Merry & Cunninghame - Extract from Truck Report 1871

The works of Messrs. Merry and Cunninghame are among the most extensive in Scotland. The firm have extended their operations into five different counties - Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Stirling, Fife, and Dumbarton. The number of men employed amounts to 4, 535; and the same system of management prevails pretty nearly in all the works. Mr. Cunninghame has the general charge over the whole; and under him there are four general managers over four districts in which the works are situated. Under the general managers there are local managers, and under them again there are oversmen over one or two pits. The power to dismiss the men is in the hands of the head local manager, but it depends on him whether he keeps this power in his own hands or delegates it to the oversman. The length of pay varies - at some works the term is monthly, at others fortnightly. There are stores at 13 or 14 of the works, and where there are no stores, poundage is charged at the rate of 1s. in the pound. The system upon which the advances and stores are worked appears to be substantially the same at all the stores. But the pressure upon the workmen to spend their advances in goods is lighter at some of the stores than at others, while at some, Mr. Cunninghame told us, that there was no compulsion, direct or indirect, to induce the men to leave any part of their advances at the store. "I should think," said Mr. Cunninghame, "that in about half the stores the men are expected to leave their advances, and at the other half, not."

As an instance of a store where some rigour was used towards the men Mr. Cunninghame mentioned the Carnbroe store, an account of which is already contained in Part I., p. xvi. Drinking took place on the premises without any public house license is of small importance; but such as it is Mr. Whitelaw acknowledged it. In answer to the question "Do the men as a matter of fact drink on the premises ?'' he stated, " They do that generally,but it is against our will''

Mr. Whitelaw made no attempt to conceal the fact that the Truck Act was habitually broken in his store even in other details. To the question " Have you been in the habit of giving lines direct from your store, instead of sending men round to get the cash at the cash clerk's office," Mr. Whitelaw answered " Yes." But on being further pressed he qualified his answer in the following way, " If the party had money lying in the office it was not done. They generally came to me when they were in distress. Perhaps it was because they required to go and get blankets out of pawn, as in Lennox's case. Unless in cases of distress of that kind, I never made it a rule........Do you mean to say it never happened except in that case ? - There may have been exceptional cases, but I don't encourage it."

From the evidence supplied by Mr. Whitelaw, it is plain that truck in the most complete form was habitually practised at the Carnbroe works ; that the workmen were subjected to pressure both direct and indirect, to drive them to the store, and that those who did not deal at it in some cases suffered the penalty of dismissal on this ground alone. A month before the arrival of the Commission, Mr. Cunninghame's attention had been attracted to the state of things at Carnbroe, and he made an alteration in the system.

It is not proposed to criticise in detail any of the remaining stores belonging to Messrs. Merry and Cunninghame. The following evidence was given by Mr. Gavin Whitelaw on the question whether the system at his store was or was not exceptional :-

Q Are you acquainted with the store system as it is worked generally in Lanarkshire ?- Yes.

Q You have told us the way in which you have worked it. Is it worked in that way generally, so far us you know ? - So far as I know. There may be a little difference in the way of checking.

Q You think the store manager generally would speak to the oversmen and the pay clerk, where the men did not go for advances? - Where they were anxious to get the business increased.

Q Do you think that would not be an uncommon thing ? - Not uncommon.

Q And not uncommon for the oversman and the pay clerk to have a percentage from the store ? - I cannot speak as to that.

Q You must have seen a great many scenes of distress in your time by people not being able to get advances ? - I cannot say. They generally managed to soften me down so easily that they got what they wanted.

Q Do you think your store was worked as gently and as leniently as most stores ? - Yes, I do.

Q The commissions you have spoken of were commissions or percentages on what these persons bought? - Yes; merely by way of encouragement, to get their account extended.

But it probably is true that some, if not all, of the others were worked less severely than Carnbroe. Such a difference is obviously due, not to the system, but to the character of the men who administer it, and, so long as the system remains unchanged, there is no guarantee that the leniency will last. In conclusion, it is just that the frankness and courtesy which was experienced from Messrs. Merry and Cunninghame throughout the inquiry into the system at their works should be acknowledged. Assistance was rendered from the first, and the completeness of the exposure of the truck practised at Carnbroe is in a great measure due to themselves. Mr. Cunninghame, who gave evidence before us, has already taken steps to correct the flagrant evils of the system, and it is probable that but for our investigation some part of these evils would have remained unknown to the heads of this firm.

