Extract from Mining District Report 1848 (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

Restriction of Labour

If the amount of work they did was oppressive, some sympathy might be excited by their attempts, though in so ill-considered and useless a manner, to better themselves by means of a strike. But the day's work (the "darg") to which they voluntarily restrict themselves is so light, that, according to universal testimony, any industrious and able collier or miner could hew the quantity of coal, or get out the quantity of iron-stone, in four or five hours. Those who restrict themselves in this manner - probably nine-tenths of the whole - are earning, at the present period of depression in the iron trade, from 2s. 6d. to 3s. a-day. A movement has already commenced to obtain an additional 6d. per day. I believe that every iron-master would willingly give them an additional 1s. a-day provided they would earn it by an additional quantity; but what they require is an additional rate of payment for the present quantities. This, I am informed, the present state of trade does not justify, and it will be refused; upon which another strike is anticipated.

The strong hold which this question of the restriction of labour has now had for some years upon the minds of so many thousand colliers and miners in this county may be taken as a measure of the state of their intelligence. In addition to the erroneous calculations by which they hope by this means to keep up the rate of wages and reduce the quantity of work, they are actuated, as I am informed by persons well acquainted with their ideas, by a species of communism, which induces them to fix their day's work at that which can be done with ease by the weakest and least able hands. This is sometimes opposed at their meetings by the more sensible and industrious; but their opinions are overborne by the majority. This majority is in part composed of men who have been brought into the trade in consequence of the strikes, and who, therefore, in effect share the sum that might have been earned by those alone who were the cause of their introduction. The injuries inflicted upon themselves in other ways besides those of pecuniary loss have been already adverted to. The injury to the iron trade in general, and the consequent loss to the community, is proportionably serious. Many gentlemen most conversant with the subject have favoured me with their calculations on this point, all of which agree in the heavy amount of additional and unnecessary burden thrown upon the trade, amounting to a considerable per centage upon the cost price of the iron ; to that extent, therefore, taxing the public, limiting the foreign trade, and reacting upon the producers and manufacturers of iron in this country.

It is desirable that these facts should be frequently borne in mind, in relation to so thickly-peopled and important a tract of country as the mineral district of Lanarkshire, with the view of urging on the progress of all those means of raising the intelligence and character of the population which have been commenced by those whose duties and interests are here involved. An improved feeling in regard to the question of restriction of labour is, I am assured, here and there beginning to be perceptible. Some of the better class of workmen have detached themselves from the union, and sought work where their skill and industry could obtain their proper reward ; and this reward in the shape of a fair rate of wages in proportion to the state of trade, I see no disposition in any of the employers of labour in this district to withhold ; all of whom appear to me to be actuated towards their men by a spirit of fairness, justice, and good-will. There are some few remarkable instances of communities of colliers, living in the midst of the rest, who have never joined the union, and who have consequently been invariably earning from 6d. to 1s. 6d. a-day (according to the state of trade) more than those who belong to it, and who, by working more steadily, earn, in the course of the fortnight, a much larger amount of wages. Four hundred out of the 800 colliers in the employ of the Messrs. Baird of Gartsherrie, the largest iron-works in the district, have followed this sensible practice. Some of the colliers of the Dundyvan works, Mr. Wilson's, the next largest, are equally free from the restriction, together with some of the men in a few other works. A pamphlet, entitled "An Address to the Working Miners of Scotland on some of the Evils of their Present Condition, with Suggestions for their Remedy" (Edinburgh, W. P. Kennedy : Glasgow, D. Boyce, 1847), has, I am informed, attracted much attention in most of the mining districts. It is written in plain language, and contains "very much that it is for the advantage of the miner to know;" exhibiting to them, in a kind and friendly spirit, their real condition, and the means by which they can improve it, and reasoning with them on strikes: restriction of darg; misuse of time; excessive drinking; debt; disregard of cleanliness in their persons and houses ; flitting from work to work ; neglect of their children ; and other topics on which their views have hitherto been a source of injury to themselves and the community.

A few instances will serve to show the pains now taken by the iron and coal-masters at all the works, to produce an appearance of cleanliness in the large groups of houses round them, and to encourage the practice of cleanliness within the houses themselves, obviously one of the first steps in the progress of moral improvement.

For the 300 houses attached to the Gartsherrie Works, and 150 not far off, the Messrs. Baird employ four men whose sole occupation it is to sweep and cart away all refuse, and to take care that the people keep their houses clean. One of their policemen has also, for about a year and a half, been charged with the duty of constantly inspecting the houses, and reporting any instances of gross neglect. Several families have been dismissed for being incorrigible in this respect. The better disposed often appeal to the policeman to interfere. It appeared by the books that only 70 out of 400 colliers inhabiting these houses were Irish. It may be expected that the constant supervision here exercised may in time so lead the people to habits of cleanliness as to cause them to attend of themselves to what now requires the constant labour of four men to effect in any decent degree. The gardens before the houses had been invariably neglected, until the Messrs. Baird this year threatened to enforce a rent for them if they were not cultivated. All are now bearing respectable, crops.

