Monklands Iron & Steel Co - Extract from Truck Report 1871

The Monklands Iron and Steel Company's works are situate in ten different places, chiefly in Lanarkshire. They employ about 2,000 men. Stores are connected with six of the works. There is a general manager over the works, and a general store manager over all the stores, and local managers, and local store keepers under the direction of the general officers. We examined Mr. McLellan the managing trustee, Mr. Ferrie the general manager, and Mr. Shearer the general storekeeper, and collected evidence about several of the stores. We devoted most attention, however, to the store at Chapelhall, and as the system is substantially the same in all, we confine ourselves to the more prominent points elicited regarding Chapelhall.

The store here is managed by a storekeeper and two assistants, paid by weekly salary, without any commission. At Chapelhall the men are expected to spend all their advances at the store, unless they obtain special leave from the cashier to have some money to take away. The advance clerk enters in the book of the workman who comes for an advance the amount of money which is to be taken to the shop, a shilling or two out of ten being allowed free. All that is figured in the book must go to the store, and is there paid over to the storekeeper, who gives a line in its place: The workmen may fill these lines up for goods, or else carry them a way and dispose of them to others, the rule being that any person who brings back the line is served upon it. Public houses will change lines for drink, the publican in his turn obtaining the worth of them in goods from the store, after having previously discounted them to the men at 1d. or 2d. in the shilling. A considerable trade appears to be done by discounting lines belonging to the company.

The storeman compares his own book with the cash clerk's books every day, and so is able to check sloping;- a black list thus becomes unnecessary. The advances of those who "slope" are "stopped" in future. One witness stated that he had known advances stopped for six months for this offence. At this store the relations between the storekeeper and the cash clerk are of an intimate and confidential character. Conversations pass between them as to the frequency with which different workmen come to the store. The storeman acts not unfrequently as cash clerk, and advances the money; and the cash clerk may occasionally act in the capacity of storekeeper. And when they interchange capacities, it often happens that lines are given to the workmen, and goods also, without even the pretence of cash. "Scarcely a day passes," Andrew Crawford, the cash clerk, told us, but I am asked for lines in the store ;" and so systematic has the open violation of the Truck Act become at this store, that the storekeeper and cash clerk have devised a method of marking their hooks to show when money has passed and when it has not. We experienced great difficulty in consequence of the prevarication of David Strachan, the storekeeper, in eliciting the meaning of these marks, but the cash clerk confessed that "those crosses mean in all cases that no money has been given to the persons whose names are crossed, but only goods."

There was another and not uncommon feature in connexion with this store, namely, that certain of the clerks and managers get their articles from the store at wholesale, while the workmen have to pay retail prices.

The general manager expressed unqualified disapproval of the store system. " It is," he said, "a disagreeable system to work, and I think it has the effect of interfering with proper men coming to the works generally ...... The workmen don't like it; they generally disapprove of works where stores are, and don't care about going to these works ....... It has a tendency, I think, rather to demoralize the people ..... Most of the people that I see who deal in the store get into a state of poverty from the working of the system..... They are a bad lot, I find generally, as compared with others ....they don't improve; they begin at the bottom, and stay at the bottom .... The people who spend their money in that sort of way are rather degraded.

A former sub-manager at the works at Chapelhall acknowledged that he had experienced difficulty in getting good men to come to these works, and that two or three men left every year because their books were stopped. He considered that the system was a "great hurt to colliery managers individually ; they are much clogged by the influence of the store." He also stated that he was "put away" from Chapelhall about, a year ago, "for influencing men past the store;" and on investigation, it appeared that he had been appealed to by the storekeeper to interfere with men who sloped the store, and that his refusal had something to do with his dismissal. But he had a brother and a brother-in-law who were shopkeepers in the neighbourhood of the store, and it was to their shops that the men were in the habit of going.

Spirits are not now sold at the stores at Calderbank, but a few years back they were sold there, and a "cage" existed for the men to drink at, according to the evidence of this witness.

Q What was the effect of that upon the men ? - It was very bad.

Q Do you suppose that was worse than letting them go to public-houses? - Oh yes, it was.

