The Rise And Progress Of Coatbridge And Surrounding Neighbourhood.
Andrew Miller, Dundyvan Iron Works, Glasgow 1864
To all who may have visited an iron producing district such as Coatbridge, around which the fiery beacons flash, the scene on a dark night must have been most impressive ; but what strange ideas would enter the mind of any man who had never been near or heard of an iron work, were he to be placed on the top of the hill near Gartsherrie Church, and looked down for the first time on nearly two score and ten blast furnaces belching forth their forked flames, while the innumerable stalks and furnaces of the surrounding mills and forges darted out their meteor-like flashes of glaring white heat amid the gloom of darkness. Such a sight, under such circumstances, might bring up to imagination those lines of Milton:-
"A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace, flamed; yet from these flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe.
—————————— A fiery deluge fed
With ever burning sulphur unconsumed;
With floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire."
The whole a land of wonders, raised by man's ingenuity and perseverance; the work of hands, the labour of years, which still goes on increasing and spreading its branches of manufacture. The coal fields are nurseries for all; and the precious metals required are by no means exhausted. Away down, down in the depths of strata, lies buried that which is more precious than gold, which skill and enterprise, so eminently successful in the past, will undoubtedly bring to light at no distant day. Science and art are still progressing with rapid strides in improving those agents required in developing the mineral storehouses of the kingdom; and already this district is teeming with machinery and appliances for such work on the most modern and approved principles. Strength, economy, speed, and safety, all combined, show what enterprise and skill have performed, and what they may yet be expected to accomplish; in evidence of which, turn where you will, east, west, north, or south, there is range after range of large and small chimneys, pouring out dense volumes of smoke and flame from these iron works, forges, mills, foundries, collieries, and works of other descriptions, indicating the scenes of industry in which the great giant steam is propelling the enormous wheels, the ponderous iron walking-beams, and intricate machines that drive the heated air into immense furnaces continuously; or give strength and weight to the crushing hammer, beneath which the shapeless mass of toughened iron assumes form, and is prepared for the embrace of the iron rollers that revolve in endless circle - through these it glides in successive courses till the mass shoots forth a perfect piece of itself, ready for ship or railway. What prodigious trains of minerals pass along the various lines of railway, laden with their burdens, drawn onward with speed, over bridges, houses, and canal, by the iron, horse, snorting, hissing, and whistling, as it puffs along on the iron road; iron boats, propelled by steam engines, or drawn by horses, and filled with the black diamond, the rich ores, pigs of metal, bars and sheets of iron, and other traffic, pass to and from their places of manufacture along the waters of the canals-steam and iron everywhere, steam and iron, controlled, directed, and guided by the busy hives of workmen, amid the smoke, heat, clanking of hammers, and rattle of machinery. But this is only the surface work; there are two sections, one above, the other below - the latter, the grand source of all; and to inspect a portion of these subterranean wonders, the descending shaft to which is dark and dismal, again steam and machinery are the motive powers to gain a glimpse into the mysteries underneath. There are many entrances to such, as seen by the numerous pits that stud the district in all directions. They stand in the immediate vicinity of iron works, and houses, by the canal bank, in the centre of plantations or gardens, and in the richly cultivated fields; anywhere and everywhere most convenient, as the bores indicate the position of the minerals. The desired seams of coal or ironstone are attained at depths varying from 80 to upwards of 100 fathoms, and there the work of excavation goes on. v Down in these subterranean caves a tenth part of the population of the district, yclept, colliers and miners, dig and burrow the hahf of their lives, for the precious metals, which are converted, after various processes, into yellow gold. In order to follow the footsteps of these workmen from the pit-mouth to the scenes of their laborious occupation, take your place on the iron-bound, iron-covered cage, which is about to descend the shaft. At the appointed signal the engine is set in motion, and the cage is lowered gently downwards, guided in its course by the wooden slides on either side of the shaft, for which the iron grooves on the cage are so nicely fitted. The bottom is reached, and for a few minutes wait till your sight becomes accustomed to the darkness, made visible by the dim light reflected from the burning wick of the oil lamp you carry. The place is all in commotion, and constant communication is going on between the upper and this lower world by means of the signal bell or hammer, as hutch after hutch of the mineral is despatched up the shaft in rapid succession. Time is money; and the produce of these eighty or a hundred labourers comes rattling along from the level, the dock, or the rise workings. There is a smart current of air passing inwards; from whence comes it? Let us look around. The shaft is divided by strong planks of wood from bottom to top, which is termed the midwall. On the one side the current of air is blowing down, and on the other side it is blowing up. The air by the downcast is conveyed round the whole of the workings, and guided by air courses to the upcast. The ventilation is aided by means of a rarifying furnace, built at the bottom of the latter, and kept constantly burning, thus causing a strong draught to ascend and draw the vitiated air from the workmen, who are thus continually provided with the essential element of life by a very simple, yet ingenious plan. If the pit has been in working order for a series of years, the working faces may probably extend in ranges of tunnels several hundred fathoms in length, the whole a city in miniature, with main streets from which, breaking off at right angles, are lanes or rooms, in which the miners are busy excavating; and, by the dull flicker of their little lamps, you see them, their faces and bodies begrimed with the black dust, as they hew and cut, stripped to the trousers, to give freedom of action to every muscle, and for all positions of the body. With pick, mallet, and wedge they undermine the "black diamond," and make it fall from the face in blocks of tons in weight. Seams of coal, tier above tier, may be in working order in the same pit, and the produce of each ascending by the same shaft, thus throwing forth three or four hundred carts of coal daily. No class of men are exposed to such dangers as the collier and miner; and these exist in air, earth, and water. The first may be obstructed by accident; the second dose around them.; and the third rush in from some old waste working, causing them to be suffocated, buried, or drowned What cannot be cured must be endured With this reflection you retrace your intricate route to the bottom of the shaft, step on the cage, glad to get out of the heated atmosphere, and ascend to the blessed light of day, leaving behind the active throng of workmen, toiling at the great fountain or source of wealth.
