had typhus twice and so has mother.

I change my clothes sometimes, not often.

[Reads very well; signed his name like most of the children in this place; been awfully neglected.]

No.164. Catherine Meiklejohn, aged 12, coal-bearer:
I start to work at five in the morning and lay by at six at night. Porridge is sent down at eight or nine, and have bread after.

I bring coal from the wall-face to pit bottom - large pieces on my back, small in a creel. The pit is dry where I work, and the distance of my journey about 200 fathoms. It takes me three burthens to fill one tub of 5 1/4cwt. My back is very sore at times, but I never lie idle.

Would like not to work so long, only father bids me.

Mother is a coal-bearer, but is at home with a young one and three other children who are too young to work.

[A most intelligent, healthy girl. Can scarcely read. Few men could do one-third labour this lassie is compelled to perform.]

No.165. Catherine Landels, 12 years old, coal-bearer:
Has wrought in the bowels of the earth five years.

Works 12 hours and 14 hours daily. When at night work, goes down at midnight, and comes up at three next afternoon.

Am much overworked. Have no wages, as work with brother on father's account.

Gets no regular meals; and change my clothes when no fatigued.

Reads a little; just learning to make the strokes in the copy-book.

Knows a few of the questions in the Shorter Catechism.

No.166. David Neil, 9 years old, coal-putter:
I work for a master on mother's account; have done so three years, at 4d. a-day for short turns and 6d. for long ones.

I leave home at six in the morning, and work till four in afternoon; sometimes later, whiles earlier.

Mother is very poor. Am a natural child of David Neil, who has deserted his work.

Am very sick sometimes, as the work is hard, and get nothing but bits of bread.

Cannot read. Does not know whether he lives in Tranent or not but thinks he lives in Allen's Bounds.

[Weakly, miserable boy.]

No.167. John Howie, 8 years old, coal-putter:
Wrought below 12 months. Gangs with father and helps uncle Archy to put.

Is sometimes dark when father gangs, whiles light. Don't know how long I work; is a guid bit, and very sore.

I return with sister, who works in Old Gate Pit. Likes being up best.

Goes to Mr. Shield's school to learn the letters when not needed below.

[Scarcely able to tell one letter from another.]

No.168. Mary Watson, 13 years old, coal-bearer:
Works 12 to 14 hours daily. Sister, who is 16 years old, and I, bear brother's coal. We all work on father's account and have done so 18 months, as father is off work with bad breath.

I and sister fill six tubs daily of 5 1/4cwt. each.

Mother has had eight children: six in life; four below, two at home.

I never was at school, as father canna work none and is very poor. We all live in one room in Jock's Bounds.

No.169. Alexander Lawrie, 11 years old, coal-putter:
Works from two in the morning till four and six at night. Employed to put the coal from wall-face to the horse-road. Does not like the work, though been at five months.

Could read before left Peebles for Tranent. Five months gone trying to write. Has very little time.

[Intelligent; weak; small in stature.]

No.170. Andrew Lawrie, 16 years old, coal-hewer:
We work here 12 to 14 hours daily. Not very regular on Mondays. Ten days a fortnight must be made or the men lose their fire-coal.

I wrought four years at Preston Grange, till the works were drowned.

Father was a farm-servant, and I worked three years on the farm with him; but he heard great wages was to be got, so he took three of us down, and we have continued below ever since.

I prefer labour above, and find that as much could be earned in the fields, as the idle days we have by roofs falling and bad air, mending picks, oil and cotton, is more than equivalent to the extra wages.

Fears no one would engage me now, as farmers, unless acquainted with us, will not have those who are wrought below ground.

[Very intelligent; reads and writes.]

No.171. Thomas Reid, age 17, coal-hewer:
Has wrought on father's account on Mr. Cadell's work six years. Does not dislike the work, only we have so much of it. We leave at two, and come up at five; or we leave at eight, and come up at eight and ten. We must make five days a-week. The pits are better now the ventilation has been improved, and the work is more regular. I earn 8s. and 9s. a-week.

Could read and write before going below, or should never have got the length now.

No.172. John Baird, 14 years old, putter:
Father is banksman at Oldgate Pit and sent me to work below six years a go. I get bits of bread, and there is plenty of water below.

I go down at five in the morning and come up at six at night; it is gai sair work to shove the waggons up the brae to the horse-road; parts of the road is very wet and slushy.

Have two sisters, who father took from farm service, 17 and 19 years of age, to do pumping in the Deep Pit; they are very sore worked and can only work six h ours at a time and then rest 12.

I can read some, but not been to school since taken below.

[Much neglected and possessing little useful knowledge.]

