Childrens Employment Commission 1842

The following extracts are from the report by Thomas Tancred to the Children's Employment Commission on the West of Scotland District which was published in 1842  


No.11. April 5. Robert Baird, Esq., 259, Argyll Street, partner in the Gartsherrie Iron Works and Collieries in the Airdrie District:
Says:- "there is not a worse place out of hell" than that neighbourhood and murders may be committed every day and never be heard of. They maintained some policemen a while but the county would not support them; they have a store in which two-thirds of the wages of the men who deal there is spent in drink; it destroys the men and they would give a good deal to prevent their drinking; he thinks as much as £7000 per week is spent in that district in drink; nothing would so increase the wealth of this nation as any reformation of these people; he thinks savings-banks would do good but they have not been well managed; he would have the power of licensing public-houses taken from the justices; they are most improperly lax in the regulating of them, the houses are as thronged on the Sabbath as any other day of the week; some of the older justices are respectable but they are afraid to interfere; the boys begin to drink and smoke at 10 years old; they have built a church belonging to the establishment; they have resisted the union amongst the colliers and no unionist is allowed to go down with them if known; they pay by the hundredweight for coals raised by each man so that he works only the regulated number of hutches, he may make them heavier or lighter as he pleases.

Gartsherrie Colliery; visited personally.

No.12. April 12. James Chalmers, collier, working with his two sons and 13 years old, in the Open-cast Pit, Gartsherrie:
He works six carts of 14cwt. a-day, three carts for himself and three for his two boys who are each "half a man." They first came down at 10 years old; he was down to his work at 3 o'clock this morning and that is his general time and they work till 2 or 3 in the afternoon and all go up together. At 12, a boy is a half man; at 14, three-quarters; at 17, a whole man. "They rise over soon of a morning to go to a night-school." They go to a Sabbath school, and both can read and write a little also. They go to bed between 6 and 7.

No.13. April 13. Janet Snedden, aged 9:
Is a trapper in the Gartsherrie Pit, No.1; comes down with Janet Ritchie, a single woman who hooks on and off the corves on the chain for drawing coal up the pit; comes down a quarter before 6 and goes up again about 4 p.m.

No.14. ________ Cameron:
Road-man and looks after workmen in the same pit; there are about 50 drawers in the pit [which I visited], 20 of them girls; we see two of them pushing a hutch both about 12, cousins, named Janet Mickley and Martha Paterson; it is about a year since most of the lasses came into this pit; the roads were getting far [i.e. long] and the lasses are not paid as high as boys would be; they come down between 4 and 5 and go up again about 3 p.m.; the engine stops from 12 to 1 for the horses, who draw the coal from the pit-head to the furnaces, to get their corn; it is between 500 and 600 fathoms from the pit to where the colliers are working the coal about two-thirds of a mile; [this distance we travelled two of us in a "whirly" pushed by a boy]. The collier is paid from 2s. 4d. to 2s. 6d. a ton for what he puts out and a single man's "darg" [or days work] is from 4s. to 5s.; it takes the drawer half an hour to draw each hutch of coal from the face of the coal to the pit; this is the splint coals, the deepest worked here but the pit is cool and well ventilated.

No.15. April 13. George Lindsay.
Has been a collier 42 years. He began about 11 years of age to assist his father with a pick and in filling the hutches; at that time there were no railroads and they drew below ground with horses. To make the roads high enough they blew up the pavement. It was when the iron railways came in that "they were putting away" the horses and brought boys draw. There are more lasses now drawing in this pit than he remembers before in this part of the country. A great many of the colliers' children begin to work when too young. He thinks 12 years old is as young as they ought to come down; he put some of his own sons in at eight years old, a weak one to help a strong one. Nine years since he wrought work at Mr. Dixon's pit near Govan; he knows of no other where they work night and day. He made very good wages but he "did not love it," it was not natural. He had two of his own sons drawing to him and they were the first to fail. They left him and then he was obliged to go also. Where he first worked was in Ayrshire for a country sale; there was no public work there and they did not spend so much of their money in drink as here.

