John Watson's of Motherwell - Extract from Truck Report 1871

Mr. Watson has collieries both at Motherwell and at Slamannan, and about 400 to 500 men are employed at each. The pays are fortnightly. At Slamannan poundage is charged, and there is no store. The following observations apply only to the Motherwell works.

The store, which is a large roomy shop, with a drinking bar at one end, is situated close to the cash office. The storeman's son, John Forsyth, a lad of about 16, acts both as cash clerk and store boy, sometimes in one capacity and sometimes in the other. The system appears to be very similar to that pursued at other works, but it is more strictly enforced; 70% of the advances are expected to be spent in the store. The men carry the whole of their advances in the first instance to the store, and the storeman generally makes the allowance of the part they are to take away. We learnt from the cashier that the men  who take about 70% of their advances to the store are not charged poundage, but when men take away the whole they look up the books, and charge poundage upon what has been taken away. Lines are given systematically, and according to the admission of the storeman frequently no cash passes. From 2 o'clock on Saturday, when the cash office is closed till Monday, it is common for the storeman to give lines instead of cash. On other occasions owing to the refusal (according to the cashier) of the workmen's wives to go to the cash office and stand among the others, lines have been given to the wives in the store without their going to the cash office at all. From the evidence of a workman, it appeared that lines were also sometimes given to those who sloped, that they might not have the money to carry off. The amount of the lines is deducted from the wages at pay day. The total wages paid at Motherwell in 1869 was £11,095; of this, £5,848 went in advances, £3,772 of this latter figure (or about 65%) being spent in the store. Other evidence, for which we refer to the printed notes, was given by the workmen employed at Watson's. It pointed to the excessive stringency with which the regulations were enforced, to the inferior quality of the articles, and the high rate of the prices charged in the store.

"The worst store," said Burt, a workman who left Watson's about two years before the Commission, "that ever came under my notice was Watson's of Motherwell. It was actually the worst."

McCloy, a miner, who had been there three or four years previously to the sittings at Glasgow, alleges that he had "heard numbers of men say that they have got their leave or had been discharged because they were not taking articles out of the store ; but by going to Forsyth and giving an order for a lot of things they would get their places back again." The same witness spoke to the facility with which drink was given to workmen at the drinking bar.

Q Have you anything else to tell us about the stores ? - I know that in Watson's store both I and other people that I know of would get a line on a Saturday night, or get a bottle of whisky on credit, when perhaps others would come and they would not give them any provisions.

Q Has that happened to yourself?- Yes. I have got whisky when my wife was refused goods in the grocery place, and did not know that I was there.

The reluctant confessions of the storeman and his son suffice to prove that excessive rigour has been exercised. Forsyth, the storeman, admitted that he used to send men to the pay clerk when they sloped the store, in order that the latter might threaten them, and that they might be dismissed if they would not consent to stop sloping. Watson, the pay clerk, was questioned in the case of one particular sloper, as to what had passed between himself and the storeman, and his evidence was as follows :-

Q Did Forsyth come to you and say that Macpherson or Mulligan was always sloping, and that he had better clear off the ground? - It is very likely he would, but I don't recollect.

Q Is that a matter that would escape your recollection easily? - Yes.

Q Does it happen so often? - No ; but it is not a thing I would lay to heart very much.

Q Do you mean to say that that is a matter that would likely escape your memory, that the storeman had come to you and said that a man was sloping the store, and that he should be put off the ground? - Yes, I would say so.

As to the inferior quality of the provisions and the high rate of prices there is no doubt. We visited officially this store and procured from it samples of bread, sugar, tea, candles, and other articles of general consumption, which were submitted to the examination of Mr. W. McCulloch. His evidence with regard to them may be summarised as follows:

"I have examined samples from Watson's. The bread charged at 7 1/2d. per quarter, for the quality of bread, is too dear, 7d. at the outside would be a proper price. The quality is inferior. For the price charged, it might have been of a much better quality of flour. It was fit enough for consumption, but it might have been better when they charged so much for it. It was not sour. It was not so bad as the bread from some of the other places. The 4 1/2d. sugar was about fair value. You get a much better value of sugar in town for the same price, but then you cannot expect a storekeeper in the country to give you that. The tea at 3s. is tea only used for mixing, not for drinking. It is not drinking tea, but what we only use in the trade for mixing. It would have a peculiar taste. It is altogether Pekoe and green tea - two teas which are only used for mixing. It is good for drinking, but it has a peculiar taste when drunk. The 2s. 8d. tea ought to be sold at 4d. less after allowing profit. The brush at 7 1/2d. is fair value. The candle at 10d. a pound would be value at about 8d. or 9d. after allowing profit."