No.173. David M'Neil, 9 years old, putter:
I work wi' Johnnie Scott; done so for three years. Father first carried me down. Father is dead. Mother takes my weekly wages, 3s. I get my licks when I no like work. Mother gives me porridge and sour milk when am no well to work; am no very strong.

[Cannot read; very sickly.]

No.174. John Logan, ridesman, aged 59:
I have wrought below upwards of 49 years; it was 1791 or 2 that first I was carried down; nearly the whole time in Messrs. Cadell's mines.

I married early, as the hiring of women to bear my coals took away all my profit.

Wife and I could take away 23s. to 24s. a-week.

Men married more to get good bearers than discreet wives, and it is too much so at this day where women are taken below ground.

The markets now are much dearer than when I first wrought; our 23. would get us double that 30s. will now. Bacon was 3d. to 3 1/2d. per lb.; mutton by the uncorved [not weighed] quarter of 9lbs. to 10lbs. could be bought for 2s. and 1s. 10d. - it is now 6 1/2d.; the 7lb. peck of meal was corved in heavy weight of 17 1/2ozs. to the lb. at 10d. - now it is 11d. the light weight of 14ozs.

The practice is now discontinued of giving bounties to heads of families, and binding them to one years service.

We cannot now claim a turn for the sma' aines when we carry them on our backs below; must confess it is a bad practice, for when the bairns are once below they rarely get back again, but follow the father, and lose all taste for school.

Although children are forced down early, they rarely rank as one-basket boys until 10 years of age.

No.175. Walter Kerr, collier, aged 62:
I have wrought in Messrs. Cadell's mines on and off near 54 years; my health has been long on the decline; my trouble is bad breath; few last so long as I have, especially those who are wrought on stone. Women do not suffer from the collier's asthma owing to their different occupation; but those women who bear coals soon feel the oppressions, and are old women at 30; when they are trained to the work below they are not fit for men above.

Females work till last hour of pregnancy; own daughter went home a few weeks since to bear a bairn.

When on Sir George Clerk's work at Loantre, recollects a woman delivered in the pit, and saw her carried to pit bottom and drawn up in the basket. The child lived.

Parents take their children down to get the fruits of their labour as long as they can, for lads work as full men at 17, and soon marry, we then lose their labour.

Many women work below as it ensures them husbands earlier than above, and not from the liking of the work.

A bad practise exists in this part amongst loose colliers, that of lending their children out when they do not feel inclined to work themselves.

Women in order to get home early carry too heavy weights. I know many who have filled tubs of 5 1/4cwt. in two burthens and brought them 200 fathoms.

No.176. Mr. John Thompson, mining oversman, Tranent Colliery:
I have been 24 years mining oversman to Messrs. Cadells, prior to which I wrought as a collier 15 years and am well acquainted with the habits and practices of the collier people of this locality.

I consider one of the worst practices here, as in other parts of the Lothians, to be that of taking very young children below ground, especially female children, many of whom are carried down into the mines at six and seven years of age, before they know their letters.

I am also of opinion that the employment of females below much contributes to demoralize and degrade the collier people; the want of the comforts of home causes men to drink hard; poverty and disease soon follow.

Messrs. Cadells have, to my knowledge, often objected to the bad practices and there little hope of remedy until the proprietors of mines adopt some new and wholesome regulations to exclude women and young children, as the old-fashioned customs of colliers prevent or neutralise any regulations made by individual proprietors.

Coal-work at best is of an o'er sair kind, and few lads can acquire the knowledge of hewing or have good strength to put till 14 years of age, and even then it depends on their physical strength.

The custom of colliers to work below at their own pleasure, as to hours, causes them to be irregular; they frequently exhaust themselves and children; if regular they would not need the assistance of such quantities of infant labour.

No.177. Rev. John Henderson, minister of Tranent:
In the parish of Tranent, including the Quoad Sacra parish of Cockenzie, I find 107 colliers families, 108 families of day-labourers, 77 families of fishermen, 139 widows and single women, each having a separate room or dwelling.

If we are not improving we ought to be, as I find, at the five schools in this parish, including Steil's Hospital, there are 680 children at education, which is nearly a fifth part of the population, and yet there are many children among the colliers who are not sent to school.

If any of the colliers are destitute it is from their own improvident habits, of which their are many instances; their wages are much higher than our hynds [ploughmen], who are very comfortable.

When sickness or old age overtakes miners they have the same weekly allowance given them as any other paupers in this parish. We have now 139 on the poor-roll, 18 of whom are miners or branches of their families. The names on the poor-roll do not represent single persons, many are widows with families; may average 9d. to 1s. 7d. per week.

