Notes on Miners' Houses - Part VI

(By Our Own Correspondent)

Dalmellington and Kilmarnock Districts

Dalmellington is reached by a branch railway from Ayr. I was advised to leave the train at Patna, between which and the town lie the principal mining villages of the district. Patna can scarcely be said to belong to the number, as one is disappointed to learn, after descending the hill and crossing the Doon, which flows in the valley between the railway and the village picturesquely perched on the high ground opposite. The population is of a mixed description, and the houses, of one and two storeys, are altogether different in character from those we seek. For colliers' houses pur et simple we must recross the Doon, and scaling the heights beyond, reach Burnfoot Hill, or as it is popularly called for short, " The Hill." Having climbed the brae, we come first to three long rows of one-storey brick houses, some 80 or 90 in number, all built about three years ago. In the first and third rows are three double houses - large rooms and kitchens - for which 3s 6d a week is paid; all the others are single apartments, the rent being 1s 9d a week. The plan is uniform throughout the whole line, and the accommodation, so far as it goes, is excellent. In some of the houses damp appears on the front walls, but not to such an extent as to indicate any serious structural defect. All the dwellings, single and double apartments alike, have an outhouse at the back of the kitchen, for storing coals, and capable also of being turned into a washhouse. It would be much better, of course, if detached coal-cellars were provided, leaving this outer apartment to be used as a larder and scullery and wash-house. The floors are of wood, the ceilings lofty, and the kitchens large, each being furnished with two iron beds by the proprietors. In front of the houses, and only a few feet off, is a line of railway for the conveyance of minerals. It is not fenced, and must form dangerous playground for children. The Hill contains many more rows than those described, and has a population, I should suppose, of somewhere about 2000. The houses are all after the same design, but as some of the apartments elsewhere are smaller, the rents are in such instances reduced to 1s 6d and 2s 3d for single and double ends. I was, however, astonished to find in the case of houses of such recent construction that the sanitary arrangements are of the most defective character. There is not a single closet or ashpit, so far as I could learn, in the whole place, the full meaning of which can scarcely be conceived by city people. All refuse is thrown into the kitchen gardens at the back of the houses, and as there is no farmer in the neighbourhood who might find it to his advantage to cart it away for manure, it is allowed to lie all the year through. In spring, when the people delve their gardens, it is returned to the soil. The water supply is also bad in summer. During winter good spring water is not in limited quantity, supplemented by supplies from No. 9 Pit, or from surface drains. In summer the spring is dried up, and the people must either depend upon what is pumped out of No. 9 Pit, or go to Carmean or Patna, both at a considerable distance. No. 9 is not a going pit, but the water is condemned by every one who is compelled to use it, and I made very special inquiry on the point. Not one but several people told me that it made broth and porridge black, and one man said that after it remained in the house over night a thick scum was found on the surface in the morning. It has also the effect of giving a strong colour and flavour to tea, which may seem to be all in favour of economy, a little tea going a long way. I suggested this to one of the housewives, who shook her head, and said that "oor yin," meaning her husband, knew the taste of No. 9.tea quite well, and wouldn't take it, In hot weather, "beasts " - that is the comprehensive word commonly used - are found in the water. Last summer the complaints about it were loud and frequent, and a filter-box was placed in the pond in which it is stored. I saw the box, or at least the ashes in which it is embedded, and it seems to be about 2ft. square. Ashes from the pithead, I was told, are thrown into the box, through which all the water passes. It is a rude, and can only be a partially effective filter, but since its introduction the quality of the water has been improved. It is to be hoped that when the hot weather comes round the supply will be found to be better than last year, although I think this is doubtful. The health of the Hill at present is very bad, especially in the three rows which I first visited. A good many deaths have taken place recently, and several cases of gastric, scarlet, typhoid, and typhus fever are reported. In one house the father and mother and a little daughter were cut off within the last few weeks. I could not ascertain definitely whether all these deaths were attributable to infectious diseases, but it was scarlet fever, I believe, to which the girl succumbed. Two orphan children are left - one of them, at the time of my visit, getting better after an attack of scarlet fever. The Hill is splendidly situated, and ought to be exceedingly healthy.

Leaving Burnfoot and holding our way across the hill, we reach Benwhat, in which there are two long rows of miners' houses, all belonging to the Dalmellington Company, and exactly similar in style and internal arrangement to those we have just left. They are single apartments and rooms and kitchens, the rent being ls 9d and 2s 3d per week respectively. The water is good and always to be had in plenty. heT first row was built about nine years ago, and the last was only occupied last year. Between the two is a considerable stretch of sloping ground, and from the upper to the lower rows cross drains are carried down through the gardens, leading into well-formed drains, by which the refuse water is readily carried away. Houses are in great demand at Benwhat, and a good many lodgers are kept. Here also there is not a single closet or ashpit.

Craigmark, on the outskirts of Dalmellington, is a biggish village belonging to the same company. The houses are old and smoky, but not specially unhealthy, and the rents are 1s 3d and 1s 6d a-week for single and double apartments. Craigmark beats the newer villages in being provided with ashpits and closets, which are regularly cleaned out. A plentiful supply of good spring water is obtained.

Waterside, another hamlet owned by the Dalmellington Company, lies three miles off. I should have liked very much to visit it, for I understand that washhouses and boilers are erected, besides other outhouses of a more indispensable kind. It would, however, have interfered greatly with my arrangements to go there, and I am willing to give the Dalmellington Company credit for having attended to sanitary matters at Waterside, which are inexplicably neglected at Burnfoot Hill and Benwhat.