Every opportunity was given to the proprietors to rebut this evidence as to quality and prices, but they made no attempt to do so.

Abstract of Evidence

Henry McNulty

Until 12 months ago I worked at Watson's. There was a store. My book was stopped about 20 times in the four years I was there. They allowed us to take away 1s. out of 5s. We could get plenty of drink. I prefer the system at the works where I now am, of poundage on advances at the rate of 1s. to the system of stores. The provisions are just very middling at Watson's; some good, some very good; the most part very bad, so far as I knew. They were always 1d. or 2d. dearer than in the shops. The storeman always told me when I went back for my cash, after sloping, that he knew what I had done with the cash before, and that I was to get no more. His name was Thomas Forsyth. None of the managers or oversmen ever spoke to me about the store. I have many a time got a line instead of cash after being refused at the office. If I sloped the clerk would not give me cash, but would give me a line. I never heard of anybody being turned away for not going to the store. We had often to wait perhaps two hours at the store. The reason I left was, that one day I took about 7s. worth of drink when I had about £1 of pay lying which I ought to have got upon the Saturday, but when the Saturday came I never got one farthing of it. They kept the whole £1 for drink. That was about a year and nine months ago.

John McPherson

I was at Watson's till last December as a miner. I got dismissed for sloping the store. The manager told me so. One day my book was stopped. I went to see the reason, and asked 10s. of what was due to me. The wee clerk flung back the book to me again. I asked him what he did that for, and he said, "You took away the last, you are not to get anymore." I did not know very well what to do, so I came out and stood there for a while. I had a wife and six weans in Ayrshire, and I thought it was rather hard that my money should be kept while they were wanting it, and they could not get it. I had money lying in the office at the time. I went in again and the head cashier came in and said, "What the hell are you wanting here?" I said, "I am wanting cash." He said, "You will get none, you took away the last." I said, "Oh. but I will need to get it," Mr. Waugh was standing by ; I said to him. "It is very hard that I should have plenty of money here, while my wife and weans are in Ayrshire, and I cannot get it to send to them." He just stood and hung his head, and said nothing. I had about £1 lying, and I wanted one half of it. The name of the head cashier was Thomas Watson, the name of the little boy was Johnny Forsyth, and the name of the storekeeper Tom Forsyth, the father of the boy. I said to the wee clerk that he should try the storeman again. The head cashier had by this time turned and gone into a room in the office. After some time he sent the little fellow to me to ask how much I would leave in the store. I said, "I am going by the store anyway." I had to go past it on my way home, and I got my 10s. from him. When I had got it, I walked straight to the post office, and posted it all to my wife. I was not requiring anything out of the store for myself.