No.178. Rev. William Parlane, M.A., minister of United Associate Church, Tranent:
I have known children often removed from school to coal-mines as early as seven years of age; afterwards they sometimes return a few months in the evenings.

Children of amiable temper and conduct at seven years of age often return next season from the collieries greatly corrupted, and, as an old teacher says, with most HELLISH DISPOSITIONS.

Children ought not to be taken from school under 12 or 14 years of age.

Numbers of men and women, even heads of families, cannot read: general ignorance exists of the first principles of religion; few of the colliers enter a place of worship. The coal masters, who combine for their own interest, do not co-operate for the improvement of the colliers.

There is an hospital in this parish for the board and education of children. Many whose parents are able to pay the expenses of their children's education are taught gratuitously in the hospital, while others that are destitute are allowed by the directors of the hospital to grow up in ignorance.

Those who go to mines acquire habits of tippling; it is not uncommon to see children of the age of 12 drunk; lying, swearing and cruelty abound amongst uneducated miners.

No.179. H. F. Cadell, Esq., Cockenzie:
I think the want of unity of purpose amongst coal proprietors contributes to perpetuate the bad customs of the colliers, who, I regret to say, make but very slow progress, if any, in the way of improvement.

I think women ought not to be allowed to labour below, it is not fit employment, and it causes them to leave and neglect their families.

In my capacity of magistrate I have had no public complaints of the conduct of colliers, although they are of very drunken habits and are much given to flit from one place to another.

Few roving colliers ever acquire good plenishing for their houses, and what is of far more importance, few of them in this district remain sufficiently long in one place to become known to the clergyman, and do not send their children to school.

In the Act 39 Geo. III., cap. 56, which freed colliers from servitude, there is a clause regarding lent money to colliers, which is unfortunately too little known and acted upon by the men, many of whom are ruined and their families kept in misery by the improper conduct of coal masters in bribing the inconsiderate people by loans of money to remove from work to work.

No.180. Mr. Alexander Nimmo, innkeeper, Tranent:
Been some years resident in Tranent, and had frequent opportunities of witnessing the conduct of the collier people. They are very clannish, and hold very little intercourse with other tradesmen. They are quite as singular in their marriages as they are in their friendships - so entirely exclusive. They may well be so, for no working man would marry a collier's daughter, so little do they know of domestic duty. Colliers drink very hard, and rarely anything but whiskey, which they subscribe for amongst themselves and purchase by the bottle or gallon.

The bad custom of taking wives below causes them to neglect homes and carry down their children almost before they can walk, and they get little or no education; most of the children here are very ignorant.

Sometime since Mr. Cadell had a school-house built; he engaged a teacher; the fees were fixed very low so as to induce colliers to send their offspring; few attended regularly and the school was closed after a few months; it was a voluntary school.

The collier people in this town are dirty to extreme; their houses are not such as I should like to feed pigs in. Most keep fowls and ducks and many pigs are kept in the houses.

In consequence of the filthy state of the wynds and closes where the colliers stop, a neighbouring farmer lately went to a considerable expense in erecting a public privy with separate partitions and apparatus to keep it well cleansed, but they took umbrage at being so provided for and, thinking it an innovation upon their rights, they pulled the privy down, and burnt the wood of which it was composed.

In this town there some few colliers who are natives and keep attached to the place, but majority are changeable; they are apt to run in debt and then flit.

Prestonlinks Colliery

- two miles north of Tranent, Haddingtonshire. - (John Grieve, Esq., Proprietor.)

No.181. The evidence of Mr. William Walker, the Manager, together with that of-
Jane Cumming, 14 years old, who wrought in mines, 8 years
Isabel Cumming, 10 years old, who wrought in mines, 3 years
Mary Hood, 10 years old, who wrought in mines, 1 year
Jane Peacock, 10 years old, who wrought in mines, near 5 years
Janet Gibb, 8 years old, who wrought in mines, 7 months
Marrion Lamb, 11 years old, who wrought in mines, 1 year
Nicol Hood, 12 years old, who wrought in mines, below 5 years
John Gibb, 10 years old, who wrought in mines, near 3 years

has been lost. The notes made by me describe the children in a gross state of negligence; not one of whom was able to make a letter, and all read very badly. Jane Cumming, a most interesting girl, laboured under a nervous complain,t and though, from sickness, compelled to remain out of the mines for weeks together, yet as convalescence returned was forced to the pits. The whole district of Preston Links and Pans, though containing two large potteries, a distillery and breweries, well attended parochial and infant schools, appeared to contain a very ignorant and destitute population.