Carron, Clyde, Wilsontown, Omoa, and Muirkirk Iron Works, were in operation before the manufacture of pig-iron was started in this district, and when it was commenced at Calder, it required men who understood the practical working of blast furnaces, and the workmen were brought to Calder from these works already in operation. Pig-iron at that period commanded high prices in the market, there was little or no competition, and the workmen had liberal wages - which were paid according to a tariff of rates on each ton of iron produced from the furnaces - and this encouraged the men to keep the furnaces in good working trim; for the more iron they produced it was beneficial both to employers and employed. This system of paying the workmen for their labour, still, continues, but the tariff of rates are very different, just as great as the produce and competition now, with the hot blast system, to what it was then with the cold blast.
In furnace keeping there are various grades of workmen, who are paid at rates in proportion to the importance of their position. They are divided into the following classes:- keepers, assistant keepers, fillers, assistant fillers, and since the introduction of the hot blast there are firemen for the heaters. For many years preceding, and after the Calder Works were started, "keeping" was considered a sort of hereditary occupation, which, like that of the colliers, descended from sire to son; but when other works of the same description commenced operations, the original stock failed in supplying the demand. This led to the employing of labourers for the work, who were easily trained if they had muscular strength to wield the heavy sledge hammers, and bar the furnace well. This, together with the requisite knowledge of timps, twyeers, &c., and how to regulate all, and keep the furnace in proper trim was acquired in a short time, as also the filling of the furnace with the necessary minerals for the production of iron. Blast furnacemen have always been easily distinguished from the rest of the community, by the peculiar red and scorched appearance of their faces, caused by the intense heat to which they are exposed, a heat which creates in them a great thirst, and often a desire to quench it in something stronger than water. Many of them thus acquire habits of intemperance, and with all their good wages, they are generally, as a class, comparatively poorer than many of the labouring classes with scarcely half their incomes. At many of the works the great majority of the men now employed at the furnaces are Irish.
When the manufacture of malleable iron commenced at Dundyvan and Calderbank Iron Works, in 1839, the skilled workmen required were brought chiefly from the iron manufacturing districts of England and Wales, the greatest numbers being from Staffordshire. These workmen had their respective departments in the manufacture of the iron from its crude state into malleable, and were designated, refiners, puddlers, shinglers, and rollers, and like those employed at the blast furnaces, were paid in proportion to the weight of iron produced. The wages earned by these men for some years were enormous, compared with present rates. The majority were very illiterate, purse proud, and arrogant, quarrelsome and over-bearing towards the other working classes, which led to frequent brawls and fighting; they thus earned a questionable reputation in pugilism, by no means favourable in the estimation of the more peaceably inclined working classes; but gradually as the wages were reduced, and other classes of workmen got initiated and were trained to the same work, these scenes decreased; this, together with intermarriage among the Scotch residents, brought about changes for the better.
The dwellings of the English workmen were invariably patterns of cleanliness and order. The houses were built for their accommodation after the same style to which they had been accustomed to reside in, when in their native place. They consisted of long ranges of two storied tenements, each family having four apartments. There are now, after the lapse of twenty-four years, only a very few of the .old hands in existence or working. Their places have been supplied partly by their descendants, while the great majority are those who have been trained from boyhood to work in the various departments, and may be described as a mixture of all classes - the Irish element strongly preponderating. The great increase of malleable iron works, in the district, during the past ten years, has necessarily required the training of additional workmen. The labour in many departments is severe, yet the wages are a great inducement to the youths of the labouring classes, who are fond of getting employment at these works, where, after a few years, they acquire the requisite knowledge and skill to enable them to fill the ranks of the workmen in the several stages of malleable iron manufacture.
The iron workers, therefore, now form a considerable proportion of the population. They have no distinct characteristics, which maybe accounted for by the fact that they have been drawn from the other working classes; and their habits and manners are somewhat similar.
In blast furnace working, great caution has to be observed by the men in the management of the twyeer pipes and blow pipes, water being required to flow round the nozzles inserted into the furnace, .to prevent them from melting by the heat to which they are exposed; for should any water be allowed to escape from the pipes into the interior of the furnace, a very explosive gas is immediately formed, which would endanger the lives of the workmen, and cause the destruction of property. Several casualties of this description have,occurred at works in the district, when- several lives were sacrificed. About 40 years ago an accident occurred at Calder, which, from its rarity, we here record. One of the keepers, white moulding in the pig bed preparatory to the running of the metal out of the furnace, was so severely burned that he died in a few hours afterwards in great agony. The molten iron had suddenly forced its way out of the furnace, and, being unable to get out of the way, the keeper was carried along on the top of the burning lava to a considerable distance in presence of the other workmen, who were powerless and unable, from the nature of the accident, to relieve him for a few minutes, or save him from such an excruciating death.