The next time I went back for cash the same thing happened. My book was thrown out to me again. I said to the little clerk that I would go away down to his father, who was the storeman, and see if I could not get cash from him. I went round to the store, and waited for some time until I saw the storeman, and then I asked what was the reason for him stopping my book. He said there had been so much money taken away that he had got the blame of it, and he would not allow it. I said, that was hard enough too, and he was just turning to go away out when I said, "You might clear my book and let me have cash again." He said, "No, I will not, and you will get no cash on Tuesday, and further than that you can go in to Tom Watson, and tell him to give you your time, and clear off the ground." That means that I would have to leave. I left, and after eight days I came back again, and got work from a contractor in the works. When I had been working for him four days the manager came in and said "You have got back again". I said "Yes;" and he said, "You will understand that I keep a boy in the office for cashing, and I pay him weekly, and if you take away your money again, you can just take your graith and leave." I said, "I will try to do without it." I went to the advance clerk and got 30s. from him, and I posted it to my wife, in the same way as I had done before. My wife was confined to bed at the time in consequence of having had a child. It was after that that the manager spoke to me. After that I had to take goods out of the store in order to maintain my family, and I sent them from Motherwell to Saltcoats, in Ayrshire, which is 40 miles distance by the train. I could get no money, and if I had sloped the store again I would have got my leave. I had either to take goods or do without anything, so I went and bought a bag for 1s., and put the goods into it, and sent them off to Ayrshire. I did that three times. I put some big loaves in, and butter and sugar, and what not. This happened last December. It was the head manager who dismissed me. At this time I was working to a contractor. I left him after three or four weeks, partly because I was working with a Davy lamp, and did not like it, and partly because I did not like sending goods away by the train. I have told both the pay clerk and his father that my wife was in Ayrshire. The pay clerk said he could not help that - that I was going to get my time and clear off the ground. Once the woman with whom I was lodging got a 6s. line for me instead of cash. She told the cleft that I would get it cashed. The clerk asked how, and she said in Hamilton. I was not present.

Where I am now there is no store but poundage at 1s. I like poundage better than the store. I used to get drink at Watson's without money. They did not give me a line for it; they just kept it off me at pay-day. We could get plenty of whiskey without a line, but we could not get a loaf without one. If a man's wife was going down to the storeman and telling him that they were needing food, I have seen him deny it, and saying they could not get it, but if a man came down at the wife's back and asked for half a mutchkin, he would get it at once. This never happened to me. 1 cannot say any-thing further than that. That is what I heard the men saying.

William Watson

I used to work at Watson's. They never asked me to leave my money in the store. They never stopped my book. My book never got a chance of being stopped. I never sloped. They did stop men's books who did slope. Lines used to be given instead of cash to men who had sloped. I have known one man spoken to about sloping the store, he is John McPherson, who was here on Monday. John McPherson was dismissed for not going to the store. I have got a line for whiskey in the store without money once. The articles were dearer than in the shops, and I think not so good. The men said oil and meal, and all articles, were dearer. It was the custom to get whiskey without cash.

James Orr

I have worked at Watson's two years ago. I have also worked at Mr. Andrews', where there was poundage on the advances taken between the Saturdays, and at Mr. Addie's, where there was also poundage. At Watson's there was an understanding that if men got advances they must go to the store. If I wanted whiskey I had nothing to do but to go to the whiskey end of the store, and call for what I wanted. I have seen my wife repeatedly when she came in with a number of articles, perhaps 2s. worth sitting down and looking at them, and appearing to be very much vexed that such an amount of money had been spent on so few articles. I have heard her say repeatedly that if she had 16s. in her hand she could have got as many goods, and of as good quality as what could be obtained at the store for £1. There is a way of urging you to go to the store without exactly doing it barefacedly. They come round and speak to you, and hints are given, some official may perhaps make a remark that such a person would like to see you ; and you understood by that that they wanted you to go to the store. There is a general complaint about the whole of the off-takes. The men say they would rather pay for what they want themselves. A great many complain at having to pay for a doctor whom they do not want, and at having to pay for the school. The Roman Catholics would prefer to have, a school of their own. There are others who would like to select a schoolmaster themselves. In other respects I think the off-takes for doctoring and schooling are on the whole fair and reasonable. There is an impression that the children are not so well looked after as if the schoolmaster had to look to the men for payment.

Peter Burt

I have worked at Watson's and at other places. I prefer poundage to stores. The storekeepers do not study to keep good articles. The people have to wait to be served and the prices are higher. Watson's is the worst store that ever came under my notice. It is about a year and a half since I left there. When I first went there I did not want groceries, and I took away 12s. The woman with whom I lodged told me that when I went back again I would get no money, and she explained the system. She said, "They will give you lines for the future." When I went back again the clerk told me I would get no more money. He said "I will give you a line on the store." He handed me back 1s. cash. I have known men who could get drink when their wives could get no grocery. The men tell me they would like Watson's well enough if it were not for the store.

