Among the Fife Miners by Kellogg Durland
CHAPTER VI - GENERAL INTERESTS
He is a social being to be sure, the Fife miner. Only he takes a great deal of knowing. He is inclined to take his humour as seriously as he takes his work and you often must needs catch the sparkle of his eye to know when he is really laughing. But there are a few days in the year when he plays in good old rollicking fashion and it was not until I had laughed with him, shouted myself hoarse with him, trudged a round of sight-seeing, sunk to depths of profound and subtle controversy with him and then sung " Auld Lang Syne," his rough, hearty hand clasped in mine, that I began to feel that I knew him. In short, a Fifer's holiday means a run of the entire scale of moods that go to make up his nature. When he sets aside a day for a good time he begins with gaiety at the first hour and grows serious as his effervescing spirits and strength subside: and at night before he completes his day he sings "Maxwelton braes are bonny," "Me and my true love will never meet again," and if he has a breath of the North in him, like as not, the melancholy strain will appear in
"Like an empty ghost I go
Death the only hope I know,
Maiden of Morven"
before he concludes with Auld Lang Syne.
The first holiday that I spent with him was the day of the July Fair at Kinross. But Fair Day is universal and at Kinross it differs only slightly from the general run, so it need not be further alluded to. It was my first jaunt that I found unique. For on that day I found my miner playing at his best.
When the holidays come round "jaunting" is in universal vogue. The railways offer tempting excursions at exceedingly low rates, so that it is possible for whole families to take advantage of them. During the summer I made two jaunts - one to Aberdeen and one to Inverness. Nearly three thousand went on the latter trip, all from Kelty and the near-by towns. The return fare was only 4s. I had been warned that these excursions were frightful crushes, always very late, and that excessive drinking was the most pronounced feature. So with a stout heart, prepared to endure all manner of discomforts, I joined the throng awaiting the train at Kelty station. There were three trains all told ; and, as they started a few stations below, the first two trains, having been filled early rolled past without stopping. It was a glorious July morning, and the spirits of the crowd ran high. As the first train approached a great shout went up that was echoed back with a right royal will. The carriage windows were all wide open and filled with noisy laughing merry-makers. It was the first holiday in several months, and the pent-up feelings were given full freedom. The tumultuous enthusiasm was contagious, and I found myself shouting too. It seemed to me at the moment that I would gladly work a whole year if I could feel as actively, recklessly happy for one day as they all seemed. The singing and the shouting lasted all day, all the way to the Highlands and back, and at night when the trip ended - oddly enough nearly an hour before it was scheduled to - I was able to testify that drunkenness was conspicuous for its absence. Drinking there had been, but for a trip of that kind there was little intoxication.
As we started the homeward journey one of the men sitting opposite me, an ordinary typical miner, jumped up, exclaiming, "One hundred and forty-four miles to go. Where's the whiskey?" I made up my mind for an uncomfortable evening. Whiskey and beer were produced, and bottle after bottle was handed round till the men were fast growing hilarious. I was a stranger to them; but as usual I had endeavoured to be friendly, so the bottles were always offered to me. After my repeated refusals to drink, one well-meaning fellow searched diligently in a bag of many things till he had found a certain package, which he produced and held out to me with the words, "If ye'll no drink wi' us, will ye tak' some sweets ? You're decent company, so we maun treat you richt." At one point a man in the opposite corner to the one I was occupying leaned over towards me. He had been drinking a good deal, but was not properly drunk by any means.
"D'ye ken," he began, "I've worked a' my life amang stane in the pits, but I dinna ken onything aboot the mines. I dinna ken how the coal got into the pits. Comin' up this mornin', I was thinkin,' How do a' the hills get there? Some o' them look burnt and twisted-like as they'd been near fire, and others look different. Occasionally there is a field or a brae covered wi' sma' stanes. How did they get there? Did men put 'em there?" I hesitated before answering, wondering how best to explain the questions, when the man next to him, whom I had thought almost maudlin, rolled forward, his clay pipe dropping from his mouth as he spoke :-
"I dinna ken muckle aboot it, but I hae read a book by a mon, Professor Geikie!" From Kingussie to Killiecrankie he gave us his version of Professor Geikie in vivid graphic language, using homely but descriptive words, and making the matter very much clearer than I could have done with the book before me. He talked for nearly an hour, and as he talked his interest in what he was telling us about got keener and keener, and the effects of the liquor seemed to disappear before his increased mental activity. Later in the evening, when the moon was shining upon us from a clear blue heaven, that same man showed an equally conversant acquaintance with Young's "Astronomy," and he told some interesting things about the firmament. He had not merely read these books, he had studied them. "Where did you get hold of them?" I asked. "Oh! I picked them up at a second-hand shop in Dunfermline," he answered carelessly. Those men thoroughly appreciated that trip to Inverness, and it had not proved unprofitable to me. From that day on we were better friends.
Two small attractive stone and brick buildings stand on the main thoroughfare of the village two or three minutes walk above the "cross roads" where the Gothenburg is situated. One is the Public Library and Moray Institute, and the other the Aitkens Baths - both valuable and important features in the village life. The library is a most compact building, embodying a circulating library, a reading and recreation-room and a billiard-room all on the same floor. The games of draughts and dominoes were popular with the men, and owing to the shift system, there are always a number of men off work at every hour of the day, and I found that the readingroom was likely to be in use nearly all day, even in summer. Billiards is nearly always a popular game where it is accessible with working men, and the fact that during my sojourn there was but one table, was about the only drawback. (Note - A second table has since been added.) The distance between the library and the nearest public house is sufficient to entirely remove temptation from any who might feel their proximity as such. If the men ever play for drinks they must do their playing at one time and their drinking at another.
It was interesting to note the kind of books that were most used in the library. Henty is the ever popular writer among the boys. Robert Louis Stevenson, Stanley Weyman and Sir Conan Doyle and others of their classes were found to be in the greatest demand among the men. I was somewhat surprised to find that Tolstoy was read by a certain few. Marie Correlli also has a small following. Taken all in all, however, I am not sure that these somewhat vague statements can be taken as indicative of the literary tastes of the village, for there were only about two hundred members, and these the ones who really appreciated the value of the library and attendant privileges under the same roof. The success of the library is very largely due to the keen interest and stimulating influence of the librarian, who is himself a working man. The Gothenburg grants will probably tend to swell the membership, and as the library grows and the town develops it is to be hoped that it will become a more important factor in the lives of the miners.
A public bathing establishment must be a boon to any village, and especially to a mining community. The building is capitally equipped with a swimming pool thirty feet by twenty, individual baths and a vapour room which is an excellent substitute for a Russian bath. Adjoining the dressing rooms are two spray attachments. Everything about the place is modern and convenient. When the chairman of the Coal Company, whose gift it was to the village, formally handed the building over to the people, it was accepted by the treasurer of the Library Committee.
These two buildings stand for the progressive spirit of the village more than anything else. They are signs of advance along right lines, and as these interests come to take a larger and deeper place in the lives of the people, other attractions such as those afforded by the public houses and the clubs are bound to become subordinate.
Before passing to the more serious interests of the village, reference should be made to the interest in athletics. The football and cricket matches are followed with the keenest interest, and cycling and fishing are widely popular. Bicycles are getting very common among the men, and these enable them to keep in touch with neighbouring towns in a way that was previously impossible. In winter there is a good deal of dancing.
There are branches of the usual number of Friendly Societies in Kelty, the Shepherds and the Gardeners being the strongest. The mediaeval prototype of these societies were the trade or craft guilds, and now as then they are benefit rather than benevolent organisations, flourishing through necessity rather than by virtue of their social importance. Recently there has been a tendency to emphasize the social side, and a costume procession of the combined Friendly Societies is an annual event heartily looked forward to. "The object of this Society," say the rules of the "Blairadam Vine Lodge of Free Gardeners' Friendly Society," " is to provide, by subscriptions of the members, for the support of its members in ease of sickness or accident, and for insuring money to be paid on the death of a member, and for funeral expenses of the wives and children of members and of the widows of deceased members."
There is a great difference between the various trade unions. The Miners' Union, which I joined by paying one pound down and my dues fortnightly, is vastly stronger than the Brickmakers' Union, and the results are partially found in the contrasted length of the days of the two sets of workers. The objects of the "Fife and Kinross Miners' Association" as set forth in its rules and regulations are these:
(a) To raise funds by Levies and Contributions for the purpose of mutual support.