From the immense steam power required for machinery in the manufacture of malleable iron, boiler explosions of a very serious and destructive character have occurred, by which many lives have been sacrificed. Fortunately they are rare. The accidents by machinery are more frequent; but they are generally isolated cases, and the great majority are the fruits of carelessness on the part of the workmen themselves. Although iron manufacture is fraught with dangers of this description to those employed at it, still the avocation is a safe one compared to that of the colliers and miners, in their labours in the subterranean caverns.
THE MINING POPULATION.
We do not require to trace back very far in history to learn that the colliers, scarcely a century ago, were in a state of bondage. A few old men still living remember distinctly when their parents and friends were by law held as the property of the coal masters, much in the same way as the Russian serfs were lately held by the landholders and aristocracy of that country; and we find that Sheriff Barclay of Perthshire, in his "Digest of the Law of Scotland' at page 138, under " Coal Mines and Colliers," states that "Colliers were at one time astricted to and in sale passed with the collieries, Act 1606, c. 11; 1661, c. 38, and further." In a competition for possession of colliers, the Sheriff of Lanarkshire found that the men "did work as colliers at the pursuer's coal of Stonelaw, which is his property, before they wrought at the defender's coal of Corsehill, and therefore that they belonged to the pursuer in property, and ordained the defender to deliver up the foresaid coaliers." The Court of Session reversed, and found "that the coaliers are not bound to the tacksman, but to the coal in which they wrought during the currency of the tack, 1764." Then again: "A boy who enters into a coal work where his father is a bondman becomes a slave, not by consent, but from the nature of the slavery, which extends from father to son, and from which rule practice has introduced an exception with respect to children that abstain from working, 1764." Colliers were held, because of their servitude, not bound to work on the highway, 1755 ; yet it is said that in 1747 "The colliers were found entitled to vote in a burgh election as Burgesses of Rutherglen," which might, however, have been only local. Additional evidence is also given in the following extract from the "North British Review" of November, 1845:- " Prior to 1775 the colliers were, by the common law of Scotland, in a state of slavery. They, and their wives and children, were the property of their masters, and were transferable with the coal works, in the same way as the slaves on a West Indian estate were (till the Abolition Act was passed) transferable on a sale of the estate. This state of things was changed in 1775 by an Act which declared them 'free,' and found them entitled to ' enjoy the same privileges, rights, and immunities with the rest of His Majesty's subjects.' But the spirit of the Act was destroyed by its restrictions and regulations, and in 1799 another Statute had to be passed enacting that ''All the colliers in Scotland shall be free from their servitude." This second Act would, therefore, lead us to believe that the first had failed to effect the object for which it was intended, and that until the second Act was passed in 1799, the colliers were in reality serfs. It is, therefore, now only some sixty-five years since the colliers were released from bondage, and permitted to choose for themselves, or were entitled to enjoy the same rights and liberties as their more favoured fellow-countrymen. Previous to their emancipation it has been affirmed that they were kept comfortable so far as bodily wants were concerned, but that the cultivation of their minds was sadly neglected, and accordingly, ignorance, superstition, and immorality prevailed to a great extent. Thus degraded, it could scarcely be expected that, after their legal manumission, their social reformation would be of a very rapid character. To eradicate their deep rooted prejudices and superstitious notions required time, education, moral training, and example. There were obstacles in the way of attaining this state of affairs, and they remained for a long time as before, a distinct class, having little or no intercourse with the other working classes. These barriers have happily diminished greatly during the course of the last quarter of a century, and the great majority of the rising generation are keeping pace with other classes in the march of improvement, and taking advantage of the means so abundantly-provided for elevating themselves in the social scale by the great lever, Education. With them, as well as other classes, there are still too many who are allowed to neglect the golden period of youth for instruction, and, trained in ignorance, cling with tenacity to the habits, customs, and practices of their forefathers.
The principal portion of the colliers who began operations to any extent in the district, were brought from Carron, Fife, and Mid Lothian. The ironstone miners were of a later date, and were engaged chiefly from the Muirkirk mines in Ayrshire. With the colliers there was one great drawback to their social advancement, viz., the employment of their wives and daughters, in the pits, as drawers of coal (this appears to have been an eastern custom, as it is said never to have been practised in the west). Household duties were thus neglected, the children uncared for, the comforts of home, with all its social and softening influences, comparatively unknown. The absence from home and children, or the manual drudgery imposed on the females, were not the worst parts of the evil. They were daily exposed to the contaminating influence of the licentious jests, brutal oaths, and coarse language of the men, until they became, as a general rule, their superiors in the use of a vulgar and obscene vocabulary. Thirty years ago, it was no uncommon sight to see bands of these pit-women, returning from their occupation, their attire besmeared with dirt, and in many cases scarcely covering their nakedness, and as they trudged along, giving vent to some obscene song, or immoral jest; and many of these women were the mothers of children.
