Extract from Mining District Report 1845 (part 2)

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

Condition of the Mining Population of Lanarkshire

On revisiting Lanarkshire in December, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the Act continued to be observed in that important district, I availed myself of the opportunity of conferring with the different proprietors and managers of the extensive iron and coal works on the topics to which I had sought to direct their attention in my last Report.

The free comments which I had felt it my duty to make on the state of things there had been received in a good spirit. It was satisfactory that all united in allowing that, by not calculating consequences before hand, they had permitted many evils to arise to the labouring population which might have been prevented. It was frankly confessed that much of the trouble, annoyance, and pecuniary loss, to which they are continually subject, from the perverse opposition and irrational self-will of their labouring people, they owe to themselves, from having allowed them to grow up in the neglect of that education which makes men manageable through their own good sense. No doubt was entertained that the imprudent habits of most of the collier and mining population, and those employed about the iron works, and the deep demoralization of so many of that class, had been encouraged by the crowding of the houses, the dirt and filth within and around them, the many temptations to sensuality, the absence of all superintendence and control, moral or physical, the ignorant state of so many of the adults of both sexes, and the deficiency in the means of adequate religious instruction; and that all these causes had produced a great degree of indifference to the improvement of their children, and had made them less open to wise and reasonable suggestions for their own welfare. The general recognition of these facts is important, considering the early stage of growth in which the vast iron manufacture of this county still is. It is scarcely 20 years old in its present vigour, but it is increasing, and as coal and iron are practically unlimited in the district around, there is every prospect of its long continuance. It is, therefore, a matter of some moment that so many of those, on whom is cast the greatest share of responsibility in regard to the moral welfare of this vast population, namely, the employers, should have recognised the fact that their previous omissions have brought them many troubles ; and that as a mere matter of calculation it would have been more profitable to have placed their people in circumstances to maintain the decencies and proprieties of domestic life. This might have been done by more attention to the state of their dwellings and their immediate precincts, the approaches to them, (generally, in wet weather, deep in mud), the state of drainage, the gardens, and other means and requisites of convenience and comfort; and further, by providing adequate religious instructors, schools for the rising generation, the due restraints of police and law, and by a general course of kind, forbearing, paternal, and generous treatment; thus uniting their people to themselves in the bonds of mutual confidence and good will. In so doing they would simply have given practical effect to a principle laid down by one of the greatest philosophical writers of their own country (concurring with principles derived from a higher source) that, "He who wantonly exposes his neighbour to what no man in his senses would choose to expose himself, evidently wants that sense of what is due to his fellow creatures which is the basis of justice and of society." (Adam Smith)

Whether the acknowledgement of the truth of this principle will lead to any general measures of improvement remains to be seen. A few steps have been taken. The precincts of the houses at the Summerlee works, where I had previously noticed great neglect, have been much improved. Grass has been laid down, and a good clean road made along their front, and cleanliness promoted. The proprietor intends to use his endeavours to maintain these indications of amendment. In the next most neglected collier village, that of the Calder works, better drainage has been effected, and water has been conveyed to it. The Messrs. Baird, the proprietors of the most extensive works in Lanarkshire, had given more attention to the state of their colliers' houses. The Messrs. Wilson, proprietors of the second largest works, expressed their desire to correct, as far as possible, the defects of arrangement in their rows of houses already built, and to avoid similar errors in any that might be erected in future. A commencement has also been made towards establishing a school in connexion with those works. Another school has been added at the Monkland works; and a school-house at the Clyde works has been enlarged.

These, indeed, are small effects, considering the size of the district and the general state of the mining population within it. They are so far satisfactory however, as having proceeded from the voluntary efforts of those most capable of effecting the desired change; upon whom the duty of attempting it primarily rests; and who would be among the first to feel the benefit of the improved morals and intelligence of the people.