(b) To protect members when unjustly dealt with by Employers.
(c) To provide Sums of Money for Members and their Families in the event of Death.
(d) To Co-operate with other Organised Districts or Bodies with view of promoting the welfare of its Members, particularly when applicable to any of the above objects.
(e) To promote Labour Representation in Parliament and other public bodies.
There are many subsidiary rules, but two which are of more general interest, may be taken to show the nature of restrictions laid upon members.
Strikes And Disputes.
23. - "No district, or any part of a district shall be at liberty to come out on strike, unless by the authority of a majority of the members of the Association, or by recommendation of the Executive Board or Standing Committee. Any district, or part of a district, violating this rule will have no claim upon the support of the Association. And in every case, before a strike is resorted to, an attempt should be made to have the dispute amicably settled.
24. - "Every Member thrown out of employment by strike or lock-out, shall be entitled to receive nothing less than Eight Shillings per week, or, such other sums as the Board may agree upon. Half Members shall be entitled to half-rate.
Violation Of Eight Hours A-day.
28. - "As one of the fundamental objects of this Association is to maintain the principle of eight hours a-day underground, any Member known to violate the established rule of working only eight hours out of the twenty-four, unless when compelled to change his shift, and in that case, being eight hours off before returning, shall for the first offence be dealt with by the District Committee, and may be subjected to the penalties mentioned in the bye-laws, or the custom of the work. But, for repeating the offence, he may be expelled from the Association, and forfeit all claims on its funds. Members working on the fixed idle day shall incur the same penalties, unless permission to do so is previously granted by the Local Committee, on the understanding that another day be observed as a holiday by those granted the privilege."
Trades Unions, as fairly and as well managed as the Miners' Association, must redound to the good of both masters and men.
" Support your own enterprise and success is certain " is one of the advertisements of the Co-operative Store. Co-operation has done much for Kelty. It has brought out the business ability of men who would never have credited themselves with any remote qualities that go to make up the commercially successful man. It has demonstrated to the people that they can be their own managers, and it has brought some at least to look forward and realise the possibilities of further development along lines of self-government. It has come to fill so important a place in the village life that any word picture which failed to make mention of it would be leaving a prominent blank. There are 1,259 members scheduled in the 113th quarterly report, and, as this may largely be said to the membership of householders, the immense prestige that it has in the village is at once seen. What has impressed the people particularly has been its rapid rise from a very small beginning. The drawing for the Spring quarter of 1902 amounted to £14,727 3s. 10d. and the capital at the same date stood at £26,741 19s. 5d. Dividend day is always a great day among the women folk. There is a flutter of excitement which one feels in the very atmosphere, and although the dividends never fall below three shillings, and very seldom below three and fourpence, and rarely rises above three and ninepence, it arouses the keenest interest and speculation as to whether it will be a penny above or a penny below the previous quarter. It is a fact worthy of special comment that again and again when it has been suggested that liquor be sold in the store that there has invariably been a strong outcry raised against it. A grocer's license would naturally raise the dividends materially and that local feeling has all along been strong enough to resist this is most significant.
There is an old Fife proverb which says "Ye're no' aye gaun to kirk when ye gang doon the kirkgate." Traditionally the miner is not a pillar of the church. The Covenanters were largely agriculturalists. My experience was that whether the Fife miner believed in it for himself or not he was respectful of it, and when pressed argued that "the kirk was no sae bad."
There are three churches in the village ; one is well attended, one meagerly, and the third would not be placed with either. The summer is naturally a bad time in which to judge the church attendances, but the mid-summer communion service which I went to in one (the largest) was attended by 198 communicants, nearly half of whom were men. According to the Scottish Church and University Almanac (Note - 'The figures are from the Almanac of 1902) there are 433 members claimed by the two United Free Churches and 344 communicants by the Established Church. The first Sunday of my stay in the village I attended the 11'30 service in the largest church and was impressed by the solidity and appropriateness of the sermon - which was delivered without notes on the subject "The stature and fulness of Christ," Ephesians iv. 13 - the heartiness of the singing (there was no organ) and the attention of the congregation. I could not see the gallery but there were about 150 people in the area, 80 of them women and girls, 20 boys and the rest men.
One Saturday afternoon there was a Sunday School picnic which I attended. The entry that I made in my journal that same evening gives the details so succinctly that I cannot do better than quote the passage in full.
A charming spot on a private estate about a mile away was where the picnic was held
"I knew no one and no one knew me. I threw myself into the sport of the day with unwonted energy and had just the 'bestest' time. I carried the bairns on my back, ran races with the laddies and swung the lassies till I could swing them no longer, ate hokey pokey which I bought in penny quantities from an Italian ice cream man who strayed on to the field, drank lemonade, and when someone gave me a great bag of sweets to distribute - there must have been four or five pounds - I ran off to an elevation followed by nearly all of the children, some 200 of them, and scrambled several handfuls, then off I ran, followed by the whole pack of screaming, laughing children, to another brae where we had another scramble. When they were all fairly mixed up with each other in topsy turvy piles, off I made again Pied Piper of Hamlin-like with the whole troop behind. It was glorious fun. No one seemed to look upon me with suspicion after that At tea time the children were collected and told to sit down on the grass in a large circle and the superintendent announced that they would sing one verse of a hymn. This is what they sang :-
" Lord a little band and lowly
We are come to sing to thee
Thou art great and high and holy
O, how solemn we should be."
Poor little things - trying to be solemn at a picnic long enough to sing their hymn. It was so very Scotch. A few moments afterwards children and teachers were up again and at play, their fun in no way tinged with solemnity.
As I sat down to take my cookies, buns and tea, a finely formed young fellow sat down beside me and began a conversation with the words:-
"I have only been like this a little while."
I could not make out what he meant till he continued after a pause.
"I was converted about a twelvemonth since."
"Converted ? What do you mean by that?"
"Well. - By converted I mean – converted – converted -changed from one position to another. I was in sin; now I'm happy and peace fills my heart. I wudna change for onything."
"Why are you happy? What gives you that peace?"
His answer was lovely.
"I have meat that ye know not of."
He then told me that he worked as a brusher on the Company's time in the Aitken pit. "It is hard to walk a Christian life among workmen," he added, "unless you walk it all the time. They watch you so." He and two other Christians work together and help keep one another up. As I was interested to find out what his beliefs were I remained reticent, and merely threw out questions to draw him on.
"The good soul lives, the bad soul dies, or worse than dies. It is condemned to everlasting punishment."
"What kind of punishment ?"
"Everlasting burning and fire. We dinna ken the fuel, but it burns."
After that he told me about his father who for forty years has been fond of his pipe and his whiskey and who two months ago put them all aside and now leads a Christian life. I sounded him on smoking, cards and the theatre, and he said he "didna want ony o' them, but he wudna judge others." Presently he told me about the Christian Endeavour Society and the Y.M.C.A. and was working round to get me to join one or the other or both, when a lot of girls, Sunday School teachers, came up and asked us to play "French Tig " whatever that may be. He consented and so did I; but inasmuch as I don't want to become attached to any one circle just yet I withdrew. It is said that "Fife folk are fly," "French Tig" sounded fly - or suggested high flying at all events - and it was six o'clock and I had certainly had my share of the afternoon's fun."
Later on I saw something of the Christian Endeavour Society, and though not very large it was full of life. It seemed to me that it must give stability to the uprising generation of church members. It is a feeding ground for the church, and at the same time it has a steadying and strengthening influence upon the younger members. It helps to provide suitable social opportunities, while it is quickening the zeal and enthusiasm of its members to active work. The Sunday afternoon open-air meetings throughout the summer seemed to be a regular feature. All that I saw of the active members during the week in the pits or at the brickwork emphasized the consistency of their lives. What must be a specially pleasing feature to the ministers and leaders of the Society is the substantial support that is given by the few men in the place whose general outlook on life has been widened and deepened by educational advantages, men, for example, like the local doctors.
