Scottish Mining Villages

Extract from Mining District Report 1848 (part 1)

October 27, 2011 | Comments Off on Extract from Mining District Report 1848 (part 1)

by the Commissioner appointed to inquire into the operation of the Act 5 & 6 Vict. c99, (Mines and Collieries Act 1842) and into the state of the population in the mining districts

Plans of Mines

Considerable difficulties and losses have been lately experienced in Scotland for want of a permanent record of plans of mines. The following are examples :-

Mr. Wilson, of the Dundyvan Works, Lanarkshire, commenced a new iron work on a large scale, at Kinneil, near Borowstoneness, Linlithgowshire. The coal had been worked in that neighbourhood for several years. Mr. Wilson consulted the best mining engineers in the country, and obtained all the information that could be collected from old colliers, as to the localities where the coal was still untouched, and on those authorities he sunk two pits. At 50 fathoms deep they found themselves upon the old workings. There was a consequent loss of £5000 on each pit, besides the loss of time (a year and a half) during which it was necessary to purchase coal for the use of the iron-furnaces. The spot in question is a portion of the mineral property of the Duke of Hamilton, from whom Mr. Wilson holds his lease.

Again, at a spot adjoining his extensive works at Dundyvan, Mr. Wilson has met with a similar difficulty. Portions of one of the seams of coal there have been worked, probably by some small coal-master, in former years, and no record of these workings is to be found. Borings have been made, and although the result indicates sound coal, there is no certainty that the bore may not have come down upon a pillar, or that other trials may not result in a similar manner. There is, therefore, a reluctance to pursue the working down to the lower seams, and what remains of the upper may probably be lost.

The Messrs. Baird, of the Gartsherrie Works, Lanarkshire, have lately erected works which are likely to be extensive, at Kilwinning, Ayrshire, under a lease from the Earl of Eglinton. The only record that could be discovered giving any clue to the extent of previous workings, was a MS. by a working collier, dated 1750-69. The oral testimony of old colliers now alive, was found to be so conflicting as to be of no value. They have consequently been obliged to put down borers every 50 or 100 yards, to the depth of near 30 fathoms; and also where pits have been sunk, to bore longitudinally to ascertain whether they are getting near to the “waste.” This has been going on now for two months, at a considerable expense. Not only the men, but the whole of the actual workings are constantly in danger, from the possibility of their cutting suddenly into the old, and letting in the water collected in them. The lease comprises an extent of 1000 acres, and it was stated to me, that the coal under 500 might not be got, or only imperfectly, and at considerable extra cost and risk, in consequence of the want of records. One serious loss has already been incurred. The coal-strata in that locality are much interrupted by masses of basalt, which have forced themselves up among the coal, and of which there is no indication on the surface. On the best information that could be obtained from old colliers as to the direction of one of these masses, a pit was sunk, but came directly upon it at the depth of 25 fathoms.

Mr. A. Craig, the resident manager of the Portland Iron-works above mentioned, stated to me facts of the same nature:-
“Very many instances have occurred to persons working old coal-fields, of great loss and injury in consequence of their coming suddenly in contact with the old workings.. A case occurred to myself a short time ago. I lost half the coal I expected to get, though I went to work on the best information I could obtain from old men, often the only evidence to be found, and very little confidence can be placed in it. This is constantly happening in every quarter. In this instance we cut into the corner of the old waste, and the water came in with great violence. Fortunately no one was injured; but if we had cut into the full face of the old workings, all the men would have been drowned. Nine men were drowned a few years ago from this cause, at Lochibo, Renfrewshire.”

Of the important Lanarkshire Iron and Coal-field, Mr. G. Baird gave me the following opinion on this subject:-
” There are a great many proprietors of mineral property in the Monklands, the chief seat of the iron manufacture in Lanarkshire. We hold on lease a large proportion of it. Our leases reserve a power to the lessors to make plans of our workings for themselves. Some of the larger proprietors avail themselves of this power, but the smaller ones do not. If we were to give up(our works, there would be no records of a great part of our workings, except in our own possession. Of all our iron-stone proprietors, not one has ever, I believe, taken any measure to get copies of our plans, or to have plans made for themselves. The whole of the lower seams of coal in the Monklands are still nearly untouched. By and by there will probably be great difficulties among proprietors and workers of coal as to the workings of the upper seams.”

Mr. Mackenzie, manager of the Dundyvan Works, stated it as his opinion, that-

“A great quantity of coal will be lost for want of a public record of plans. Collieries stop, and get into other hands, and it is soon forgotten, and all record lost, as to whether all the coal was taken out or no at particular places, and what seams were worked.”

It was the opinion of Mr. Wilson, the Messrs. Baird, Mr. Murray, and all the other gentlemen with whom I adverted to the subject, that it would be for the general interest, that there should be a public register of all plans of mines at some convenient and central spot in the district. It appeared to be the general impression, that there would be no difficulty in devising a satisfactory mode of effecting it, and that the slight expense attending it might be divided between the lessor and lessee, as is now provided in most of the best modern leases. The clause on this subject is generally to the following effect: that ” on the requisition of either party, the works and operations of the lessee shall be surveyed and laid down upon a plan by a competent person, to be mutually named by the lessor and lessee, or, in case of their differing as to the nomination of such person, by a person to be appointed by the Sheriff Depute of Lanarkshire for the time being, all of which surveys, reports, and plans shall be made at the mutual expense of the parties hereto.”

Lanarkshire

My previous reports have shown that the portions of the mining districts of Scotland now most requiring attention are those of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire; the first, on account of its great and comparatively recent concentration of mining industry on a small space ; the second, on account of the rapid growth of large iron and coal-works in that county. I find no disposition to disregard the provisions of the Act in these districts. But where, as in Lanarkshire, 75,000 people are congregated within an area of a few miles round the large iron-works, and a similar tendency is manifesting itself in Ayrshire, it becomes desirable to submit frequently the result of the inquiries I am instructed to make into what may appear to affect, at present or prospectively, the condition of so large a mass of the mining population.

