Extract from Mining District Report 1847 (part 3)

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

It may be desirable here to insert a few brief notices of the efforts made and making in particular localities to promote education, as well as to introduce other measures not less essential towards the civilization and improvement of the mining population ; among the first of which latter is, better houses, and better arrangements of all kinds in and about them. In the course of this tour I directed my attention chiefly to those localities where previous inquiries had shown that the inattention to those matters had been greatest; or where new works and large populations were springing up, and where it was, therefore, desirable to see what provision was making prospectively, to prevent, as far as possible, the fostering of that individual demoralization and those social dis-orders, which the neglect of these points had occasioned elsewhere.

The banks of the Forth, near Dunfermline, and on the opposite side near Linlithgow are rapidly becoming important seats of the iron manufacture. The "Forth Iron Company" commenced building their works near Dunfermline in March, 1845. In July, 1846, they began to make iron. In February, 1847, they had collected a population of 2500 souls, engaged about four furnaces, and the raising the coal and iron-stone to supply them. Two more furnaces were about to be erected, and rolling-mills are to be added; so that in a year or two the population will amount to at least 4000 souls, collected in this short time in a locality hitherto covered only with a scanty agricultural population.

It is much to the credit of the gentlemen composing this Company that they are taking all the means in their power to introduce the instruments of civilization and good order among this mass of people, simultaneously with their being congregated together. And it is not a little striking, in comparison with the apathy on the subject of education too commonly prevalent among an English population in similar circumstances, that while these works were being built, and before the Company had been able to make provision for having a proper day-school, upwards of 50 Scotch families of working men declined offers of work there on the ground that there was no day-school for their children. This is an occurrence which, I believe, could not have taken place in England or in Wales, and is a proof of the manner in which the standard of proficiency has been raised among the working classes of Scotland generally, by a parochial provision for education existing during a century and a half; for it was stated that many of those 50 families came from the iron districts of Lanarkshire, where the condition of society in Scotland appears in its least favourable light, in consequence of the rapid increase of population having outstripped all the ordinary means of mental and moral improvement.

Two schools have been opened by this Company in temporary rooms, under competent masters. These masters also conduct an evening school, which has been hitherto attended by about 60 young men; a number far greater than evening schools in England, attached to works having a similar population, are usually attended by, and affording an additional proof of the desire of the young men to improve themselves after their working hours, in order to bring them-selves up to the level of acquirements prevailing in their own class. Large school-rooms for 500 children are about to be built, with masters' houses, &c.; a contribution towards which has been promised by the Committee of Privy Council. Provision is made for the performance of Divine service on Sundays, and a "Missionary" is paid by the Company to go among the people at their homes.

The school is partly supported by the Company, partly by a deduction of 8d a month from the wages of the married men, and 4d. a month from the unmarried, with 1d. a month for the library and reading-room fund, to which the Company also contribute. The management of the school, library, &c., is very properly, and without objections, left to the Company.

The houses have been built with all proper attention to comfort and decency of accommodation ; the masses of buildings together are not large, the drainage, &c., is provided for, the spaces between the rows are ample, and arrangements are made for gardens.

A regulation, particularly salutary in the case of a mining and iron manufacturing population in Scotland, is made at these works, that neither whiskey or beer is allowed to be sold during working hours. Moreover, no public-house is allowed to be built on the property of the Company ; beer and spirits are to be obtained at the Company's store, but a restraint is thus put, as far as practicable, on that immoderate use of them which is the cause of so much demoralization among large masses in the manufacturing districts of Scotland.

The Truck System
Finding that the Forth Company kept a "store," - the source of so many complaints on behalf of the labouring classes, - I begged to be allowed to examine the Company's books, and to ascertain from them the proportion which the total sums paid in wages bore to the amount of dealings at the store. I selected the " pays" of the six months beginning October 28, 1846, and ending March 17, 1847. The total sum paid to the colliers and miners, and to the men engaged about the iron works, was £18,625 15s. 7d. Of this amount, it appeared from the monthly accounts of the store book that the sum of £4063 7s. passed through the store, being a fraction under one-fifth of the total sum paid in wages during that time. This proportion corresponds precisely with that which I deduced from an examination of the books, pay-sheets, balance-sheets, and store-books, of the nine large iron and coal works having stores, in the iron district of Lanarkshire, in 1844; the amount paid in wages by those works, during six months, having been £250,000, and the amount passing through the stores £50,000. This effectually disposes of the assertion of its being compulsory on men working for Companies having stores to deal with them; and in the case of the Forth, as of the other Companies, I was assured that no compulsion whatever was used. However objectionable on principle it may be that a large manufacturing Company should keep a store for the retail sale of articles of common consumption (and the objections have been stated sufficiently often and with sufficient fullness), it cannot be denied that during this present period of mining prosperity, when the demand for men has been so great that those who object to work for a Company having a store may easily find employment where there is not one, no instances have occurred (at least none that I could hear of on inquiring throughout nearly the whole of the districts of the iron manufacture) of men leaving works having stores for others that had none, on that specific ground. Indeed, many instances have been cited to me of the men petitioning their masters to set up a store. Of this, the petition, a copy of which is given below, is an example. It was signed (a few months ago) by 38 men engaged about the furnaces of Mr. J. Wilson, at his new works at Kinneil, on the Forth, and was concurred in by the colliers and miners.

Kinneil Iron Works
To John Wilson, Esq
We, the undersigned, workmen at Kinneil Iron Works, do hereby petition you to fit up a store here, as we cannot buy goods in Bo'ness at a reasonable rate, or of a fair quality in proportion to the price we pay. All we request is, that if you should grant us the favour of fitting up a store, it should be conducted on the same principle as the one at Dundyvan, as most of us have been served before at a reasonable rate in your employment, and to our perfect satisfaction.
We are, your obedient servants, (Signatures)

Mr. Wilson has lately commenced extensive iron works at Kinneil, and has paid much attention to the arrangement, comfort, and convenience of the work-men's houses. Schools, &c., are to be added forthwith. In consequence of the objections which had been made to stores, Mr. Wilson had decided upon not having one at Kinneil. He was however soon applied to by his workpeople to allow one to be established, but still declined doing so until the people signed the above petition to him to that effect.

On the truck system in Lanarkshire, William Cloughan, the paid agent of the Miners' Union for a portion of that district, stated to me, " I have not a word to say against the stores. The men have opportunities now of leaving works where there are stores for those where there are none, if they please, but they do not do so, or very rarely."

Mr. Wilson has also lately set on foot large works at Lugar, in Ayrshire, where his arrangements, as he informs me, are similar to those at Kinneil. In order to keep a check on the consumption of ardent spirits by the workpeople, he has placed some restriction upon the hours of its sale, and allows none to be sold on Sundays.