Children's Employment Commission 1842
Report by Joseph Fletcher Esq. on the employment of children and young persons in the lead-mines in the counties of Lanark and Dumfries; and on the state, condition, and treatment of such children and young persons.
October 12th - 14th 1841
Situation of the Leadhills mines in the parish of Crawford
The lead-mines which give name and support to the contiguous little post-town of Leadhills are situated in the parish of Crawford, which forms the southern extremity of the county of Lanark, and comprises the most elevated of the southern moorlands of Scotland, which, in one of their ranges, called the Louthers, here attain a height of upwards of 3000 feet above the level of the sea. The Tweed, the Clyde, the Annan, and a branch of the Nith, all rise on its borders ; and the whole surrounding region consists of vast clay-slate undulations of green, black, and brown mountains, dotted with flocks of hardy sheep, fed by packs of grouse, and for ever re-enveloped in cold storms of wind, rain, and snow, which seem to rush to these hills from every quarter of the sky.
Present state of the village and works
At the top of the pass of Glengonner, at an elevation of about 1400 feet, and in a shelterless vale surrounded by summits of black heath, stands the village of Leadhills, or Hopetoun, which comprises a population of nearly 1000 souls, inhabiting mean-looking little cottages with whitewashed walls, and moss-grown roofs thatched with heath. The mining works have torn the surface of all the neighbouring lands, and are now carried on a few hundred yards below the village. These appear to have been commenced early in the seventeenth century, after the search for gold, found in small grains in the neighbouring hills, had become unprofitable ; and they have been carried on by the Scots Mining Company, a chartered body, having their office in London, for upwards of 120 years, under leases from the Hopetoun family. The "Company's House," which is occupied by W. G. Borron, Esq., the resident proprietor, has around it a screen of trees, which contributes somewhat towards that "rich appearance," which one of the inhabitants, born among still bleaker neighbouring hills, assured me he had never seen equalled.
Notwithstanding the charms which it presented to such eyes, it will readily be imagined that this is a place in which no one stays who is not retained by his avocations ; and a touch of misery even is now added to its original poverty of appearance, by the number of cottages which here and there have been abandoned to ruin. At the time of my visit, too, there were remaining in the village a number of families, the heads of which, to the number perhaps of 80, had gone to work at the newly opened mine at Carsephairn, in Galloway, about 60 miles distant, where there is as yet no permanent home for those dependent on them. The mines of Leadhills now employ only 188 hands, all men and boys, of whom 152 are adults, 18 are above 13 and under 18 years of age, and 18 are under 13.
Branches into which the mining labour is divided
The mining labours divide themselves into three branches - the underground task of getting the ores, the breaking and washing of them in the open air, and the smelting of them in the furnaces or mills. I visited the scene of each operation, and conversed with the people engaged in it, whose testimony, where I did not note it, was entirely corroborative of that which is subjoined.
State of the miners, and character of the under-ground labour
The entrance to the mines is in the side of the mountain, on the north-western f side of the glen, by a low adit, in which the water is up to the ancles in a running stream for a great part of the way. After penetrating for some distance on a level, the descent is by a series of wet, dirty, rude, and almost perpendicular ladders, with long steps, in climbing which, with lights, tools, and stores, it is not surprising that the men meet occasionally with fatal accidents, notwithstanding the cautious character of the instructed Leadhills miners, as compared with the foolhardy coal-miners in the lower parts of the county (No. 46).
Dressing the ores an earlier employment
Part of the way down are two water-pressure engines, one pumping water from the bottom of the mine to a level which runs hence to a lower part of the glen, and the other drawing the ores up a shaft, the gearing and construction of which are not such as to make it safe for the ascent and descent of the men. The evidence of the superintendent of the underground works (No. 46) will, however, best describe the system of work underground, to which the occupation of washing the ores at the surface serves to introduce the young people, who, however, seldom enter the mine itself under the age of 18. The evidence of Dr. James Martin (No. 47) describes the influence of the underground labour on health and longevity.
Character of the employment in smelting-mills
Employment in the smelting-mills is likewise obtained through previous occupation in the washing department, and is entered upon about the same age. Formerly, when the chimneys or vents were merely short upright stacks, the imperfect draught, by exposing the men to the deleterious fumes from the ores, caused serious injury to their health; but the vents are now carried several hundred yards up the mountain side, an improvement for which the quantity of lead deposited in them is an ample reward; 10 per cent of the produce of all the ores smelted being procurable out of the deposits in a long chimney. The evidence of the overseer of the smelting-works (No. 45) and of the physician (No. 47) contains all that will be required concerning this branch of the labour.