A plan for the occasional inspection of their colliers' houses is contemplated by the Messrs. Baird, which, if brought about, will be valuable in itself and as an example. It is proposed that a committee of a few of the leading persons connected with their works should be formed to visit, from time to time the rows of cottages, and to report those which are found to be habitually dirty. A small fine would be inflicted on these, and would be expended in some object tending to promote the general cleanliness and decency of those localities The portion of the occupiers of these cottages among whom cleanly habits prevailed, and who cannot but feel disgust at the filth, and the utter disregard of many acts of common decency which are visible around them would readily encourage such a plan. For some of the best specimens of well kept cottages small prizes would be given, provided the committee were satisfied that due attention was also paid to bringing up their children properly and to sending them to school in proportion to their means. If masters would show that they regarded these things, their workpeople would pay more attention to them. Where so many heads of families among the labouring classy of this district are disposed to intemperance, and inclined to neglect themselves, their homes and their children, for the sake of their own sensual indulgences and where the general notions of domestic cleanliness are so low, every aid on the part of those in superior station is required to raise the habits, and to make that repulsive which is now regarded with indifference. If these and other similar efforts were general, future statements which would be laid before the Government and the country, regarding the moral and physical state of this population, would bear testimony to the progress of contentment, good order comfort and happiness.

The combination of the colliers which, though directed against their masters' and the public interests, must be ultimately far more disastrous to their own still continues. Nearly all the colliers of the central parts of the district, from which the supply of Glasgow and the iron works is chiefly derived, are in the Union. Their ideas and objects were explained in my last Report. The temporary success they have had in obtaining a higher rate of wages for a less amount of work, has given them increased confidence, and blinds all but the more intelligent among them to the severity of the reaction which they are preparing for themselves.

The successive reductions of day's work and increase of rate paid for it are shown by the following examples:-

Whiflat Colliery.
September, 1843, to May, 1844 - Day's work, 3 carts, at 1s.2 ½d.
May, 1844, to August. - Day's work, 2 ½ carts at 1s. 5 ½d.
August to December. - Day's work, 2 carts at 1s. 6d.

Thus one-third had been taken from the day's work, and above one-fifth added to the wages ; making the enormous difference of 53 ¼% against the master in the price he pays for working the coal.

Monkland Iron and Steel-works.
Before reduction of "Darg" in April 1844
Days work (average of 11 coal pits) - 8 hutches per day
Average wages per day 3s. 0d.

Since reduction
Days work (average of 11 coal pits) - 5 ½ hutches per day
Average wages per day 3s. 4d.

In this case the addition is 36 per cent, upon the price of coals against the master. While this great additional burden of one-third to one-half on the cost of coal is thrown upon the master, the additional rate paid to the collier is no more than from one-ninth to one-fifth. His actual earnings in the case first quoted, and in numerous other collieries, are even less than they were before.

Wherever, as in the second case quoted, they are more, he might or might not be entitled to public sympathy, according to the previous rate of his wages in proportion to the work required of him. At all events, at the present rate he does not do much more than half a day's work, as he might get through it easily in the short space of six or seven hours, for which he receives from 3s. to 3s. 4d., and has nothing to do for the rest of the four-and-twenty.

The two parties first affected by this forced rise in the rate of wages, are the sale-master (who supplies the domestic consumption and the manufactories of the district) and the iron-master.

The first, finding his stocks reduced, (the amount of the reduction was, according to an accurate estimate, from 171,680 tons on 11th June, to 68,100 tons on 21st December, 1844, or five-eighths in six months) and that the commodity has therefore become more valuable, raises the price to the consumer, and thereby compensates himself for the higher wages paid to the collier. The rise of price between those two periods was 1s. to 2s. per ton. In the mean time the price enables supplies to come in from a greater distance. If they arrive, new competitors are brought into the market; while the high price has limited the sales of those who before occupied it, and has either caused a falling off in the general demand, or prevented the growth and extension of their dealings. The latter effect has been very marked upon the export trade in coal from the Clyde, as the following returns plainly show :-

Coals exported from the Harbour of Glasgow.
1838-9 199,476 tons.
1839-40 192,593 tons
1840-1 193,619 tons
1841-2 163,777 tons
1842-3 142,563 tons
1843-4 119,150 tons

The combinations and strikes of the last three years may not have been the sole, but they have in all probability been a very active cause of the decline.

As soon as a falling off in demand, from whatever cause, showed itself, the sale-masters would naturally have been impelled to seek for fresh openings in new and distant markets. This they could only hope to effect by lowness of price. But the combination of their .colliers to raise the price would restrict, if not effectually prevent, any such enterprise. Hence less immediate employment, and the more inevitable certainty of wages being the more depressed, and for a longer period, from the moment that the decline of demand occurs in the comparatively limited market. From this decline the colliers will find it all the more difficult to recover, because, as will shortly be adverted to, their combination has been the means of bringing one-third more men into their trade than are required to raise the quantity of coal in ordinary demand.

