Extract from Mining District Report 1847 (part 4)

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


The condition of the mining population of Lanarkshire, congregated, to the amount of upwards of 40,000 souls, chiefly in the parishes of Old and New Monkland, near Glasgow, was much commented on by me in my Report of 1844. In that for 1845 I noticed sundry efforts of improvement that were in progress. One of the great defects then existing was the want of a police force for this large mass of people, and of a resident sheriff to preside over a local court. Both these deficiencies have since been supplied. The existence of the police stationed in the various large mining villages had had the anticipated effect, as was stated to me by an active and intelligent magistrate of the district, of putting a considerable check upon the licence and insubordination, and bad habits of various kinds, for which those villages had been long conspicuous.

This gentleman (Mr. Kidd, banker, Airdrie) stated, that:

"Far better order is now observed throughout the district The public-houses are looked after and shut at proper hours, and on the Sabbath-days. In our colliery villages there was frequent rioting formerly; the presence of the police tends now to keep them quiet. Many offences which before escaped punishment entirely are now brought before the magistrates. Formerly no one was safe in walking upon the roads after dark ; now the respectable inhabit-ants feel much greater security. The police of Airdrie has also been increased."

The number of schools in this district has also been added to; but it still remains to be regretted that a project, long under contemplation, to establish a large and efficient institution for the education of the lower and middle classes, by the joint subscriptions of the inhabitants of the town of Airdrie and of the owner of the large mineral rents arising from property near it, has not yet taken any form giving it a prospect of success. I was requested to examine the resolutions of a public meeting, and some correspondence on this subject; from which it appeared that there were no difficulties in the way which a liberal regard to the public interest could not immediately remove. The same remark applies to some obstructions in the way of erecting suitable barracks near that. town, a measure much desired by the most influential residents there and in the neighbourhood. Continued attention is being paid to measures tending to improve the condition of the colliers on the estate of the Lord Belhaven. Mr. Wilson, of Dundyvan, has since last year established a school in connexion with his large works. A handsome school-house has been erected by Mr. Stewart, of the Omoa iron works. The readiness of the young men. belonging to iron and coal works in this district to avail themselves of opportunities of carrying on their instruction at evening school after they commence working, and consequently cease to go to day-school, is shown in rather a remarkable manner at this school, and in strong contrast with what would have occurred under similar circumstances in England. Mr. Stewart, having provided a competent master, caused the school to be opened on the 1st of February of this year. On the 31st of March 116 young persons were attending the evening school. The numbers at the day school were 253. Finding that some men in his employ, who were earning good wages, neglected to send their children to school, Mr. Stewart informed them that they must leave the works, if the neglect continued. By salutary superintendence of this kind, by the attention given to the comfort and decency of the people in respect to their houses, and by raising the standard of cleanliness and domestic order among them by a regulation lately adopted there, that dirty families are not to be allowed to remain at the works, it may be anticipated that much improvement may be gradually effected in their general habits. Messrs. Murray, of the Monkland iron works, have now 1300 children in their schools, and the evening-schools are also well attended. Other gentlemen in the district have made similar advances towards bringing about a better state of things than has hitherto existed.

The following observations of William Cloughan, the paid agent of the Miners' Union for part of the Lanarkshire district, whom I examined on points bearing upon the moral condition of the mining population, as well as on the subject of the combination, are worthy of notice:-

"You have been severe in your remarks, in your Reports to Parliament, upon the dirty habits of the Scotch and Irish in the colliery villages, but it is the system of giving them such small houses, without proper accommodation, that is chiefly to blame, and which has been the cause of perpetuating their bad habits. Their bad habits are greatly encouraged by forcing the people to live in those large squares which the masters have built. Although the ill effect of them is known, three or four more have been lately built in the district. It is almost impossible for decently disposed families to keep their houses, or the places about them, or their children, clean, in those squares, as there will be so many families who neglect these things, and their habits prevent the improvement of the others. There arc commonly no back doors to the houses in those squares, and all the refuse, &c., is consequently thrown out at the front door. The Scotch are 50 degrees behind the English in cleanliness, and therefore they more require every aid, in the way of good houses, and other means of promoting cleanliness and decency, in order to raise their habits. I have repeatedly noticed that where the Irish and Scotch have been placed in good houses they improve in their habits, and also they endeavour to improve the habits of their children. I have remarked that when Irish and Scotch have worked some time in England, they are inclined to live in better houses, and to keep them cleaner, after their return to Scotland. Many of the houses lately built in this district are too small, and in my opinion too high a rent is charged for them, which deters families from occupying the larger ones.

You notice in your Reports that the colliers and miners are apt to neglect their gardens. The reason is, that they have not been much used to them, and have not been brought up to manage them properly. Some cultivate them well, but others who neglect their own are apt to injure or steal from their neighbours. The masters should give gardens more generally, and hold out inducements to the men to cultivate them, by offering prizes, &c., and making those who are lazy, and won't work them, pay for them whether they cultivate them or not.

The number of schools in the district has been increased, and schools in general are better attended, in consequence of the parents being better able to pay for them, the restriction of labour giving more time to the young men, and more money to the parents. We have had no strikes for some time. I am much opposed to strikes, and so are the workmen of this district; they injure the schools, and prevent all that is good."