William Stewart

I am a miner at Watson's. My wife complains of the goods, the sugar, ham, and butter, that they are both dearer and not so good as in the shops. I prefer poundage. to stores. I have never been compelled to go to the store. I have never got my book stopped, but I have got lines without cash within the last three months. That has been done away with within the last two weeks. I think every man should have a voice in putting in a doctor and schoolmaster to please himself, and that is a general feeling amongst a number of miners.

William Bullock

I have never had my books stopped. I never had any occasion to slope the store. I am a contractor, and have men working under me. About half of them go to the store. I just pay them once a fortnight, and if they require any advance in the course of that time they have to go to the store. I have no understanding with Mr. Watson.

Alexander Malcolm

I am a miner. I never dealt at the store. I never took advances. I prefer to deal in the shops.

John Jarvie

I am a miner. I have a shop of my own. I deal at the store if I think proper. The meal, cheese, sugar, and tea at the store are as good as in the shops. I like the store better than the shops. I have reasons of my own for liking the store. I can keep the secret to myself, and I would not divulge it to anyone.

Richard McCloy

I was about, two years in Watson s. There they throw the things to you. They tell you to take them or leave them, and they will not give you your line to see whether what you are getting is the right thing. I have heard numbers of men say that they have been discharged because they were not taking articles out of the store ; but by going to Forsyth and giving an order for a lot of things they would get their places back again. I know that both I and other people I know of would get a line on a bottle of whiskey on credit, when perhaps others would come and would get no provisions. I have got whiskey myself when my wife was refused goods in the grocery part, and did not know that I was there. I have heard that that happened to more than a dozen.

John McClure

I am cashier at Watson's. He has works at Motherwell, and also at Slamannan. The works at Motherwell are collieries. There are about 500 men at each place. The pays are fortnightly. At Slamannan there is no store but poundage at 1s. At Motherwell, those who take away all their money past the store have their books examined and compared by the storeman, and he charges a poundage upon those who have gone past him, but if they take about 70% at the store there is no poundage charged. There is a regular system of giving lines without cash when the cash office is shut, between 2 on Saturday and Monday night. It never happens on other days. There is no expectation that pay should be taken to to the store, except the advances. In 1869 we paid in wages at Motherwell £18,095. Of that £5,848 was advances and of that £3,772 was taken to the store, that is 65%. We have no list of slopers. We know about it by looking over the books. The storeman knows exactly. If men take away their money regularly they are stopped. I am not aware of the oversmen having ever spoken to men on the subject of sloping. The man John McPherson who gave evidence here does not appear in our books at all. He may have been there under a false name, but his name is not in our books. There is a John Mulligan but that man is in the works still. I was not in court when McPherson gave his evidence. Mr. Simpson, one of our salesmen, was present, but he did not know the man because he has no knowledge of the work. I have not known cases of dismissal for sloping. So far as I have read the reports in the papers, I have nothing else to correct in them. The advance clerk comes over to the store with the people who come for advances. That would be between the cashing hours. Last year our profit was £484. The amount of stock purchased £5,054. The amount of sales £5,329. The profit is after allowing for depreciation of stock. When the cash office is shut the men get lines for anything. When this Commission was first spoken of I looked for every document I could lay my hand upon in connexion with this store. This list of prices was the only one I could find, and I kept it. The school off-takes are £144. That is given wholly to the teacher. He is appointed by the school committee of gentlemen in the neighbourhood. He has a very large school. About 700 scholars from other works as well as ours. There are four doctors, and we divide the doctors' off-take amongst them. The name of Mullen or Mullens is not in our book. I deny on behalf of my firm that any such thing ever happened as what John McPherson spoke to.

William McCulloch, grocer

I have examined samples from Watson's. The bread charged at 7 ½ d. per quartern is too dear. It should be 7d. at the outside. The quality is inferior for the price charged. It might have been of a much better quality of flour. It was fit enough for consumption, but it might have been better when they charged so much for it. It was not sour. It was not so bad as the bread from some of the other places. The sugar was about value. The tea at 3s. is a tea fit only for mixing, not for drinking. It is all green, mixed with pekoe, two kinds of tea which are only used for mixing. The 2s. 8d. tea ought to be sold at 4d, less, after allowing profit. The brush at 7 1/2d. is fair value. The candle at 10d. a pound would be value at about 9d. or 8d. after allowing profit.