It is a far cry from the church to the club, yet there is a class, unfortunately a very large class, whom the churches utterly fail to attract. There are a number of men in every community who don't fit naturally into any clique, and to whom the usual social interests make no appeal. The church, the Christian Endeavour Society, the Y.M.C.A. are things clearly out of their ken. They may not have any group of companions, and taken all in all their lives lead along lonely roads. Then there are the wilder spirits, good fellows, spirited lads, who chafe against the limits of their world. They strike bounds at every reach. These are the kind for whom special attractions should, but don't as yet, exist. They are left to create their own amusements, and one of the most natural outcomes of their restless turnings is a club. There is a social smack about the phrase "the club." It rings in the ears and suggests comfort, cameraderie and a good time in leisure hours. But of recent years a new kind of club has come to the front in Scotland. It is usually known among its patrons as a "Workmen's Club." One of these "workmen's clubs" has become an institution in Kelty as a matter of fact.
The club is one of those drinking-places that have been much heard of recently in Scotland - though not so much talked about in country towns, perhaps, as in the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, where Sunday drinking has increased enormously. The clubs are really not clubs at all, if features other than drinking are considered. In Kelty the better men will have nothing to do with the place: but as there are several hundred men representing a definite section of the community who do support it, I determined to join the club for the same reason that I had joined the Miner's Union. I wanted to know the men who went there, and I wanted to know why they went. I sauntered down to the club one Saturday forenoon about ten o'clock. As I slank through the doorway of a square brick building whose windows were screened to prying eyes by panes of heavy, yellow ground-glass, I instinctively pulled my hat farther over my eyes. The inner hall was piled with cases of empty bottles, and a stench of spilled liquor and dirt filled my nostrils. I paused to read a notice announcing that a collection would that day be gathered for the family of one of the members of the club who had been killed in a pit disaster. From within a room to the left came the sound of many voices above the scuffling of feet.
Suddenly the door flew wide, and two men, one of middle age, the other scarce more than a boy, clutched in each other's arms, wrestled into the hall and sprawled noisily floorwards in a half drunken tussle, pushing me into a small room: a bagatelle-board in one corner, a table wet with beer-froth and bearing a half-emptied glass of whiskey, a number of plain wooden chairs thrown about any way over a dirty wooden floor, a few flaring lithographs and tobacco advertisements tacked to a cheaply papered wall - not the cosiest or tidiest of club-rooms, surely!
I crossed to the big room opposite. About fifteen men were lolling against the bar. Here again there was a nauseating sprinkling of dirt and slopped liquor, giving the place the general appearance of a city slum public-house. At one end of the bar a glass of beer had been upset, and two men were playing dominoes exactly in the sour pool. Next them stood two others playing draughts—playing for drinks. As the manager leaned over the bar to me I told him I wanted to join the club.
"Join ? All right; but your name must come before the committee. Just sign the book."
When I had signed the book I turned to go, thinking that I had done all for the present; but he stopped me -
"It costs one shilling to join."
"Very well. Do I pay now or after my name has been approved by the committee?"
"Oh, pay now. It will be all right."
On Sundays the club is open for a little while in the forenoon, and again in the later afternoon. It was a matter of note that the patrons were usually men apart from the typical life of the village. That the liquor problem is in truth a problem of "forgotten needs," at least in rural districts, was clearly illustrated on the Sunday afternoon that I spent in the club. It was the only other time that I crossed the threshold. I went early, so as to watch the men as they came in. The rooms had been well cleaned and aired, and the place was far more attractive than on the Saturday. Some of the men I knew, and many recognised me. I fell into conversation with the man nearest me. As we talked he grew confidential. He told me of his boyhood and the incidents that led to his leaving Scotland and going to Wales when he was a young man. Inclining his head close to my ear he whispered, "It was there I met my wife, and when we were married she didna understand what I said, and I didna understand what she said." He spoke so seriously that I immediately regretted having laughed at this. For a long time he studied the froth on his "shandy gaff," with his head resting on his hands. At last he added "It was kind of comic-like." He smiled ever so softly as his memory pictured the past anew - a solemn, weird smile, for old Andra' was gaunt and cadaverous in his expression and a smile fitted his face ill.
"She kenned one word of English : she cud ca' me ' Scotty'."
"How did you manage to come to an agreement when the time came for you to return to Scotland and you wanted to bring her with you ? "
"Weel, noo, I could not tell ye. It went along so smooth like that it a' came kind o' natural. We didna need to speak ; she understood me and I understood her. Ay! mon, she made a grand wife! When she was alive ye didna see me at a club or a publichoose. Na, na, when I had her I didna care aboot goin' awa' from the fireside. She took care o' me, she did." Poor old Andra'! He would not have been credited with feelings so deep. After a little he began again -
"Ye see what I am. I dinna ken muckle - I'm simple-like. I wudna gang wrang i' purpose, ye ken, but I'm easy led. When she was in the hame naebody led me but her."
"How long has she been dead ? " I asked.
"Twenty years. We were together sixteen year, and she's been dead twenty. I miss her as much as when she was first dead. I'm never without some remembrance o' her," and I watched his hand steal unconsciously to his inner waistcoat. When we parted, Andra' again surprised me - "I'm glad ye gave me a crack," said he ; "I dinna care muckle aboot the drink - it's the company, it's the crack I'm wantin' wi' someone, and I've had a gude crack wi' you."
CHAPTER VII - The Temperance Question And The Gothenburg Experiment
A stranger passing through Kelty any week day or evening, save on the fortnightly pay day would not be arrested by the intemperate habits of the people. On the whole I should repudiate the word "drunken " if applied to them. Drink they certainly do - the eight or ten licenses in the village of 5,000 inhabitants proves that - but there are circumstances which order their drinking and confine excessive drinking to stated times, to wit, the pay night, the day, or it may be the two days following, and holidays, especially at the New Year. There are indications that Sunday drinking is rapidly increasing, but the club rather than the public houses is responsible for this.
In certain English collieries the men are allowed light beer in the pits, but in Fife even this is prohibited and so far as I was able to observe this is a rule which the men universally honour. I never saw the slightest trace of liquor in the pits. Miners of all men know that clear vision, steady nerve and untrammelled wit are often the safeguard of their own lives and the lives of their neighbours.
Early one week one of my fellow workers on the day shift said with a ring of expected pleasure in his voice - "Next Saturday I'm in for a gude drunk."
"Why do you do that? " I asked.
"Och, mon, just to break the monotony."
I knew this fellow fairly well and I am sure that he was not habituated to excessive drinking. It was not to satisfy any craving that he looked forward nearly a week to getting drunk on the Saturday. Another man told me that his drinking was regulated by his wife. It was his custom to take all of his earnings home to her and each day she gave him so much from the surplus over and above household and other expenditures. This was a novel method to me and I thought it most excellent. A little inquiry disclosed the fact that other men follow the same custom.
It is somewhat dangerous to make any sweeping statement in regard to the drinking habits of the miners, for there is a number who regularly drink too much, and from the number of licenses to the population, from the amount of liquor consumed in the village, from the deplorable scenes (by no means unique in Kelty) on the pay-week Friday and Saturday nights it may be asserted that as a community it does drink too much. Whatever the inner facts may be, so far as I saw, drinking among the women seemed non-existent. One or two isolated cases are met with but these are locally notorious instances, and inasmuch as they excite the attention that they do they may almost be said to be the exceptions that prove the rule.
Yet the temperance question is very much to the fore in that little village under the shadow of Benarty, as it is in fact in many Fife villages at this moment, for one of the largest of the oft-discussed Gothenburg public house experiments is being made there.
There is no Mercat Cross in Kelty. The main corner of the village is commonly spoken of as the "cross roads." This is the natural trysting-place of the men after working hours and on off days. Approaching the cross roads from the South, or from the direction of the pay office one's attention is arrested by the fine stone building which stands prominently on the north-east corner. A fine bow window, neatly hung with lace curtains breaks the corner on the first floor. There is a nice air of respectability about the place that suggests some prosperous commercial concern. One is naturally surprised and interested upon reading the sign which runs in bold letters along one side between the ground floor windows and the first storey: "Kelty Public House Society, Limited." The men called it "The Gothenburg." It was a warm night in mid-summer that I came slowly up the brae from one of the pits at the foot of the road. It was the pay night and I had been on the "back-shift," but having come out of the pit early I had purposely made a detour to approach the village from that side. My piece box and tea flask jangled in my right hand. A dash of luminous green, merging into dun and saffron across the sky behind the hill, still marked the west. Not a breath was stirring, the lamp in my cap was still burning, flaring an uncertain circle in the dry road ahead. There were three or four of us, and despite the fact that we were not long out of the pit we walked along cheerily : we were always cheery on the pay night. As we stepped into the wider circle of the great lamp which hung above the Gothenburg, I removed the tiny lamp from my bonnet and blew it out.