When the sale-masters are thus compelled to raise the wages of their colliers, the iron-masters, in order to retain their men, are obliged to raise theirs. If at that time the price of iron is low, the injury to the iron-master is great, because, having to compete with Welsh and Staffordshire iron, he is not able to raise the price of his own commodity at pleasure. Therefore when the amount he has to pay in wages is unduly raised, his profits are restricted, and his trade restricted, and he can find less employment for his men at the very time when, in consequence of the depression in their trade, they most require it. According to the opinions of those most competent to form sound ones, the clear policy of master and men, at these frequently recurring periods of slackness of demand, is to produce the article cheap, in order to revive demand, by enabling the master to seek for and open new markets. If the workmen of any locality, by forcing up their wages at such a time, create an artificial dearness of their commodity, the only effect is that they tie the hands of their master and their own, and allow others to enter the field of enterprise without them.

If iron is high, the collier is entitled to increased wages, which are cheerfully paid, provided the master obtains an equivalent in the amount of work done. But this is prevented in the present case by the combination ; the men working only about six hours a day, and "putting out" at least one-third less coal; demanding for this, at the same time, a higher rate. The effects are manifold, and all injurious to both parties. The iron-master, if restricted in the quantity of coal at his command, is deprived of the opportunity of taking full advantage of the revival of trade. He is obliged to refuse contracts, which are carried elsewhere, and his men lose the employment they would have afforded. If, in order to maintain his full supply of coal, he is obliged to purchase, instead of raising it from his own pits, he does so at a great disadvantage. A certain portion of the cost of raising it from his own pits consists of interest on fixed capital; in the cost and maintenance of the shafts, roadways, steam-engine and other machinery, waggons, &c. &c..together with salaries of clerks and overlookers. It is obvious that these fixed charges are lightened in proportion as they are distributed over a larger quantity of coal raised. The colliers by limiting their labour increase this burden. It was shown to me that at some works the increase was considerable ; and that taking the total amount of coal required for the iron-furnaces of the district, when in full operation as at present, (850,000 tons per annum) the total burden thrown on the fixed capital by this restriction upon the "output," rose to a formidable sum. Upon the sale-masters the restriction operates in the same manner, in proportion to the amount of capital employed. It must be admitted that the loss occasioned to both is one among the many results naturally arising from the low state of intelligence in which the colliers, as a class, have been allowed to grow up, and of the absence of that general good understanding and confidence between the men and their employers, which, in the few fortunate cases where it exists in this district, is a great element of comfort and prosperity to both parties.

Neither is the additional burden thrown upon his fixed capital the only loss to which the iron-master, when compelled to purchase coal, is subject. Upon the total quantity bought he pays a price higher than what he could raise it for himself, by the amount of the seller's profits. Thus another addition is made to the cost price of his iron, which again tends either to exclude him from the markets, or to reduce his profits; the result in both cases being injurious to the real interests of the workman.

And if the iron-master purchases what he requires above the supply which his own men will furnish him with, wherein do the latter succeed in the object of their combination? Clearly not in limiting the sum total of his supplies ; but solely in this, that they cause those supplies to be sent from distant collieries, and consequently give to others the employment which they might have retained for themselves. It was stated to me at the works of Messrs. Wilson, Dundyvan, that between November 14, 1844, and January 31, 1845, they had made contracts for 55,000 tons of coal; full half of which would have been raised by their own men, had they chosen to do so. Previously to that they had been purchasing at the rate of 1000 tons per month, nearly all of which might have been raised by their own men.

The present effect of this voluntary limitation of their labour by the men of the Union, is that they are earning from 3d. to 1s. a-day less than they might do. They are unfortunately under the delusion that by still further limiting their labour they will compel further advances in the rate of wages, and will be able to keep wages at that higher rate for this limited amount of work. No clearer index could be given of the degree of intelligence among this collier population than the bare statement of such a proposition, while there is a field of coal unworked, capital seeking employment, and Irish labourers ready at hand. But the limitation is almost universal in the district, and its effect is thus described by intelligent witnesses.