Q Why was that? - I don't think there were any seats in that cage. It was not safe. They were like wild beasts. There was a mixture of all sorts - furnace men and colliers ; and the different grades would be casting up to one another, and there were often fights ensued.

Q Did the women drink there? - I don't know. I never saw them. It was said so.

It would seem not to be unusual for the men to buy goods at the store, and resell them at a loss for drink.

We received the usual complaints from the workpeople as to both the prices and the quality of the goods sold at the various stores connected with this company; and from one of the witnesses we heard that she had been kept waiting from 6 in the morning till 12 or 1 o'clock before being served. The same woman also complained with bitterness about the incivility with which she alleged herself to have been treated at her store :

"I dislike the store because you don't get fairplay in any one way you take it.......When you go to it and lay down your money and get a line, they have no more audience for you than if you were a dog. They are sure of their money and when they are putting the goods on the scales they well knock it down on the counter, and never give it time to rise till they whip the article out of it and pitch it to you. You get no account by the odd farthings, and being obliged to take small quantities of articles, that causes a heavy loss every week".

She added that the " gaffers" or oversmen were much better served than the workmen.

"They get the pick of the goods, and those who are bound to the store are obliged to take the worst of them."

Douglas, a Calderbank workman, gave the following evidence as to the Calderbank store:

Q When ? - On this day week I tried both the shops and the store.

Q What did you pay at the shops? - For tea I paid 1/2d. - at least, I did not, but my wife brought them in and put the articles down to me. She took a ls. away with her, and she brought a halfpenny back out of the shilling. She had an ounce of tea, half a pound of sugar, a quarter stone of potatoes, a half loaf, and a quarter pound of butter, and she had them all for 11 1/2d. I commenced to calculate and to think what I would pay for the same articles at the store, just to try if we could not work on a more economical scale than by going to the store. On counting them all up I found that for the same articles I would have had to pay 1s. 2 1/2d. at the store, so that there was a saving of 3d. by going to the retail shop.

Q Did you calculate the prices at the store ? - Yes.

Q Where did you get them from ? - I took the prices we had paid in the store before.

Q But perhaps the prices at the store had changed ?- No ; they could not have changed from the time that we were there before. They don't fluctuate very much at the store.

Q Do you mean to say that a week ago the store was all that dearer than the shop ?- Yes. That is exactly what I mean.

Q But, perhaps the store was better? - Some of the articles in the shops were better than those, in the store. The shop tea was three halfpence cheaper, and according to my taste it was better then in the store.

Q Still that might be a matter of opinion? - I don't know I have been pretty well used to tea in my time, and I think I should have a good idea of it. The butter in the shops was decidedly better than that in the store; in fact, the butter we got in the store was sometimes so bad that I have seen men go out in the morning with a piece of dry bread rather than take it. That was in consequence of the dirt that was in it, and the taste it had was not good.

Q Was the butter dirty ? - Yes, there were hairs in it. The store butter is usually of that kind, and it is generally inferior in weight.

Q But when they serve you with butter of that kind, I suppose you can see whether it is dirty or not ? - Yes, you can see it; but if you say you won't have what they offer you, they just say to you, "Well, pass it this way; if you won't have that you must want."

Q Will you not get something else in its place ? - You will get jelly if you like to take it, but not butter. The loaf in the shops was hardly so good as that at the store. The store has certainly the best bread ; there is no doubt of that.

Q Is it as cheap ? - No, it is not as cheap; there is a farthing of difference, and there is another farthing kept off in the change. They don't give you the odd farthing in the store at all, whatever the article may be.

Samples from the Chapelhall store were obtained last year by Mr. Cameron, special correspondent of the "North British Daily Mail," and submitted by him to Mr. McCulloch, member of a firm of grocers of some standing in Glasgow. The following is a copy of Mr. McCulloch's report:

"Sugar, bad value; short weight, half ounce on half pound. Cheese, 3 ounces instead of 4 ounces for 2 1/2d.; worth 9d. per pound. Butter, 3 1/2 ounces instead of 4 ounces for 4d.; worth 1s. a pound retail. The tea samples from that store were all useless on account of the butter and cheese having affected them, and we could not judge them. The date of that report, is 17th May also.

