Notes on Miners' Houses - Part II

(By Our Own Correspondent)

The Coatbridge District

Coatbridge is good centre from which to prosecute inquiries as to the homes or miners. With the town itself, given up as it is to furnaces and steam hammers, we have nothing to do; our quest lies further afield. All round about are miners' rows and villages, set down as a rule according to no special plan, or rather in defiance of all systems, and reached by roads which an generally rough and crooked. The area over which they extend is inconsiderable, and yet a traveller unable to claim the honour of having lived for some time in Coatbridge would experience no difficulty in finding any particular hamlet of which he might be in search, even although, with “a good Scotch tongue in his head,” he had a special aptitude for asking questions. They are, in fact, a series of architectural surprises and sometimes a good deal more. Yon catch them up on the outskirts of a wood, or at a quick bend of the road come suddenly in sight of them crowding down in a glen or straggling on a hill-side. The only thing which is reasonably certain is that without guidance you would be as likely to miss as to find them. In these circumstances driving is a necessity, however much one may be inclined to adopt the slower but in such a case the more satisfactory mode of walking through the mining districts. Picking up a machine at Coatbridge, therefore, I was able, during the hours of daylight on Monday, to visit Gargell Gartcloss, Rosehall, Greenend, Calder, Faskin, and Woodhall. In the course of my journeyings I found examples of the best as well as the worst houses, although none were so absolutely miserable as some of which I spoke in my last communication. The greatest evil is that in one or two places the water supply is defective, the people being reduced to a variety of shifts in order to supply themselves, and even then only getting water which is more or less impure. In one case, it seems pretty clear that at certain seasons the water must be extremely bad. Throughout the Loch Katrine district good water at least is secured to the poorest, but beyond the range of the Glasgow supply this boon is frequently unattainable.

I would not care to have any great stake depending upon my ability to indicate the exact locale of Gargell. This only I may say, that to reach it we pass through Gartsherrie, where the name of Baird is a name to conjure with, and then strike across an uneven country with very bad roads, and at length tumble out at Gargell. Gartsherrie, by the way, is quite a town. The numerous rows are tenanted, of course, by the iron-workers, the houses being substantial, and the sanitary arrangements excellent. Gargell, on the contrary, is extremely small, and on the whole an unpleasant place, also belonging to the Messrs Baird. It consists of one row of eleven houses of one and two apartments, three of which have a roofing of slates, the others of primitive thatch. In front are gardens or "kail yards," the beauty of which at any time is not great, and which in mid-winter lie in admired disorder. The surface is covered with decayed vegetables, and ashes are deposited in two places in great heaps, in the absence of any proper receptacle. An open drain runs in front of the houses, intercepted at its centre, and carried down through the gardens to an underground sewer. The drain is cleaned once a week, but in the interim it is not properly attended to, and at the time of my visit was half-full of refuse. In summer, I was told, it is very nasty. Inside the houses, the kitchens, as in the case of all I have seen, are provided with two recess beds, and the inmates complain of damp, which appears on the walls and under the beds. For the single apartments, 4s 10d.a month of four week is paid, and for room and kitchen houses the rent is something over 7s. A month. The water supply is scarce, It is usually got from a well, which was frozen from the beginning of the recent protracted frost until within the last few days. During this time the people were dependent upon what they could find at Gartsherrie Station, where the officials, perhaps finding their own necessities great enough, were unwilling to give them water.

A little farther on we come to the village of Gartcloss, a row of 26 houses also belonging to the Messrs Baird, and, with one exception, all single apartments, at a rental of 4s 4d a calendar month. The floors are all of stone, and the people complain greatly of damp, of which there is evidence in the cold clammy walls. A few lodgers are kept in the row, but there is no overcrowding, and no fever or other epidemic exists. The exterior of the tenements might be improved at little expense, in the way, for example, of repairing the rhones which carry rain-water from the roof, and which hang loose and broken in front. A sloping bank terminating in a dirty stream grows vegetables, and is also the site of five large and well-kept ashpits, sufficiently removed from the houses. The water supply, is unsatisfactory in the extreme. In winter it is got from what is called “the wee well” in an adjoining field; but this, I was assured, is dried up from April till November, and during the dog-days the people have three courses open to them - either to beg, to borrow, or to steal. In this extremity they beg water at Gargell Station, and don't always get it, or help themselves to a supply which is pumped out of No 5 Pit at Townhead, or take what is collected at a neighbouring moss. The moss water when brought in is said to be of the colour of tea. I saw and tasted the product of the “wee well,” but it is of course impossible in this way. to get any notion of its quality, although it looked clear enough.