Abstract of Evidence

J Cunninghame

I am a partner in the firm of Merry and Cunninghame. We have works in Lanarkshire; Ayrshire, Stirlingshire, Fife, and Dumbarton. The system of management is pretty nearly the same in the whole of the works. I have the general charge. Under me there are four general managers, each over a district. Under each general manager there are the local managers for different works in his district, and again under the local managers there are oversmen over one or two pits. As a rule men are engaged and dismissed by the local manager. I generally visit two or three of our works in the course of a week, but seldom the stores. In all our works we give advances. At some of the works I find from recent investigation that men are not allowed to take away all their advances, whereas at others they are. At some of our works there is no compulsion direct or indirect to induce the men to leave any part of their advances at the stores, but at others the system of stopping books prevails to a greater or less extent. There are stores at all our works, except three or four, and at those poundage is charged at the rate of 1s. in the pound. I think we have 13 or 14 stores which are managed alike in all essential particulars. In about half our stores they are expected to leave their advances, in the other half not. I give no instruction further than that I have told the general manager that we expect the stores to pay between 8 and 9% and that so long as we are pleased with the balance sheet which the storekeepers turn out and think that the goods have been sold at a fair price I make no inquiry. They are to make between 8 and 9% on the sales, and we are to hear no complaints. We dismissed the store manager at Barkip three or four months ago, because he had made a loss of some £300. The system is carried on with greater rigour at Carnbroe than at any other of our works. About a month ago, I made an alteration there when special notice was called to this Commission. I found the stoppage of books had prevailed much more there than elsewhere. I heard no complaint as to the quality or price of the provisions. I find there has been a slight falling off in the amount of money drawn at Carnbroe since the alteration. On the whole, our Ayrshire stores are less severe than our stores in Lanarkshire. It is not at all expected in any of our works that the paymen should go to the store as well as the advance men. I think the managers generally look upon the store as an opposition department, but there is no doubt that a properly conducted store without any compulsion, must be an advantage to the men. At Garscadden there is no compulsion, at Woodhall there is no compulsion. I visited Carnbroe, Glengarnock, Ardeer, Inkerman, and Woodhall. I simply made verbal inquiries as to what amount of compulsion, if any, was used. I think we should not have started a store in any case if there had been no advances. Personally I am against all compulsion. We have the poundage system where we have not stores. That brings a large interest on a small capital, but I know for certain that notwithstanding the very high rate of interest that the poundage yields, there is more profit by keeping the store. I should think that not as much as 200 or 300% on the advances is made by poundage. I dare say 150% but that would not represent the profit from the stores, because there is a much smaller capital invested in the advances than in the stores, so that we should get much more out of the stores, just as you would get more out of £1,000 at 4% than out of £10 at 100%. Practically there are no bad debts in the stores, and the store saves a floating capital of a considerable amount in the payment of wages. If I was conducting a store I should pay more attention to what my out laid capital yielded than to the percentage on the turnover. I cannot say what amount of capital sunk in works like ours would be represented by £100,000 a year of wages, but I should think it would be some £700,000 or £800,000. In several of our works there was in the first instance a necessity for stores, because the works were in places devoid of population, but gradually the population followed the works, and now most of them are surrounded by shops. I have never known men discharged for not dealing, although I have heard of it. I think the Truck Act should be made more stringent, or some other mode should be found of accomplishing the same object. The only other way I can suggest is to shorten the pays. I would have no objection to pay every fortnight, and advance every second day, and to have some very stringent provision attached to anybody who interfered with the men in the disposal of their advances. I think weekly pays would be too short; The store system has hitherto prevented short payements. It is the interest of that system to make long pays. I see no objection to interfering by Act of Parliament to shorten the pays, although I would object to weekly pays because of the amount of extra labour. My own idea is that by having payments fortnightly and cash advanced every second day, and the advance office shut every second day, a great part of the extra work could be done by the advance clerk on the days on which he is not advancing. I am interested in the abolition of stores, because I believe that where compulsion prevails the store instead of being a profit to us is a loss, in this respect, that when good men are scarce we cannot get them so readily, and if they consider the store a grievance, that, whether it be really a grievance or not, may form an element in the prevalence of strikes and other causes of discontent. Our schools cost us £500 a year. The men are charged nothing for the buildings, but only for the schoolmaster.


