Extract from Mining District Report 1853

- 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

Dundyvan Ironworks

Mr. Mackenzie, managing partner of the Dundyvan Ironworks, stated to me,-

" The use of ponies in the collieries to draw the coals from the men at work in the bottom of the pit has so superseded the labour of boys that the boys are only used now to draw the coal the short distances from the wall-faces to the main roads. These distances are seldom more than 20 fathoms, consequently the boys have frequent rests, and the younger ones, who open and shut doors, are sitting down all day. There can be no difficulty about their attending evening Schools, and we have all the machinery ready, evening schools in existence, and good teachers, &c.


There was no part of the mining districts where, ten years ago, I had occasion to remark more deficiencies in everything that regarded the moral welfare of the population than in the principal seats of the iron works in Scotland, especially in Lanarkshire and other neighbouring counties. There is no part of the Kingdom where, since that time, more continuous and earnest measures have been taken by all the leading proprietors and companies, for the improvement of the state of society around them.

I am happy to be able to add to all that I have formerly recorded of these districts, the following facts and observations as to the progress of this spirit and its satisfactory results.

The Messrs. Baird, who are, I believe, the largest employers of colliers in Scotland, in connexion with their extensive iron-works in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, are judiciously following up the many measures of improvement which they commenced on a scale of great liberality many ago.

One of their largest colliery villages, Gartsherrie, consisting of 250 houses, in two large squares, and with a population of up-wards of 1,300, is now brought into a state of as great neatness and comfort as is possible with that mode of arrangement. An ample supply of water is brought into every house ; stone gutters, with water constantly running through them, are completed along all the sides of these squares ; men are employed daily in sweeping up and carting away all refuse from the roadways, &c.; the whole of the rest of the space within the squares is laid out in gardens, and a row of trees has been planted along every side, a tree being opposite to every house ; nearly the whole of the numerous garden plots were, this spring, carefully and neatly cultivated, the number showing signs of neglect being fewer with every succeeding year; a beginning had been made, in a few instances, of a custom which will add much to the taste for and to success in gardening, that of enclosing the individual plots with a slight fence ; the plots so enclosed were conspicuous for their neatness, and for the successful cultivation of flowers, as well as vegetables; and further, a large green plot had been left open in one of the squares, for cricket or other games, and for general recreation. A few years ago, it was considered nearly impossible to give the Scotch colliers, at least those who inhabited the large squares or rows of houses so common in those districts, any taste for the recreation of a garden. A little encouragement, and the determination on the part of the employer to have the garden allotted to each house dug and planted, and the cost charged to the occupier in case of his not doing it himself, have sufficed, in a few seasons, to establish the habit of looking after their gardens themselves, in this and some other instances in that part of the country; and there can be no doubt of the beneficial results that may, by degrees, be expected from this new source of enjoyment.

The very large and handsome school-buildings which, in addition to a church, the Messrs. Baird erected some years ago in the neighbourhood of their principal Lanarkshire works, at Coatbridge, having become inadequate to contain the increasing number of scholars, they purpose building another set of schools at Gartsherrie.

They have turned their attention also to another very serious want, which is conspicuous in nearly .all Scotch schools, that of female teachers.

The habit in the Scotch parochial schools is that the girls are taught in the same classes as the boys, and by the master, and there is no female teacher to instruct them during a portion of their time in needle-work or other feminine employments. However much the intellectual faculties of the female children may be stimulated by this process of instruction, it must be evident that it leaves undone much that can only be done by the aid and the softening influences of female care and superintendence.

Exclusively male tuition, and the habit of mixing with boys at all times in their classes, and during their play hours, must tend to put aside many matters of female training which cannot be neglected without disadvantage, especially in the case of populations such as those in question. The Messrs Baird therefore are about to add female teachers to all their schools, and a class of persons will doubtless be selected for that important charge who will be competent, not only to teach well the common matters of female industrial work, but to exact all that attention to cleanliness, neatness, and propriety of manners and conduct, which are among the most essential foundations of female character. It is clearly seen in those districts that without the elevation of the standard of female habits and manners and tone of thought and conduct, that of the other sex must, to say the least, be extremely slow and precarious.