Starting next morning from Kilmarnock, I drove to Galston. Hurlford is the first mining village we reach after leaving the old town. The Portland new and old rows, belonging to the Portland Iron Works, are altogether occupied by miners. The houses in the new row are dry and comfortable - those in the old quarter are also proof against wet, although weather-stained and time-worn. The latter are two storeys in height, the upper door being reached by an inner stair, partly of wood and partly of stone, and narrow and dark. In the new row the houses are of two apartments, rent 7s a calendar month ; in the old row they are single apartments both on the ground and on the upper floor, the rent being 1s a week. Between the two and about 15 feet from the houses, are ashpits and double closets, which smell a good in summer. Last winter smallpox was prevalent, and about the end of the year there were several cases of scarlet fever. Furnace Row, farther along the village, and just outside the works, numbers 16 families. No complaint can be made of the houses, which are above the level of the road, a room and a bed closet costing 6s 6d a calendar mouth. The state of things at the back, however, is very objectionable The high wall of the works is only a few feet off; and the want of free air it has occasioned is aggravated by three closets and ashpits being erected against the gable of the houses. In summer the stench is very bad, and even now the tenants having the misfortune to look out from their back windows into the ashpits, find it advisable to keep them closed as much aa possible. The water, which comes from Mauchline, is stored in a reservoir at the railway station, and delivered at a pump in Furnace Row.

Near Galston we reach the Goatfoot and Tarry Rows, belonging to Mr Allan Gilmour. The Goatfoot Rows are two in number, having in all about 30 tenants. They are room and kitchen houses, all of brick with stone floors in both apartments. An iron bed in the room, and also the room grate, were put in by the proprietor. They are thin and extremely damp houses - many of them so damp as to be positively injurious to health. Passing the hand across the wall brings off water and paint and lime. The back and front walls are stained with water from floor to ceiling, and the kitchen beds are in the same condition. Boarding has been introduce between the mattresses and the wall to preserve the bedclothes, but this of course does not remove the mischief resulting from sleeping in such a place. In one house a large fire was lighted in the room, yet here also damp appeared on the wallpaper at the side of the fireplace. Other tenants complained that their room fires could not be kept lighted for smoke, and one woman, the walls of whose house were anything but fresh told me she had only been six months a tenant, during which time she had whitened it five times. I went into a great many of the houses finding much the same kind of thing everywhere. Scarlet fever has entered one of the houses, where a child lay ill in bed, and another little patient, now convalescent, sat wrapped up beside the fire. These houses are only a couple of years old, and are in general well furnished. In connection with them are kitchen gardens in front, and coal-houses and ashpits behind.

The Tar Rows are three in number, with 18 or 19 families in each. They are rather better houses than the others, although I did not go into so many. The Tar Rows derive their name from the fact that the roofs are covered with tar. It seems to me that a cheap and ready way to keep out the damp so much and justly deprecated would be to smear the outsides of the houses with the rain-proof liquid so liberally used overhead. Galston, to which I afterwards proceeded, is pretty much a weaving village, so that I returned, to Kilmarnock, and devoted the afternoon to a run in the opposite direction.

On the main road between Kilmarnock and Irvine, we come first to Kelk Place, a miners' row of thirty houses, belonging to Mr Finnie of Springhill. In outside arrangement these make the nearest approach I have seen to cottages, with little flower-gardens in front hedged off from the main-road, and the requisite outhouses behind. The accommodation of the houses consists of a large kitchen, with stone floor, entering from which are two small bed rooms. The rent is 6s a-month. They are very comfortable houses, and well kept. The water in winter is plentiful, and as good as drain water can be, but in wet. weather it is dirty.

Crosshouse, a village farther on, comprises two old rows of miners' houses, also belonging to Mr Finnie. They are of two apartments, the room being a mere bed-closet, and the rent is 5s a-month - not good houses, by any means, but infinitely better than those at Jawcraigs or the "Red Toon." There are no ashpits or closets, all refuse being thrown down in the kitchen gardens, and used for manure in spring. Water is got from a spring well quite at hand.

"Lourlin Row," as it is pronounced (nobody knows exactly how it spells), is soon after reached. Here there are twelve single-apartment houses, Mr Finnie being again the owner, and the rent is 1s a-week for single apartments. The houses are not architectural triumphs. One of them is quite rent in the back wall, and also at the ceiling, by underground workings. The interstices are filled up with rags, "as the wind from the ceiling," the young housewife naively remarked, "blew out the lamp." In this house is a harmonium, the first evidence of a taste for higher instrumental music than the concertina affords which I have met with. It is one of the simple sonorous order, without stops, but the master of the house, having overcome the difficulties of reading and fingering, is anxious to exchange it for a better instrument from which he may get a variety of effects. All miners, you see, are not "compact of thankless earth," but are reasonably endowed with a sense of harmony. Externally, Lourlin Row might be improved. It is dirty and crowded, and lacking outhouses for which in the country there is so much room.

Thornton Row, the, next halting place, is tenanted chiefly by miners from Cornwall. The houses are old, and still less in accordance with modern requirements. Inside, they are dark, damp and wanting repair; outside, miry and malodorous. There is only one closet, with four compartments, to the row. It is erected at the gable of one of the houses, from which it is separated only by a couple of feet, and in summer it is specially objectionable. The water supply s very deficient. It is got in winter from a field drain, and in wet weather cannot be used. The people anticipate the discolouration as far as possible by laying in an extra quantity when heavy rains appear likely to come, but in the drouthy days of summer they are reduced to extremities, and sometimes require to go all the way to Crosshouse. There are in all 21 houses in the row, the single apartments being rented at 1s a-week, and rooms and kitchens at 2s a-week. Nearer Irvine are other rows of miners' houses of a similar class. Those which I have noticed are, however, sufficiently indicative of the general character of the district. [Glasgow Herald 28 January 1875]