"Come away, Bill, hae a wee dram afore ye gang hame."
I nodded assent and followed him past two doors marked "BAR" into a spacious room crowded with men. Some of them were in their working clothes, like myself, but most were washed and shaved, and dressed in fresh suits. Along the polished brass rail before the bar leaned a solid line of men, groups of three to six or more stood about the room or talked in farther corners, some animatedly, some boisterously, but there were no signs of rowdyism. The first glance showed nothing more than an ordinary barroom, somewhat larger than the average village public, but as long as I remained I saw no one properly intoxicated. It was the first night that I had visited the Gothenburg and I had purposely chosen a pay night. A spruce manager walked behind the bar, sometimes stopping to serve a glass of liquor but devoting most of his time to scrutinizing the patrons, keeping constantly on the alert for men who had already had more than they could carry without exhibiting signs of intoxication. Behind the bar, against the wall, were mirrors and rows of bottles usual in bar-rooms, and in a corner with a separate entrance to the bar was the "Jug Department" where the "off" liquor is dispensed. I saw Jim making for the door soon after I went in. Now I knew that Jim and certain other men of the better type who would not frequent ordinary public houses, did patronize the Gothenburg. The Gothenburg had a more than ordinary interest for me because no practical experiment of recent years in connection with the liquor problem in Scotland has attracted more widespread attention and met with such hearty recommendation, and such hostile criticism at one and the same time. The Kelty Gothenburg is one of the several in Fife, and though not the first it is the most imposing, and its distribution of profit has been such as to awaken more than local interest. At the end of the first year a grant of £50 was made to the village library, a district nurse was procured, and there began to circulate rumours of a bowling green, a public park and electric lighting. To sift the real argument on either side, to weigh them in the balance of right judgment and determine the net result I found to be an exceedingly difficult task. I approached the matter without prejudice, and before considering the criticism of experienced writers and social reformers I endeavoured to sound the man. I began by loafing round the bar with my eyes open and picking up casual remarks dropped by the men, and afterwards I approached the experiment from the theoretical, not to say scientific side, intent upon finding how far these several viewpoints were in agreement.
Since the experiment was started as recently as January 1, 1900, it is of considerable importance that the steps of its development be traced in at least brief detail. The population of Kelty was something under 4,700. It had five public houses, three licensed grocers, and one hotel. Owing to the rich mineral productivity of the district the village was rapidly growing, and though an additional license had recently been refused there was a growing feeling that another one would be granted before long. This however is a moot point. In the autumn of 1899 two public meetings were called to consider the proposal to establish a Gothenburg public house which was to be conducted by a committee, employing a paid manager, secretary, and such other assistants as should be found necessary. Local interest in the scheme ran high and it met with heated opposition from certain quarters, with the result that at the second meeting the motion was not only without a seconder but a resolution against the establishment of the house was carried. Eventually 1200 voting cards were issued for the purpose of a plebiscite, and to the question "Are you opposed to the granting of a licence to the Kelty Public House Company?" the following answers, which for convenience are here tabulated, were received.
Opposed to licence:-
Householders and resident voters, 318
Non-voters, men, - - - - - - - - - - - - - 124
Non-voters, women, - - - - - - - - - - - 296
In favour of licence :-
Householders and resident voters, 153
Non-voters, men, - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 117
Non-voters, women, - - - - - - - - - - - 111
Majority opposed to licence, 357
With this strong opposition the experiment was persisted in, the license was eventually granted, and the grand building erected at a cost of more than £3,000 by the solicitor of the Coal Company, the ostensible leader in these experiments. At the end of the first two years the profits for each year were, in round figures, £600.
One of the declared objects of the Kelty Gothenburg is "to counteract habits of intemperance." What its methods are we shall presently see. Opponents of the scheme sometimes say that the Gothenburg is being run by men never before publicly interested in the question of temperance but who now claim to be helping the temperance cause. Parenthetically, the secretary of the Kelty house, whose salary is £14 per year, is a teetotaler. As to this general statement, so far as I can see, it has no bearing upon the matter. It is one of the signs of the times that men never before interested in this question are taking an active interest in it, and one of the most energetic temperance movements in Scotland to-day is largely backed by so-called moderate men, who are supporting distinctly moderate measures, feeling that any small contribution to the solution of the problem of drunkenness is what is wanted; not extreme measures, and the Gothenburg claims to offer a rational method of reform. Private profits is one of the root causes of the condition of the present system, many reformers maintain. Its main plank is the elimination of private profits. Therefore it seems to me a hopeful sign that fresh minds are approaching the problem. This does not mean that the solution of these difficult and important questions is to be left to amateurs. Far from it. There never was a time when trained minds were more needed. It does mean, however, that there is a growing tendency among practical men of affairs to shake off the indifferentism of the past, that the long war waged between the so-called traffic and the extreme temperance party may give place to a wide-spread, charitable, sincere seeking after some reasonable, effective method of reform. For that reason, if for no other, it seems to me that the approach of comparative outsiders should be welcomed. The Temperance question has too long been in the hands of idealists. Idealism it needs, but idealism tempered by the practical. The phrase practical mysticism, practical idealism has passed into current use in the language. The practical mystic is the strong man among men. The Temperance cause has need for men of every opinion. There is room for the specialist and the amateur, the idealist reformer and the practical reformer. If the now turbulent cauldron of ideas which boils for the cause of temperance be kept going, some day something effective is well nigh certain to emerge from the troubled, restless surface. The Gothenburg public house is a kind of experimental laboratory or school. The same cause that has produced the Rechabites, the British Women and the Good Templars has also produced the masterly scientific work of Messrs Rowntree and Sherwell, and the statesman-like legislative temperance proposals of Lord Peel and his colleagues who signed the Minority Report. Each has its sphere. When the time is ripe all efforts will converge for the force which comes only through unity. An experiment which rises so far above the commonplace as the Gothenburg is deserving of serious consideration, for whatever its actual results may be it is the outcome of an honest striving after a satisfactory substitute for that most demoralizing institution which flourishes all over the land to-day - the public house.
The argument here appears that the Gothenburg system offers a respectable drinking house, and through its division of profit it places a premium on drinking, and hence its contributions toward "counteracting habits of intemperance" are delusive. The fact that I saw men go to the Kelty Gothenburg who would not enter one of the other public houses in the village might seem to support this view, but then there are other factors that must first be considered.
"The trouble with reformers has been," said Mazzini, "that they have been after purely material reforms. All reforms should begin with the regeneration of the individual, spread to the community, and then the nation." This may seem a truism, yet it cannot be too often reiterated that any attempt after reform leaves its mark on the public mind and an attempt like the Gothenburg experiments cannot but go to mould public opinion through the quickened interest of individuals and the accompanying reaction which will be felt by the nation cannot but be wholesome. The obvious fact so commonly overlooked by every class of reformers is that this a great well-rounded question, and that any single attack upon one point cannot accomplish everything. Those who are familiar with social conditions in the slums of great cities know only too well how intimately the temperance question is interlaced with other questions. Moral suasion is necessary, but moral suasion alone is not sufficient. Legislative effort is needed, but legislative effort alone will never bring about a far reaching measure of real reform. The oft quoted " You cannot make a man sober by act of Parliament," holds; what can be done, however, is to make it easier for men to live sober lives, just as legislation makes it easier for men to live honest lives. But even here we are still on the fringe of the problem, and before judgment may prudently be passed there are other elements which enter in and which must be duly examined.
In passing it may be of interest to recall the outcome of the remarkable moral temperance revival in Ireland, 1838-1842, under Father Matthew, perhaps the greatest moral temperance advocate that the world has known. At the time that he began his temperance crusade there were, roughly, 21,000 licenses in Ireland. In four years these diminished to 13,000, wholly owing to lack of demand for liquor. In other words, 8,000 publicans failed, were forced to close their doors simply because the temperance sentiment was so strong. This was purely the result of moral influence. The people of Ireland were not wise enough to make laws at that time, and when a few years later the awful famine descended upon them the moral restraint was no longer strong, there were no legislative safeguards, and the work of Father Matthew was largely undone. To-day Ireland has 18,000 licenses, or nearly as many as when Father Matthew began, and with only half the population. On the other hand, in Norway, once one of the most drunken countries in Europe, there was a revival of temperance opinion early in the last century accompanied by an amount of good legislation, and to-day in Norway, the consumption of alcohol is less than in any other country in Europe.