It is also under the Messrs Bairds contemplation to endeavour to avail themselves of the opportunities afforded by their large schools, to introduce some instruction to a certain number of girls, by turns, in the important and useful matters of "house economy" such as the proper mode of cleaning and keeping in order the various rooms in a house, with their respective furniture, washing and "getting up" linen, plain cooking &c in each of which the wives and daughters of this portion of the population are said to be peculiarly deficient. If a better knowledge of these matters on the part of the females led it to their keeping their houses more clean and comfortable, there can be no doubt that there would be more attachment to home and less drunkenness among the men. It is commonly asserted also that from ignorance of the simplest rules of good management in the matter of cooking, there is great waste in nearly every instance where any attempt at dressing or preparing meat is made. Some of the gentleman attached to the Messrs Bairds establishments, to whose practical energy the success of many of the useful things already accomplished there is to a great extent due, are endeavouring to see their way to setting on foot, in connection with the schools, a ready mode of preparing daily a certain quantity of simple and palatable food to be sold in portions. It is thought that many single men whose food is now badly or wastefully prepared by the wife in the family with whom they lodge would willingly purchase their meals ready prepared for them in this manner, in the shape of good and palatable messes or portions, and that "a cooking establishment" either attached to the schools or near at hand, and conveniently situated as regards the population, might not only supply a large number of persons and families, at a very reasonable rate, and with better dishes than they know how to prepare themselves, but would also gradually instruct the females in the mode of doing so and thus render such aid by degrees unnecessary. It is much to be desired that the attempt should been made and that it should be successful.

At the same schools the Messrs Baird have caused another very desirable innovation upon the common practice of Scotch schools to be introduced - that of teaching singing. The Latin and mathematical teacher in these schools is also required to teach singing from notes, and a portion of time is specially set apart during the week for that purpose.

The ultimate results of such a course of judicious and liberal management on the part of the Messrs Baird will doubtless be conspicuous in due time. The more immediate have in the meanwhile, been encouragingly, in the general good conduct of the great body of their workmen, and in their showing themselves to be more and more open to good influences and right reason.

The progress of improvement in the means of physical comfort and cleanliness, provided for the large population assembled around the three neighbouring works, and at the large village of Coatbridge, is visible in the introduction, since last year, of a water supply accompanied with proper drainage, as at Gartsherrie, and in a more general attention to the decent appearance of the long rows of workmen's houses. This is conspicuous at the Dundyvan and at the Summerlee works and it may, I think, the estimated that two-thirds of the population are now supplied with the means of cleanliness and comfort, in a locality which, in a few years ago, I had occasion to notice as remarkable for the absence of both.

Monklands Ironworks

About five miles from the mass of mining population just mentioned is another employed by the Messrs Murray at their extensive Iron works at Monkland &c. The average number of persons employed is about 4000 which is estimated to give a total population of about 15,000 living immediately around their works. It has been for many years a satisfactory task to refer to what has been effected at these works no less than at Gartsherrie with a view to the benefit of the population. They both afford very useful illustrations of what might be done with advantage in many similar cases.

The care bestowed on extending the means of education and of moral and intellectual improvement generally, have been considerable at the Monkland works. At the recent annual examination, which was attended by many of the neighbouring clergy, there were 1,500 children present, the numbers on the books being much beyond that. There were also at the seven evening schools about 300 young men. There are three reading rooms (one of which has been added since last year), to which there are nearly 500 subscribers at 1d. per week. The papers taken in comprise some of the London daily papers and several local ones, together with reviews, magazines, &c. The lending libraries connected with two out of the three reading rooms, but supported by separate subscriptions, contain upwards of 1,000 volumes. And with regard to the important matter of introducing female industrial work in these schools, the resident managing partner, Mr. Buttery, informed me as follows :-