J. Graham, of No. 9, Dundyvan pit:-
"I have been a collier 13 years. I came here in March, 1843. The ' darg' was then 8 hutches in the pit I went to. It continued at this for 8 months. I earned then from 3s. to 3s. 6d. a-day. The reduction to 7 hutches began in January last. I earned then 2s. 6d. to 3s. We wrought 3 months at 7 hutches, and then reduced it to 6, earning 2s. a-day. The darg is now (December 17, 1844,) 6 ½ hutches, at which I earn 3s. 4d. a-day. The darg of 6 to 7 hutches prevails all over the central parts of this district with the exception of Carnbroe, Summerlee, and one pit in Gartsherrie, and the general run of earnings will be from 3s. 4d. to 3s. 6d. a-day.

I consider the small darg against the young men. Some individuals among them did not like it, because they could have made more money. A man in his vigour, like myself, could put out regularly 7 hutches a-day for six days in the week, in the seam I am working. I put out 6 ½ : I lose therefore 3d. a-day, or 1s. 6d. a-week. I am married, and have 4 children, the eldest 6 years old. The men work more regularly with the small darg; but taking the year through it is oftener that a pit can go only 5 days a-week than 6, there is so often something happening to stop the work. The engine wants looking after, or the roads, or something is to be done below ; therefore a darg of 8 hutches would be better for earning wages, taking the year through. Considering the stoppages that are liable to occur, I lose more than 1s. 6d. a-week by being restricted to 7 hutches. The big darg of 9 hutches, or more in some pits, I consider too much for a man's strength to do it regularly.

A collier does a full day's work at 17, and goes off in his strength at 35. Generally they cease to be colliers altogether at 45, or a little after. There are, therefore, twice the number of men in their vigour, in the pits, that there are of failing men. Now that you point it out to me, I see that two men out of three are put to a loss by being restricted to the small darg, because all the young and strong men could do so much more; and the restriction only brings more men into the trade in the end to compete with us."

Joseph Hutchkess:-
"I contract for No. 2, Dundyvan Pit splint coal. I am in favour of an unrestricted darg. All my men put out as much as they like. It is more difficult coal to work than No. 9 Pit, but my men do 7 and 8 hutches without oppression, and can work at this rate six days a week."

Mr. Marshall, manager, Calder Iron Works, December 20:-
"Our men have been working at the restricted darg of 6 ½ hutches since June. They work more steadily than at the old darg of 9 hutches. They work six days a week when they are not stopped by accidents to the machinery or in the pit. On an average the pit is stopped one day in 12, from causes over which we have no control; so that, although working more steadily, the men cannot put out the same amount of coal as at the old darg. If they had worked, since February last, 8 ½ hutches per day for 5 days in the week (equal to 42 ½ hutches per week), instead of 6 ½ for six days (equal to 39 hutches), we should probably have done with fewer men; and the larger earnings would have been divided among the smaller number. Consequently when the demand for coal declines again, there would have been fewer colliers competing for the work to be done, and their earnings would remain higher. The effect of the restriction is, that in good times the earnings of the whole are less than they might be by perhaps 20 to 25 per cent, while in times of dull demand wages will go down still lower.

The manner in which the restriction operates, towards bringing new men, not experienced colliers, into the pit, is this:- The workings (whether "stoup and room" or long wall) must advance with regularity. It will not do to allow one man, or one set of men, to push their work on in advance of the rest. If they did so they could not get their proper supply of air; they would be too far ahead of the air-courses. Also the men who did not advance as fast would be endangered, or more expense would be incurred in supporting the roof. When experienced colliers only are at work in a pit, doing a full day's work, they advance faster than an inexperienced one could keep up with ; but when the experienced colliers choose to restrict their work, an inexperienced one will soon learn to do as much as the rest; consequently if the regular colliers refuse to put out the amount of coal which the master requires, the latter either introduces new men (generally men who have been drawers in the pit) to do the work of colliers, or opens new pits, employing new hands, who soon learn to become colliers. This, however, entails additional cost on the master. If he cannot open new pits, and must have a given quantity of coal, he must purchase and pay the seller his profit. In either case there is an additional burden thrown upon the fixed capital in the iron trade.

It is the interest of the master to get his required quantity of coal from the smallest number of colliers. He has then fewer houses to provide and keep up. It is equally the interest of the colliers to do full work and earn full wages. Under a system of free labour in the pits (which is clearly to the advantage of the men), those who were inclined to do most work (that is, the young, the strong, and the industrious,) would have an additional breadth allotted to them in long wall working. In stoup and room working they would have an additional room. They would thus in good times be able to provide comfortably for their families, and save money besides; and when the demand slackened, they would, being fewer in number, earn as much as they now restrict themselves to in good times."