A group of such females, in working garb, at the pit, formed a most uncouth picture. Their feet encased in heavy tacketed shoes; legs covered with a species of stockings termed huggers; petticoats of the shortest description and coarsest material, in many of which the original had disappeared under a mass of patchwork, the front part of the garment scarcely covering the knees, (the style being considered necessary to prevent the wearer from treading on the front part while bending forward to the load, when drawing the large corves or wicker baskets, then in use, for conveying the coal from the working face to the bottom of the shaft); the upper part of the dress consisted of either, shortgowns, jackets, or old coats of every variety and shape, caps, or mutches, for the head, of all dimensions, and equally free from uniformity; the whole of their strange apparel bedaubed with the mud of the mine, from which a peculiar damp smell arose. In a dark night the scene at the pit was peculiarly striking, as the occasional flutter from the light of the little lamps which they earned, threw a feeble glare on all around, just sufficient to show, by the dim light, the faces begrimed with soot, from which the twinkling eyes peered forth amid the gloom, and the peals of laughter that burst occasionally forth from their midst, indicated that mirth and cheerfulness prevailed. The toil of the day was over, and it would have puzzled a sharp detective, an hour afterwards, to recognise in the clean-looking, comely dames, and bright eyed maidens, sitting in the respective dwellings of the colliers, that they were those who had formed that strange-looking band of females, on the pit bank of the colliery.
The homes of the colliers chiefly consisted of but one apartment, often very scantily furnished, with two bed places, and those who had large families sometimes had two such apartments converted into one dwelling. On entering a village or colony of these workmen the outside of the houses denoted a want of tidiness, and disagreeable odours arose from the accumulated heaps of filth and stagnant pools of water that lay in front of each door, in utter defiance of all sanitary laws (if such existed in those primitive days). The buildings so erected were placed in rows or squares, and of but one storey in height, covered with tiles or thatched with straw; the interior displaying hard earthen floors, low roofs, or where the plaster work overhead had been dispensed with, the bare rafters and joists met the view. These were the sort of hovels provided for the coal miners, who spent half their lives in the then ill-ventilated mines, on emerging from which, in their quaint black garb, and blinking eyes, a feeling of pity would arise for them, as they bent their weary steps to their lowly dwellings in which they lived, but how? Their habits were anything but cleanly, for, with a few exceptions, they appeared to have little idea of personal cleanliness or comfort. We have seen many as they returned from labour sit down without even washing their hands, black and dirty looking as they were, and partake of dinner from off a stool or chair, with a relish apparently as satisfactory as if it had been off a fine covered table, furnished with the most sumptuous fare. Then followed the washing process; divested of all but the short plaiding breeks, and seated on a stool in front of the fire with a tub full of warm water, the face, neck, arms, breast, and legs, as far up as the knee, got a dip, but the rest of the body, quite as dingy and black as the "coal wa'," escaped. They had then, and hundreds still have, the idea that to wash the black weakens it.
An anecdote is told of a genuine type of an old collier, who on one occasion was invited to a dinner party. It was his first outset in a public way, and when seated at table, and commenced to the first service, he made great havoc on a fine piece of roast beef, within easy reach, which, along with the necessary auxiliaries, ultimately brought him to a halt, inwardly satisfied with himself, and chuckling at others, on whom he had been keeping his weather eye, that he had done his duty. The tables were cleared for the second course, and he, poor fellow, having no expectations of what was coming, was horror struck when the nice tempting dishes, loaded with the dessert, were spread out before him. He surveyed the scene for a few moments, but unable to restrain contending emotions, he clasped his hands, in apparent despair, and groaned forth in audible tones, "Oh, for twa stomachs." The effect on the company may be easier imagined than described. Yet there are many in the world who have, doubtless, in silence expressed themselves like the old collier, on certain occasions, and wished for "twa stomachs."
The recreations of the colliers were varied. In winter, card or draught playing, was their chief resource; in summer evenings groups might be seen huddled together at the back of the hedges, or by the wayside, earnestly engaged with a pack of dirty cards, playing at "Catch the Ten," "All Fours," "Loo," &c., while the pile of small pieces of tobacco lying in the centre, indicated the value of the stakes invested; another lot, not far off, busy training dogs or cocks for the approaching combats; in an adjoining field several couples of brawny fellows, stripped to the trowsers, displaying their pugilistic skill to a crowd of admirers, and to the delight of the youngsters, the latter imitating the example on the first convenient occasion. Bullet playing (now nearly obsolete) was a game, exclusively belonging to the colliers, but was dangerous alike to players and spectators. The bullets were round and formed out of whinstone, each about two pounds in weight. In this game there was generally eight players, four a side; the distance, two or three miles from hail to hail, along the best part of the parish roads. Each was provided with two bullets, in the throwing or hainching of which they were very expert, and could send them a great distance; to whichever of the two sides the bullet belonged that reached the hail first, they were the winners of the game. District matches were often played for £5 or £10 a side, but as the population increased it became a nuisance; the parish authorities interfered, and it was put a stop to. We believe, however, that in the east country districts, where coal mining is carried on, the game is still practised to a great extent.
