Scottish Mining Villages

Benhar – Extract from Truck Report 1871

The Benhar works belong to Robert Addie and Sons, and here, according to Mr. Eadie, the late storekeeper, till recently poundage was charged on all advances taken past the store. Mr. Eadie explained the system as one in which the advance men were expected to leave only a part of their money in the store, and if they left one half nothing was said. A scroll book, however, was kept, in which was entered the men who sloped and the amounts.

The threat of dismissal in default of spending advances in the store was formerly well known in the works. “Most of the men went to the store and did not require to be informed” that if they did not they would be dismissed. The manager used to consult Mr Eadie, the storekeeper, in a dull time when there were a number of men to be dismissed as to who were dealing in the store and who were not, and Mr Eadie pointed out to the manager one or two men who were not going to the store.

Q Did you speak to the manager about men who ought to be dismissed ?- I have pointed out one or two men to him who were not going to the store.

Q And then he would dismiss them or tell them to go to the store ? – I believe he did so in one or two cases.

Q Did you conceive that it was within the scope of your authority to speak to the manager on the subject of dismissing men ? – Yes. I was told to do so by the manager himself. He told me shortly after I went there to mention to him the names of those who were not coming to the store.

Q What manager was that ? – Mr. Robert Allan.

Q Is he still the manager there ? – Yes.

This witness further told us that at several places where he had been employed it was a custom for small gratuities to be given by the shop to employees at the works to secure their influence with the men.

Abstract of Evidence

William Eadie
I have been storekeeper at Benhar for one year and some months. There was poundage there, and also a store. Those men who lived at a distance from the works and could not carry away the goods from the store, had to pay poundage until recently. I believe special instructions have latterly been given that the men’s pay should not be stopped, and I understand they have stopped the poundage also. That would be within the last four weeks. My instructions were to keep the best article, so as to have no complaints from the men, and to sell as cheap as possible. Lines were given instead of cash not more than half a dozen times when I was there. Advance men whom we could not trust would get goods on signing a line authorising the advance clerk to retain part of their wages. That was a common practice for a short time. There were never any cases of dismissal for not dealing at the store that I recollect of, except John McCracker. I believe he was dismissed for not dealing. He was a pay man. It was during a dull time, when they were paying off men at any rate, and this man was paid off too. The manager, Mr. Allan, consulted me first. Before paying off the men he came to consult me as to who were dealing and who were not. That was since last January. I believe the manager consulted the storekeeper as to whom he should dismiss in one or two instances besides that one. If he had a number of men to dismiss he would occasionally come over and consult the storekeeper. I believe some of the men have been told that unless they went to the store they would be liable to be dismissed. It was only done in a few cases. Most of the men went to the store and did not require to be informed. When an advance man whom we could not trust, gave us a line authorising a deduction from his wages, we did not receive any commission. We charged him just the usual store profit of 10, or 12, or 15% upon the articles. The system was not very severe at Benhar. I have pointed out to the manager one or two men who were not going to the store, and I believe in one or two cases he dismissed them or told them to go to the store. I had no instructions on the matter. Mr. Allan himself shortly after I went there told me to mention to him the names of those who were not coming to the store. He is still manager. The members of the firm, I believe, were not acquainted with the system. As regards the advances I believe, they were. I think in the case of the man John McCracker, they knew. There was a scroll book kept for comparing the amount of advances with the amount spent at the store. That showed the men who sloped and the amount that they sloped. Such a book is almost invariably kept where there is a store, they could not check the advances without it. There would be a difficulty in squaring up with the men every day. I think there would be a difficulty in daily pays, especially if the men were in houses. I see no difficulty at all in the way of weekly pays in collieries or in ironworks. I believe they would only require perhaps an additional clerk. If we did away with the advance system, the advance clerk would be at liberty to assist at the pay. I believe it would come to this, that we would just do away with one clerk and substitute another. If we did away with the advance system we could have weekly pays without any difficulty. I have heard complaints about the medical man. The men wish to appoint their own. It is usual for the storeman to give the managers or oversmen a little advantage, perhaps a new coat or something of that sort, not as a commission, but a mere present. I have done it myself at several places. It was a general habit to give a present sometimes to the advance clerk and sometimes to the oversman, not to the manager. Of course the object was to induce those men to do what they could for the store. There was a deputation about four months ago about the quality of the goods at Benhar. They went to the proprietors and complained of the oatmeal and the lamp oil. The. proprietors investigated the matter and found it to be quite untrue.

Matthew Lockedie
I worked at Benhar till March last. There was a store and there was a poundage of a shilling per pound, and there was a penny per shilling for whatever odd shillings you took away. I went to the store with my money, and if I took away any I had to pay poundage on it. If I took away anything besides what I left in the store, I had to pay a shilling in the pound, or a penny in the shilling. If I went to the cash office, and took away perhaps a matter of 5s. or 10s., they charged you so much per pound for it, or perhaps so much per shilling, and then when you went to the store and asked the storeman for 1s., or 5s., or 6s., it was in his discretion to grant it to you or not without poundage. The clerk used to go across with us from the cash office to the store, to see that we handed to the storekeeper what we had cashed. If we happened to take away perhaps 2s. or 3s., then the next time he would say to us, “If you do not behave yourselves you will get no more.” It was generally the oversmen who checked us. Old Robert Allan was one of the oversmen, and used to watch whether we took away our money or not, and report it to the advance clerk. I cannot say whether it would be the storekeeper who reported to the advance clerk. I was discharged last March. I went to the office one Saturday night to lift my pay as usual, and the clerk said to me, “The storekeeper has taken away your pay.” I said, “I did not know he was coming here to lift my pay”. I went and asked the storekeeper the reason, and he gave me insulting language, and before I came out I happened to call it a truck shop, and he said, “You are discharged from the employment on Monday morning for this.” When I came out on the Tuesday morning the oversman said I was to leave. The store was a pretty good one, but there were sometimes very inferior articles.