Scottish Mining Villages

Wanlockhead – Extract from 1871 Truck Report

August 11, 2001 | Comments Off on Wanlockhead – Extract from 1871 Truck Report

The lead mines at Wanlockhead, on the borders of Lanarkshire and Dumfries, did not, strictly speaking, come within the scope of the Commission, inasmuch as lead mining is not within the provisions of the Truck Act. Our attention was directed to the matter by Mr. Macdonald, President of the Miners Association.

His evidence was to the effect that the pays were longer at Wanlockhead than any other store in Scotland, and that a very large number of the workmen in consequence had left Scotland and emigrated to America. He stated that he had twice met men in the United States who quitted Wanlockhead in consequence of the system, and that a whole party of them had started for the United States about four months previously.

Mr. Stewart, for 40 years manager of the mine, felt aggrieved, and in consequence of a letter received from him, his attendance was requested, and some of his workpeople were summoned to come with him.

The works have been in operation for a long time, the meal store, as Mr. Stewart believes since 1755. For the last 28 years the mines have been in the hands of the Duke of Buccleuch, who continued the store which he found in existence, and who, from the letters which Mr. Stewart put in evidence, seems at the outset to have taken a personal interest in the management.

The operations are of two kinds, mining and smelting. The lead after it is raised is crushed, washed, weighed, and afterwards smelted, but there is a considerable lapse of time between the raising and the smelting, and the custom has been not to pay either miners or smelters until the whole process is completed. A settlement takes place each January, and two years lie is thus kept in hand “When the month of January 1871 comes round,” John Nichol, one of the miners, said, “we shall be paid for the year 1869.” This was admitted by the cashier : “The wages they have earned,” he explained ” in 1869 are not ascertained until the lead is smelted up. The lead is not smelted up yet (i.e. in September 1870) for 1869; it will not be finished for a month yet, or perhaps more, and we cannot ascertain the wages of the miners till that is done.”

Each miner seems to have a plot of ground for cultivation, and the principal articles of food which he requires are given to him either out of the stores or from a farm which Mr. Stewart rents from the Duke of Buccleuch. At settlement the price is deducted from his wages. Our stores, said John Nichol, are all on credit dealing for the 12 months. The only regular money given from twelvemonth to twelvemonth is 6s. in April for buying seed (for planting their plots of ground with corn or potatoes) £2 in July, (formerly called “peat money”) for buying fuel, and £4 in October, or “mart money” for the purpose of buying meat to be salted up for winter. The evidence as to what other advances in cash they obtained was obscure. Some witnesses said they got what they wanted whenever they wanted it; the cashier stated that the men could have advances in money if they required any unless they were heavily in debt to the store, and Mr. Stewart stated that every man who has credit gets cash at all times. But meal and other articles of consumption appear on the books as cash so that it is impossible to distinguish how much is money and how much provisions; and some advance tickets furnished by Mr. Stewart after the close of the inquiry for the purpose of refuting the evidence of Nichol, do not appear to be conclusive. The manager rents a farm, from which the men are supplied with various articles. At the works the cashier officiates both as advance clerk, pay clerk, and storekeeper. His wife also keeps a small drapery shop. She sells goods to the miners, and credits them for 12 months; and when the annual pay comes round, they settle with her their yearly accounts. The union of these separate functions is calculated to lead to abuses; and whatever be the extent to which advances are made at these works in money, it is plain that the system at Wanlockhead is not a system of cash payment of wages.

There is, so far as could be seen no valid reason why the wages should be kept in hand during all this period. Mr. Reid, the cashier, admitted that the lead was measured and weighed before it was smelted, and that it was perfectly possible to pay the miners before the smelting operation takes place. The smelters, we incline to think, might be paid at latest, (to the extent, at all events, of an estimated percentage) a week or so after the operation, as the work is weighed and estimated, and entered in the books within that period. Mr. Reid also allowed that in the Lead Hills where the system of piecework is the same, the settlement is quarterly, and that £2 a month is given in advance. The chief objection to shorter pavs which he could urge was that “it would be very irregular, and might lead to great mistakes ;” it is not “in accordance” he added “with the old system; and he sees no reason why it should be done.”

Q But let me understand. You say that it is smelted, weighed, and entered in the books within 10 days ? – Yes, it is entered in the following week.

Q What else do you do to the books after the entry is made ? – It passes from the journal into the ledger, and is carried to the credit of their accounts.

Q But do you ever alter the entry of the amount after it is once made ? – Many a time errors creep in, and you cannot ascertain what these errors are until the books are balanced. There may be an error over perhaps a whole twelvemonths’ entries.

Q. Why is it difficult to enter correctly the weight that has been weighed? – To err is human, you know.

Nichol, a miner, who had been 40 years at Wanlockhead was asked –
“Would you like your pay oftener than once in 12 months?”
“According to the practice of modern times it is very possible that we might like it oftener, but we have never been tried with that, and we cannot say whether or not we should relish the short payments better than the long payments.”

And Gilbert Jamieson, who had been at the works 50 years, said, “The system has done with me, and I think it will do with me for my time. I am a pretty old man now. There is no doubt that ready-money transactions are the best, but I always got money when I asked for it.”

These old men, it should be added, who had spent their whole lives in these works and all the other miners who came from Wanlockhead, looked comfortable and well cared for. On the other hand, that there had been some agitation on the subject of the pays as long ago as 1846 is obvious, from the second letter of the agent of the Duke of Buccleuch. Mr. Reid confirmed Mr. McDonald’s evidence as to the emigration of some good men from Wanlockhead to America within the last six months. On the whole, whatever the kindness which the men at these works experience from their employers (and there was no reason to believe that, apart from the system, they are otherwise than kindly treated), little doubt can be entertained as to the great evils of an arrangement by which men receive in January 1871 the balance of wages due to them since January 1869, while in the interval goods on credit are supplied to them by their employer and their employer’s servants. The lead mines at Wanlockhead ought, in our opinion, to be brought within the Truck Acts.