Edmonstone Colliery
Childrens Employment Commission 1842

 

 

 

 

Evidence collected for the Children's Employment Commision from some of those working at Edmonston Colliery

 

EDMONSTONE COLLIERY, parish of Newton. - (ALEXANDER & MOWBRAY STENHOUSE, of Whitehill, Esq.)

 

No.10. - Rev. John Adamson, Minister of Newton:-

Since my residence in this neighbourhood, which is the most extensive colliery district in Mid-Lothian, I have devoted much time and attention to colliers, from an interest I take in their physical as well as moral and religious condition. I believe that it has had a beneficial effect, from a feeling that they are not that neglected people their forefathers were, and I believe that a wholesome change is taking place. I have always understood that colliers earn large wages when they work regularly; but it will take some time to root out the bad practices of those who have all their lives been neglected. Education is as much needed here for adults as children; it being absolutely necessary for the lower orders to be raised above the influence of mere animal propensities. I am of opinion that it is essential to their well-being, as that of society at large, the children should not be set to labour till education has been secured, being satisfied from observation that it is never attained afterwards.

 

No.11 - Phillis Flockhart, 12 years old, road-clearer:-

I work with the redesmen (road-cleaners), who go down at night to clean the roads and make the walls; I bear the bits of stone for the wall building to keep up the roof. I have wrought at the work 12 months; have been at coal work whiles; was bringing a bit of coal along the pit some months since, when I got the flesh torn off my leg and was idle seven weeks. I work in No.14 pit on aunt's account. I am a natural child; mother left me when three years of age and aunt has kept me ever since. I was at school and learned to read and do a little writing; can sign my own name, do not go to night-school as I only get 8d. a-day when work is regular; and aunt cannot now afford to pay out of the little, she being now too old to labour. I change my clothes when home and look at the Bible. I go to work at night and come up in the morning; the hours are not long, 8 to 10, never longer, unless I work in the day-shift. Mr. Stenhouse paid for my medical attendance; he always does so when accidents occur below ground.
[Knows Scripture well, and many short hymns.]

 

No.12. - Alison Adam, 12 years old, coal-bearer:-

I know my age from mother's Bible. Father is dead; I never wrought while he was in life but went to a school kept by Miss Hunter, who taught me reading and writing and sewing. I go now when able. My hours of work are from 2 in the morning till 10 and 12 at day; after work get porridge which neighbour has ready for me, who take a look in at house while mother is away and locks up the bairns, who are four and seven years of age. I generally get four hours' schooling, for mother pays 4d. a-week. I wash and change before going to school. Work in No.28 pit; the water covers my ankles and there are frequent accidents from stones falling from roof which is soft. Bad air frequently stops my breath, when I run to mother who hangs the baskets on at the pit bottom.
[Knows scripture history very well, reads and writes fairly; seemed to have a great dislike to the work; very intelligent.]

 

No.13 Jesse Wright, 11 years old, coal-bearer:-

I have wrought below nine months, don't like the work at all; daylight is better. Brother three years below; is 12 years past; the work is 'horrible sair.' When mother and father first took me down I was frightened at the place; have got a little used to the work but it crushes me much. I leave work when bad air is in the pit, which frequently has occurred since I first went down. Brother and I go down whether father and mother go down or not. Mother has had five bairns, two died a little ago; she gave them the wrong bottle. I cannot say whether mother reads, I think she knows the print. Granny takes charge of the house when we are away. Work from three in the morning till five, whiles later; no certain time of coming up; go to night-school, where I am learning to shape the letters. I know some of the questions in the Catechism; cannot count any. Moses gave us the Commandments and God made the world; Jesus died for our sins; sin means doing wrong; wrong is lying and cursing; can sew but not shape anything; can not knit any.

 

No.14 - Isabella Read, 12 years old, coal-bearer:-

Works on mother's account, as father has been dead two years. Mother bides at home, she is troubled with bad breath, and is sair weak in her body from early labour. I am wrought with sister and brother, it is very sore work; cannot say how many rakes or journies I make from pit's-bottom to wall face and back, thinks about 30 or 25 on the average; the distance varies from 100 to 250 fathom. I carry about 1cwt. and a quarter on my back; have to stoop much and creep through water which is frequently up to the calves of my legs. When first down fell frequently asleep waiting for coal from heat and fatigue. I do not like the work, nor do the lassies but they are made to like it. When the weather is warm there is difficulty in breathing and frequently the lights go out. I can read in the Testament and am learning to shape the letters at Miss Hunter's. I go to kirk on Sabbath to Mr. Adamson's church; I never was taught the counting; there are 12 pennies in a shilling; can't say what 12 times 3 makes.
[Repeats many Scripture verses and psalms; very little knowledge of their meaning.]