At a time when there is so much controversy current concerning the workings of the Scandinavian liquor laws, and so much speculation as to their effect if emulated in Great Britain, a certain familiarity with them is an advantage. In Sweden the per capita consumption of spirit has been lessened one-third since 1850. Norway shows the startling annual reduction of nearly 50 per cent. since 1876. "These results," say Messrs. Rowntree and Sherwell, "have been brought about by the joint action of Temperance effort and of wise national legislation ; the former could have done little without the latter, and in both Sweden and Norway its main service has been in creating the public opinion which was essential alike for the enactment, the enforcement, and the progressive improvement of wise and strong public law."
The same writers have elsewhere laid down five " conditions of success" which have characterised the Gothenburg experiment in Scandinavia, and which, they maintain must characterise the similar experiments in Great Britain, whether in the Kingdom of Fife or in other parts of the country. These conditions are : - First, "The elimination of private profit from the sale of drink." Second, "Public cupidity must not take the place of private cupidity and to this end the appropiation of the profit must be determined by clear statutory laws." Third, "In any town in which a company is established it must have a monopoly of the retail licenses, both ' on' and ' off.' " Fourth, "The system must provide for the full liberation of the progressive sentiment in a locality." Fifth, " If these companies are to achieve any high success they must be conducted as undertakings having for their object a distinct temperance end to which commercial considerations must be strictly subordinated."
Differing conditions may demand altered methods when a system is transplanted bodily from one country to another, and indeed the a priori judgment might easily be that this would follow of necessity. Any broad principle which attains a marked success in Scandinavia may do the same in Scotland; but it may fail. There is a trend running through all Scotch law which differentiates it from even the law of England, and unless this subtle philosophy be conformed with, any legislative action may go to one side instead of forward.
At the outset it may be well to state to what extent these five "conditions of success" are found in Kelty. The first clearly exists. Private profits are eliminated. In the second instance it may be argued that public cupidity is restrained from taking the place of private cupidity only in a limited sense. The third condition, namely that of a monopoly certainly does not exist. That the system provides for a full liberation of the progressive sentiment in the locality which is the fourth stipulation, may be disputed by some, but for purposes of the present examination it may be granted the doubt. While the last requirement, that the "undertakings must have a distinct temperance end," is claimed ; witness the words " to counteract habits of intemperance."
The object of my inquiries was twofold. In the first place, to determine the attitude of the inhabitants of the village towards the experiment, and secondly to determine as nearly as possible the value of the experiment as a contribution to the solution of the problem of intemperance. The words "Gothenburg" and "Norwegian" are persistently applied in popular use to these Fife public houses, yet, if the fivefold "conditions of success " outlined by Messrs. Rowntree and Sherwell be fair and full, there is a difference which may be of paramount importance, which may handicap, not to say change, the British system so essentially that the unbiassed judge must bear in mind that the present workings and results of the scheme in Norway and Sweden cannot harbinger the results of the present incipient schemes in Fife. And conversely an adverse criticism of the Scottish houses should not imply inherent weaknesses or general condemnation of the system as a system.
That there must be differences of environment goes without saying. Briefly, the conditions attendant upon the rise of the Scandinavian system were after this wise : Previous to the year 1855 the manufacture and sale of spirits in Sweden were exempt from excise charges while beer was looked upon as a temperance beverage. Every farmer being thus left free to manufacture his own "branvin" (which may be freely translated "brandy") most of the grain raised in the country was devoted to this purpose. According to Mr. John Walker, the number of stills throughout the country in the year 1829 was 173,124. In 1855 the system was radically changed, and through the passage of a law placing all distilleries under supervision and requiring a license of each one the number at once dropped to 3,481, and in 1876 there were only 410 left. At the same time the price of the liquor rose from one shilling a gallon to five shillings. A complete revision of the licensing laws introduced a due amount of taxation similar to that which at present exists in Great Britain and all these reforms helped to materially reduce the aggregate consumption of spirit. This act of 1855, also foreshadowed a scheme of company management which was particularly recommended nine years later by a local committee in the town of Gothenburg appointed to inquire into the causes of pauperism in that place. The recommendation suggested that the drink traffic be taken out of private hands and placed under company management for the benefit of the community. Shortly after, the first "Bolag” was floated. Seventeen licenses were held at the outset but by 1874 they had complete control of the spirit trade. Six per cent. of the profits are laid aside, and the remainder is divided in this way: to the community 7-10ths, to the State 2-10ths, and to the Provincial Agricultural Society 1-10th. This last tenth is offered to the farmers by way of compensation for the loss which they have sustained in being deprived of their right to free distillation.
The example of Gothenburg was presently followed by towns and villages all over the land and now no less than 92 towns in Sweden have given their retail liquor trade over to the Bolags (note - The word Bolag is the Swedish for company: Samlag is the Norwegian equivalent.). There are minor restrictions which go to make up part of the system, such as discontinuing the sale of liquor during the dinner hour of the working men : and no sales to intoxicated persons or children. The net result of this legislative activity has been the reduction of the number of public houses to a proportion of one to every 7,864 inhabitants. In Glasgow there is one to every 521 persons. In Kelty, excluding licensed grocers, there is one place where liquor is obtainable to, approximately, every 550. This rough division includes the women and children.
Norway soon followed in the footsteps of Sweden and in 1880 a law was introduced empowering the Samlags to take over all licenses through a system of equable compensation. The compensation was arranged on the basis of grant equal to the average yearly profits for the preceding three years. In Norway the profits are largely devoted to philanthropic purposes, and herein lies the chief difference between the systems of the two countries. In Sweden the profits are largely devoted to a relief of the rates. In Norway the Samlags sell only intoxicating liquors, the shops are generally small and unattractive while the Bolags of Sweden often attempt attractive rooms and to unite the sale of food with that of drink. In both countries the actual seller of the drink receives no part of the profits aside from a stated salary, but he often does receive a percentage on temperance drinks and food. The capital of the companies is generally small and the percentage on the dividends is restricted to the current rate of interest.
The application of this system in England is aside from our present purpose, for in Scotland the circumstances were peculiar and distinctive, and in examining the results which have been reached the Kelty house affords a typical and concrete example of the strength and weaknesses of this Anglo-Scandinavian system. A powerful coal company comes into possession of a district which has heretofore been chiefly agricultural. The opening of several pits introduces a colony of workers and their families, and a village comes into existence. Or in other cases an older village is augmented by the opening of new pits. Until late years it was the policy of the coal companies to resist all license applications, but in 1895, when the village of Hill of Beath, which was practically owned and controlled by one of the companies, and which had up to that time been kept free from any license, seemed unable to exist longer without a public house, the coal company applied for a license in order to forestall the granting of one to a private individual. The license was refused by 11 votes to 9, but it was granted the following year. The representatives of the Coal Company stated at the time that the application was made, that they would restrict their profits to 4 per cent. on the original expenditure and use the remainder for the common good of the village. Until the end of 1900 this house was managed by a company of five, three of whom represented the Company and two the miners. It was then found that this management was not all that it might be and a local company was formed under the name "Hill of Beath Tavern Society, Limited," part of the capital being subscribed by the miners, and the Coal Company sold its house to this Society for £1,200, which included a bank balance of nearly £300. Thus the idea began in Scotland against the expressed wish of the inhabitants.
In 1900 Kelty became possessed of one of these public houses purporting to be conducted on the Gothenburg system as we have already seen. The share capital was put at five shillings per share, no one person to hold more than 200 shares. The Committee of management consisted of eight members.
The fundamental points of difference between the management of the house and the true Norwegian system were noted in the paragraph following the enumeration of Messrs. Rowntree and Sherwell's "conditions of success." The manager here is paid a fixed salary of £2 per week, with house (the flat above the bar-room) coal and gas, but no percentage on temperance drinks. Immediately opposite the Kelty premises is an ordinary public, and the village being small, the others are all within easy walk, so that here, instead of a monopoly, it is forced to enter into competition with the other houses, at the same time that it is endeavouring to "counteract habits of intemperance!"
Its measure of success in point of cutting a niche for itself in the community may be judged from its balance sheet. For the first 2 years the profits were about £600 annually. To compare the bar receipts with the restaurant receipts the following quotations from the Minutes of the Society show the drawings for two weeks in July and two weeks in August during the term of my stay in Kelty.