John Shanks

I was formerly storekeeper at Annick Lodge. There was then no compulsion to induce the men to deal at the store. When I was at Annick Lodge there were no cases of men sloping. If there had been occasion perhaps I would have stopped their books

Thomas Smith

I have worked at Annick Lodge. There was no other compulsion except expectation, but I have known men spoken to by the managers or foremen and told that they were expected to go to the store. That would be five or six years ago, it was very common. I have seen placed up in the windows of one of Messrs. Merry and Cunninghame's works, bills, stating that no person would be compelled to deal at the store, and just by the side of that, a bill, stating that on certain days the men would get cash advanced. I considered that an indirect mode of compelling the bulk of the miners to deal in the store whether they would or not, and the men understood it so perfectly. Some of the people live three miles from the store at Annick Lodge. They have to take their articles from the store on the day of the cash advance. At one time there was a cart in use to bring the goods to the people.


William Morrison

I was formerly storekeeper at Barkip. The system there was generally similar to the system at Drumpellier and at Carnbroe.

William Eadie

I was formerly storekeeper at Barkip. We expected to make from 7 1/2 to 8 or 9% on the sales. The pays were monthly. I do not think it ever happened that men were dismissed for sloping. I have known men spoken to by the advance clerk, not by the manager. I believe the compulsion was never very severe there. They kept a scroll book of the men who sloped. I have seen the storekeeper tossing with the men for beer, or a new hat, or a cheese. I have done it myself. It was not frequent. It was generally with the oversmen. I remember a charge of neglect against the medical man. The complaints of his neglect went on for a few months. I believe there was some reason for them.


William Morrison

I was formerly under store manager at Carnbroe. The system there was, that the cash advance clerk had a piece of paper, and marked on it the names of the persons that got the cash and handed it over to the storekeeper who compared it with his book. That system continued down to when I left three or four months ago. If a man sloped systematically he would be stopped. We expected him to spend three quarters of his advances.

Richard White

I was formerly store clerk at Carnbroe. The system then was that I checked the men in the first place when they came, and then they were checked again in the morning. I would take the cash from the people, and if it was a busy day, when five or six, or eight or ten were standing at the counter, I would go out by the back door into the cash advance clerk's office, and get from him a small book which he kept for the advances, and take it with me to the store, and from that I could tell whether the parties were giving me enough or not. I keep a shop of my own now. Carnbroe sells dearer than I do generally, but their bread is good.

Mrs Thomson

My husband is a joiner at Carnbroe. My book was stopped two months since. I have often been stopped before. I could take away 2s. or 2s. 6d. He was not hard upon me, but if I took it all away he stopped the book. Once he told me I ought not to take away too much. The things were not good; the cheese and the ham were very good. I could get them a wee bit cheaper in the town, and as good.

James Lennox

My book has not been stopped for two months. Before then I could always keep 1s. The provisions are as good as in any other store. I do not know why I was summoned.

Mrs Bridget Cairns

My husband is a miner at Carnbroe. My book was never stopped in my life but once, that was 18 months ago. I do not know why it was stopped. We very seldom get cash advances.