Employment of children and young persons almost exclusively in dressing ores in the open air
It is the "dressing," or breaking and washing of the ores, in the open air, in which the young people are almost exclusively employed; and the number so employed is returned as 35, or less than one-fifth of the total number of hands in the works. Their ages, together with the degree of instruction which they possess, will be gathered from the following abstract from the return made by their employers:-
View Table 1 Abstract from the returns made by the Scots Mining Company
Place and instruments of work
These young washers pursue their labours in the bleak vale below the village, near the mouth of the mine, where there is an unroofed crushing-machine, worked by a water-wheel, which also gives a jerking motion to the rows of sieves, immersed in water, at which part of the boys are employed in "skumming" the ore, or separating the bits of stone which rise to the top, from the lumps of heavier lead ore which fall to the bottom of the sieve.
The method of breaking, washing, and separating the ores is precisely the same as that pursued in Northumberland, from which district the overseer of this department was brought; and its processes will be described in detail by Dr. Mitchell, the Sub-Commissioner visiting that district, in which it is practised on so much larger a scale. The adult miners who raise the ore, first sort out the pieces containing metal from the stony refuse which is unavoidably brought up with it; and those pieces are next put through the crushing-mill, fed by a boy sitting in a little box, assisted by several others bringing the ore in little waggons. The broken materials are then put in the sieves, jolted in a long trough of water, at which a number of boys stand in a row, attending the sieves and "skumming" away the lighter matter, while the very smallest particles escape with the water. The bits of metallic ore left in the bottom of the sieves being thus separated, are placed in distinct heaps ready for smelting ; and according to the smelted produce, the several sets of men who raised each heap are paid.
Washing of the refuse
The refuse materials put aside by the men themselves as waste are subjected to the same process as the rough ores, since they are found to contain a proportion of lead sufficient to pay the proprietors for this labour; and the water which brings away all the smallest particles from the sieves is made to deposit, in a succession of little wooden troughs on the ground, all that portion of them which is marked as lead ore by its greater specific gravity, while the rest flows away in a poisonous impurity of the water.
Disadvantages of the employment
The great disadvantages of this employment to the young people engaged in it are the constant dabbling in the cold water, from which the feet are not always protected, and the exposure to the mountain storms and pitiless winds without any shelter whatever. The detail of hours, meals, accidents, holidays, hiring and wages, and treatment, will appear from the evidence of the superintendent of the washing department (No. 43), and that of one of the washers (No. 44), whose evidence was so precisely corroborated by that of others that I found it unnecessary to make further minutes. The inclemency of the climate, and its effects on the young workers, and on the population generally, are described by Dr. Martin (No. 47).
Exposure to accident less than to the weather
The rolling-mill has two bevelled wheels, working into each other with cogs, without sufficient fence; but Mr. Borron, the resident proprietor, volunteered to erect a proper guard; and he has likewise proposed to erect sheds for the protection of the washers, but the overseer of this department objects that they will so much obstruct the light that, although they may be used in Northumberland, they would here prevent the separation from the refuse matter of the "grey" ores, which are there unknown. This objection, however, where health is so materially concerned, should be directed to procuring some portion of glass in the roof, rather than to the denial of all shelter, which it is painful to witness and injurious to endure. It is to he hoped, too, that some better expedient can be found than the employment of children to clear the smelting-house chimneys of their valuable but deleterious deposits. (No. 44.)
Employment of women and girls in embroidery
While the men and boys are employed in the mines, the young unmarried women and girls, from eight years of age upward, are occupied at home, chiefly in the embroidery of muslin for the agents of Glasgow houses (Nos. 43, 45, 47), at which they work very long hours, though girls of full ability will earn, on an average, only 2s. 6d. or 3s. per week, which, however, is a great assistance to the family of the parent or relative of which they form part. Formerly, the employment of these persons was spinning, for the market as well as for home use; but about 40 years ago it was superseded by tambouring, to which the embroidering of muslin, held in the hand, has now succeeded. Dr. Martin describes the injurious effects on health of the close confinement in this employment. (No. 47.)
Houses of the miners
I entered many of the miners' cottages, in which the principal apartment serves for both bed-room, sitting-room, and kitchen; an arrangement inimical to neatness and cleanliness, and the advantages of which can be appreciated only by hearing in mind the wretched climate and the cost of fuel. The entrance to these cottages is generally by narrow folding-doors opening into a little sunken porch, communicating with ant outer chamber of varying size, used generally for stores of turf, potatoes, &c. Two contiguous beds, sunk into closets, usually occupy the side of the living-room opposite the fire; and in the most comfortable of these rooms are respectable presses, tables, shelves, &c. But others exhibited the extreme of destitution, with floors of earth, beds of heath, and an utter destitution of bed-clothes. Scarcely any were without books, of which the most modern were productions of the Scottish popular press, and the older, the Scriptures, and some books of divinity of the past century.