The contrast here speaks for itself. The Gothenburg is competing with public houses, i.e., drinking saloons, not restaurants. And in any event a restaurant does not hold the same place in a village that it would in a city. In support of the somewhat vague statement made near the beginning of this chapter that the miners drink at regular intervals, the following table of daily drawings for a fortnight illustrates the point:-
It will be noticed that the Friday drawings of the first week amounted to five pounds eight shillings, while on the following Friday, which was the pay-day, amounted to twenty-one pounds ten shillings.
There is practical unanimity among the miners in regard to one or two points, namely, that there is a sharper lookout kept than at any of the other public houses for men who have already been drinking, making it more difficult for a partially intoxicated man to get served; and that the grade of liquor in the Gothenburg is on the whole superior. Both of these considerations may be taken into account when sifting the chaff from the grains of evidence. It is when the allocation of profits is taken up that the difficulties become more complex. A village nurse working in conjunction with the local physicians, public library grants, and a bowling green may sound very fine, but there are a goodly number who take the stand that one Kelty collier took with a certain investigator; "I object to it on moral grounds. I don't want to have my books or papers or anything else supplied out of drink money." Others again say that it is converting the public house profit into a weapon against the public house "itself for these are wholesome outside interests and theoretically counter attractions.
The medley of opinions in regard to the experiment leads one to believe that to try to separate them and judge between them is folly akin to the wisdom when doctors disagree. One who has been thoroughly familiar with the house from the very start considers that "it has justified its existence," adding that "despite the increase of population the drawings will not likely turn out larger this year than the first year : nor does this mean that other public houses are getting the better of it. It is a real reduction in drinking." An investigator who has written on this Bolag says :- "In Kelty it is evident that the house has increased drinking in the town." The villagers give all kinds of conflicting testimony. That drinking has been on the increase in the village during the last two years there seems to be little doubt But Messrs Rowntree and Sherwell point out three causes which may have contributed to this. 1. - The prosperous times. 2. - Increased population. 3. - Establishment of a Club. And in conclusion they remark: - "The defects of the Kelty experiment do not indicate any inherent defect in the principles of public management rightly applied and directed." This may be accepted as expert testimony.
For myself I do not see how any public house run in competition with a half dozen or more ordinary public houses, however well it may be managed, can diminish drinking. A man may not get the last glass which proves too much, in the Gothenburg, but he may get the first glass there, and then go elsewhere for the rest. If every public house in the village were placed under this system, obviously, no one could get served who showed the slightest effects of drink, and drunkenness would consequently be held in check. That it makes drinking "respectable " to any large extent I should be inclined to doubt. And I could find no adequate proof to support the assertion that it is responsible for the increased drinking in the village. The liquor dispensed is less raw than in many other places, and the portion of profits which is devoted to practical purposes must have a certain restraining and counteracting influence. It is not true of Kelty, but in one village the bowling green adjoins the public house. This I believe to be distinctly bad. The counter attractions should be far enough removed from the house to make a flying trip between games (of anything from bowls to draughts) inconvenient. Putting aside its claims to "counteract habits of intemperance," which under the present existing conditions I believe to be impossible, and judged solely on its merits as a public house, I am inclined to believe that the balance of evidence is very slightly in its favour. This in spite of its failure to demonstrate that it can, as it should do, "counteract habits of intemperance." Furthermore, its existence seems to me to have been justified by the amount of genuine public opinion, pro and con, which it has been the cause of creating. It may or it may not be a decided advance on the old form of drinking shop; it is at least a step forward. And it has stimulated thought and interest in the whole great question of temperance as few kindred experiments have done. (The temperance question comments are slightly extended in the chapter on "Conclusion.")
CHAPTER VIII - CONCLUSIONS
From a hilltop above Kelty one looks over the broad valley which marks the western boundary of the Kingdom of Fife where it runs into the vale of Kinross. Nearly twenty collieries are visible round about, all within the Fife lines; for beyond the point sentinelled by Benarty above Loch Leven the district is purely agricultural, green and golden harvest lands stretching as far as one may see, field after field till they roll their rich fringes over the first steppes of the Ochils. The contrast is deep and effective. This coal district is supposed to be the most northern limit of extensive coal fields in Great Britain, and as if the wealth of vaster fields were here concentrated the seams are many, broad, and usually most accessible. Kelty is claimed by the parish of Beath and as long ago as 1606, according to old documents, the coal pit of "Kelty-heuch " was conferred to William, Earl of Morton, by his father. At that time the amount of coal mined amounted to four or five tons a day. Now it is sometimes more than 1700 tons a day in the Aitken pit! In spite of this ancient record Kelty is essentially a new village. Walking through its long drawn out streets one is impressed by its youthfulness - score upon score of fresh brick miners' houses, company built; every now and again a neat little cottage, or it may be a row of individual houses, built by some of the more prosperous and thrifty men ; an attractive library, and next it a compact public bathing house; a comparatively new church; a handsome main corner building which might be a bank, or a store, but which as a matter of fact is the "Gothenburg" public house building. All these things tend to attract attention rather than the older buildings. The great difficulty with Kelty has been that it has outgrown itself altogether too fast and has consequently been subjected to various inconveniences. I went to Kelty because I was interested in it and in its people. Its ways were new to me, sometimes strange, but I tried to catch the spirit of the people. And now that I am constrained to share with others as much of that experience as I may I have, in the preceding pages, set down much of what I found there, and I have tried to be as full as the circumstances will permit, but above all else I have aimed at fairness. Lest undue emphasis may appear to have been laid upon one phase or another of the life, and since I may here briefly recapitulate and perhaps venture to intrude a few more personal observations, I shall aim to let this chapter both in tone and matter convey as best it may my impressions and to indicate both the attitudes of my approach and my leave-taking.
At the outset I felt that there must needs be certain surface barriers between the men and myself; but concealed beneath their mannerisms and mine I knew that there must be common feelings, emotions, and even ambitions. I therefore took up my life amongst them with a degree of sympathy, prepared to clasp the hand whenever I found it open. Their world was sufficiently different from mine to discount any preconceived theories. Any respect that may have been lacking for them as workers was thoroughly rooted and established before I left.
Looked at from whatever point one chooses, pit work is serious labour. It has its compensations to be sure, but the amount of discomfort that pit-workers become accustomed to as part of their regular routine must be experienced to be appreciated. However severe manual labour a man may have to get his shoulder to above ground, he always has the advantage of two things which are usually lacking to the miners - a high roof above him, and daylight. The toilers in the pits must carry their own sunshine with them - and for the most part they do - and the nature of the work is such that it develops many of those qualities which go to make up splendid manliness, courage, determination, trust in their neighbours, and along with this a corresponding trustworthiness and dependence in themselves. A man should have a sturdy constitution to stay him in the darkness of the pit depths. Exercising every muscle severely, his body often bent more than double, splashing and wet with water from unseen founts, exposed to innumerable dangers from which there is no escape save through Divine Providence; these are not the things for a man physically poor to brave and endure rashly. Given constitutional fitness, however, these things make strong men stronger, and longevity tables show that as working men's lives run the miner's is a long one. Sudden climatic changes, or even the ordinary rigours of winter alternating with the heat of summer do not affect or even reach him. The demands upon his endurance, physical and moral, are constant and may be met only by long and arduous training.
In the chapter on brick-making I took occasion to compare briefly the effect upon the men of the eight hour day (not including meal hours) with the brick workers. I found that I could work hard for eight hours a day without excessive fatigue, but that longer than this I could not work without feeling it a strain. The last two or three hours of each day at the brick work took more out of me than the first eight. I repeat what I said in the earlier reference to this point, that "from the economic standpoint, as well as a humanitarian, I have little hesitancy in giving as my firm belief that, in the long run, the eight hours day yields the best return, for the men remain capable longer, and the standard of the work is higher." The argument is sometimes advanced that if the eight hours' day were made universal the supply of labour would be inadequate to the demands of the day. To this I can only reply, that it seems to me that any economic or other academic theory which must be upheld at the expense of a man's physical strength and general comfort must contain some inherent fallacy. Any standard set for men that is so grievously taxing cannot be a righteous standard. It is possible, very probable, that there are kinds of work which men can stick to longer than eight hours a day without exhaustion. But with work as exacting as mining, eight hours a day is as long as the average man can labour at his best. Before I went to the brick work I had noticed that the brick workers were less ready to take part in any form of recreation after the day was done. For myself I was unable to do much after working from 6 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. - including, of course, the two periods of three quarters of an hour each for meals. If men lived to work this might be allowed to continue with no voice raised in protest. But this attitude cheapens life so terribly; it re-acts upon a man's character and his very nature; it unfits him for moral growth. A man who works all day and comes home too sodden with weariness to do anything but dose over a newspaper and a pipe before a fire, cannot be expected to develop very far mentally or spiritually. These men are not physical machines. They have minds, they have souls, and any system of work which necessitates starving either mind or soul, is not one that can stand for long. In laying emphatic stress upon the eight hours' day, the Miners' Union is rendering a service to the masters as well as to the men. The man who is well taken care of and not run till he runs down every working day of his life can do better work and yield better return to his employer.