"Within the last eighteen months we have altered our arrangements with regard to female teachers. We have now one attached to each school, and a portion of the schoolroom is partitioned off, in which the girls are for two hours each day under a mistress. They are taught all kinds of needlework and knitting, and especially are encouraged to bring their clothes to make and mend, that they may learn to do these things themselves. There can be no doubt of the great want of this kind of instruction, probably not one-tenth of the women grown up in this neighbourhood can use the needle to any advantage, or do anything of this sort for themselves or their children. It will also be the especial duty of the mistress to attend to the habits and manners of the female children, making them keep themselves clean and tidy, and correcting many things that may easily be corrected by a respectable female teacher. I had some opposition to encounter when it was first proposed to attach female teachers to the schools, but those who opposed are now converted. We may, I trust, anticipate great good from it. I am also inclined; to think that we might, after a time, try the farther steps of having a certain number of the girls taught to wash and "get up" clothes ; it might pay itself. I am convinced also that a great deal of discomfort and drunkenness would be prevented if the wives could be taught better modes of simple cookery. I believe that hundreds of pounds are yearly spent in whiskey because the wife does not know how to give the husband those comforts which she might with better management. The waste is also very great from ignorance of the common modes of making palatable dishes by doing up things a second time. Both these branches of good domestic management might be improved by proper teaching.

A large majority of the young men about the works, have taken advantage of the education offered them here, and are showing the good effect of it. In matters of wages they are much more capable of taking a right view, and are more accessible to reason than those who had grown up without instruction ; and the number of those who understand what it is that regulates wages, and when it is reasonable to expect an advance and when not, is increasing every year. Many, however, remain who are still unreasonable, and give us a good deal of trouble. The advance to colliers within the last six or eight months has been equal to about 1s. per day's work of eight hours. As a general rule, the result of this advance has been that the colliers have worked fewer days per fortnight, and consequently have not, in fact, earned much more wages than they did before. As it is absolutely necessary for us to get a certain quantity of coal and ironstone we are obliged to employ more hands, unless we reduce our stock, which it is very undesirable to do ; and we have employed from 100 to 200 more hands, who have been earning the wages that the others might have earned. By and by there will come another period of slack trade, and there will then be so many more men competing for a smaller quantity of work"

It may be expected that the means pursued by the Messrs. Murray will in due time produce a class of workmen far too intelligent to sacrifice their own interests in the manner above described.

Coltness & Dalmellington

About the same distance from the Monkland works, in an opposite direction, are those of Coltness, where there is a population in the immediate neighbourhood of the works of about 1,000, a considerable number of whom are colliers and miners. Their mode of working and their general conduct present a strong contrast to most of the other collier communities in that county, and afford a very useful illustration of the beneficial effect of the principles of management which the proprietor, Mr. Houldsworth, has long pursued towards them. Mr. Houldsworth informed me that the important difference in the mode of work adopted there was, that the colliers work by the fathom. This gets rid of all disputes about weight. They appoint one of themselves to superintend the measurement, when it is being taken by the agent. Since the rise of wages all the hands had, it was said, been working as much as they could. They had no strikes now; "when the time comes for a rise of wages they reason about it, and if it is proper they get it."

The policy of doing all that is practicable for the comfort and the general improvement of the population connected with them has been nowhere acted upon more consistently than at the works with which Mr. Houldsworth is connected in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire.

Some years ago Mr Houldsworth erected some cottages at his works at Coltness to which a supply of water was introduced and in which the arrangements for decency and comfort were much beyond those usually met with. These arrangements would be still further improved in the cottages which Mr Houldsworth is now proposing to build at Coltness and in the large number now in course of erection at his works (the Dalmellington) in Ayrshire. The arrangements proposed for the former are such as will enable a lodger, if one is taking in, to have a separate entrance to his room without disturbing the family, and are so contrived as to be convertible, by closing a door, to the purposes of two small families, instead of one large one, each family having a scullery and washing place and other conveniences. Each room is to have three cupboards. There is to be a small porch of latticework attached to each door, which will not add more than 30 shillings for 40 shillings to the cost, and will be of use as well as an ornament. The flooring is to be of asphalt, and by good and economical arrangements of the walls &c the total cost will not be more than that of inferior cottages with much less space and accommodation. To these cottages at Coltness, gas has been introduced without charge to the occupants, 140 houses now being lighted with it. The object was "to induce the people to stay at home and read or pass the evenings with their families instead of going to the public house". As it is "turned off" regularly at 10 o'clock every night it probably conduces not a little too early hours and regular habits. Mr Houldsworth considers its effect in these particulars to be worth the cost of providing it.