Thomas Forsyth

I am storeman at Motherwell. Men frequently come to me without cash, and I give them lines, and that is deducted from their wages. I have seen John McPherson here today. I do not know the man. and I never saw him before. I never saw John Mulligan or Joseph Mulligan that I know. I know most of the men at Motherwell. I know a man called Henry Haddon. There was a collection for him of £2 12s. 6d. He took part of the subscription in lines upon the store. I cannot say if it was 30s. he took in lines. A substantial part of the subscription was given in lines. I find the amount was 20s. John Jarvie gets advances. When he was summoned here he came over and told me about it. I am not aware that he was buying goods at the time. He was then between £2 and £3 in my debt. I submitted his name as a proper person to give evidence, and I told him to tell the truth, and nothing else. The man John McPherson has never been in our store to my knowledge. This man is not John Mulligan. I cannot tell what his name is. I do not remember anything of the kind about the witness McPherson. (Pressed.) I could not give my oath that it did not happen. I do not remember anything about it. (Pressed.) It might happen or it might not happen. I do not remember anything about it. 1 cannot say that I did not say to that man McPherson, that as so much money had been taken away I had got the blame of it. I have been blamed for it more than once, many a time, but I cannot say on oath. Thomas Watson blamed me for it. I may have said to that man McPherson that so much money had been taken away that I had got the blame of it, and that I would not do it any more. I cannot say whether he said or not that that was hard enough. I do not know the man at all. McPherson did not, so far as I remember, say to me that I might clear his book and let him have cash once again. I am prepared to swear that I know nothing about having ever seen this man or having had any such talk with him. I will not pledge my oath that I did not tell him to go to Tom Watson to get his time, and that he would clear off the ground. I will not pledge my oath. It might have happened. I used to send men to Watson when they sloped the store. (Shown an entry in the advance book). I see here the name of Joseph McPherson.

John Forsyth

I am cash advance clerk This cross opposite the name of Joseph McPherson means that the man has left the employment. That man is Joseph McPherson (pointing out the witness John McPherson). He was at our works. I do not know if he was turned away. He left. I might have stopped his book. He might have asked me for 10s. I might have returned his book, and said that he could not get it. I might have said "You took away the cash, you are not to get any more." I have no doubt I did. I never heard McPherson had a wife in Ayrshire. I will not swear that he did not tell me it was hard he should have plenty of money lying here whilst his wife was in Ayrshire. From what I have heard I believe he did.

William Waugh, manager

I know McPherson by his look, but I do not know his name. His name is absent from the book for eight days or thereabouts. He came back again.

John McClure, recalled on a subsequent day

I first learned that there was reason to believe McPherson's story to be correct after I had been here on Friday.

Thomas Watson, pay clerk

It is very likely Forsyth may have come to me to say that McPherson or Mulligan was always sloping, and that he had better clear off the ground, but I do not recollect.

Peter Williamson

I am a contractor at Watson's. I know McPherson, he was working under me last December, under the name of McPherson. I do not know whether he was an advance man. I knew he had a wife, but where she was I could not say. He never told me that he wanted to send money to his wife. I cannot say exactly why he left. The only reason I know is that I had overpaid him 10s., and that he was afraid I might find it out. I saw him some four months ago at Motherwell, and charged him with having got 10s. more than his pay. He got up in a pugilistic attitude.

John McPherson, re-called

The reason given by the last witness is not at all the true reason why I left. He had overpaid me, and I had not paid him back. I left because he was getting more of my wages than he should, and because I could not get money to send to my wife and weans in Ayrshire. I adhere to the story I told you the other day.

John McClure, recalled

(Informed that evidence had been given against the quality of the bread at the store, and asked if witness wished to make any statement.)

Thomas Watson, recalled

Mr. McClure has gone and left no message or instructions as to anything which he desires to have stated.