Mining District Report 1845

- by the Commissioner appointed to inquire into the operation of the Act 5 & 6 Vict. c99, (Mines and Collieries Act 1842)  and into the state of the population in the mining districts

In the midst of the wild and elevated moorlands which separate the southern part of Lanarkshire from Dumfriesshire, are the two mining villages of Leadhills and Wanlochhead; standing about a mile and a half apart, on either side of the water-shed, between 1500 and 1600 feet above the level of the sea, and surrounded by large undulating masses of bleak mountain. They are approached by roads winding through the gorges of these hills, which are here about 12 miles across. The first-named village contains a population of about 900, of whom 120 are miners; the second about 800, of whom 240 are miners. The lead-works of the former have been in existence upwards of three centuries; the latter about a century and a half.

The full and generally favourable account of the moral and intellectual condition of the population of Leadhills, and the details of their mode of working, &c., given in 1841 by Mr. Fletcher, secretary to the Children's Employment Commissioners, leave nothing to be added respecting these works (which are under lease to the Messrs. Borron, from the Earl of Hopetown) except that the want of shelter to the boys engaged in sorting the ore, noticed by Mr. Fletcher, has been since remedied by the erection of proper sheds; and that the improvement then in progress in the quality of the education, which had fallen below its former standard, was still continued.

The lead works of Wanlochhead were leased to the Marquis of Bute till 1842, when they fell into the hands of the proprietor, the Duke of Buccleuch. The general arrangements and the mode of management continue the same. The lead is raised by contract-work, and is smelted on the spot. It is then consigned to agents for sale, the final settlement with the men taking place about a year after the ore is raised. The working sets change every six hours - an additional hour being occupied by every man in preparing his tools and his wood for the support of the roof, &c. The earnings at this rate of work amount to about £25 clear per annum ; but by extra contracts a man will often earn £8 or £10 more. They have house and garden free, and two carts of coals at a reduced price. The boys are employed under ground in bringing away the rubbish from the places of work, the ore being raised to the surface by a water-balance. They also help to dress the ore above ground. The smelters, of whom there are 14, make about £5 per annum more than the miners. The females of the family earn from 3s. 6d. to 6s. a week by tambouring. The total earnings of the family, therefore, enable them to live in comfort. The nature of the trade not enabling settlements to be made more frequently than once a year, advances are given as required. Besides occasional sums from time to time, £4 are advanced in October, to heads of families, to buy a stock of beef or mutton to salt for winter, or hay for the cow; £2 to young men, and from 15s. to 18s. to the boys who dress the ore. In June from £1 to £2 per family is advanced to purchase peat. In April about 6s. for seed-potatoes ; and also from £100 to £120, on the whole, to different families for the purchase of cows. Forty-six out of 240 have cows. They pay for "cow-gang" on the moor 5s. 2d. per annum. Each has also a small plot enclosed, on which he will raise about 100 stone of hay ; besides this, 150 stone is purchased at 5d. to 6d. per stone. The plot (which is upwards of 1500 feet above the sea-level) may yield also a few potatoes and a little oats, cut green for the cow. The most regular advances are in the articles of meal and barley. Of these a stock is kept, under the superintendence of one of the clerks; and at the beginning of every month a supply is furnished to each applicant. This store is convenient for the neighbouring farmers, who are paid ready money for their meal whenever they choose to bring it to market there. It is also an advantage to the miners, inasmuch as the meal is charged to them at a price yielding only 5 per cent, profit to the store, whereas the profit which would be charged by any retail shopkeeper would be at least 10 per cent. The character of the manager of the works is a sufficient guarantee that no higher profit is made; which, allowing for rent of building, cost of management and loss, affords no more than the ordinary interest of capital not employed in trade. The amount of saving to a miner with a wife and four children, by this privilege, may be thus shown: - his consumption of meal per month would be 8 stone, 12s. ; barley, 1 stone, 1s. 6d., equal to 13s. 6d. per month, or £8 per annum. Five per cent, upon this sum is 8s., which is the amount he saves. The Act against paying wages in goods does not apply to the case of lead mines. But if any consequences of this species of truck could be pointed out, injurious to the mining families at these works, there can be little doubt that the practice would be discontinued, although it does not come within the terms of the Act. Faithfully managed as it is, there can be no doubt of its causing the above-named amount of saving ; and being restricted to the sale of meal, it leaves an open field for the growth of small shops, for the sale of groceries and other articles of ordinary consumption. Several such shops have in fact sprung up ; owing their origin to the small and gradual accumulations of the labouring men, and affording at once a profitable investment, and an inducement for the continuance of provident habits; five of these are kept by miners, and three by widows.