We have thus, perhaps imperfectly, given an outline of the dwellings, the habits, and recreations of the colliers, but a very important portion of the community has yet to be noticed - viz., those who, from their age and infirmities, were looked up to as the patriarchs of the tribe, whose duty it was to legislate for the commonwealth of collierdom. If no question of mining importance was in agitation, they might be seen in small groups, stretched at full length on the roadside, or sitting on their hunkers, as only colliers can sit, enjoying their smoke in listless apathy, or settling disputes in some game to which the players had submitted the case to their arbitration. If times were stirring and trade prosperous, then the legislature had work to get grievances redressed, and all met in council, when they discussed, in their own simple but often boisterous manner, the necessity of " a hutch off the day's darg" or a penny on the cart, the result generally ending in a resolution for a general meeting, which was effected in a very simple manner the following morning, by the representatives for each pit going out very early and getting down the shaft first; and as each relay of colliers descended, notice was given to all, and soon the pit bottom, and around it in side roads, displayed a scene which could not be realised above ground. Women or boys were dismissed into the interior of the workings, while the adult male portion, in their picturesque garb, held the council meeting, crouching in their usual attitudes, with their lamps burning, the lights only making darkness visible - above, and on all sides, the irregular strata of rocks jutting out in ill-defined shapes, with huge trunks of trees at intervals, in all their blackened state, supporting the misshapen roof; the place - the dark forms assembled - would have required no great stretch of imagination to have conjured up the whole scene as a conclave of the demons of the mine.
The men in charge at the pit head soon learned the result of such deliberations by the boys and women ascending from the depths below, followed by the men, and the pit for that day was idle, to enable the delegates appointed to meet the master, and settle the matter. The colliers cannot now hold such meetings in the pits, as in terms of the Act 23 and 24 Vic., cap. 155, clause 42, "Meetings of colliers and other workmen, in a body, within the coal workings, or in any of the roads or air courses of the colliery, are strictly prohibited."
Though rude in manners and speech, the colliers were invariably kind and tender-hearted, charitable to the poor, and frankly aided any of their brethren who might be unfortunate in getting injured at their dangerous avocation. Generally speaking, as a class of men earning wages far above the average of other workmen in those days, they were comparatively improvident, and seldom provided for the emergencies to which their labour exposed them, spending their hard-earned money freely, and leaving the future to chance. The shows on the pay nights were visiting crowds of packmen, &c., with gaudy trash of merchandise, who often took advantage of their ignorance by charging extortionate prices for almost worthless articles. This, together with intemperate habits, kept the majority of them poor and in debt; and when creditors had to resort to compulsion to get their debts by employing the officers of the law, "moonlicht flitting" followed, but change of name or locality often failed. A story is told of a sheriff-officer, whose frequent visits to one of these colonies made him an unwelcome intruder, and, as such, detested by the female residents. Accordingly, on one occasion, they pounced upon him in one of the houses. The ladies handled him pretty roughly, and compelled him to eat a piece of bread and butter, the bit of law paper forming part of the whole, after which he was dismissed, amid shouts of laughter from the rude administrators of justice.
The original stock of Scottish colliers were a hardy, stalwart race, capable of enduring great fatigue, of a stubborn nature, easily duped by the designing, but real despots in combinations. The characteristics of these men are still retained in some measure by their lineal descendants. Emigration to other countries, &c., has reduced the ranks of this stock, and, comparatively speaking, there are now but few in number of this class that do not endeavour to push themselves on by the advantages of education and cultivation, which their sires did not enjoy. There were many of the latter who, although uneducated, possessed great natural abilities, and to their practical suggestions may be attributed in a great measure the rapid strides in mining science and the improvements in pit working. The colliers had their superstitious ideas at that period - viz., some fifty years ago - somewhat similar to the peasantry and other working classes. The belief in witches, fairies, ghosts, and death warnings was quite popular, and many a sequestered spot and shady nook are still pointed out by the aged, where at the midnight hour strange sights have been witnessed, or fancied to have been; but these places have, by the torch of education or the flames of the blast furnaces, lost their spectral tenants, and they are now among the ashes of the past. The unlucky omens that were believed by the colliers made them lose many a day's work. If on proceeding to their toil in the morning they met a woman with red hair or naked feet, if a hare crossed their path, if a few magpies happened to fly past them, [The omen for good or evil depended on the number of birds seen together, as indicated by the old doggrel rhyme- "Ane's Joy, twa's grief, Three's a weddin', and four's death," which may have given rise to this superstitions belief] or if they saw in meadow or hillside the fiery vapour or dancing lights known as "Will-o'-the-Wisp," and various others too numerous to detail, any one of them was quite sufficient to stop the colliers from going to work. It was quite a common custom on the Sabbath morning, when a child was to be named in church, for the father to go and beg a shawl from every old woman who had the misfortune to be a reputed witch, and when taken to church the infant was enveloped often in half-a-dozen such coverings to protect it from witchcraft.
They had also strange stories to tell of one "Uncle Hairey," a mysterious being, who performed great and wonderful feats; a species of the geni of the mine, that followed certain families, who were sure of prosperity when under the care of this patron saint. Uncle Hairey was to the colliers what the brownies of old were to the farmers, or the banshee to the genuine Irish. Their belief in the supernatural powers of this mythical being was unbounded, and rested principally on tales of tradition handed down from father to son. If danger threatened any of the favoured few, they got timely warning of its approach ; if in want, the magic touch of "Hairey" caused great falls of coal to come tumbling down during the night in the mine, the wages from which soon relieved the collier from his difficulties. An old collier belonging to the east country, who was a firm believer in the saint, very seriously remarked that "Uncle Hairey" aye wrocht for them he liket in the nicht time, and could howk as muckle coal in ae nicht as ony ten men. But, like the brownies and banshee, the belief in "Uncle Hairey," and his kindly endeavours to aid the favoured mortals of the mines, exist only among the aged or grossly ignorant, and will soon be among the superstitions of the past.