 

No.15 - Emma Bennet, 12 years old, coal-bearer:-

Worked below 3 years. Works 12 to 14 hours daily; sometimes all night; does so on Fridays. Mother and father work below, so do brother and sister; only take pieces of oatcake and bread underground; never got hurt. Father stays away on Mondays, sometimes Tuesdays but the children always gang. Can't say what he takes away on pay-day; would prefer working above. Work in No.13 pit, which is very dry but the work is very sore fatiguing. I could read before I went below, can do little now. I go to Sabbath-morning school where Miss Seaton examines us on Scripture and gives us Bible verses and Psalms to learn. I do not go to the night-school; I have not been at the length of counting; there are six days in week, 12 months in the year; not say how many days. Jesus was our Saviour, and Christ our Redeemer. Jesus was Christ; Mary was his mother and God his father. Edinburgh is in Scotland; can't say where England is.

 

No.16 William Adam, 12 years old, coal-hewer:-

Works on father's account, has done so for three years. Father took me below to assist him; did not like the work when first below; can't say I like it muckle now, as am o'ersore wrought. I gang at three and do not see daylight at all in winter, only on Saturday and as I never come up till five or six. I go to Mr. Robertson's night-school and am reading and writing, can do a little at both; as also I go to the Sabbath-school; knows Scripture pretty well, cannot count, but knows that if he earned a shilling a-day, and worked 20, he should have a pound. Mother was a coal-cleaner, left off working two years; has five children in life. I live about half a mile from pit where I work.

 

No.17 - James Archibald, 12 years old. coal-hewer:-

Wrought below six months. I work with my father, two brothers, and a sister; we go out at two in the morning and return at two and three in the day. The work is very hard and I had no choice or would have preferred other; could read and write before at the coal wall. Mother was a collier, she stays at home now as we do no need her labour; we can make 40s. a-week together when work is regular. I never did much at the counting; 4 times 9 are 36, 4 times 36=20. I know most of questions in the catechism.

 

No.18 - James Jaques, 15 years old, coal-hewer:-

I have been four years at coal mining; before they took me down I went to Mr. Robertson's school at Clayburns, was taught reading, writing, and counting; they had the maps in the school. The constant work has prevented my attention to books; I never see any just now. We go down at three in the morning and come away at three and four or five in the day. Thinks Edinburgh is north of this place and Glasgow also. Don't know where London is, nor what city is capital of England.
[Reads well, and is perfect in the table and can reckon well; knows very imperfectly Scripture history.]

 

No.19 - Isabella Read, 11 years old, coal-bearer:-

I have been below at the coal work 12 months and more. I gang at four and five in the morning and come up at three and four at night and later. I can fill a tub of 4.25 cwt. in four journeys; a journey is nearly half a mile back and forward. I can fill four and sometimes five tubs in a day now. I have not been at school since down; was at Miss Hunter's school, she taught me to read and sew; has been to Sabbath-school; thinks that there are six Commandments; can't recollect the questions. I am away from work, as I injured my knee.
[Reads very badly.]

 

No.20 - Agnes Phinn, 17 years old, coal-bearer:-

Was nine years of age when first taken down. Sister and I are framed to James Ross; we work to support our mother. Father has been dead some years. We go as often as the pit is free from bad air. We can earn 10s. to 12s. each in the 12 days. The work is most exhausting; were it not for the sake of cleanliness, I should not change my clothes. I fill two tubs in five burthens, each tub holds near 5 cwt. I make 25 and 30 burthens if I can get them in a day; the distance is 300 to 400 yards. I seldom gang out as the work is gai sair slavery; can read and cannot recollect much of the teaching; sometimes I go to kirk, no very often.

 

No.21 - David Brown, 16 years old, coal-hewer:-

Began work at seven years of age; used to carry coal; can hew 22cwt. to 24cwt a day. Sister bears my coal to pit bottom. We work to support mother, as father died with colliers' trouble, bad breath; sister got her ankle injured below and was off work some weeks; she suffers from it now, but we require her work. I can read and write, was taught at the night-school. I was born a Glasgow, which is Scotland. Pharaoh followed Moses and got drowned in the Red Sea; Jesus was Son of God. 8 times 7=64; 9 times 8=91; 365 days in the year; can't say how many pounds in the hundred-weight. When I have done work I play the fiddle; I play from the book.