So small is the consumption of animal food at Leadhills, that the butcher who used to be in the place has left it; and when a sheep is killed it falls by a general conspiracy of the principal inhabitants, who bespeak the several portions of it from the man who kills, and who, I was told, might otherwise "eat it himsel." The old men complain that advanced prices, with which their wages have by no means kept pace, prevent their getting meat and butter as they did when a sheep sold for 4s. and butter for 4d. per lb. Scots. But for this deprivation they have been partly compensated by the increased use of milk, as they have reclaimed additional meadow plots for their cows from the sides of the hills around them. Mr. Weir, overseer of the underground works, describes their principal food to be oatmeal (No. 46), and his account of the prevalent mode of living was confirmed by other witnesses, part of whose testimony on this subject is annexed (Nos. 43, 44). It is the habit to dress very decently on holidays.
With such employment and such homes the children generally present an appearance of robust health. For their work they are fairly clad in coarse white woollen garments; yet the effects resulting to health from mining labour, as here conducted, are by no means favourable. The results are summed up in Dr. Martin's Medico-Statistical Report (No. 47), with which the common opinion of the older inhabitants agrees (No. 46). The children are cleanly for the style of cottage life which prevails generally in North Britain.
Decline from past superiority of moral condition, and its causes
The inhabitants of this remote village were formerly as pre-eminent for their moral worth as for their acquired intelligence: but the testimony to a modern decline in the former characteristic, accompanied perhaps by one not so easily perceived in the latter, is universal; and it is variously attributed to want of ability in a recent master of the village school, to a past inefficient ministration, to bad example on the part of inhabitants who were in a position expressly demanding a better, to increased poverty reducing the tone of independence, to a strike which took place in 1836, when labour was suspended for four months, and to the system of payment by a credit score at "the shop." (Nos. 46, 48, &c.) From the great hope expressed of the good to be derived from the restored efficiency of the school, I conclude that the past defects in the intellectual and moral training of the young are the causes most dwelt upon. (Nos. 43-46.)
Means of improvement provided by the Miners' Library, founded a century ago
The valuable evidence of the Rev. John Hope, the minister, describes both the former and the present moral character of the villagers, and the means of moral improvement, in addition to the ministry and the school, provided by the voluntary association of the labouring miners, precisely a century ago, to found the "Miners' Library of Leadhills," perhaps the earliest mechanics' institution in the realm. Its articles and laws are annexed (No. 50), as being those of an institution which has prospered in their observance, so as now to contain more than 1800 volumes.* The number in 1835, when a catalogue of them was printed, was 1633, of which 471 were of divinity, 177 travels and voyages, 324 history, 177 arts and sciences, 87 philosophy and letters, 47 poetry, 212 novels, romances, &c., and 138 miscellaneous.
Moral character of the place still above the average
The present moral character of the inhabitants, lowered as it may be, still appears from this evidence to be "decidedly superior to that of manufacturing and mining labourers generally, employed together at large public works" (No. 48); and the evidence of the present schoolmaster (No. 49) shows that this diminutive city of the desert has long been a chief source of such education as could be procured by the wild districts around, through the agency of boys hired from it to teach in the farmers' families.
Improvement taking place in schools
The whole of this evidence of the schoolmaster (No. 49) is, in fact, worthy of perusal, as a description of the education of a teacher common in this district, and of the free competition among teachers, and improving demand for higher qualifications on the part of patrons, which promise to keep popular instruction in Scotland as much in advance of that which prevails in England as ever it has been. The schoolmaster is a young, active, and intelligent person, eminently qualified, under good moral and religious superintendence, to advance his pupils in letters and in Knowledge.
Improved state of that at Leadhills
In the school I found about 80 children of both sexes, chiefly from 4 to 12 years of age, under his sole tuition, with both boys and girls in the same classes, the sole distinction being according to proficiency; and these classes, which were not very large, seemed to work excellently. Although in clothing and cleanliness this little crowd was far below that of the national schools in the rural districts of England, yet here the quickness and alertness everywhere exhibited formed a remarkable contrast to the drowsy appearance there too often witnessed. And when the whole were seated in lines down each side of the room for a lesson in the rudiments of natural philosophy (the subject being the formation of ice and snow), first their silent attention, and then their excitementan excitement still amenable to disciplinewas very remarkable, as scattered groups, or the whole school, arose to offer their answers to the questions proposed by the master.