Returning to Coatbridge, and driving through we get to Rosehall, a large colliery village belonging to Messrs Addie & Sons. There are in all four rows of substantial stone houses, which are so numerous that I did not count them. They are divided by regular streets, and three of them have been built for a number of years. These are all single apartments, with the inevitable two beds; the rent being 1s 6d a week. For the first time in my experience, I found tenants speaking well of their landlord. They did not admit that the houses were all they could wish, but they spoke of Mr Addie as willing to do all he could to keep them in good order, and were especially grateful to him for having last summer put down wooden floors in the old tenements. There is a want of ashpits, but those for which space has been found are well kept. The supply of water is ample and of good quality. The fourth row is quite new, some of the houses, of which there are 24 in all, not being finished. Those ready for occupancy are tenanted. They are first-rate room-and-kitchen houses, the best which I have seen any where - excelling even those at Scaterigg. There is a neat porch, with a large press in which meat may be kept in hot weather, and both the apartments are of good size, the kitchen being the larger of the two. Each is provided with two beds. They are quite free from damp, although only out of the plasterer's hands. At the back are large coal-houses for all the tenants, a closet for every three, and a wash-house with boiler for every six. The closets are kept locked, each occupant being furnished with a key, and the wash-houses are large enough to admit of four women working at one time. I was informed that Mr Addie intends to commence the erection of another row of tenements in spring. As showing the indifference of some miners to the improvement of their dwellings, it may be mentioned that the proprietor found considerable difficulty in inducing the occupants of several old houses which lay in the line of a new branch railway in the neighbourhood to remove into other and better ones. In connection with Rosehall is a very good school-house, built like the whole village, of stone, and opened about the year 1836. It is attended almost exclusively by the children of the miners. Last year, the average number of scholars was 180; but during recent weeks, owing to the severe weather, the attendance has slightly diminished. The school, is still under the superintendence of Messrs Addie.

Greenend, which is reached, farther on, consists of two rows of old houses, and a new range 20 in number. The old houses are low in the ceiling, badly lighted, and windy and damp. The floors are of stone. That they are very humble places appears from the rent which is paid - viz., 3s a month. The new row, built about a year and a half ago, is nothing to brag of; in fact, the houses are by no means good. They are of brick, with kitchen floor also of brick, and are thin and not well finished. The apartments are, however, large, with two beds in each, the room having a wooden floor and a wall covering of paper. Damp and cold are naturally complained of. There is plenty of water, obtained from street wells. Behind the houses are kitchen gardens, and three large ashpits and twelve closets. The outhouses are well-kept, and are beyond breathing range of the houses. There are no wash-houses, and the coal-cellars are extremely small. There is too much scrimping and pinching about these houses, the rent of which is 10s per month of four weeks.

The most wretched hovels that I saw on Monday were at Calder, belonging to Messrs. Dixon. There are here three rows of miserable old houses, two of them facing each .other, and the third at some distance, sulkily turning its back upon its neighbours. They are indeed a dismal, disreputable trio. Through a gap in the paling which encloses this place, I made my way into the double row. The ground at the entrance is below the level of the roadway, and slopes down to the foot of the lines of houses in a broken surface, muddy and dirty. The rent of the houses, which, are dear at any money, is 3s monthly. They are lighted by a small window in front and another at the back not much larger than the crown of a man's hat. The first house I called at was full of smoke, and the tenant, an Irish woman, said it was little better at any time, so that she had to keep the door open all day and often times all night. This after all is not an unmixed evil for if by opening the door she gets cold - and her chest, she says, is very bad - nothing but death from poisoned air could result from keeping it close. I was also informed by this woman that three or four months ago there were several cases of scarlet fever in the village. Another of the houses I visited was quite as bad - dark and dirty, and smelling vilely. An old man and his wife sat by the fire and entertained me with stories of their troubles with the wind and the rain, the one threatening to bring the old house down about their ears and the other pouring in through the loose pan-tiles and down the open hatch way at the door. There, is an abundant supply of good water from Shettleston.

At Faskin, belonging to the Messrs Baird, there are 13 single apartment houses, all occupied by miners. They are under the level of the road way, the greatest depth being between three and four feet. All of them are badly lighted and otherwise inferior, the worst being the end house. The beds in this dwelling are against the gable, and the walls of the recess are quite black with damp, which also appears in other parts of the kitchen. An Irish couple are the occupants. It is kept very tidy, and the young mother, who like her husband, is the picture of health, laments the damp. for the appearance of the thing, but has no real notion of its unhealthiness. The rent of these houses is 1s per week. There is no proper water supply. The people catch the water which flows from one of the fields, and in dry seasons, when this source is exhausted, they beg for it at a farm house a short way off.

Woodhall, which I visited last, belongs to Messrs Merry & Cuninghame. In early summer last year, while the miners on strike were living under canvas, I found myself at this place, which it charmingly situated, although the natural beauty of the surroundings has been greatly marred by industrial encroachments. The houses, which are all of stone, were built about thirty years ago. At that time they were doubtless of a very superior class, and even now, with some repairs, they might be made quite comfortable. The estate has however, been acquired by the Messrs Baird, who take possession of it in May next, until which time we need not expect much expenditure in the way indicated. The houses, which are built in five rows, number 70 or 80 in all, and, with some 20 exceptions, they are all single apartments. The floors, so far as I saw, are all earthen, and there is a good deal of damp on the walls. One of the tenants told me it was necessary to keep large fires burning night and day in this weather. In summer, however, they are said to be quite agreeable houses, and, with such fine air as they have, I can quite believe that Woodhall is then a capital place of residence. The rows are swept every day, and the ashpits well looked after. The closets, however, are doorless and dirty. As for water, it is to be had in abundance - good spring water, for cooking purposes, and stream and canal water for general use. One of the rows is erected under a railway embankment, which slopes down at the back of the houses, and the summit of which is higher than the chimney tops. A drain has been laid along the bottom of the embankment, but it is partially choked up, I believe, for as darkness had now set in I could not see it, and of course in wet weather the rain creates dampness in the houses. The health of Woodhall is said to be excellent, fever and smallpox being alike unknown. [Glasgow Herald 13 January 1875]