Extract from Mining District Report 1854

- 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

Among the most striking deficiencies which I had occasion to point out some years ago, in the large mining villages in Lanarkshire, was that of an inadequate supply of water. After other much needed measures had been carried into effect for the benefit and improvement of those large populations, several of the gentlemen connected with the district procured the formation of a water company, which for the last two years has afforded a full supply of good water to the town of Airdrie and to the village of Coatbridge, and to the many thousands of persons congregated round the worrks of the Gartsherrie, Dundyvan, Summerlee, and other companies.

The collection of houses at Rosehall, belonging to the iron and coal works.of Messrs. Addie, Miller, and Rankin, was, during the last year, the only one in that particular neighbourhood to which, from special circumstances, (now, I believe likely to be removed,) this water supply was not brought; and most unfortunately it was the only locality in which the cholera broke out in that district with any violence during the last summer ; there having been at Rosehall, out of a population of about 2,000, twenty-seven deaths. This unhappy circumstance was adverted to to me, by the gentlemen above mentioned, with extreme regret, the more so as they had anticipated that the abundance of water for all purposes, which was to be had within a quarter of a mile of the village, would have been sufficient to prevent any such calamity arising from that cause. It was also further a source of regret, because the general opinion of the neighbourhood attributed the infliction to this delay in bringing water to the people's doors. If this delay was the cause, it is satisfactory to be able to add the assurances of Messrs. Addie, Miller, and Rankin, that they are determined to cure the defect before this present summer is over ; and that in April last they were carrying on negotiations for that purpose.

But there is, in that village, another very obvious and much more exciting cause of cholera than the deficiency in the supply of water ; namely, the position, the smallness, and the crowded state of the houses. The difficulty of obtaining land for building caused, as Mr. Addie informed me, the rows of houses to be placed too near each other ; and the same cause has prevented the requisite additions being made to their number, with the increase of the population employed at the works. The consequence has been, that notwithstanding the printed regulations, that "every workman who is in possession of a house and garden, shall use the same only for the accommodation of his own family, and shall on no account take in any lodger or lodgers without special consent in writing'' and "in case of contravention shall be fined one shilling and sixpence per week'' the cottages have been usually very crowded, to an extent to render the inmates extremely liable to any form of contagious disease.

The houses are only eight and a half feet high in the roof; consequently at ten, twelve, and fourteen feet square respectively, would afford a quantity of 850, 1,200, and 1,650 cubic feet of air.

As this is a subject very little considered by the owners of cottages, and still less by those who inhabit them ; and as the total neglect, or possibly in many cases, total ignorance of all that is involved in it, is in innumerable instances the direct cause of loss of health and even of life, it is highly desirable that it should be placed in its proper light in connexion with this particular instance.

If, as is probably the most favourable state of the case in the houses in this village, each room of the above sizes was occupied at night by six persons, each person would have, under a full and free system of ventilation, a supply of, in the first case, 140 cubic feet of air, in the second of 200, and in the third of 280.

But the houses, besides being low in the roof, were, I was informed, not kept properly ventilated; the apertures in the ceiling which were left for the purpose being generally closed by the inmates themselves; and the doors and windows, being comparatively new and well made, fitted closely and prevented any great introduction of air in those directions. In addition to this, the number of inmates at night in each room instead of being on an average six only, was, I was credibly informed,, more often eight, ten, or even twelve ; and if that were so, the number of cubic feet of air per person would be, in the houses of 10ft. x 10ft. X 8 ½ft., 106, 85, and 70 respectively ; in those of 12ft. X 12ft. X 8 ½ft, 150, 120 and 100 ; and in those of 14ft, x 14ft. X 8 ½ft, 220, 170, and 150. And this, not of pure air, but of air very soon extremely vitiated by respiration.

Now it is shown in a very popular work of well-established authority, " The Physiology of Health and Education'' by Dr. Andrew Combe (p. 227), that at a very moderate estimate, founded on a comparison of the researches of Sir Humphrey Davy and others, "in the space of a minute no less than 300 cubic inches of air are required for the respiration of a single person''

''In the space of one minute" also adds Dr. Combe, " twenty-four cubic inches of oxygen disappear, and are replaced by an equal amount of carbonic acid ; so that, in the course of an hour, one pair of lungs will, at a low estimate, vitiate the air by the subtraction of no less than 1,440 cubic inches of oxygen, and the addition of an equal number of carbonic acid; thus constituting a source of impurity which cannot be safely overlooked."

