Notes On Miner's Houses Part X

(From Our Own Correspondent)

Grangemouth and Bo'ness Districts

Finding myself at Grangemouth the other morning, I resolved to spend the day in visiting the various mining hamlets lying within a radius of five miles. We drove first to Skinflets, the existence of which I had not before heard and which, looked at from the road, gives promise of excellent things. The houses belong to the Grangemouth Coal Company, and, in virtue of a veneering of cement laid over brick, they present a neat, spruce exterior. Entering the first door in the row, however, we find that this cement has been added to the front, not at the bidding of taste, but by way of excluding the damp, which still searched out other local weaknesses, and proves rather troublesome. It has only been applied to the back walls along about half of the row, and as the room beds are placed against these walls, many of them are exceedingly unhealthy. The kitchens are very small, with one bed, while the rooms are of good size, and furnished with two beds. There is a window at both sides of the buildings, the back one of the diminutive order so common even in some of the most recent erections I have seen. The walls are thin, but the ceilings are high, and although the floors are of stone they are not damp. There are rooms and kitchens and single apartments in the row, the rents being 5s and 3s a month respectively. The sanitary arrangements at Skinflets are defective. A couple of ashpits and closets, although like the houses comparatively new, are dismantled and dirty, and the back ground is of course untidy. The company, however,appear, to wish to keep the village in repair, and at the time of my visit men were employ constructing front drains .and mending the roofs. There are no coal cellars or wash-houses. Farther along the road is an older row of stone houses belonging to the same company, having larger kitchens and smaller rooms. These seem to be less affected with damp than the others, although they are greatly complained of in this respect. No ashpits or closets are attached to this row. The water for the village comes from a pit, and is led into a cistern, and well filtered. It is very good water. A notable characteristic of Skinflets is that the matrons count their blessings by the dozen. In one house of two apartments thirteen of a family crowd together, ten of them sleeping in one room. "They're au' risin' families here, ma freen," said one of the women, to whom I had delicately expressed my surprise on the point, "but ye ken it's yin o' the commandments that we should multiply and replenish the earth." Skinflets is, on the whole, a much nicer place than Carronshore, to which I afterwards proceeded. This is a large village, with a population of about 1500 - a number of the houses belonging to shopkeepers in the neighbourhood, while others are leased by the Carron Company from Colonel Dundas. Responsibility is thus doubtful and divided, but the fact remains that Carronshore is one of the worst regulated villages I have seen. Dock Street, to which my inquiries were first directed, is in a filthy, neglected state, a badly-constructed drain in front of the houses being filled with stagnant water, and an old ashpit heaped up and smelling. The only recognised ashpit and closet for the street are set down at the end of it and within twelve feet of the door of a dwelling-house, close to which again is a smaller accumulation of refuse. The houses in Dock Street are two storeys in height. I looked into two or three of them on the ground floor, and found them to be ill-lighted and damp and out of repair, and a couple of feet or so below the level at the back, which is undrained. The other houses in the village, I was informed, belong to the Carron Company. Leaving Dock Street we get into what is called " the close," consisting of two short rows of one-storey houses, exhibiting no improvement upon the others either internally or externally. They are old tenements, low in the ceiling, with earthen floors which, in some cases, are never dry. In a room with a lighted fire, damp appears at the side of the mantelpiece. One of the women tells me she fished out a couple of snails from under the kitchen bed one day. Elsewhere in Carronshore, as I afterwards ascertained, these slimy creatures are not unknown. Open drains in front of the houses carry the sewage to what appear to be the foundations of extinct ashpits at the end of one of the rows, where lie ponds of stagnant impurity, and beyond them is a dirty closet. The Bothy Row, forming a continuation of Dock Street, consists of a series of very good houses, in comparison with those we have just left. Single apartments, with stone floors, are let for 10d a week, and rooms and kitchens at 1s a week. There are wash-houses and coal-cellars behind, but no closets. The "Wee Row," farther along and on the other side of the road, comprises half a dozen houses, fully two feet below the level of the road in front. In the first house, an elderly man tells me he has lived for twelve months, and during that time it has been twice flooded to the depth of two or three inches. During rainy weather, the floor is always more or less damp. The tenant next door also complains of damp with great apparent reason, and points to a hole in front of the wooden mantelpiece at the kitchen fire, into which she pours boiling water to kill the "clocks." The other houses not so bad, being slightly raised at the entrance. Single apartments are 3d a week, and rooms and kitchens 2s a week. Scarlet fever was very prevalent amongst children in Carronshore, and a good many deaths occurred, but there have been no cases, so far as I could learn, during the last two or three months.