The plan of having all the dwelling rooms on the ground floor is so habitual in Scotland that it must be a long time before it could be generally altered, even if the opinion should become general there that the arrangements invariably adopted in the best English cottages, of having the sleeping rooms on a flora above, is in all respects preferable. A few have been built on the English plan at some of the works in Scotland, principally for the English workmen. It may be anticipated that the example of the cleanliness and comfort in which the room below, with its back kitchen, can be kept, as soon as the cooking or other work of the day is over, and the privacy and quiet of the sleeping rooms, especially in case of illness, will in time have its effect; in the meantime several gentlemen, among whom are the proprietors of these two important works, have the subject under consideration in reference to new cottages, and also the Messrs Baird and others in that part of the country.

Gardening is attended to at Coltness, where the ground is suitable; and at Dalmellington ample arrangements are making for good gardens adjoining all the cottages now under construction. These cottages have each two rooms, space for cupboards, and a scullery, with a back court, containing all the arrangements desirable. A main drain with water running through it, will run along the backs of these houses, where there is also a road way, for the convenience of carrying away all refuse &c. The gardens are laid out in long strips behind. In front of the houses an ample space is left, and provided with underground drainage. The slope of the hill did not admit of any small enclosure in front of each cottage, which is always desirable wherever practicable.

One of the most important regulations introduced by Mr Houldsworth, and one which, after much opposition and reluctance on the part of the men, has been attended with the best results, has been that of preventing the sale of spirits at or in the immediate neighbourhood of his works, and encouraging the people to drink beer instead. One of the difficulties which have been stated to me as being in the way of the gradual substitution of beer for spirits among the labouring classes in Scotland, is the fact that the consumption of beer is not, in general, sufficient to enable the retailer to feel sure that he will sell what he takes in from the brewer before it is spoiled. By putting obstacles in the way of his men procuring spirits, which are not to be had within a distance of three miles on one side, and a mile or a mile and a half on the other Mr. Houldsworth has at both his works accomplished a point of considerable importance for Scotland. The account given me at both these works was that the experiment had now been tried for upwards of four years, and that although the men did not like it at first, they had now "come into it;" the proof being that they drank a good deal more of it than they did.

The results have been eminently satisfactory, there being now "very little drunkenness," and the comfort and happiness of the men and their families, as well as the interests of the employer, being greatly promoted by the change.

The quantity of warm water constantly running to waste from the steam-engines at these iron and coal works, has often suggested the idea of providing a simple shed for baths. Nothing, I believe, but the general impression of the rooted prejudice of the colliers generally against washing their whole bodies, has prevented many proprietors from availing themselves of this ready supply of water to erect baths and wash-houses at or near their works. It must not be forgotten that the Acts of Parliament which freed the colliers of Scotland from personal servitude, passed only as late as the years 1775 and 1799. It need not, therefore, be a matter of surprise that notions still linger among them which belong to their former state of ignorance and degradation. Mr Houldsworth informed me, that he had it in contemplation to erect baths; and there can be no doubt that he will, before long, meet with the gratitude of the people in his employ for thus aiding them to free themselves from the bonds of a barbarous prejudice, which is alike injurious to their bodily health and their moral dignity.

The schools at both Mr Houldsworth's works are well attended. At Dalmellington, a new school and master's house is to be erected, together with a reading-room, for which a library is being formed, as also at Coltness. The evening school at the latter is attended by between 60 and 70 young men. The schoolmasters at both are guaranteed sufficient salaries, and the Company pay two clergymen for their services at Dalmellington and at a neighbouring village. Mr. Houldsworth stated that it was under consideration to appoint a clergyman for the exclusive superintendence of the population connected with their works at and near Coltness.

