Extract from Mining District Report 1852

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

Arrestment of Wages in Scotland

I think it highly durable that, in connexion with any alteration in the law against the truck system, the subject of the arrestment of wages in Scotland should be reconsidered, as closely connected with the question of truck, and a practice quite as injurious to the labouring population.

I drew attention to this subject at some length in my report for 1844 ; and since that time it has been frequently pressed upon my attention by persons in Scotland most interested in the improvement of the mining population. I had communications upon the subject in that and a subsequent year with the Law Officers of the Crown in Scotland, and the mode of amending the law has been from time to time under consideration; The question has again recently been taken up by persons of influence in Scotland and I beg to refer to the following extracts from a speech of Sir George Grant Suttie, bart. at an adjourned meeting of the Quarter Sessions of the county of Haddington in January last, in which the injurious effects of the law in its present state are placed in a clear light:-

"Sir George Grant Suttie, according to previous notice, drew the attention of the Sessions to this subject. It was a matter, he said, in which he had taken a very deep interest; and, having witnessed the injurious effect of the system of arrestment, he had no doubt in his own mind of the propriety of seeking for an alteration in the law. In support of his own views on the subject, Sir George quoted at some length from a Report of Mr Tremenheere, giving the results of his inquiry into the operation of the Mining Act of 5 & 6 Victoria, and into the state of the mining population. Mr. Tremenheere, in his report remarks :- I found it to be the opinion of several persons of intelligence that the truck system would be abandoned by many employers if the law of arrestment of wages in Scotland were abolished. The operation of this law is very vexatious towards employers, as well as oppressive towards the labouring classes. Small retail dealers encourage workmen to get into their debt by sending agents round the country to tempt them "to deal by giving credit, and offering to receive payment by instalments; on any failure of these payments an arrestment is immediately lodged by other agents engaged for that purpose." The arrestments at Govan ironworks in the month of June 1843, the report stated were 94 in number, and were delivered chiefly by four individuals. The costs were often ruinous to the labouring man, and drove him into reckless habits. The highest sum that could be arrested was £8 6s. 8d. but in one case an arrestment had been lodged to recover 11d., and before the man was 'quitted' the costs amounted to £1. The arrestments were generally against the same men - the steady men considering it a disgrace. The results of these and other statements in the report was, said Sir George, strongly to show that the law by which the wages of a labourer might be arrested before they were earned was highly injurious not only to the labourer himself, but also to his family, and, also injurious to the morals of the parties who supplied him. Everything he had read from the Report he could corroborate from his own experience, and he doubted not he would be supported in saying so by most of those who employed labourers in this country. He had known many cases in which a labourer's wages had been arrested to the whole amount in his employer's hands, although the man's wife and children were depending on his earnings, and he was left to support them as he best might. The ultimate effect of the system was a great additional temptation to extravagance: and intemperance. Various acts had been passed to hinder the employers and others from taking undue advantage of their labourers ; but the object of these acts was in a great measure defeated by the operation of the law of arrestment of wages in Scotland. Every sixpence of a labourer's wages was arrestable in the employer's hands, and none of the previous acts had had the effect of preventing the labouring population getting undue credit on wages not yet earned, Although no arrestment could take place for payment of whisky, a man might go to a shop and get provisions on trust, and perhaps pay only for the whisky he used. The effect of the system was a great temptation to the man to dissipate the money he earned, and to anticipate his wages; and the result was, that when a man had got into a certain amount of debt to any tradesman, the latter would trust him no further, and compelled him to pay up weekly a certain sum, which he arrested in the employers hands. Then, when a man who had a family thus found all, or nearly all, his wages arrested, it was a great inducement to him to desert his family, and he (Sir George) believed that there was not one case in a hundred of desertion of their families by these labourers in which the arrestment of wages had not something to do. But the argument on which he rested principally in calling for an alteration in the law was, that it was not the law of England. There was no such thing in England as the arrestment of labourers' wages, and yet the system there worked very well. He did not see that there could be any reasonable objection to a change in the law, even on the part of the dealers themselves, because it was quite evident that if the labouring population were led to pay in ready money it would be a great benefit to all parties and if the consumption of whisky was diminished, as he trusted it would, it would leave the labouring classes more money to spend on clothing and on food; and if the change reduced the enormous profits of the extortionate, it would in the same proportion add to the profits of the fair dealer. There was a certain class of shopkeepers in the mining towns that made enormous profits, and ran great risks and had large sums due to them by the labouring classes, while arrestments might be made to the amount of the whole sum due to A or B. by their employers, and the latter could not pay their men one farthing except with the risk, if not the absolute certainty, of being obliged to pay it again.

" Sir G. G. Suttie said that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred there was no defence made, and the arrestment passed through the Court, and the man, perhaps knew nothing of it till the Saturday night, when he found all his wages arrested and he was obliged to submit to whatever terms his creditors chose: he was forced to allow a certain sum to be deducted weekly from his wages, he was obliged to deal only at his creditor's shop, and lastly, if he attempted to defend himself, he was obliged to pay the lawyer's bill, and they all knew how soon a labourer's wages would be swallowed up by law expenses. On the whole, he was satisfied that a greater boon could not be conferred on the labouring population than the doing away with the facilities that existed for the arrestment of their unearned wages. The Legislature in former acts had shown itslef to be of this opinion, and had passed various measures obviously, with this view, but they had not suited the purpose, and his (Sir G G Suttie's) object in bringing forward this subject was to endeavour to get the law authorities to say what precise steps should be taken in the matter. He had already had some conversation with them on the subject and their views, he was entitled to say, were quite as strong as his own, as to the propriety of taking from the labouring classes the power they possessed of forestalling their wages; and he believed there was nothing wanted to induce Government to move in the matter, except that the movement should be begun by those interested in the Subject. He would be satisfied by the adoption of some law preventing the arrest of wages paid weekly, and not exceeding £1 sterling, which would still enable those of the manufacturing population who received their wages monthly to obtain the amount of credit required in such circumstances."