Langdyke, one of the company's villages which we next reach, is in a transition state. The hamlet, in its primitive arrangement, only musters seven small houses, two of them rooms and kitchens, and the others single apartments. The floors are earthen and very damp, and in rainy weather water drops from the open timber ceilings, except in two of the houses, where lath and plaster afford the necessary protection. One of these uncomfortable single apartments gives shelter to a family of 7 persons. The ancient tenements are, however, about to be eclipsed by a group of new brick erections not yet finished, whose number, I believe, is to be largely extended. It can scarcely be said the old houses are yet put out of countenance by two or three nondescripts which are already partly occupied, and consist of the outhouses belonging to a deserted farm-steading patched up and converted into dwelling-houses. The old thrashing mill, for example, a sexagonal building with pointed roof, round which the patient gin-horse used wearily to pace, has been built up, and forms a series of single apartments which are everything as to length and nothing as to breadth. It would hardly be unfair to describe them as respectable crevices, which smoke badly. For these, as for the single apartments in the old row, the rent is 8d a week.

Westmains a village also belonging to the Carron Co., and erected close to one of their pits, has rather a pleasing exterior, but is really "a goodly apple rotten at the core." The houses are rooms and kitchens, the former very narrow and small and have roomy porches which serve as stores and wash-houses. In many of the houses the back of the beds is extremely damp, and the walls are twisted and rent in consequence of the underground workings. There are three ashpits and closets in the row, but the are not attended to, and the kitchen gardens in front receive most of the refuse of the houses. The drains also are ill kept. Water is got from a pump near the houses, and under the Nessler test became quite thick.

The houses at Kinnaird village, at a short distance from Westmains, are leased by the Carron Company. They are old houses, many of them very damp on the floors and walls, and others more comfortable than the newer tenements at Westmains. Single apartments are rented at 7d and 8d a week, and rooms and kitchens for 1s 2d a week. Coal-houses are provided, but no closets or proper ashpits. Here, as at all the Carron villages I visited, sanitary matters receive no consideration, and a good deal of overcrowding exists. In a kitchen about 8 feet broad with one bed, and a rather larger bed-room, 11 people are housed; and I was told of two single apartments which each hold 9 persons. I came across a woman in Kinnaird who is 62 years of age, and has been in bed for 43 years. She worked in the pit, and met with an accident by which her back was broken and she has ever since been an invalid. Still a comely, healthy woman, her early youth must have been full of gladness and promise. As it is, life is not without its sweetness. She is a cheerful, intelligent, Christian woman - very poor, but also, I believe, very happy. Her only support is derived from as elder sister, a mute.

My day's work in this quarter, was brought to a close by a run to Quarrel, a row of fifteen houses belonging to Colonel Dundas. The ceilings are low, and the windows small but they are not such uncomfortable houses as they appear from the outside, just as many externally more attractive prove to be really very inferior dwellings. Coat cellars, ashpits, and closets are all conspicuously absent, refuse remaining on the ground until the gardens are delved. The water used runs through a drain tile into a trough, which, being under the level of the field, receives surface impurities in rainy weather. The sample which I got stood the Nessler test without blushing. In summer, however, the people require to help themselves from a burn which passes behind Stenhousemuir, and is polluted in its course to Quarrel. It was a described as being very nasty water.