Two other proprietors of large iron and coal works have informed me in the course of the last few months of their purpose to adopt this among the other means of moral improvement suggested to them by the details lately published relative to Price's Patent Candle Company, which have so deservedly excited attention and admiration.

The Law of Arrestment of Wages in Scotland

It has been long since clearly seen by all persons in Scotland, who have examined closely into the circumstances affecting the moral condition of the working population, that there is in that country no more potent source of improvidence, debt, dishonesty, pecuniary losses; drunkenness, domestic unhappiness, and ruin, or more grievous instrument of fraud and injustice to the working man, than the law of arrestment of wages.

The old law was amended in 1837 by the Act 1 Vict. c. 41, but in a manner that has not proved satisfactory. The 7th section of that Act, by which it is enacted and declared, "That wages of labourers and manufacturers shall, so far as necessary for their subsistence, be deemed alimentary, and, in like manner as servants fees and other alimentary funds, not liable to arrestment," has, by the insertion of the words "so far as necessary for their subsistence," left full scope for all the abuses that had been complained of, with the additional inconvenience of affording opportunity for differences of interpretation, which have aggravated the feeling against the hardships and injustice inflicted under the sanction of the law. While one magistrate determines in one part of Scotland that only 4s. in the pound are arrestable, another permits one-half to be so, although in the latter case the arrestment of one-half must deprive the individual or the family of what they at least deem necessary to their subsistence, and which often in fact must be so.

In the first year in which I was charged with the duty of examining into and reporting to Parliament upon the circumstances affecting the condition of the mining population, namely, in the year 1844, I drew attention to the state of the law in this particular, and cited (at p. 28 of my Report to the Secretary of State for that year) several conclusive facts concerning it. I had, in the two following years, communications with the Lord Advocate upon the subject; and I have been frequently urged since by large employers of labour in the mining districts of Scotland, to continue to represent to the Secretary of State the necessity for further legislation.

I mentioned in my Report for last year that the subject had been brought before the Quarter Sessions of the county of Haddington in January 1852, and I gave a long extract from the speech delivered on that occasion by Sir George Grant Suttie, Bart., in which he strongly advocates the alteration of the law, with a view to the best interests of the labouring classes.

In April last a public meeting was held at Glasgow, " to consider the present state of the law in regard to the arrestment of wages, and the best means to obtain its amendment'' This meeting was attended by a considerable number of persons of leading position and influence as merchants and manufacturers connected with Glasgow and the neighbourhood. The local papers gave the following names as taking part in or present at the meeting : -Neale Thomson, Esq. ; James Hannan, Esq., Dean of Guild; James Napier, Esq. ; Charles Gray, Esq. ; Hugh Cogan, Esq.; James Aitken, Esq.; Andrew Galbraith, Esq. ; D. V. Stewart, Esq. ; Walter Crun, Esq.; James Clark, Esq. ; William Neilson, Esq. ; George Anderson, Esq. ; T. L. Hadden, Esq.; David Smith, Esq. ; Robert Lamond, Esq.; William Dalglish, Esq.; William Adam, Esq.; William Gourlie, Esq.; J. M'Call, Esq.; James Black, Esq., &c. &c. Several speeches were made and resolutions passed, which so completely embody the arguments for the abolition of this power of arrestment, and so fully represent the wishes and intentions of that influential meeting upon the subject, that I cannot adopt a better mode of putting your Lordship in possession of both than by giving extracts from them in the Appendix (B.) to this Report.

Your Lordship is aware that, subsequently to this meeting, a Bill upon this subject has been introduced into the House of Lords, though not by a member of the Government. A deputation also from the gentlemen above named, as well as others, has since represented to your Lordship personally their views and wishes. The time, therefore, is probably not distant when this power of arrestment of wages in Scotland, which was originally designed as a benefit to the working man but which has proved to be a snare, and a source of demoralization and oppression, will be erased from the statute book, to the general advantage of the cause of sobriety, honesty, providence, and justice.