The wages question seems to be one of perennial seriousness. Judged solely as wages the miner's earnings are good. Compared with the wages of many other workmen they are good. There is room for a good deal of controversy over this question however, when the details of the whole system are considered. It is practically impossible to state even the approximate profit from coal for there are so many outlets, not only as actual cost expenditure, but also as reserve funds, funds set aside for depreciation, opening of new pits, etc. There is no question that some pits yield much greater profits than others, and that the profits of some companies are infinitely greater than the profits of others. Why, then, should the workmen in the pit which produces large profits be kept upon the same level as the workmen in the pits where the profits are comparatively small? Are the arguments about" unsettling the market" as deep and real as they may appear at first glance? The employers are not restricted to the amount or proportion of their profits, why should the upward tendency of the men be curbed? These queries open up a vast question, but the replies which shower in, do not, it seems to me, do more than prove the unsatisfactoriness of the entire system of work and wages as it exists to-day. (Mr. Robert Smillie, as Vice-Chairman of the Conterences held early in 1901 between members of the Conciliation Board of the Coalowners of Scotland and the Scottish Miners' Federation, at one point said : " When you invest your capital and claim a dividend of 5, 10, and as high as 40 per cent., you also claim that at the end of your term of working collieries, you ought to be able to get back your whole capital and no less than that. A miner invests his whole capital at 4s., 5s., 6s., or 8s., a day, but he can set nothing aside for depreciation, and at the end of his life he does not realise his invested capital—he goes to the poorhouse. Now, I think that with less than 8s. a day it is impossible that he can set aside anything for depreciation. He ought to claim that he should be able to set something aside.")
Of course things are moving, and moving in the right direction, therefore my feeling is, that the more that can be done to keep them moving the better.
One is naturally sceptical of radical changes. Save in rare instances they are unhappy in their results. The difficulties tend to disappear as the bond of sympathetic interest between men and masters grows stronger, and this is the fundamental point in my thesis, perhaps the most important impression that I have carried away with me from Kelty. The prime differences between classes of men, the most crying evils, arise through misunderstandings and misapprehensions.
The point of view of the men with whom I wrought was almost invariably the point of view of the working man, and if it was suggested to them that there was another side to a question it was pretty sure to be admitted with keen suspicion. Very much the same thing may be said of the employers in their position. They often make strenuous efforts to see the side of the men and to feel the motives that inspire their views, but somehow these attempts so often prove futile.
If at this point I might venture a theory it would be this. The Fife miner (and I don't know that he differs greatly in this particular from other Scottish working men) desires nothing more than a fair chance to develop and to grow, at least apace with his employers. If education proves unsettling that is the fault of the nature of the education that he gets.
In Kelty the Company owns approximately two thirds of the houses in the village. Most of the other third are owned by the men, but the Store owns a small number of these, and the homes of the small tradesman make up a proportion. These houses are for the most part singularly attractive from the outside, and cosy and homelike within. This is the sort of thing that the men do for themselves when the land and other restrictions are removed and they are left free to make homes of their own. They are given scope for exercising a little taste and individuality. They take pride in their home, and tending the garden becomes a supreme pleasure. The miner's wife seizes the opportunity to give rein to her womanly instincts which appear when she is left free to make the home in her way. In short, it raises the whole standard of life. Why should the entire family of an employee of a Company whose published output of coal for the year 1900 was over two million tons, a Company issuing such enormous dividends, - why should these people be obliged to cramp into two small rooms ? Add to this the evils, perhaps at the present time unavoidable, of the lodger system whereby people occupying two or three rooms take in several lodgers, and the result is obvious. A demand is made for men to help sink a new shaft or to enlarge the workings of an old pit, the work is made ready for them but not the housing accommodation, such as it is, until sometime after. Overcrowding is inevitable under the present system in towns and villages that are growing as rapidly as Kelty and certain other Fife villages. Looking at these things merely as I found them, striving to restrain all prejudice, I could not help putting the question to myself - Is it fair ?
The cost of a miner's house of the kind built by the Company ranges from £100 to £135. The rentals are fixed, and though owned by the Company, the rise and fall of wages effect no corresponding fluctuation in rents. This is another grievance of the men, and though perhaps not a very sore one is worthy of a passing thought.
The matter of how utterly different are the standards of this mining world from those of the larger world beyond and around it, has been commented upon so often that to bring it up again may seem unnecessary but an incident that occurred one Sunday night illustrates how conscientiously they adhere to the standards which they do hold. I was sitting in a kitchen chatting with one of the men, when a young girl was somewhat rudely rebuked, as I thought, by her mother, for merely humming the refrain of "White Wings." Not suspecting the real reason for the rebuke I asked her why the lassie shouldn't sing - it was a good tune - whereupon she turned on me almost fiercely:
"Dinna ye ken that this is the Sabbath day ? There is a time for everything, a place for everything, and a day for everything. The Sabbath day is nae day for sich like songs as that."
An anecdote rather than an incident, but revealing a trait, came under my notice one afternoon in a conversation between two women. One was regretting that "swear words" were coming to figure frequently in her husband's conversation.
"My mon," replied the other, "never swears - except in the pit. O' course he swears with the men below ground, but when he comes up, never a swear."
Left to themselves in off hours the men who do not have fireside ties (and some who do) are inclined to seek some outside activity or relaxation. Many of them walk a good deal, especially on Sunday. There are a number of charming walks a little outside of Kelty, through Maryborough and towards Kinross, and on the Blairadam estate - to the Kerry Crags with associations of Scott, the ruins of an old Castle of the Lindsays, Benarty, Loch Leven and many more. The miners are not uncommonly fishers. Bicycling is becoming more and more popular. The grosser, or I might say, more social spirits turn to the Club or the Public-house. One or two groups of men playing cards on the grass by the roadside not far from the railway line attracted my attention day after day. The library has its circle and the various organisations of the Churches have theirs. The Friendly Societies are tending to become somewhat more social, and this is a hopeful sign. These men are quite capable of working out the salvation of their own leisure if they but have the opportunity.
Politically the Fife miner is a most canny individual. Liberal traditionally he does not evince that same enthusiasm for fresh movements that many of his brother miners in some other parts of the country do.
As for the Church influence, I think it may be said to be real - what there is of it. "Conversion " is a scientific fact in their lives. Their religion does become a dynamic influence. It is of a homely conservative type, but as with most simple things, it is true. In a word, the religion of the Fife miner is more in his everyday life than in his prayers or his church going.
Under the heading, "The Temperance Question and the Gothenburg Experiment," the actual state of the temperance question in Kelty was dealt with both in its direct and indirect bearings to the "Gothenburg " public house. This enterprise was started to "counteract habits of intemperance;" it was hoped that it would help to diminish drunkenness in the village. This it can hardly be said to have done. On the other hand it has clearly justified itself through the widespread general interest in the temperance question that it has aroused, and if it may be compared to an ordinary public-house it is, in my estimation, a slight improvement. There is an elimination of private profits, which is a fundamental advance. The profits are used in part, for the common weal of the community, and this does not tend to materially increase drinking so far as any facts bearing on this point as yet show. Wholesome counteracting influences are the most effective means of keeping men away from the public house. This point seems to me so important, that a further illustration of the need for considering it at all times in connection with the temperance question is in keeping with the trend of this chapter and germane to the present phase.
