Newcraighall Colliery
Childrens Employment Commission 1842

 

 

 

 

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

 

NEW CRAIGHALL COLLIERY, parish of Inveresk. - (SIR JOHN HOPE, of Pinkie, Baronet.)

 

No.68 - Alexander Gray, 10 years old, below-ground pump-boy:-

I pump out the water in the under bottom of the pit, to keep the men's rooms dry. I am obliged to pump fast or the water would cover me. I had to run away a few weeks ago, as the water came up so fast that I could no pump at all and the men were obliged to gang. The water frequently covers my legs and those of the men when they sit to pick. I have been two years at the pump. I work every day, whether men work or not. Am paid 10d. a-day: no holidays but Sabbath. I go down at three, sometimes five, in the morning; and come up at six and seven at night. I know that I work 12 and 14 hours, as I can tell by the clock. I know the hours: the minute-hand is longer than the one which points to the hour: and I can read and do a little at writing. I go to night-school when there is no work: canna gang after work, am o'er fatigued. I get flesh and kail when I return home and take my pieces of oaten bread wi' me. Can go the length of some of the Questions: the teacher taught me. I know who made the heaven and earth; it was God: our Saviour was his Son. The Devil is sin: sin is any want of' conformity to the law of God; so it says in my questions. I don't know what county is, nor the law of God.

 

No.69 - Robert Thomson, 11 years old, horse-driver:-

Drives a pony in the Tunnel Mine; works 12 and 14 hours: has done 18 months. Would like it fine if the time would allow me to see the daylight. The pit is very wet and sair drappie. The women complain of the wet but they are obliged to like it. I work to father and go to Sabbath-school at Fisherrow.
[Reads well, and writes very clear.]

 

No.70 - Janet Moffatt, 12 years old, coal-putter:-

Works from six morning till six night; alternate weeks works in the night-shift. Descends at night, and return five or six in morning, as the coals are drawn whiles later. I pull the waggons, of 4 to 5 cwt., from the men's rooms to the horse-road. We are worse off than the horses, as they draw on iron rails and we on flat floors. We have no meals below. Some of us get pieces of bread when we can save it from the rats who are so ravenous that they eat the corks out of our oil-flasks. I draw the carts through the narrow seams. The roads are 24 to 30 inches high; draw in harness, which passes over my shoulders and back; the cart is fastened to my chain. The place of work is very wet and covers my shoe-tops. I work on mother's account with sister, as father was killed in the pit five years since. There are often accidents below; a woman was killed 3 months since by one of the pit waggons. Mother has eight children. Three of us work below; we are her only support.
[Can read, and knows Scripture very well: can sign her name but very indifferently.]

 

No.71 - James M'Kinley, 9 years old, below-ground pumper:-

I gang below with two sisters at three in the morning. We take bits of bread; we get nothing else until we return at three and four in the day. We work all night week about. Father gets 10d. a-day for my work. I used to go to school and so did sisters, before we came down. Sisters are 12 and 14 years of age. I have down nine months, they many years. I could read in Testament, am too fatigued to gang, after work, to the school. Mother worked till she broke her hands.
[Reads very badly.]

 

No.72 - Thomas King, mining overseer, New Craighall Colliery:-

We employ in the works below about 600 persons; 573 below ground: 155 are females and 102 boys and lads. The number of young persons are not always the same, as the parents take them down as they need them and it must be admitted that children are taken below much too early. We have no control over them. The men regulate the out-put of their work, as also the limit for their children's claims for work. Taking children very young down has an injurious effect. I have known them carried underground at six and seven years of age, on purpose to claim the privileges. Boys of 12 and 14 years of age can acquire the positions and practical part of coal-hewing better than when younger. Maturity gives them rigour; they are more active and infinitely more useful. Children are detained frequently longer below than parents, as they have to wait their turns in drawing up their father's or master's coal. The labour below but more especially bearing coals, severely injures the females and they suffer much in after-life. Men suffer much who work below on the stone-mining; few reach 40 years of age.

 

No.73 - Ellspee Thomson, 40 years old, coal-bearer:-

I wrought all my life, till a stone, 14 months ago, so crushed my leg and right foot, below ground, that I could no' gang. If women did not work below, the children would not go down so soon; and it would better for them, as they would get more strength and a little learning. Can say to my own cost that the bairns are much neglected when both parents work below, for neighbours, if they keep the children, they require as much as women sometimes earn and neglect them. The oppression of the coal-bearing is such as to injure women in after-life and few exist whose legs are not injured, or haunches, before they are 30 years of age. Has known many women leave for service but for want of proper instruction have not be able to hold to the places: the liberty women have unfits them for restraint. Thinks colliers' daughters full as virtuous as other women, only their habits are so different from being taken down so early, especially as collier men think the lassies need less education. The hours children are wrought are much too long; many work 15 hours, none less than 12. I do not know any women that have much suffered from the bad air but most of the men begin to complain at 30 to 35 years of age and drop off before they get the length of 40.