It will be observed that, 1,440 cubic inches being equivalent to forty cubic feet, the whole vital principle of the air would be subtracted in the worst of the instances above mentioned (that of their being only 70 cubic feet of air for each person) in less than two hours, and in the most favourable instance, (that of 280 cubic inches for each person) in seven hours, supposing there was no escape at all for the impure air and no admission of fresh. The escape of the former by means of the chimney, and the introduction of fresh through crevices, slow and inadequate as they are, prevent these results to their full extent; but the senses of any one entering suddenly into any such room, very plainly discover to what a considerable and injurious extent the vitiation of the atmosphere has proceeded.

The contrast between the amount of pure air available for respiration in any of these cottages, under the circumstances indicated, and the amount deemed necessary in gaols, will place the deficiencies of the former in a strong light. In the cells of many of our gaols, for adult males, from 500 to 850 cubic feet per cell, are deemed requisite to health; and that with a very careful system of ventilation, which tends, to keep the air in the cells always pure. It has been seen that the highest amount in the cottages above described, under frequent circumstances, is 280 cubic feet per person, and with an imperfect, or indeed scarcely any ventilation worthy of the name ; while the lowest amount is only 70 cubic feet.

The derangement of the bodily functions, the depression of mind and the consequently increased susceptibility to all the more aggravated forms of disease, consequent on the continual breathing of impure air, have all been so often pointed out, and in no work more clearly than in the one above quoted, that it may be a matter of surprise, that the importance of attending to so simple a natural law has not forced itself more strongly on the attention, if not of the colliery population inhabiting these small and crowded cottages, at all events of their employers, who are the first to regret the distress and suffering caused by such an infliction as the cholera, as above adverted to, and among the first to feel its consequences. In this instance, at least, there is reason to hope that the attention excited by such an occurrence will not have been, in vain, as the proprietor of this company who manages that particular department informed me that it was the intention of the company forthwith to build an additional number of cottages, of dimensions and with arrangements more consistent with the general health of the occupants.

It is found at most of the other large works in Scotland, that there is the same difficulty in preventing the over-crowding of the houses by means of lodgers, arising, perhaps, in some degree, from the large number of Irish who have of late years been introduced into the coal and iron works. Fines are resorted to, as above described, to keep the evil in check ; but it is probable that the gain to the tenant of the house is much greater from the lodgers than the loss would be from the fine, even if it was always levied on detection. The better remedy would most clearly be a full number of houses in proportion to the extension of the works and the demand for men ; for the tendency among the workmen must always be expected to be strong to lodge near his work, even at some loss of comfort and convenience.

The efforts for the general improvement of the working population, which I have frequently had occasion to notice of late years in the large centres of employment in the iron and coal districts in Scotland, continue to be conspicuous, and, it is hoped, are affording evidences of their good effect. One of the principal managers of works in the Lanarkshire district, who had formerly had a great deal of trouble with his men, stated to me that "they had become more reasonable, and were beginning to understand the principles that regulate the labour market and trade. The masters, too, give them advances more readily when prices justify it." Still, however, the irrational proceeding of working less the higher their wages are is very common, of which the following is an instance at another of the principal works in that county.

"Eighteen months ago our colliers were earning only 3s. 2d. per day. Advances have been made to them from time to time at five different times (and without their asking for it) until they are now earning 6s. 4d. a day; yet the same number of men produce less coal now than they did when wages were 3s. 2d. Nevertheless the diminution is not so great as it used to be after similar increases of wages in former years, which is an indication that they are beginning to be more reasonable on the subject, and less inclined to throw away a good opportunity."

Other proprietors also have on several recent occasions adopted the excellent course of anticipating a demand for increase of wages on the part of their men, by granting it unasked from the moment when they perceived it was just that the men should receive it; thus establishing a feeling of confidence between themselves and their work-people upon a point which has hitherto been not only the most constant source of struggle and ill-feeling, but the cause of its being extended to all the other matters which may chance to come in controversy between them.

The desire for education which, as a rule, so creditably distinguishes the working population of Scotland, continues to be seconded by the proprietors of the great works in the districts adverted to; several additional schools and school libraries having been set on foot within the last year. It is also deserving of particular notice that at two of the great works,- the Gartsherrie and the Coltness - the proprietors have provided further spiritual superintendence expressly for the population collected round the works ; in the first case, as an assistant to the minister already provided by the liberality of the proprietors, the Messrs. Baird. Those gentlemen have the satisfaction of finding that the many and consistent efforts which for several years past they have made for the religious and moral and general welfare of the many thousands of persons in their employ, are exhibiting their fruit in a more steady, orderly, and reasonable set of workpeople. Among other matters to which the proprietors of both those works, (the Messrs, Baird and the Messrs. Houldsworth) have especially turned their attention, the discouragement of drinking habits has held a prominent place. The testimony of the persons in authority at both is very strong as to the benefits derived from their even partial success, both to their workpeople and to themselves; and having aided the latter to break through the pernicious habit of spirit-drinking, they have doubtless opened the way for their other excellent designs and measures to produce their due effect.