No.16. April 12. Mr. M'Arthur.
He has a private day-school of about 120 scholars, in what was a hand-loom weaver's shop, of which there were several here four years ago but very few now. He has been between four and five years teaching here; he distributes about 800 tracts monthly for the Glasgow Tract Society but he believes that eight out of ten to whom he gives them do not read them. He has to turn out two or three children from his school every day to wash their faces. The men often marry between 18 and 20 years of age and the parents thus find themselves with a family before they have experience to govern them properly. The mothers do not control their children properly nor allow him a sufficient authority over them. Much of the population is migratory, and on leaving a place they do not think much harm of leaving in debt, particularly the women. He thinks the system of stores attached to works has something to do with the constant changing of hands; they are allowed credit at the store, which they would not get as strangers at the shops; now if they were to remain long enough at a work to get credit in the neighbourhood, they might cease to deal at the store. He tried a night-school but he made nothing of it from the irregularity of attendance and the self-will of youths who had never been properly broken in; it ruins a nightschool, which ought to be chiefly devoted to teaching writing and arithmetic, to have children learning to read and thus disturbing the others and occupying the master; hence he often refused to admit those who could not read; there are two small schools where a few girls learn needlework. Drunkenness is the bane of the population; it is so common that "the being the worse for drink," as they call it, is looked upon as no offence; two or three families will join in drinking whisky at home and even the children are dosed with it by their mothers as soon as they can gulp it down. The best paid drink the hardest, and those who earn moderate wages are often the most frugal; he has known a woman with a family who had eight lodgers, with only a room and a kitchen; thus they have no regard to comfort, but only think of gain. At Summerlee they have gardens to some of the houses and some of these were cultivated at first but the others pilfered things from them and so they were given up. There is no reading-room in the place, or musical or mechanics' institute; the only recreations are dancing and playing at coits; things, however, are gradually improving; two churches and three Sabbath-schools have been created since he first knew the place.


Dundyvan Iron works; visited personally.
No.19. April 13. William Miller:
Was 16 years teacher of a private school in Airdrie, since that clerk and weigher in the Calder Iron-works, now clerk in the Dundyvan Iron works. The school was for the children of working classes and contained about 100 to 140. Previous to 1821 Airdrie was quite a weaving population and when he first remembers it the population was stationary. Since that time the population has considerably more than doubled. There were four places of worship when he first went and now ten, besides small meeting-houses. When a collier flits, i.e. changes his work, and goes to a new residence, the new master has "the fudling of him," i.e. gives him whiskey, and they are a wandering race the most of them. If hired by the year they always expect some pounds as a gratuity. Some houses in Dundyvan of only one room have 18 human beings, family and lodgers, in this one room, half of them being at work at night and half by day. The school fees about here are 3d. a-week reading, 4d. a-week writing and arithmetic. There is no reading-room, mechanics' institute, musical band, or any other public amusement amongst the colliers but they join in clubs of 12 or so, and take in papers, chiefly Fergus O'Connor's "Northern Star" and the "Glasgow Patriot," also a few of the other papers not of Chartist opinion; but the one-half are not given to read anything. The engineers and mechanics are also mostly Chartists. Four years ago the combination was in force and then any man not a regular bred collier by birth had to pay £4 and even regular bred colliers at successive stages, as they became half men, &c., had to pay 5s. for each step. No man could make a bargain about work with his master unless by leave of the "house," i.e. the committee who met for a certain district. At the strike in 1837 many young hands amongst the hand-loom weavers became colliers. At the time of the association all the women were put out both of the coal and iron-stone pits but now they are coming in again. At Arbuckle a school has been built and let free to the master and all workers who have children have the school-fees deducted from their wages, whether the children go or not. They could not possibly get on with the work without stores, because fresh hands coming without credit and hardly a shoe to their feet, could not get their breakfast if it were not for the store. At Dundyvan it is nothing against a man that he does not deal with the store, in short it is less trouble when they do not. It is for their own accommodation. Some contractors lead their men to deal with a relation and some receive percentage on shops to which they give credit.