Affording, with other advantages, an education equal to that of the middle classes in South Britain
Examinations on the Catechism and in "mental arithmetic," a term with which the boys in the village are perfectly familiar, then succeeded ; and, combined with the recent progress in reading and writing, and the ready access of the scholars to the valuable little school library published by the Irish Society, as well as to the books of the miners' library in their parents' houses, convinced me that the children of the poor labourers of Leadhills are under as good, or perhaps under a better system of intellectual culture than even the middle-class children of South Britain generally. And the minister of Leadhills expressed great satisfaction with the moral aid promised by this school, the interests of which he has not spared efforts to advance.
* Some of the miners are not satisfied with a late law, which admits to its management persons who are not of the class of miners. The centenary of the Miners' Library or Reading Society was celebrated on Tuesday the 23rd of November, 1841, by a procession, by dinners at the library house (a plain spacious room), and at the inn, and by a ball in the school-room. Even the absent villagers at the Woodhead Mines of Carsephairn, in Galloway, did not fail to make this a day of festival. Allan Ramsay was a native of Leadhills, and a distinguished patron of its library. Messrs. Symington and Taylor, who first successfully applied the powers of steam to navigation, likewise derived their origin from this place.
Anxiety of parents for education, and progress of children
The testimony is universal to the anxiety of the parents to have their children instructed (Nos. 43, 44, 48.); and the evidence of the boy Aitchison (No. 44) affords an evidence of intellectual activity which is here usual, but which it would be nearly impossible to find in the same class in England. The progress of the children generally is indicated by the figures given in the preceding table, showing the state of instruction among the children employed in the washing department, together with their age and number.
Superiority of instruction in this poor and remote village, as compared to that which prevails in the rich manufacturing districts of England
Of the whole 35, only three attend a Sunday-school, while Sunday-schools are almost the only source of instruction in the ignorant manufacturing districts of the North of England. The whole attend day-school during winter, and sometimes evening-school at other times; the whole regularly attend public worship; the whole can read (and generally do read expressly for their own amusement and instruction) ; and all, except four of the youngest, can write (and well, too, as their signatures testify); an accomplishment which is the best test of their school progress, and one of which so general an acquisition is not likely to be shown by any return from the most populous and wealthy of the manufacturing or mining districts of South Britain, where the earnings of a family will generally be double what can be obtained at Leadhills.
Consequent superiority in intellectual character
As compared to the lumpishness which prevails among the children of the mining and manufacturing populations of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the intelligence of the children of this poor and remote village is most remarkable: and by their hardy yet domestic nurture, and superior instruction, the emigrants from it are well qualified to compete with the children of a higher class in the towns to which they resort for employment, in England as well as in Scotland.
Exact resemblance between Leadhills and the neighbouring mining village of Wanlock Head
About a mile and a half westward of Leadhills is the mining village of Wanlock Head, in a vale at the source of the Wanlock stream, containing about 700 inhabitants, and situated in the parish of Sanquhar, in the county of Dumfries. It is supported by some mines in the same tract with those of Leadhills, the working of which was commenced about 1680. The present lessees are the Marquis of Bute, who has three shares, and Mr. M'Leod, who has one; and the lease being near its termination, these works are not carried on to their former extent. In 1835 they employed a rather greater number of hands than those of Leadhills now employ. This village resembling that of Leadhills in every particular, of situation, the employment of its inhabitants, their means of instruction, and their mode of life, it was needless to make express investigations in it. The miners there have their own minister and school; and a library of upwards of 1300 volumes, founded in 1756, and supported by subscriptions of 2s. annually and 5s. on admission, yielding annually about £10. There is likewise a Sunday-school conducted by three young men educated in the place, and one conducted by the minister, the Rev. Thomas Hastings, for the more advanced youth, held in the chapel, for three months in spring. Sunday-schools he considers of great value, but not sufficient to make up for the loss resulting from the prevailing early removal of children from school. In the day-school, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., are taught reading, writing, arithmetic, book-keeping, mensuration, Latin, Greek, and French ; and the master is reported by the minister to be a person of good school and college education, trained to be a teacher, and quite qualified for his situation. The children are generally taken away about twelve years of age, but as they cannot work during frost, they attend school during the winter quarter and improve themselves ; they would otherwise soon forget what they had learned, owing to the early age at which they leave; for in the opinion of the minister they ought not to be removed until fourteen or fifteen years of age. "As the miners are an intelligent body of men," he continues, "they wish to give their children a good religious and intellectual education." Besides the public library they have also a juvenile library.
Comparison between the miners' and farm-labourers' children
The only children in this mountainous region, besides those of the lead-miners, are the offspring of the labourers employed on the sheep-farms, whose employment must be about as early and full as severe, without the advantages of education which the former so eminently possess: comparatively, therefore, the condition of the miners' children is greatly superior.
I have the honour to be,
Gentlemen, Your most obedient servant.,
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