Gavin Whitelaw

I have been storekeeper at Carnbroe more than 10 years. There has been a change lately. The people can do with their money as they have a mind. Before then it was expected when they got advances that unless they left a part of it at the store they would get no more. We made it our endeavour to get about three-quarters from them, hut we never attained to that. When I first went there they were only allowed 10 per cent, but it is changed since. I think since we altered the system the decrease has not exceeded £100 on the turnover in a month. A young lad in the store generally used to make a list daily of those who sloped the store. The lists specified the amount sloped, and they were given to the cash clerk. I daresay I have spoken to men for sloping the store. We have no public-house license. The men do generally drink on the premises, but it is against our will. In the last six months we sold 10 barrels of bitter beer, 15 barrels of stout, and 300 gallons of whiskey. I may have in exceptional cases told the men that they had not been for advances very frequently, but I do not make it a rule. I have advised them occasionally to go for advances. I have spoken to the oversman on the subject, but not for a number of years. I spoke to Robert Brown, who is a manager over the pits, thinking that he might give me a lift and extend the business. I have been consulted in some cases by Mr. Brown upon the subject of what men should be turned off. Mr. Brown has consulted me upon those occasions as to what men were in the habit of being good customers at the store. The men who were turned off were the men who did not usually lift any advances. There have been men in my time who have been asked to go to the store in order to save themselves from being dismissed, but not within the last two years. Men have frequently obtained lines from me without first getting cash, but only in exceptional cases. We have given commissions to people in our employment, 5 or 7 1/2 or 10 per cent, upon their purchases. Mr. Brown has had a commission. I took it for granted that if I could get an oversman to have a good account with me it would be a good example to other parties. He had seven per cent; so had Mr. Jack, the manager, and Mr. Patrick, the cashier.

Miss Miller

I have bought goods at Carnbroe. I found only one kind of tea, which was 10d. a quarter of a pound. The cheapest sugar there was 5d. The men could get it cheaper at Coatbridge of the same quality.

Mrs Margaret Hunter

My husband worked at Carnbroe till nine months since. I always had to deal at the store. We never had it in our power to deal in the shops. We always had to leave our money in the store. If we did not they just stopped the book. They never stopped my book, for I was staying in their houses, and I always left my money in the store, the whole of it, from month to month. Some of the things were good, and some were not; sometimes they were very inferior. Some things were dearer than in the shops, others were not. They always treated me civilly, for I never took away any money.

Mrs Barbara Johnston

My sons work at Carnbroe. At one time I found it difficult to get money from the store. The reason was I kept the money of one of them to get his boots mended for the winter; and the book of the other was stopped. I took 6s., and when I went to the store I got no cash. They told me the book was stopped. I had no cash in the house. I had no provisions for that evening,. I had no supper that evening. I sent my daughter three different times to ask for cash, and there was no allowance given to me.


Thomas Smith

Two years ago, when I was miners' agent in that part of Ayrshire, Den was considered a very severe place. I have known that if the miners of Stcvenston, and also the miners of Den, were idle and talking over this matter of the truck system, or any grievance they had, their books were stopped until they returned to work again.

James Stewart

I have worked at Den three weeks, seven years ago. I was at the office for cash ; there were about 50 people before me, and I was going away, thinking it would be long before I would be cashed, but a woman said I need not be in such a hurry, for there were a good few of them who had sloped. I did not have to wait 10 minutes for the books of those who had sloped were thrown out as hard as the clerk could throw them.


William Morrison

I have been storekeeper at Garscadden. There was much the same system as at Carnbroe and Drumpellier.

David Cumming

I am storekeeper at Garscadden. Books have not been stopped there since my time, two and a half years. The men can go where they like with their money. Fully one-half of our trade is with outside customers. The men may be expected to deal with us, but the expectation has never been carried out. Nearly one half of them do not live in our "rows" at all. When I went there I expected the advance men would have to deal, but I found it was more a credit shop than anything else. I know by sight all those who live in the "rows." Most of them get advances at the office. The reason why I entered some of the cash-advance men in the large book the same as in the small one was because some of them asked for a line. Lines have been given to miners in this year. (Pressed.) I did keep this book to show the names of the cashers who came for lines. The system of giving lines to cashers lasted down to within the last few months. It ceased more than six weeks ago. The cash clerk used sometimes to take away this book. I have seen him come about balancing time at the end of six months and take it away. It is the fact that all the men contained in this book are advance men except such as have credit accounts. I understood it was an understanding in our works, that the advance men were to come with the advances to the store, but it was never carried out. Some of them did come. The pay clerk understood that it was an understanding that they were to come. The men understood it. Probably it was the general understanding.