Emile Souvestre has pointed to the crux of the situation in Un Philosophe sous les Toits. "Economists," he says," have been trying for a long time to discover how best to employ the energies of men. Ah! if they could but discover how best to employ their leisure! Labour in plenty there is sure to be. But where look for recreation? The daily work provides the daily bread, but laughter gives it savour. Oh! all you philosophers! Begin the search for pleasure! Find for us if you can, amusements that do not degrade, joys that uplift. Invent a holiday that gives everyone pleasure, and makes none ashamed." There never was a person yet who has studied this problem as it is, among those who are its greatest sufferers, but who feels the pressing need for reform along the lines of recreation. This side of the question looms very large when seen near to. At the same time there are other matters which are closely allied, and the following conversation which I once had with a group of city working men brings them out with no little force, at the same time it emphasizes afresh the point which I am here endeavouring to lay special stress upon. They were a company of ordinary typical Scottish working men—a mason, one or two factory hands, an ex-soldier—and I was the only outsider present. We were discussing the public houses in a general way, and I was interested in getting their views upon temperance efforts.
"If you are to keep the working man out of the the public hoose, you maun gie him better places to live in," said one. "I come hame at night weary. The pub is a cheerier place than the hooses of this part of the toon. Mak' the hame better and he'll no' want to gae near the pub."
"The pubs have 'free-an-easies' on the Saturday nicht. Ye should gie the working man gude concerts and smokers," threw in a second.
"Do you know, “ inquired a third, "do you know that there is not a place in this part of the toon where a working man can gie hisself a wash ? "
That I thought a most penetrating and important query. Too often a man drinks because he is uncomfortable, there is something the matter with him and he does not know what. He takes a glass of liquor on chance. En fond his discomfort is due to hygienic causes.
"I dinna ken aboot this," put in another, "but I ken fine that there should be enough men's clubs for every working man in the toon."
"Yes," interrupted a fifth "you should gie us more Clubs, you should gie us decenter hooses, and baths I suppose, but you know, you can't reform an old stager like me. It's no use. These things are a' gude, but there are some like me. We are too far gone. What you can do is to gie Clubs an' sich-like to the bairns. Interest them instead of lettin' 'em run the streets an' they'll ne'er hae the desire for't."
Up to this point I did not utter one word. These remarks came spontaneously from them. The majority of these men would agree that the temperance problem is to a very large degree an "Amusements of the People" problem. This is nearing bedrock, but there are some, like the last man quoted, who are not to be reached by any amount of amusement. In an analytical examination like the present one, it cannot be hoped to do more than point to the vulnerable points and suggest what experiences prove the effective remedies, and to define as dogmatically as is possible the impregnable points and suggest how they may best be battled with. "You don't know what you are talking about," said a confirmed drunkard to me once, "you were never drunk. When you are drunk you feel a great man. Look at me, what am I? I'm nobody. But when I'm drunk I'm everybody's master." Others have testified to the hopeful mood induced by alcohol. Professor James asserts that"the sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and criticisms of the sober hour - It is in fact the great exciter of the yes function in man. It brings its votary from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it. To the poor and unlettered it stands in the place of symphony concerts and of literature." On all of these grounds drunkenness may be combated, but it is essential that we should know the special relation of each individual to the whole problem and be fully aware just how far individual appeal is likely to carry us. I am aware of the danger of trespassing at too great length upon this topic. But I am so convinced that the supercilious indifference of many social reformers to the power of moral correctives, and the shameful unbelief of moral advocates, often their total neglect of the other side, are together responsible for much stagnation in the forward work of this question. A chain must first be thrown round it and then tightened with equal force from every point - and this with the only hope that some day there may be left as foremost difficulty the the well-nigh insoluble one of the heredity taint.
The Gothenburg experiment, then, has been of immense value not only to Kelty and to Fife, but to the country at large in focusing all kinds of minds upon this important problem. It must be borne in mind that this is still an experiment which is in its early stages. The whole broad question awaits action. In the meantime it is well to suspend judgment and at least give this scheme time to prove its worth, or, if it is to be, its inefficiency.
After only one summer among the Fife miners I dare not presume to pass any judgment, presuming that I know them. My impressions. however, were bought with a price, and the record of the whole transaction I have tried to set down here clearly, frankly, and above all fairly.
The work, the play, the serious interests and the men have all been dealt with. After all is done and said, I worked, and I played, I joined the Union and the Club, and went on jaunts, and Sunday-school picnics, not for the work's sake, nor the play's sake, nor for the benefit of the Union, the privilege of the Club, or the pleasures of the jaunts and picnics, but rather that I might get closer to my miner in as many different ways, and see him in as many different lights as possible. It was the Fife miner whom I wanted to know. I found his life very different from my own, but I accepted it as I found it. And now in conclusion I desire to express for what it is worth, my impressions summarised and set down as a concrete whole. The feelings with which I have come away are mingled respect and admiration ; my recollections of the hard experiences in the pits and above ground are lightened by hope. The miner has his crudities, his roughness, his faults. Of these I have not been sparing. But when I place myself by his side, feeling that my own are perhaps less apparent, and judging by the standards of the eternal verities, I am almost startled to confession ; - I make haste to put down as my last view of him the one word, APPRECIATION.
25 Upper Grove Place,
Edinburgh, Sept. 7, 1902.
Dear Mr. Weir,
There seems to be a belief common among the Fife miners that the dividends of the Fife Coal Company a year or two ago amounted to 52.5 per cent. During my stay at Kelty, I found that this was universally accepted by them. You, being more conversant with these things and more familiar with the men, can perhaps tell me if I am right in accepting this as the commonly asserted fact.
I am further led to believe that the actual declared dividends are somewhat misleading to the outsider owing to the so-called "watering down" of the shares. This "watering down" as I understand it, consists or consisted in so adding to the original shares that each one is now worth three times its original value. This is the explanation that the men give, and if it is wrong or fallacious, will it not be asking too much of you to put me right? Believe me,
(Signed) KELLOGG DURLAND.
FIFE AND KINROSS MINERS' ASSOCIATION.
Miners' Office, Victoria Street,
I have your letter inquiring about the Fife Coal Company's dividends and the "watering down" of stock. I think you don't exaggerate as to the dividends. The "watering down" of stock is sometimes difficult to understand, and I do not presume to a knowledge of the inner workings of the Fife Coal Company: but this I can confidently assert, that I have pointed out the fact that the share capital of the Fife Coal Company was tripled in value by a stroke of the pen for the purpose of concealing the actual amount of dividends paid from time to time. This I have done in the presence of the Managing Director of the Company and no attempt at contradiction was made.
Yours faithfully, (Signed) JOHN WEIR.
No. 12 Proceedings at Conferences
Between Members of the Conciliation Board of the Coalowners of Scotland AND The Scottish Miners' Federation.
(Report of meeting held on 8th February 1901. Pages 71-720
The Vice-Chairman…………… John Wilson in a circular to the shareholders said that even in dull years they paid 42 per cent. in dividends.
The Chairman - After rubbing out two-thirds of their capital.
The Vice-Chairman - Of course, that was their lookout. (Laughter.) They paid 42 per cent.
The Chairman - That was a financial transaction as Mr. Carlow said.
The Vice-Chairman - Mr. Carlow's people paid 40 per cent. And for that it requires 2/- a ton, so that Mr. Carlow must have had a gross profit of 2/- a ton on the whole output. That is a most extraordinary thing, and a far higher realised profit per ton than even Mr. Nimmo says. They earn 1/9 and Mr. Carlow's people alone have earned 2/- a ton.
Mr. Carlow - I don't think that it was extraordinary, considering the wages that the men were getting. Do you know how much we paid each person employed underground last year? They averaged £105: 9/- per man and boy employed for the twelve months' working.
The Vice-Chairman - That should almost have kept them comfortably.
Mr. Carlow - Yes, and we should get a little extra when the men are so well treated. It is for men and boys, you know; it is per person employed.
The Vice-Chairman - That is a very fair wage indeed, and I am very glad to hear it. I hope they will earn as much this year. For my knowledge of Mr. Carlow, I feel sure that he has no very great desire to have his men and boys working for any less than £105.
Mr. Carlow - So long as I get 50 per cent. I don't mind.
Note :- The Chairman was Mr. A. K. M'Cosh, representative of the Coalowners ; the Vice-Chairman was Mr. Robert Smillie, representative of the Scottish Miners' Federation. Mr. Carlow is the Managing Director of the Fife Coal Company.