The origin of "Pay Weddings," which prevailed at one time to a great extent among the colliers, cannot now be easily traced. The supposition is, that as they have always been proverbial for entering the matrimonial state when very young, and perhaps not prepared with capital necessary for taking such an important step, they had to depend upon the generosity of those invited to the marriage for the means to enable them to begin life under a new phase; so that the custom became, as it were, established under the pithy term of "Pay Wedding." The preliminaries to this event were settled on the " bookin nicht," a most appropriate title, for on that night the names of the parties, along with the fees for the session clerk, were handed in to that functionary to be recorded, and the banns proclaimed; ending in a jovial scene, second in importance only for mirth and music to that of the wedding itself. On the wedding night, out of the number assembled, perhaps twenty or thirty of the more youthful couples escorted the bride and bridegroom to the minister, and, at the head of the procession, marched the fiddler, cheering them on with strains of music from his violin. After the ceremony, on emerging from the manse or residence of the minister, the outsiders, who had guns, fired a salute, and kept blazing away with blank shot on the return journey. Meanwhile a few of the more youthful males started to run the broose. The first that arrived at the domicile of the newly wedded pair was handed a bottle of whisky, with which he again started to meet the marriage party, when they quaffed in bumpers the health and happiness of the young couple, the victor in the race having as his reward a kiss from the young wife. The bridal supper over, music, dancing, and drinking followed. During the course of the night a collection was made among the males, and the contributions were frequently very liberal; the proceeds going to aid the young folks in their start in housekeeping. The expenses otherwise were defrayed in the same fashion. The ceremony of bedding the pair may be passed over. The "backin" of the wedding, as they termed it, continued for several nights in hilarious, and often uproarious, mirth and dancing. The musician on these occasions was well cared for, but the situation was no sinecure. All appeared to be happy, while the jolly god Bacchus presided over the revels. There was spirit in these meetings, and the enjoyments were in no way restricted by the conventional rules of polite society.
That the drinking customs were a barrier to their social advancement cannot be denied. On the Saturday evenings, after receiving their wages, the general aspect of the dwellings presented carousing parties, who had joined together to enjoy themselves, both men and women subscribing to the common fund, to obtain the necessary supplies; and many of these clubs extended their sittings till the Sabbath was far advanced. All this had a demoralising effect, which brought in its train poverty, misery, and wretchedness. This evil, however, as they became more enlightened, gradually abated, and now it may be said to exist only among those who have lost caste; and it is to be regretted that there are still too many of that class, not only among the colliers, but also in the ranks of many of our working classes.
The numerous strikes that have occurred in the district have been the means of introducing into the mines and collieries a very different class of workmen from the old Scottish colliers, the great majority of the former being Irish, chiefly of the very lowest grade, and consequently illiterate and uneducated; and the amalgamation in no way tended to elevate the colliers. Yet it must be admitted that the descendants of the original colliers retain their identity, and look upon the others as interlopers in the mines, not belonging to the brotherhood. Trained as the Scotch colliers were, this feeling is not to be wondered at; for they looked upon their profession as a sort of hereditary right, which had descended from generation to generation, and for which they had to undergo a regular apprenticeship. At the age of eight or nine the boy was sent to work in the pit as a "trapper'' where he opened and shut a door which aided in the ventilation of the mine. In a couple of years he became a "putter," and assisted in pushing the loads of coal from the workmen to the pit-bottom. In a couple of years more he was termed "a half man," when he assisted the working colliers; and after other two or three years he was entitled to rank as "a man," and invested with full powers to wield the pick, wedge, and mallet at the coal wa'. Thus, step by step, he was trained to the work; and it was doubtless very provoking for all who had thus served their time to see, during the period of strikes, great numbers of above-ground labourers taking their places in the pits, and jump, as it were, into ready-made colliers. It has been said that it required years of practice ere the latter were able to accomplish the same work as the thorough-bred collier. But the barrier was broken down; and now the calculations are that about three-fourths of the mining population in the district cannot trace back their experience in the mines beyond a very few years.