As regards the feasibility of weekly pays at this store, we were informed by Andrew Crawford, the Chapelhall cash clerk, that if the store system was abolished, he could make up his pay lists in less time, and pay the men in less time and with less trouble. Abolishing the store system would simplify the matter, and diminish the expense of the clerks' office. Mr. Ferrie, the manager, stated also that but for the system of cash advances the store would come to the ground, and that weekly payments would be possible by having a lie week. Mr. Russell, a former sub-manager, gave evidence to the same effect.

The total amount of wages earned by the men in the employ of the Company from August 1868 to June 1870, was £249,060. The total amount of cash advances taken to the store was £62,514, and the advances not taken to the store were £13,593 during the same period.

Mr. McClelland, one of the trustees of the Company, considered that the profits were about 7 or 7 ½% on the turnover for the different stores belonging to the Company, or about 55% on the capital employed.

Complaints of the school and doctor's off take were also made by witnesses from among the men. Mr. McClelland thought it would be quite reasonable that the men should have some opportunity of auditing the accounts with respect to the off takes; and stated that the trustees would have no objection to such a plan.

Abstract of Evidence

Mrs Margaret Gainor

My husband works for the Monkland company, I have been 20 years in Chapel Hall, dealing in the stores nearly all the time. We lift our money almost every day, but are compelled to lay it down in the store as we get it. We go to the office and lift it from one man, and then lay it down to another man. That happens only as to our advances, not as to the money that we get on pay days, which is free. The advances we are forced to spend at the store, every penny of them. If we take away 1s. out of 5s. our book is stopped immediately. The Thursday and Friday before last we were allowed to carry our money away free. I never heard of the like happen before for 20 years, but on the Saturday after when I tried to take 5s. the storeman, David Strachan, said, "You recollect, Mrs. Gainor, that you must put up your book and money the day as usual for the rules are changed. You are not allowed any cash." Last Monday my book was stegged. There is a great difference between the stores and the shops. In the stores when you take a quarter of a pound of tea you pay 11d., but if a poor creature has to take it in separate ounces they must pay 3d. for each ounce. They never acknowledge the farthings. The goods at the stores are worse than in the shops, tea, sugar, and every article. I have seen me getting butter that the dogs would not make use of. There was never in my memory liberty to take money out of the store till those two days I spoke of. You can buy for 2 1/2d. in the shops better tea than the store sells for 3d. By dealing with the private shops in Airdrie I could save 4s. in every pound. At the store they do not give you fair play. When they give you your article they pitch it to you as if you were a dog. They are sure of your money; they know that you must leave your line, and when they are putting the goods in the scale, they will knock it down on the counter, and never give it time to rise till they pop the article out of it and pitch it to you. You get no account of the odd farthings, and being obliged to take small quantities of articles this causes a heavy loss every month. They keep some articles specially for what they call the gentry. I have seen them getting what the store man calls the best bread. I have seen a 6s. line sold for 5s.

Alexander Landells

I work at Chapel Hall as a collier. We get no advances except through the store. We get the cash and take it with the book to the storeman who gives us back the book with a line and keeps the cash, and with that line we can take goods from the store at any time till the amount of the line is exhausted. I have known a man stopped for six months together for taking away money. Three different times I got notice to leave for not taking goods at the store. I only got notice, and on the faith that I would go back to the store my work was open for me. That is a good number of years since - they have not been so severe this number of years back. It is now only the advances that have to be spent at the store. I do not like the store. I deal there because I was forced to do it. I have seen the bread in the store sometimes a little more than in the shops, sometimes cheaper. I have seen a man when he wanted drink get a line and purchase goods with it from the store, and then sell those goods at a reduction to get money to buy drink. I have been in works where there is no store and there they pay the wages weekly.

James Aitken

I work at Calderbank. I have three men under me. I give them lines upon the store. If they slope they are generally checked. I never was asked to go to a store. Sometimes the men sell their lines. I have worked at Oakley in Fifeshire. There the men are not expected to go to the store unless it is their own pleasure. It is nine years since I was there.