The immediate results of the restriction of labour,- higher wages, less work, and in some instances, but by no means generally, better attendance of the children at schools - are, as appears from this and other evidence, the strong arguments of the workmen and their advisers in its favour. The restriction upon and serious injury to trade and commerce, and the consequent and inevitable injury ultimately to the miners and colliers themselves, is the point which they apparently refuse to see, and which reiterated experience fails to impress upon them generally, or only for a very limited time.


The county of Ayr is about to become an important seat of the iron manufacture. Large iron and coal works are springing up in and near the parish of Dalry, a little to the north of Kilmarnock; others near that town ; and the works of Mr. Wilson, at Lugar, about 20 miles from it towards the south.

It will require all the attention and foresight of the proprietors to prevent the growth and increase, in the parish of Dalry, of those evils which have arisen so manifestly in the Coatbridge and Airdrie district of Lanarkshire, from the permitted operation of causes which inevitably undermine the morals of a people.

The minister of that parish, the Rev. Robert Stevenson, informed me that the population had been increasing at the rate of about 1000 a-year for the last few years, until it now amounts to 8000. Until the iron works commenced about four years ago, its population was engaged almost entirely in rural industry. The arrangement of several new masses of houses is in rows close behind each other, without proper spaces favourable for cleanliness, and without gardens, and hitherto without proper drainage. The disorderly tendencies of a population rapidly collected from various quarters were unchecked by the presence of any adequate police. Considerable efforts were being made to establish schools. Some had been set on foot, but more were still needed, and were apparently likely to be effected by the cordial exertions of all parties.

The Companies chiefly employing the people in this parish are the Ayrshire Malleable Iron Company, the Glengarnock Company (Messrs. Merry and Cuningham), and the Eglinton Iron Company (Messrs. Baird). The complaints were general as to the effect of the combination of the men, in unduly raising the rate of wages.

Mr. S. Jackson, manager of the Glengarnock works, stated that coal had been raised from 3s. 6d. to 8s. 6d. per ton, which was one-third too dear. Mr. Baird (late M.P. for Airdrie), whose works are the most extensive in Scotland, expressed a very strong opinion as to the permanent injury which the combination was inflicting on the iron trade in Ayrshire, as elsewhere, by stimulating foreign competition.

The manager of the Glengarnock works stated to me:-

" We have every wish to improve the habits of our people, but it is a difficult matter, they are so dirty; they have never been brought up to anything better. It is the interest of the master to have moral and intelligent people in his employ, and to make them comfortable, cleanly, and decent; and I hope you will see us improving every time you visit us. Some of the new houses which you observed upon as wanting drainage, &c., belong; to this Company; what is required in that matter will be set about very shortly, and a school will be built there, and a space set apart in a field for gardens, &c. We employ a man at 10s. a-week to go through our rows of houses here every morning, and clean everything and carry away all refuse, &c.. but the habits of the people are such that in a few hours things are again in the state you see."

A large number of houses lately built by Messrs. Baird, at their new works at Kilwinning, are better planned in every respect than those erected at their Lanarkshire works, according to the ideas prevalent some years ago; still the objectionable form of the "square" has been preserved, with all the houses opening into it. Its recommendation to the proprietor of large iron works is the comparative economy of construction; a consideration to which the extra expenses thrown on his fixed capital, by the combinations of his workmen, necessarily incline him to be more attentive. Considering, indeed, the amount of that extra burden, it is the more creditable to individual proprietors that they have nevertheless given much thought to somewhat costly arrangements for providing their workpeople with far more accommodation and means of comfort in and about their houses than hitherto. When the proprietor of an iron work, employing from £50,000 to £150,000 of fixed capital, is conscious that, but for the combination of his workpeople, he could carry on his manufacture and trade with one-fifth or one-third less than the above large amounts, and consequently with better advantage to himself and to all in his employ, he is naturally under some temptation to restrict his outlay upon his workmen's houses to what is absolutely necessary. It is much to the credit of those gentlemen that they have not allowed such considerations any great weight, but have studied the comfort of their people in the new and improved kind of houses now being very generally erected.

The best arranged of those now building at new iron works are those of the Portland Iron Company near Kilmarnock. They have the addition, so desirable in a workman's house, of an upper floor; also a small place for coals (instead of the frequent practice in Scotch colliery villages of keeping them under a bed!), a room for scullery purposes, &c.; and every house is so arranged as to enable the mothers to keep their children from so ready and indiscriminate an admixture with those of their neighbours, as must take place in the usual colliery square.*

(* As there appears to be at present a considerable desire in Scotland to make the dwellings of the colliers and miners such as to give them every opportunity for improving their habits, I may refer to a description in my Report of 1845, of the colliery houses at Wentworth, Yorkshire. Each has an upper floor; a small piece of enclosed garden-ground in front, into which the children can run without going into the road ; a small enclosed court behind, with covered washing-place, &c. &c.; a road running along the row in the rear, for the removal of all refuse, &c.; enclosed gardens behind, of ample size, each separated from the other by a proper fence. The small plot before the house is either flagged or laid out in flower-beds; all the gardens are well cultivated, and the small courts behind each house, as well as every house itself, as clean as constant attention can make it.)