No.182. John Greive, Esq.:
I have known women walk home from the mines, be delivered of their offspring, and in a few days return to labour, as if the mines gave them health

It is my opinion that it would be highly advantageous to exclude very young children from the pits and also their mothers, so that the young ones may be better educated and looked after.

No.183. Mr. Thomas, parish schoolmaster, Prestonpans:
I was, some short time since, teacher of a school established by the proprietor of a colliery in this neighbourhood, and regret to say the laudable scheme was obliged to be abandoned in consequence of the bad attendance of the children.

The school-fees were only one-half those of other schools -  1 1/2d. to 2d. per week from each child.

I am of opinion that schools should be accessible to collier children without fees, and even then children themselves would require protection, as the avarice of their parents causes them to take them below ground at eight years, and younger.

I have known children of five years of age left at home in charge of the still younger members of the family, as their mothers were employed in the pits.

No.184. Rev. W. Bruce Cunningham, minister of Prestonpans:
I consider the country will be inevitably ruined unless some steps be taken by the Legislature for securing a full education to the children of the working classes; the landed proprietors should know this.

I consider 14 years of age the lowest children should be removed from school. Early removal acts most prejudicially; the mind is checked, the body is enfeebled, and immoral habits engendered.

Children engaged in labour are slow and dull in comparison with other children.

The Church of Scotland requires a clear visit of the whole parish to be made yearly, and a report of the moral, physical and temporal condition of the parishioners to be made.

I feel assured that the more sympathy that exists between the people and their pastors the more will be improved their moral and physical condition.

It is a practice with the clergy to place under church censure those of bad moral habits, and even defer the baptism of their children until they are sufficiently contrite, and admitted into the church.

Persons incurring church censure are disregarded by their neighbours.

A child of a collier now in the infant-school will be baptised next Sabbath; its baptism has been deferred in consequence of the conduct of its father, who has amended his ways, submitted to examination and joined the church.

I cannot say much for the colliers, as at Prestonpans schools, although the schools are near to the coal-works, only one collier boy attends regularly.

No.185. Birsley Colliery- (Sir George Grant Suttie, Bart.)

The evidence taken at this colliery, as well as that of Preston Links, has been lost. It appears from the Returns made by the manager of the Birsley there are employed-

Adults, 15 males, 11 females; 2 males, 5 females, under 13 years of age and 4 males and 1 female children.

Amongst those examined I find in my notes a William M'Neil, a boy 11 years of age, deaf and dumb, who had wrought below two years, a most miserable object; he belonged to one of the roving collier families; he had never been taught the language of the fingers, though very acute at signs; his sister told me that he had discovered that his father was about to move from Birsley Coal-work, and in making signs how he came to know, he imitated the sawing down of the bedsteads, and carrying to the carts.

The other evidence from my notes appears of a character similar to collieries in the East Lothian and exemplifies a most neglected condition.

This appears to be corroborated by Sir George Grant Suttie, Bart., himself who in a communication of March 8, 1841, states -

No.186. Sir George Grant Suttie, Bart:
"I have no control whatever over the colliers in my employment; the engagement on their part is nominal; as, although a fortnight's notice is stipulated for previous to leaving their employment, it is in point of fact of no avail; the colliers, men, women, and children go to their work at whatever hour of the night or day they think proper and work just as long as they choose. There is, in all the mines in this district, a greater or less number of women and children employed; and I beg leave to state to you my conviction that the employment of women in the mines of Scotland is one of the reasons which tends to depreciate the character and habits of the collier population; and that to remedy this evil a legislative enactment is required, as any resolution on the part of one or two mine proprietors, not to employ women or children, would be injurious to them, without tending at all to remedy the evil.

It appears to me that, to ensure a clean and comfortable house, it is necessary that the wife of a collier should remain at home, and that when she is employed in the pit, the house can neither be clean, nor can the food of the family be prepared and other domestic duties be performed.

The gains of a collier when at work, in Scotland, are very considerable and amply sufficient to maintain his family in comfort; his gains are at least double those of an able-bodied labourer; yet the houses and appearance of the labourers in this district indicate a superior degree of comfort to that of the collier.

I am aware that a different opinion is entertained on this subject by parties connected with the coal trade in this district, who fear that an enactment, preventing women from working in the mines, would tend to raise the rate of wages, already too high; but of this I entertain no apprehension, if protection is afforded to the mine proprietors who may be dispose to employ labourers in his mine. In the present state of the law, or, at all events, in the way in which it is enforced, no mine proprietor can employ a labourer, nor can any labourer venture to work in a mine. The result of this system is, that the fathers of families frequently remain idle the greatest part of the week, supported by the labour of their families."