Until the "Truck Act" was passed, it was quite a common practice for the employers to hire the colliers by the year. Each man, on engaging, received a bounty of £5 or £10, as a binder on the engagement, and the money so given was often foolishly squandered by treating their companions. In fact, to do so was considered as an established rule. This bounty-money was deducted off the collier by instalments during the course of the year, thus reducing his wages, and forming a bond of power in the hands of the employers not altogether advantageous to the employed, for whatever grievances existed during the course of the year, the colliers seldom could get these redressed until the expiry of the term. The result was that many of them broke through the engagement, giving often reasonable evidence for doing so, such as want of proper ventilation, or, from the nature of the coal, their inability to produce the required quantity to make a fair day's wage; and many who were thus placed, and had gone to other coal works, were brought back and punished for breach of contract, which often created a bad feeling among the men, until the evil partially wrought its own cure by a gradual decrease of the yearly system, until finally it was abolished by law. Another great epoch in the history of the colliers was the passing of the Act 5 and 6 Vic., c. 99 (1842), which came into force in March of the following year, prohibiting the employment of women and girls in the mines. It was a very old custom, and belonged to the eastern districts of Scotland; at least it was brought to the Coatbridge district by the colliers who came from the east, for those belonging to the west do not appear to have permitted their females to descend the pits to labour; as from Baillieston westward none were employed at any of the collieries, while from the mid district of Coatbridge (which appeared to be the line of demarcation between the east and west), female labour prevailed. The same law that applied to the exclusion of women and girls from the pits extended also to boys under ten years of age. The whole appeared so unjust to the men that they grumbled sadly at what they considered an infringement of a right so long established. The most stubborn among them, after a short trial, however, admitted that their position financially was not so bad as they had anticipated under the new law, but rather the reverse; and it was soon discovered that the change was not only beneficial to the workmen, but also to society. The wives and daughters, released from the drudgery and contaminating influences of the mine, devoted their attention to, and increased the comforts of home, and began to pay some attention to the wants and education of the young. On the latter subject, viz., education, we cannot do better than give the following extract, taken from the report of Mr Alexander, inspector of mines, for year ending 31st December, 1862:-
"The provisions for education, to which I referred in my last report, remain very much the same. The salutary regulations for securing a certain amount of education for the children of the mining population, before being admitted into the mines, are not in every case observed. In some cases, where I have had occasion to direct attention to boys being employed apparently under age, it has turned out that they had been taken into the pit unknown to the managers, and under such circumstances I have seen the boys dismissed and sent up the pit at once, but in others there appeared to be, if not a wilful violation, at least a considerable amount of indifference, and in two of those cases I have placed the particulars before the Lord Advocate.
"I am certain it is not of any advantage to employers to allow boys, under the prescribed age, to be employed in mines; but as many parents are indifferent about whether their children are educated or not, it is plain that, unless the employers are firm and decided to see the provisions of the statute carried out, the results will fall short of what has been anticipated. It is unnecessary to remark that, if the workmen themselves were determined to carry out the regulations defined by the statute, in so far as they relate to the education of boys under twelve years of age, little or no encouragement would be held out by employers to induce them to act otherwise.
"The importance of at least a certain amount of education for the children of the mining population will be very apparent when it is stated that the whole of the subordinate officers, indeed nine-tenths of the persons entrusted with the direction of mines, are drafted from the workmen themselves. And if the education of boys is neglected between nine and twelve years of age, it is very doubtful if in after years they will either effect much progress or indeed attempt it. Much may be done at evening schools and otherwise, but it will generally be found that those who take advantage of such places of training are in nearly all cases those who have received a certain amount of education when young, and before commencing to work at all. Through force of character or otherwise there are certainly exceptional cases, but they are very rare."
On the foregoing subject we may remark, that among the mining and also the labouring classes there exists a carelessness on the part of the parents towards their offspring that might with truth be termed a criminal neglect. The plea of necessity is sometimes urged, on the ground that the parent is unable to earn sufficient to do so, and the children so neglected are required to go to work as soon as they are able to assist in maintaining the younger members of the family. This may be the exception, but the rule would be found, if tested, that the parents who are careless regarding the education of their children are not so in applying the wages earned to feed their own vitiated tastes on strong drink. The boys generally find employment in one or other of the iron works until they are beyond the age prescribed by the Act of Parliament for admission into the pits, after which they merge into that class who form the very lowest strata in our mining population.
We previously remarked that emigration had thinned the ranks of the descendants of the old Scottish collier, and those who have gone may be termed the better class of workmen - young men in the prime of life and vigour. The mining districts of America, the British colonies of Australia and New Zealand, with their attractive gold fields, now include in the ranks of their miners, hundreds who have been trained to the work in the mines and collieries of this district. Compare the past with the present, what a contrast to the times in which the forefathers of the colliers were chained as it were to the locality in which they were born - nay, held as mere chattels appertaining to the coal. Since then the changes have been great. Laws have been enacted which gave them freedom, protected them from oppression, expelled from the mine to their proper sphere at home their wives and daughters, prohibited youths of tender age from being employed in the mines, so that they might receive the benefits of an education, compelled owners of mines and collieries to adopt those stringent rules in force for the proper ventilation of pits, and other appliances necessary for the protection and preservation of life.
Legislation has done much for the benefit of the colliers, but like other classes of the community there are evils that exist among them which neither laws nor enactments can reach. They have, at many collieries in the district, more commodious dwellings than in days of old, while at others, the houses appear to have been built in the old style, and on the very cheapest principle. The coalmasters to whom they belong may be excusable for doing so, seeing that such are only built to serve the purpose of giving their workmen accommodation during the period of the lease or tack, which extends in general to about nineteen years. The system is bad, for often large families are huddled together into one small apartment; of all ages and sex, in sickness or in disease, the whole family are accommodated under the same root breathing the close, sickening, and, it may be, tainted atmosphere. All this must be injurious to health, sap at the foundation of morality, blunt the feelings of virtuous modesty, and pave the way to something worse. With all the most improved methods of ventilation, the air which the colliers breathe while at work is often not the purest; they ought therefore, if possible, to get pure air in their abodes at home; and the best of the modern erections are types of what ought to be provided for them, and they are the antipodes of the old hovels inhabited in the primitive days of coal mining. The colliers and miners are not now, as they were in former times, looked upon as an inferior race; the majority of those already referred to are progressing in the onward march of improvement, and mining, in whatever form, has become a science of no mean importance, and the productions of these men from the bowels of the earth form one of the great staple trades of the country. In conclusion, it is pleasing to remark that there are many who are reaping the fruits of the advantages they enjoyed in youth at the schools and academies of the district; some fill the ranks of the various professions, others are leading the van in the science of mining, both in theory and practice, and a few more figure as coalmasters, on the high road to fortune, and instead of the lowly dwellings of their ancestors, the old Scottish colliers of the beginning of the nineteenth century, they can sit amidst the comforts and splendour of their country house or city residence in the West End of the great western metropolis. [The Inspector of Mines for the district, in his report, remarks as follows:- ''The Glasgow School of Mines, which has now been in operation for three years, is very well adapted for bringing forward industrious workmen desirous of improving themselves; but it is a fact that no one has presented himself, wishing to be admitted as a student there, who has not had a previous education, or is unable to read and write."