 

No.74 - Mr. David Wilson, overseer to the New Craighall Colliery:-

I have been in this part of Mid-Lothian many years: 20 years in capacity of overseer and connected with coal working full 40 years. I have evidenced much dissipation and changeableness in consequence of colliers being allowed to employ women in the oppressive part of the labour. Sir John Hope endeavoured some years since to abolish the most degrading and hard part of the labour of women and was opposed by the women and husbands, as interfering with their rights. After great loss, much dispute and delay, many women yoked to the new mode of pulling or pushing and gave up bearing coal. Since horses have been employed many women have kept their homes and I have witnessed a vast change in the habits and health of whole families. The want of domestic training is most severely felt by the females themselves, and much as they desire a change of life they feel their own unfitness to that degree as to abandon all hope. Some few colliers have, on this work, married respectable domestic servants and I have evidenced a vast change in the homes, cleanliness and comforts of the people and children, especially when compared with those whose wives work below ground.

 

No.75 - Walter Pryde, aged 81 years, coal-hewer:-

I have not wrought for six years. Was first yoked to the coal work at Preston Grange when I was nine years of age; we were then all slaves to the Preston Grange laird. Even if we had no work on the colliery in my father's time we could seek none other without a written licence and agreement to return. Even then the laird or the tacksman selected our place of work and if we did not do his bidding we were placed by the necks in iron collars called juggs, and fastened to the wall, 'or made to go the rown.' The latter I recollect well the men's hands were tied in face of the horse at the gin and made run round backwards all day. When bound the hewers were paid 4d. a tub of 4cwt. and could send up six to eight, but had to pay their own bearers out of the money, so that we never took more than 8s. to 10s. a-week. The money went much further than double would do now. There are few men live to my age who work below. My wife is 82 and she worked at bearing till she was 66 years of age. We are very poor, having had to bring up 11 children; five are alive. Sir John allows us a free house and coal and the Kirk Session allows me one shilling per week each. Should die if it were not for neighbours and son, who have a large family, and can ill afford to give.

 

No.76 - David Gordon, 17 years old, coal-hewer, Craighall Coal-Town:-

I hew coal; have done so four years on Sir John's work. Before I went below could read and do the writing: have nearly lost all learning. The irregular nature of the work prevents my seeking the school. The pit we are wrought in there have been many accidents, as the roof is soft, and the water rises sometimes nearly to the roof. I can earn 2s. 6d. a-day when on full work. Sometimes I push the hurlies and my sister Janet assists, as the work has made me weak in the limbs. The lassies draw with ropes and chains: the harness they purchase themselves, it costs 5s. and is made very strong, as the hurlies contain 5 to 7cwt. of coal. Knows some few of the questions in shorter Catechism; very little knowledge of Scripture or arithmetic; can sign own name and that very badly. I know the colliers' children are school freed but very few attend after work and some parents do not send their young children, as they get too much of the strap.
[There was scarcely any furniture in the hut and the filthy appearance of the children was disgusting; the fowls were roosting over the bed and appeared by their noise to know that a stranger was present. The mother had been a coal-bearer: she had seven children in life, four worked below with father. While in the cottage the father returned, having left two children in the pit: he said they had wrought 15 hours and were waiting their turn below.]

 

No.77 - Agnes Johnson, aged 17 years, road-redder:-

Assists in redding the road in the Tunnel Pit and work 12 hours. It is very sore work but I prefer it, as I work on the master's account and get 14d. a-day. When I work with father, keeps me 15 and 16 hours at coal-carrying, which I hate, as it last year I twisted my ankles out of place, and I was idle near 12 months.

 

No.78 - Robert Inglis, aged 82:-

I am the oldest collier on Sir John Hope's work, and have not been able to do much for many years, but am employed about at light work, which gets me a maintenance; am very ill at present, though I move out. I was born 9th Sept. 1759 and worked at Pinkie Pit long before the colliers got their freedom; the first emancipation took place on the 3rd of July, 1775 - we always kept the day as a holiday. Lord Abercorn got us out of our slavery. Father and grandfather were slaves to the Laird of Preston Grange and after the works had stopped and we got licence from Mr. Peter Hunter, the then tacksman, we could not get work, as the neighbours kenned that the Laird of Preston Grange would send the sheriff after us and bring us back. So binding was the bondage, that the lairds had the power of taking colliers who had left them out of any of his Majesty's ships, or bringing back any who had enlisted in the army. Such ill-feelings existed against colliers and salters years past that they were buried in unconsecrated ground; this was common in Fife. If colliers had been better treated they would have been better men.

 

 

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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