In discussing the question with Mr. Alison (now Sir Archibald Alison, bart,) Sheriff of Lanarkshire, that gentleman informed me that it was his opinion, as the result of his long experience in judicial matters relating to the labouring population that it would not be expedient to abolish the power of arresting wages altogether, because in Scotland the able-bodied labourer out of employ had not yet been adjudged entitled to relief under the Scotch Poor Law, and that accordingly it was necessary to encourage credit to be extended to them while out of work. Mr Alison however thought that a modification of the present Law of Arrestment might be made with advantage.

At present, by the Act 1 Vict. c. 41. S.7. magistrates were empowered to arrest wages " so far as necessary."

In the interpretation of these words magistrates differ, and there is no criterion by which they can determine what is necessary in particular instances.

Mr Alison suggests that for those words should be substituted - "to the extent only of one half the wages earned in any week" and that every warrant of arrestment granted by a Judge should contain a declaration "that the wages are arrested to the extent of only one half, and that neither by virtue of this or of any subsequent arrestment or arrestments is the master entitled to retain more than one half of the wages due to the workman."

I beg to submit the above opinions to your early consideration.

Working Ages

It is hardly necessary to refer to any further specific proofs of a fact so notorious as that of the early age at which the boys now leave school to go to work, and the consequent imperfect instruction and moral training that they take away with them. I beg, however, to call attention to two documents which place these positions in a very clear light……. The second is an accurate statistical return of the state of the population attached to the iron and coal works of the Messrs Baird (Brothers) at Gartsherrie in Lanarkshire, the most extensive makers of iron in Scotland. I have mentioned in detail in former reports, the great and liberal expenditure of the gentlemen comprising this firm in all that relates to the religious and general instruction of the people in their employ, and the ready manner in which year after year, since 1843, they have entered with me into the consideration of the many plans which they have adopted for improvement in intelligence, morals, and physical comfort of the population around them. With the view of seeing their way more clearly, they have been in the habit of causing very carefully prepared statistical returns to be laid before them, embracing most of the topics of interest in relation to the above subjects. I have had occasion frequently to quote from those returns, and I accordingly am glad of the opportunity of referring to another series of them made at the end of last year. I subjoin some portions in the Appendix (C) ; but the point to which I wish particularly to call attention is the one which illustrates the fact of the deficient attendance of boys between the ages of 10 to 15 at the day or evening schools, amounting only to 25 1/2 per cent of the total number of children between those ages attached to their works. Notwithstanding all the encouragement to education given by the Messrs. Baird and notwithstanding that the schools are excellent, and close to their doors, 69 per cent, of the total number attending are of the early ages between 5 and 10; and a considerable minority of the whole number of children of school age is not at school at all. It will be seen that the total population to which the returns apply is 2,060.

Appendix C
Abstract of Census of population at Gartsherrie Iron Works, 31st December 1851

   Population                      MalesFemales
Heads of family            351364
     "                     lodging3024
Single lodgers, including servants16235
Children under 15658
Children 1 to 5 at school1110
Children 1 to 5 not at school132161
Children 5 to 10 at school12379
Children 5 to 10 not at school5866
Children 10 to 15 at school2632
Children 10 to 15 not at school, but working688
Children 10 to 15 not at school, and not working847
Above 1511338

Excess of males over females, 216; or, 123.4 males for every 100 females

There are householders395
      "       parent lodgers 24
Total population 2060 divided by419      = 4.917 persons (including lodgers to each family)

 Total PopulationNo of occupied houses
                  2060       395= 5.215 persons to each house 

Total number working656 div. by 419    = 1.565 for each family
Total population2,060
Deduct single lodgers197
          Total1,863 div. by419  = 4.446 members to each family

Religious persuasionFamiliesPersonsPercent
Church of Scotland2971,46070.87*
Free Church14693.35
United Prebyterian361778.59
Roman Catholic4421610.48
Other Sects281386.71

*Many of these are probably very irregular attendants

Table showing the number of children of several ages attending school:

No of
No of boys
No of
No of girls
Total No
4 to 5    281139.3%351028.6%632133.3%
5 to 1018112367.9%1457954.5%32620261.9%
10 to 151022625.5%873236.8%1895830.7%


The number of children between 4 and 10 years of age is 389 and the number of these children attending school is 223 or 57.3%.  At Gartsherrie proper the total children between 4 and 10 is 326; attending school of these 203; or 62.3% of the whole number between the ages stated.

In Glasgow, the number attending school is 66.5% giving a difference in favour of Glasgow of 4.2% (66.5 minus 62.3%).

Note - In addition to the many liberal and excellent measures for the improvement and comforst of the people in their employ, which I have recorded in former reports, the Messrs Baird have lately set on foot a "Band" among their colliers, supplying them with instruments, employing a musician to teach them, and setting apart a buidling as a music hall.  It is thought that this has already led to a decrease of intemperance by affording a "new enjoyment" and one which diffuses so much pleasure.  The Band consists of 15 instruments.  They are not allowed to play anywhere for hire, and no smoking is allowed in the hall.  The building is also used seperately as a Sunday school for girls.