David Strachan, storekeeper at Chapel Hall

The system is this. A man goes to the advance clerk and gets a book in which the money which he wants, if earned by him, is marked ; he gets the money and brings both book and money to the store, pays me the money, and I give him a line for it. He shows me the book in order to show me that he has brought the whole money across, and if he does not bring the whole cash which the book shows, I send him back and remonstrate. He must bring across all the money. I got no special instructions as to the system. I knew the practice. There was a change a few days ago, it lasted one day, and the advance clerk told me we were to go back to the old system; he said the men had all got drunk with the experiment, and he could not get them to attend to their work; that was the reason he gave me. Sometimes we gave a line upon a private shopkeeper for an article which we have not in the store ; the shopkeeper debits us with the wholesale price and we charge the workman at the retail price. The publicans in the village take lines from the men and send them in to us. If they want a cheese they will send in a number of lines. Our bad debts are trifling, they will not reach £3 or £4. I do not allow the shops to undersell us. We take about £70 a week in the Chapel Hall store. These crosses in my book mean that in those cases lines were given without any money whatever passing. I may have spoken to the cash advance clerk about the men in general not getting advances enough. I might say that such-and-such a party has not been coming so much as they did, and the trade is not going on so well. I have never spoken to the oversman at the works to persuade the men to go to the store. I used to give lines without cash when the clerk was absent, which was very often.

Andrew Crawford, cash advance clerk

When the men slope the store it is shown by no mark being put against their names When they bring the cash they are marked. The crosses in the book signify that no money has passed, but a line is given instead. They mean in all cases that no money has been given to the persons whose names are crossed, but only goods. The store system makes a difficulty in short pays; without it I would be able make up my pay sheets in less time, because I now have to balance the store account with the cash advances before I can make up the pay-sheets, and for that purpose I must carry out the items of what has been carried to the store and what has not. If the store system were abolished I could make up my pay-lists in less time, and pay the men in less time and with less trouble. We do not keep any book for the purpose of showing the names of the men who slope the store merely. We do not need it. I make a list of them every day on a slip of paper and send it to the cashier, when I want cash, and he gives me cash for the amount that has been sloped.

William Ferrie, manager

I am iron manager at the Monkland Company. We employ about 2,000 hands. I very often find difficulty in getting good men at the works. In my opinion I do not approve of the store system. I disapprove of the whole machinery ; it is a disagreeable system to work, and I think it has the effect of interfering with proper men coming to the works generally. It has a tendency I think rather to demoralise the people. Most of the people that I see who deal in the stores get into a state of poverty from the working of the system. They are a bad lot generally as compared with the others. About one third of all our wages that we pay passes through the store. We are experimenting just now in altering the pays to see what effect that would have. At this moment we have pays every week or oftener at two of our collieries. We intended when we started the weekly pays to put an end to the store in that locality, but the manager came to me and said he did not see how he could get on without it, that there was a particular class of workmen who could not get on without the store, and that they would leave us if the store did not go on. The store would come to the ground without the system of cash advances. At the places where we have tried the weekly payments we still give advances. My opinion is that the company would make almost as much money without the store as with it. They lose by the inferior class of workmen. It would cost no more in a colliery to have weekly pays than to have advances, but in an iron work it would. In an iron work there would be some difficulty in paying every week. It could be done, however, by having a lie week. We have a colliery at Jordan Hill with 300 men, who are paid all in cash, and there is no store. I think the men work better there than at any other place we have. The pay is the same per man. I fear the repeal of the Truck Act would be an unmitigated evil. The deduction for medical attendance is somewhere about £1,000 a year. We spend near about that on the doctors. Last year £884 was collected. The off-take for the doctor is 8d. a month in some cases, and in others 6d. For the school it is 2d. per week for one child, and 1d. for each additional child. Men who have no children pay 1\2d. for the school, and 4d. for the doctor. They do not complain. The profit on the store is 7% on the sales 52% on the capital. Men have a horrid bad opinion of stores generally.