David Anderson

I am local manager at Garscadden. It was not my understanding that the men were to spend their advances at the store. I was not aware of that within the last two years. I speak of the terms in which the Commission has been issued. There has been no pressure put upon them for the last five years. I get my own goods from the store. I get 5% discount when I pay. The men have understood that they were to leave a portion of their advances, because they still continue to do so, although there is no pressure put upon them. There has been a gradual change during the last five years. Fewer and fewer men come. My own impression is that they do not like it. I do not think any of the pay men ever went to the store at all.


James Baird

I am manager of the district in which the Glengarnock works are situated. At Glengarnock a man may do what he likes with his money. Of course the men understand that a certain amount is to be left in the store. The advance, clerk and the storeman say they have not stopped books for the last six years. No one has sloped for the last six years, except in two cases, I cannot be certain when it was, but I think it was about two years ago. As a manager I disapprove of the compulsory system. We draw nearly the whole of the money advances, about 97% of it, in the store. There are shops within half a mile. The advance men do not slope, except to a very slight extent. At Annick Lodge, which is under me, compulsion does not require to be exercised; possibly enough it might be if they required it. Within the last month there has been a change. Till then there was an understanding that they should go to the store. The men are under that impression. I never undeceived them. There were so few slopers, that it was not worth while to keep up the system of stopping. The schools are a yearly loss to the company. My instructions to the advance clerks were, not to stop any books if the people leave half of the cash advanced. They never do stop any book for sloping for the first time.

John Shanks

I am storekeeper at Glengarnock. Only two people have been stopped there since I have been there. Those were the only cases of men who sloped whilst I was there. Those with the only instances in 19 years that I knew of, and they were stopped. The men knew perfectly well they would be stopped if they sloped.


Henry McInulty

I have formerly worked at Logan's. They charged 1s. in the pound for advances. There was no store there. I prefer poundage to a store.

James Orr

I was discharged from Logan's yesterday. The doctor there has been put on against the will of the men.


William Morrison

I was formerly store manager at Reddance. There was the same system as at Carnbroe and Drumpellier.


George Armstrong

Two or three years ago I worked at Woodhall. There was an instance then of a man getting notice of dismissal if he would not attend the store. That was only his advances ; but it does happen at Woodhall that men are obliged to go and ask for advances instead of waiting till the pay. All the men at Woodhall used to go regularly for advances because they knew that if they did not do so they would not be likely to be retained in the employment.

Alexander Armstrong

I worked about 5 years at Woodhall. The men were expected to take their cash to the store, and if they did not they were stopped. I never knew anyone like the store. In Woodhall there were men who did not deal at the store, and they were told that if they did not go there they would have to leave the employment. That was about five years ago. They were not compelled to go there with their pay, but they were compelled to get cash advances and go there with them. Everyone was to do that. John Railton was one of the men. I know plenty, but cannot mention their names just now. It was a common thing at that time, but it has been changed greatly since. The oversmen told the men they were to patronise the store or they would not be in the employment. Nobody was turned away, only threatened. I have never known the same happen anywhere else.

John Drinnan

I am storekeeper at Woodhall. There have been changes within the last month. The only change is this, that we do not now keep a note of the money that has come from the office into the store as we did before then. I do not remember any books being stopped at Woodhall. Many of the men used to take away half the money, but the majority used to leave half at the store. I understood they were expected to leave half at the store. I had all the means of stopping them if they sloped, but the store did not require it, because it had a large outside sale in my time, and I was independent of the advance men.

Robert Fotheringham

I am a collier at Woodhall. I can get my money whenever I want it, and take it where I like.

John Thomson

I am cashier at Woodhall. There has been a change within the last month with regard to the store. The change was as to comparing the cash lying at the store with the cash advance at the office. Of course the men were expected to spend part of their money at the store.

W P Pattison, accountant.

The balance sheet of Carnbroe store handed to me contains one item which is not clear. On the debit side there is a statement that cash has been received £1,346, and goods received from merchants in Glasgow, £1,669; whether the two items should be one I cannot say. This point is important for the purpose of estimating the percentage of profit upon the transactions. If my account of the discrepancy is correct, the profit is only a little over 10 ½ % upon the goods sold.