From these records and retrospective gleanings of the history of the district, it is obvious that the germ of its greatness and prosperity lay within itself, which by doll and labour was brought forth from the deep recesses of the earth to the light of day. In the coal trade we have the forerunner of its twin sister the iron trade, both at first of insignificant proportions, but gradually extending in power and strength as facilities for transit by canal and railways were brought into operation, until they have both attained a magnitude little dreamt of by the most sanguine among either the coal or iron lords of the beginning of the nineteenth century. Honour is due to the memory of such men as the Stirlings of Drumpeller, Hamilton of Barrachnie, Dunlop of Fullarton, Christie of Coats, Dixon of Calder, Murray and Buttery of Calder-bank, Fairrie of Farme, Merry of Nettleholes, Gray of Carntyne, Young of Cuilhill, and a few others of minor note. As the pioneers of the iron and coal trade, they cleared the way and marked out the chart to guide their successors, who have with energy and perseverance followed in the track.
The name of "Mushet" has been immortalised in the district, as one of its chief benefactors, by the discovery, at the proper period, of that precious seam of stone, "Blackband," the superior quality of which at once made the locality famous for its iron. When "Mushet" tested, by the crucible, the richness of the ironstone, the only recipients of supplies from the sources, were Clyde and Calder Iron Works. A quarter of a century passed on, and a solitary furnace beamed forth on the Gartsherrie estate which in due course was followed by "Neilson's" grand discovery of the "hot blast;" a discovery that caused a revolution in this branch of industry, of greater importance to its progress, than all that had been done since the famous Dudley of Staffordshire, more than two centuries before, when he introduced coal char instead of charcoal, in the manufacture of iron. Neilson, in conjunction with the late Messrs Dunlop of Clyde, Mackenzie of Crossbasket, Wilson of Dundyvan, put it practically before the world, after it was sealed by patent right. Scientific men of eminence were, for a time, sceptical of its success; it was contrary to all preconceived notions or principles in the science of iron manufacture. The test of its superior power, however, proved its advantages over the old system. It was an innovation of the right stamp, and the benefits of the invention were practically demonstrated during the next ten years, by the rapidity with which iron works sprung into existence in the locality, followed, in due course, by the manufacture of malleable iron, at Dundyvan, and Calderbank, a branch of industry which has increased, since that period, nearly tenfold; each new work or branch of trade adding to the population and wealth of the district.
In the education of the working-classes, the iron and coal masters have always evinced a great interest. The numerous schools, academies, and other institutes of the same character, with proficient teachers, are all sufficient indications of this, and of their desire to encourage the tastes of the working-classes in this respect, and engender in them the desire to acquire knowledge in literature, science, and arts.
The quiet country solitude, of sixty years ago, has gone. Trade and commerce in all their noisiest forms now prevail, giving substantial evidence of what has been accomplished by the Dixons, the Bairds, the Wilsons, the Neilsons, the Murrays, the Butterys, a Merry, a Cunningham, an Addie, a Rankine, and a Miller, or Jackson, Colville, Gray, Ellice, Mackenzie, Hendereon, Martin, Dimmock, Spencer, and M'Gilchrist; a little further on and we find Baker, Lumsden, Waddells, Murray, Hill, Begg, Wilson, Baillie, Bell, Tennant, and Gray; each in their respective spheres, whether great or small, past or present, have been, or are associated with, the working out of the prosperity of the district, with its pits, iron works, forges, mills, and other branches of trade, that has raised towns and villages, wherein reside those brawny sons of toil that have congregated together from all parts of the three kingdoms. After all, what can be more pleasing than the contemplation of those bright gems of prosperity that glitter and gleam so brightly in irregular ranges, and thickly stud the district in all directions. Such a scene shows us that the elements that produce those illuminating powers, are the sources from whence the toiling thousands of our population receive the reward of their labour, and by which they are maintained and provided with the required comforts and necessaries of life. The gradual rising hills of debris at each pit; the rapidly increasing mountains of slag; hill and dale, fields, trees, houses, and roads, all are stamped with the black impress of a mining and iron producing district.
"The days that were ; Oh! time is like a well, Whose waters turned to diamonds as they fell."
In the preceding pages we have endeavoured to glean, (perhaps imperfectly) at least, a portion of the history of the district for the past eighty years, tracing the onward course and gradual development of all that has made it what it is; and, perhaps, our readers who have followed us thus far will concur in our introductory remark, "That the district is worthy, in every respect, of that name it has earned for itself, 'The Staffordshire of Scotland.'