I had occasion to notice in one of my earlier reports the great appearance of neglect about the large rows of houses attached to the Summerlee Works. This has been corrected, and the attention now paid has produced a marked change for the better. There are also evident indications of the salutary effect of continued attention to this matter in the houses belonging to the Dundyvan, Langloan, Calder, Carnbroe, Monkland, and other localities. The original arrangements, however, of these large mining villages, in long rows, or squares fronting inwards, are far less advantageous to the cultivation of habits of cleanliness and comfort among the people than those which I have pointed out in other districts.

It appeared to be the general opinion that by the combined effect of the zeal of the various ministers of religion, the presence of the rural police in the large mining villages, and a temperance movement that had been recently set on foot, instances of disorder and drunkenness, especially on Sundays, were much less frequent than they used to be a few years ago. It is to be hoped that when the numerous schools now giving good instruction to a large portion of the rising generation shall have taken effect, a better state of things in all respects will have been brought about throughout this district.


In Ayrshire, now growing into an important mining district, there appears to be a strong desire to prevent such a state of society arising as was exhibited a few years ago around Airdrie and Coatbridge, in Lanarkshire.

Nearly all the proprietors and managers of the coal and iron works, now in operation in Ayrshire, or temporarily suspended, in consequence of the state of trade, are gentlemen more or less connected with similar operations in Lanark-shire ; and can have no wish to see reproduced, in their new scene of operations, the inconveniences, difficulties, and disturbances which have proved so injurious in the old.

Among the most conspicuous in their attention to everything likely to contribute to the orderly growth of a moral and sensible population, is the Company of the Portland Malleable Iron-works, near Kilmarnock, the commencement of which I mentioned in my last year's Report. When the works are complete, there will probably be a population of between 2000 and 3000 depending on them. The houses built by the Company are very well planned ; having an upper story, back-kitchen, with all conveniences, and a small enclosed garden both before and behind each house : each family is thus separated from the other. A moderate rent is charged, paying about six per cent, on the outlay. Mr. A. Craig, the manager of the works, informed me that, for any loss upon the houses, they were amply repaid by the class of men they obtained. "Our men," Mr. Craig stated, "would think any one out of his senses who struck for higher wages at a time when trade was dull. Most of them see the impropriety and disadvantage of it at any time. We regulate their wages according to the state of the market.'' The works were begun in June, 1846. In August, 1848, the "Miners' Library," formed by the voluntary subscriptions of the miners and colliers, consisted of 260 volumes; the subjects being history, theology, biography, geology, mineralogy, voyages and travels, &c. The payments are 1s. entrance, and 6d. per quarter. Out of 30 families of colliers, 12 of the young men, sometimes more, attend, after the day's work, an evening school, where, having no master, they teach each other. They thus, in a very creditable manner, continue the instruction they have received at their day-schools, before they were old enough to go to work; and according to the valuable habit of a large proportion of the Scotch peasantry, do not cease to educate themselves until they have arrived at the average standard of instruction among the adults around them. Mr. Craig attributed great value to the watchful care bestowed by the manager of the collieries (Mr. Cowan) upon everything that could promote the wellbeing of the colliers' families, most of whom came from the Duke of Portland's colliery, near Kilmarnock; and who appear to have brought with them the superior conduct and intelligence for which that mining community, an account of which is given in my Report of 1845, is distinguished.

The proprietors of the Glengarnock Iron works (Messrs. Merry and Cuningham), employing about 2000 people, have, since the commencement of the works a few years ago, paid much attention to what concerns the welfare of the population, and the effect is already perceptible. If any families are found to resist the efforts made to produce general habits of cleanliness and comfort, they are dismissed. Since last year a large and handsome school-house has been built. The school has been placed in the charge of an intelligent master, and was very soon crowded. The evening school is also attended by about 40 colliers' boys, who are at work in the pits during the day. A classroom attached to the school is open in the afternoon and evening as a reading-room. The colliers have access to it at half-past three, as their day's work is over early. The furnace-men, mechanics, &c., frequent it in the evening. There are already 130 subscribers, paying 6d. per quarter. Twelve papers and periodicals, among them the " Times" (" Evening Mail"), and a variety of useful and entertaining books, &c., are taken in. The company contribute a donation to the fund, and take care that no publications of an injurious tendency are admitted.

Other works which I have before noticed in this county have been either suspended since I last visited it, in consequence of the recent state of the iron trade or, having greatly reduced their operations, are only now about to recommence them.

I believe, from the statements of various persons conversant with the working of mines and collieries in Scotland, who have again called my attention to the subject, that the proper Ventilation of mines and collieries is much in arrear in many coal and iron works in that country, and that few greater boons could be conferred on the working miners and colliers than the improvement in that respect which a greater degree of attention, or more skill in the arrangements for ventilation, would in a great many cases produce. I have no doubt that periodical under-ground inspection, by a competent mining engineer, reporting the result of his inspection to the Government, would, by diffusing information, and by friendly suggestions have the effect of causing better provisions than those now existing, in many mines and collieries, to be made for the health and safety of those employed in them. It has been again represented to me from various quarters, that as explosive gas is not common or very abundant in the collieries of Scotland, the introduction of pure air in sufficient quantity for health is apt to be neglected ; that many pits are worked without any well-considered system of ventilation having been previously laid down, or any proper plans being kept, and that consequently the mode of ventilation is injudicious and defective. But the question of underground mining inspection, and the desirableness also of having returns made of all serious accidents (especially in Scotland, where there is no coroner's inquest in case of death), have been dealt with at length in a previous special Report.