William Russell, former manager

When I was manager at Chapel Hall, I found difficulty in getting good men to come to the colliery. When the store was stopped on them, I had to give them a line to leave, which was a great loss. This occurred several times. I think stores are a great hurt to colliery managers. At the work where I now am there is no store, and I can keep my men more easily. When I was a workman I was twice dismissed for not going to the store and I had to leave my situation at Chapel Hull 12 months ago, on the ground that I had influenced men not to go to the store. It was not true. The store manager has appealed to me about the men going past the store. A man went to my brother-in-law's shop to get shoes, which he could not procure in the store. The store manager told me that would not do, that I must look to it, and that it was not right for those things to be done past the store. Formerly men could get drink on the premises of Chapel Hall. The effect of that was very bad - worse than at the public-houses. The place was not safe; the men were like wild beasts. There was a mixture of all sorts; furnace men and colliers and the different grades would be casting up to one another, and there were often fights ensued. Without a store men could be paid at shorter periods. I think they could be paid weekly without much increase of expense if there was no store. With a store they could not do it. I prefer fortnightly pays to weekly pays. But for the advance system and the store system weekly payments would be comparatively easy and inexpensive.

William Shearer, store manager

The total wages for two years to June 1870, were £249,000; total cash advances taken to the store £62,500; cash advances sloped £13,600. There were further sales to pay-men and outside customers 10,000l. A change was made a few days ago. I thought I would try it as an experiment. The second day the men were all drunk, and Mr. Ferguson told the advance clerk to go on with the old system. At our place, if a man gets advances to be taken to the store, the whole of that amount must be so taken ; if he wants an advance to be spent in cash, he must get it separately and specially. It is a rule in our stores to keep the farthings. Our profits are about 7 per cent on the sales. We ought to do better than the retail tradesmen, because we buy more largely. We have a constant demand, and we have very few bad debts, and the concern has this advantage, that by the combination of the advance system and the store system no cash is required for the advances.

Hugh Ferguson, cashier

I produce a book kept at Calder Bank containing the names of all the men who slope the store. We have a fresh book every half year. The advance clerk makes it up.

Alexander Armstrong, miner

Thankerton store, belonging to the Monkland Company, was one of the worst stores. It was the severest I ever was in. If you cashed any money you could not get cash enough to buy even a postage stamp. Prices were high and quality no better than elsewhere.

James Thomson, miner

At Thankerton I have had my book stopped for taking away a shilling or two. It did not matter how much you took, for you have no authority to take any of it away. In point of fact the men left all their money there. I frequently got lines instead of cash at Thankerton. The clerk sat at the storeman's bench and entered a sum in your book and wrote out a line in the store. That saved him the bother of going over to the office which was a little bit up the street; it saved him the trouble of giving me the amount in cash. No cash used to pass. That has taken place within three months. It was pretty regular.

James Douglas

I have had my book stopped pretty often at Calder Bank. It was stopped last Friday. Prices are high. Quality bad. The same tea at 3d. an ounce at the store we can get at the shop in the town for 1 1/2d. an ounce. To my taste it is better at the shop. We never get farthings back. I say that a loaf costs at the shop 3 1/4., and at the store 3 1/2d., and the butter at 4 ½ d. at the store is 4d. at a shop, and generally better at the shop. The store potatoes are the same price as in the shops, but worse quality. They used to give us tickets to get milk with. I have no children attending the school, but I have to pay the 2d. a week for it all the same. It is my wife from whose information I speak as to the prices. The people at Calder Bank appeared to be very keen that I should come before the Commission, but they did not like to come along with me. There is a general feeling against the store. Very few of the advance men have a good word to say for it. Those who hold it up are those who do not need to go to it at all. I do not think there is any prejudice. The men complain much of off-takes. The young men, or the men who have no families attending school complain about the school, and about being charged full price for it when they have nobody going to it. There are some of the men who have complaints about the doctor, but I cannot speak to that myself. He has been very constant in his attendance upon me when I have required him.

William McCulloch, wholesale and retail grocer

I examined samples from Chapel Hall store. My report was : sugar, bad value, short weight, half an ounce in one half pound; cheese 3 ounces instead of 4 ounces for 2 1/2d. worth 9d. per pound; butter 3 1/2 ounces instead of 4 ounces for 4d., worth 1s. a pound retail. I could not judge of the tea samples as they were spoiled.

James Hamilton, miner

I was working to the contractor at Chapel Hall about 2 1/2years ago. I think it was 30s. I received and I took it away. The contractor came and told me that the manager had stated to him that he was to discharge me from his employ, but the contractor said he would not do it. He told me I might go where I liked, he had a shop himself, and I could go to that if I liked.