From Grangemouth to Bo'ness is five miles by road, and in point of time fifty by railway. I chose the latter mode of travelling in the evening, and didn't like it. We had to change at Polmont and wait a little to get out at Manuel and shiver in the frosty night for a very long time, and even when we did find a train, the road was so rough that it seemed as if we should all be shaken to pieces. Bo'ness is not an interesting town after dark. It has just two main streets, which are tolerably lighted ; all beyond is unfathomable darkness. These streets together form a kind of brief circle, and the stranger wishing an airing who makes the round half-a-dozen times begins to feel as if he were in the Zoological Gardens and had got on the wrong side of the bars.

In the morning I walked out to the mining village of Kinneil, in connection with the company's works there. It consists of a long row on the main road, with garden ground behind half the number of houses, and a short row built on sloping ground, beyond which is the Forth, lying this morning under a haze so dense as completely to obscure the Fife shore opposite. Taking the long row, I find that it illustrates more strikingly than I have observed elsewhere, the possibilities of miners' houses - that is to say, the possibility of dwellings being made either tolerably good or very bad, according to the habits and inclination of the tenants. There are here single apartments with two very small bed closets and rooms and kitchens of good size, and while some of them are bright and clean, others which are kept by very poor, or aged, or lazy people - and all three classes are represented at Kinneil - are, precisely the reverse. A good deal of damp appears in several of the rooms, and smoke is loudly declaimed against. The houses are entered through an outer and an inner door, and another at the back provides cross ventilation. In the Low Row the houses are almost all untidy, and really the people have not much encouragement to be cleanly in their habits. In front of the doors lies a great sheet of water which comes from one of the pits. When the Forth is at full tide, this pit water is retained, and only flows out with the ebb. Between the two rows ashes and filth of all kinds lie in heaps, ashpits and closets not being provided. As for water, Kinneil is ill supplied in winter, and in the coming summer matters will reach a crisis. Just now the people use what is called " the Black Box" water, got up the opposite hill, which being mixed with Nessler's solution became thick and curdled. A more favourite source is a pond on ground belonging to a neighbouring distillery, but this water on being tested presented the same appearance. In summer, I understand, these sources are not available. Formerly, the people got good water in the hot season from the distillery, but a new proprietor last year prevented them from taking it, and when they stole it he caused it to be led into a barrel, to which a padlock is attached. This, however, was not done until the season was well advanced, so that the pinch of the dog days remains to be felt when this bitter spring has passed away. On making inquiry as to their hopes, I learnt that they were not of the brightest There is the Gilburn, where water is got from some holes at the bottom of a brae nine or ten feet high, and into which, even if it were good to start with, surface impurities are carried by rain. Then there is the " big hoose" at Kinneil, near which is a well that they are sometimes allowed to help themselves from; and lastly, there is the "store spout," which I tested, and which is water of the vilest quality. One or two of the neighbours tell me they are glad to make tea with the store spout water in summer, but others say they never use it for cooking, and, on the whole, I am inclined to think that it is not taken for other than washing purposes. It is abundantly clear, however, that Kinneil is very ill provided with water.

I have written the above in a country hotel on the Fife shore while the instrumental band of the village were practising in a hall adjoining my room. I mention the circumstance as explaining, if it does not justify, any savagery of expression which may be detected in my narrative. The full orchestra was preceded early in the evening by the man who plays the trombone and another who fancies the cornopean, and they relieved the tedium of waiting for their accomplices by practising; the one his ''scales " and the other the "flowers of the Forest " - scales and flowers being alike detestable. I sent a message, which, in a politely vague way, imported that their performance was greatly desired on Ben Nevis, and they returned for answer that the big drum would soon arrive, and then I wouldn't hear them. The big drum came, but I still heard them, and much besides. [Herald 11 February 1875]