 

No.22 - Edward Bennet, 17 years old, coal-hewer:-

I have wrought seven years below and have not been at the school since down. Mother and I work together; she carries my coal and has carried coal upwards of 30 years. She is 38 years of age. 'Coal-carrying knocks the lassies all out of joints.' Nearly lost the sight of one eye by a deep cut from a pick while at work.
Reads; can answer the commonplace questions in catechism; very bad? at simple accounts.

 

No.23 - Agnes Moffatt, 17 years of age, coal-bearer:-

Began working at 10 years of age; works 12 and 14 hours daily; can earn 12s. in the fortnight, if work be not stopped by bad air or otherwise. Father took sister and I down; he gets our wages. I fill five baskets; the weight is more than 22cwt.; it takes me 20 journeys. The work is o'er sair for females; had my shoulder knocked out a short time ago, idle some time. It is no uncommon for women to lose their burthen and drop off the ladder down below; Margaret M'Neil did a few weeks since, and injured both legs. When the tugs which pass over the forehead break, which they frequently do, it is very dangerous to be under a load. The lassies hate the work altogether but they canna run away from it.
[Reads well.]

 

No.24 - William Neilson, 17 years old, coal-hewer:-

Wrought below 10 years; was taken down early by mother, as father injured the joint of his arm and has been off work ever since. Mother now keeps up to attend on father. They depend chiefly on my labour. I can earn 5s. a-week when in full work. We get a free house and fire-coal. Mother has had ten children; seven alive. I can read and do a little at the writing; never went the length of the tables; very indifferent knowledge of Scripture.

 

No.25 - Margaret Jaques, 17 years of age, coal-bearer:-

I have been seven years at coal-bearing; it is horrible sore work; it was not my choice but we do our parents' will. I make 30 rakes a-day, with 2cwt. of coal on my creel. It is a guid distance I journey and very dangerous on parts of the road. The distance fast increases as the coals are cut down. 1 cwt. is 112 lb., and 20cwt. make a ton. We give 22cwt. to the ton.
[Has an excellent knowledge of Scripture history, and is fairly acquainted with geography; a very good knowledge of multiplication.]

 

No.26 - Helen Reid, 16 years old, coal-bearer:-

I have wrought five years in the mines in this part. My employment is carrying coal. Am frequently worked from four in the morning until six at night. I work night-work week about [alternate weeks]. I then go down at two in the day, and come up at four and six in the morning. I can carry near 2cwt. on my back. A hundred weight is 112lbs.; a quarter is 28lbs. I do not like the work but think I am fit for none other. Many accidents happen below ground; have met with two serious ones myself. Two years since the pit closed upon 13 of us and we were two days without food or light; nearly one day we were up to our chins in water. At last we got to an old shaft, which we picked our way and were heard by people watching above. All were saved. Two months ago I was filling the tubs at the pit bottom when the gig clicked too early and the hook caught me by my pit clothes - the people did not hear my shrieks - my hand had fast grappled the chain and the great height of the shaft caused me to loose my courage and I swooned, - the banksman could scarcely remove my hand, the deadly grasp saved my life.
[Very intelligent girl; reads well and writes; very well acquainted with Scripture history.]

 

No.27 - Mr. David Adams, Overseer to the Edmonstone Colliery, in the occupation of Messrs. Alexander and Mowbray Stenhouse, of Whitehill, near Edmontone.

I have five pits at present in operation and the numbers employed underground do not exceed 300, comprising men, women, and children. The thickness of the seams are from 32 inches to five feet and the main roads are 42 inches to five feet high Female children carry coal on their backs through the main-ways and I think much coal could not be got out without carrying, as the dip and rise is one foot in six and eight; besides those who bear coal are more regular than those who do the putting [drawing]. It is owing to the nature of the roofs that carrying coal is allowed, they being soft and dangerous; and I am free to admit that the work is unsuited to females but it would be a hardship to discontinue those who have grown up to the labour. I think limitation of age at which children should be employed in mines desirable and I should recommend 13 to 14 years. There is, in connection with this colliery, a school in which reading, writing and arithmetic are taught and a sewing school for the lassies: very small fees are taken. There is no library. The colliers have a yearly sick society, and one for defraying funeral expenses and medical attendance.

These are some of the statements given to R H Franks, one of the Sub-Commisioners for the East of Scotland, appointed to collect evidence on the employment of children and young persons in collieries and the state, condition and treatment of such children and young persons. It was being collected as part of the Children's Employment Commission 1842.

 

 

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