Thomas Foy

When I was at Calder Bank it was all store and no cash, except on pay day. All our advances had to go to the store. The clerk would speak to us.

William Brownlee

I was formerly store clerk at Calder Bank 18 months ago. I used to receive the cash from the cash advance men who brought it to the store. I never gave goods without cash passing. The pay men always went free. I am now at Thankerton. We have the same system as at Calder Bank. I think the store at Thankerton a good one. There are some bad stores in the country. I keep three kinds of tea and two of sugar in my own shop.

William Kidd, puddler at Calder Bank

I have hands under me. They must go to the store if they want advances. The only way in which they speak to you is, that when you go in with your book for cash, they will throw it back to you and say that they cannot cash - we know well enough what that means. I do not like the articles at the store. I find them expensive and inferior. There are a good many grievances at our place. The coals we get are neither weighed nor measured, but are left to the discretion of one individual. Then with regard to the doctor, we have no choice and no voice whatever in his appointment; and indeed, I am sorry that the people have to work under such a man. He may be a good doctor or a bad doctor, I do not know, but his behaviour is very bad, he does not attend as he ought to do. George Park's wife was confined and the doctor was sent for six times and did not come to the place. There are a great many complaints about the doctor. We have got no voice at all in putting him in or in putting him out, and I think when we pay for him we should have such a voice. The only other particular thing is the long pays. The articles are inferior, There are short measures in the store. There are two quarts, you have to give 7d. before you can get the big quart, and when you get the small quart you have a tumbler less. We pay 6d. for the small quart. We have a way of measuring it. We do not like to tell the inspector of weights and measures.

Andrew Simpson McClelland

I am an accountant in Glasgow, and one of the trustees of the Monkland Company. I produce a balance sheet. I have spoken to the store manager to charge moderate prices. Our profits are 7 or 7 ½% on the sales. The profits on the different stores are £1,116 in all for the half year. The stock amounts to about £4,500. The profit on that is 56%. The profits for last year were £2,790, or rather over 50% on the capital. At our schools, except at Calder Bank, the schoolmaster gets the whole off-takes with no salary. We opposed the Education Bill last year because we thought we would have to pay the assessment, and the workers would escape altogether. There was a strong opposition by the masters in Ayrshire. All the masters were opposed. That was my chief ground of objection to the bill. I think the men should have an opportunity of audit. I would not allow them to elect their own schoolmasters. There is a universal deduction for schoolhouse rent from all the men; it is debited to the house-rent account. That is not a satisfactory way for the master if he could recover it otherwise.

Mrs Logan, greengrocer at Calder Bank

The workmen at Calder Bank bring lines to me. I did not get more than three last week. When I get them I sell them to the store. I get their full nominal value in goods at the store prices. It is not often that I get them. I generally gave 10d. for a shilling line but I only gave 9d. for each for the lines which I bought this week. I consider when you take into account the time I spend in going to the store it is not a very great profit to me.

Robert Raeside, spirit dealer at Calder Bank

I sometimes buy lines. I always gave full value. I was formerly a miner at Calder Bank, I have dealt at the store since I left the work. I saved money when I was there, yet I went for advances and the reason I went for advances, though I did not want them was, because it was generally understood that a man who did not deal at the store and who did not get advances was not so much respected by his employer as those who were doing it. We were expected to get advances. Many years ago I was discharged twice out of the same work for not taking advances. The whole of the men in that pit had to go to the store. That was 30 years ago.

John Anderson, grocer at Calder Bank

I get lines commonly from the Calder Bank store and give goods for them, taking off sometimes 2d. and sometimes 1d. in the shilling discount. I regularly send those lines to the store at Calder Bank in a bundle and get goods for them. For those goods I have to pay 1d. and sometimes 2d. dearer at the store than I could get them for in Glasgow. Sometimes instead of getting goods from me I give the men money. Sometimes they will not take anything but money. It is very seldom they take goods. My goods are cheaper than the goods at the store so that it is no great profit to me to get the lines. I sell for l0d. the same tea for which they charge 11d. a quarter.