The balances receivable at the end of the year are from £1 to £12. The ready money coming in from time to time from the tambouring supplies groceries and other ordinary articles of family expenditure. Butcher's meat is used once or twice a week. There is no public-house in the village, but beer and spirits are sold at the turnpike-gate, an objectionable place for such a purpose. Their habits are temperate and prudent. There had been no arrestments of wages for the last two years. Some, who have the command of ready money, employ the carrier to bring their groceries, &c., from Glasgow, a distance of 42 miles. A few among them were depositors in the savings' bank; four young men had become schoolmasters, and one was a student at the College at Edinburgh; but the demand for labour at home prevented many from seeking their fortunes elsewhere.

There is a benefit society, supported by a payment of £1 per cent, upon the miners' wages, and by a contribution from the Duke of Buccleuch. There is also a widows' fund, deriving its chief supplies from a very objectionable source. When a boy is first admitted into the works, from the age of about 16 to 20, he is allowed l0d. a day, and continues at that rate of payment for a year and a half, or more. The worth of his labour during that time is 20d. a day, or £26 per annum. He receives, per annum, for his labour £12 10s., and for powder, candles, and tools, £3 10s., in all £16. The remaining £10 goes to the widows' fund. Thus it appears that the widows, of whom there are at present 15 on the fund (receiving 6d. a week each) are supported by the boys and young men, although there may be not the smallest connexion or relationship between them. This sum is taken from the young men at the very time of life when it is most important that they should be encouraged in economical habits on their own account. It is a tax on their exertions, longer continued, and far greater in amount, than is sought to be enforced by the men in some trades, by way of entrance money or " footing," and which is forbidden wherever it is in the power of the employer to prevent it. To the extent of its operation it throws the burden of supporting the poor upon the labour of those just commencing the struggle of life, to the relief of the wealthy on whom it ought to fall. If it is intended to inculcate the duty of charity towards the suffering and unfortunate, such lesson would probably be better learnt if accompanied by a smaller sacrifice, and if others were to bear their proportion of the burden.

In addition to the 6d. per week from this fund the widows receive 14lbs. of oatmeal per month (1s. 6d.), and one cart of coals per annum, with house rent free.

The intellectual and moral condition of this mining population, both at Leadhills and Wanlochhead, is, according to the concurring testimony of all who are acquainted with them, above the average. Both villages are remarkable for their circulating libraries, which are probably unsurpassed in the quality and number of books by any library belonging exclusively to working men. Both are also distinguished for the length of time they have been in existence ; that of Leadhills having been founded in 1741, and that at Wanlochhead in 1756. Both consist of at least 2000 volumes. A handsome addition to the latter has lately been made by the Duke of Buccleuch. The subscription is 2s. per annum. The books are exchanged once a month. They are kept in a house by itself in perfect safety. The school at Wanlochhead. has been long established, and is attended by all the children in the village. The salary of the master is provided partly by his Grace, and partly by the school fees. The school at Leadhills is also well attended. It is said that the parents so appreciate the good opportunities of education provided at these schools, that they will run the risk of having their wages arrested for small debts to shopkeepers, rather than deprive their children of the benefits which they are sensible that education will confer upon them. There is a resident minister at each village, and the whole population is described as being very regular attendants on their ministrations.

Some of the houses at both villages are very old, and there is a general deficiency of much that improved notions of convenience and propriety require. It is understood that these, and the other points adverted to, have not escaped his Grace's attention.