In my first reports upon the Lanarkshire mining district (comprised within Old and New Monkland, and portions of adjoining parishes) I had occasion to remark upon the absence of many essential requisites towards a well-ordered state of society, and also upon many alleged grievances which formed the topics of very general complaints on the part of the colliers and miners against their employers. In regard to the latter, I was able to show, after accurate investigation, that many were either altogether unfounded or greatly exaggerated ; and both at that time and the present, I am able to say, that I have met with no instance among the numerous and influential employers of labour in this district of the slightest indisposition to consider fairly and in a conciliatory spirit any circumstance affecting the interests of the working classes. In regard to the former, much has been done. An efficient body of rural police has been formed ; at the expense of the mining portion of the county, and being distributed through the different mining villages, have contributed greatly to the cause of good order. A sheriff-substitute and procurator-fiscal have been appointed to the district, and the administration of justice is consequently now brought within the reach of the inhabitants. A water company has procured an Act of Parliament, and is about to supply a want which had been greatly felt by the whole population. Many more schools have been set on foot, and others are in course of building, and the number of children under education has much increased. Considerable attention is now being paid by the proprietors of all the works to the decency and cleanliness of the rows of houses belonging to them. Comparatively little attention was given to this subject a few years ago; consequently the habits of the people were marked by excessive neglect of these matters, both within their houses and without. At all the works a man is now employed, sometimes two, whose sole duty is to keep the roads between and the vacant spaces about the houses clean, and to inspect occasionally the houses themselves, and report any instances of obstinate neglect. Fines are inflicted at most of the works, and incorrigibly dirty families are dismissed. The effect is visible in the greater aspect of decency and comfort in these rows and squares occupied by colliers and miners, &c., than could have been seen a few years ago. It will, however, apparently be some time before habits of cleanliness will be generally adopted by the people of these classes from choice and a sense of right; and the efforts of those above them will probably be long required in order to lay the foundation of such a feeling. Its absence is still very conspicuous in a great proportion of their houses, and, in an especial manner, in the extreme dirt and neglect which they do not attempt to correct in the habits and persons of their children. The large proportion of Irish introduced of late years among the mining population, chiefly in consequence of the strikes of the Scotch colliers and miners, obstructs greatly the progress of this portion of the work of raising the habits and condition of the people.

Strikes
All experience seems hitherto to have been lost upon the colliers and miners of this district, in regard to strikes. Notwithstanding the complete failure, as usual, of the one which occurred last autumn, during the months of July, August, and September, threats have been already held out to the masters of another. Unfortunately the 20,000 to 30,000 colliers and miners who engage in these strikes in this district are not the only sufferers by them. The amount of privation caused to large and industrious classes of the community, and the loss of capital occasioned to the employers, are among the most serious results of the blind obstinacy of the colliers and miners. There are about 90 iron furnaces in this district, a considerable number of which were, in consequence of the strike, either ” damped” or ” blown out.” The cessation of production from any number of these furnaces, which produced on an average 100 tons of iron each per week, must necessarily affect a vast number of persons in various trades or employments, from the furnace-men, carters, and railway-men at the works to those who ship the iron in the port of Glasgow. But at those works where there are puddling, furnaces and rolling mills, as well as furnaces for making pig-iron, the number of persons thrown out of employ in consequence of a strike of colliers and miners, and the loss to the owners of such works, is something much more considerable. By way of instance of a case of this kind, I may refer to a statement obligingly furnished to me by one of the managers of the Dundyvan Works, which are among the largest in the district. Five furnaces were there stopped, in consequence of the strike. Three hundred persons (furnace-men, labourers, puddlers, rollers, &c.) were thrown out of employ during this period, whose average earnings may be stated at £1 a-week. The loss to the owners of the works was,—loss of interest on capital (say on £100,000), for a quarter of a year ; loss of profits for the same time (out of which are to be paid all salaries and standing expenses, keep of horses, &c., &c.), and cost of repairing the injury done to the furnaces. The amount of this latter cost, if a furnace is ” blown out,” may be estimated at from £300 to £500; as, when a furnace has been allowed to cool, the whole or a great part of the inside must be taken down and renewed, an operation requiring from two to three months’ labour; in addition to which, it requires several weeks to bring the furnace again into its full work. It is scarcely conceivable that men of intelligence and character, such as are the Iron-masters of this district, would engage in a protracted struggle of this nature, at so much actual cost and annoyance to themselves, and with the further risk of seeing their markets occupied by rival producers, if the demands of their men were just.

The amount of injury which the colliers and miners bring upon themselves by these strikes has often been commented upon. The children are neglected, their schooling interrupted, and the whole family thrown back to a lower scale of living, and taught to accustom themselves to a greater degree of dirt and discomfort. But the most serious result is, the great number of Irish that these strikes have been the means of introducing into the whole district. Of the miners, it is now estimated, that upwards of two-thirds are Irish, and of the colliers, about one-fourth. Every successive strike adds to their number. They remain in the country as competitors with the Scotch population for the lower kinds of employment ; and their presence is greatly felt in this respect the moment that trade becomes dull. Mixed up as they are with the Scotch in the mining villages, their habits have an injurious effect upon their neighbours, and make it more difficult for well-disposed and decent families to preserve order and cleanliness about them. Their presence in so great numbers has been a cause of serious anxiety to the authorities, who, in March last, were obliged to quarter three troops of Yeomanry and a detachment of military among them to prevent the public peace being disturbed.