Sheriffhall and Somerside Collieries
Childrens Employment Commission 1842

 

 

 

 

Evidence collected for the Children's Employment Commision from some of those working at Sheriffhall and Somerside Collieries

 

SHERIFF-HALL and SOMERSIDE, - parishes of Newton, Dalkeith, and Liberton. - (Sir JOHN HOPE, of Pinkie, Bart.)


No.1 - Janet Cumming, 11 year old, bears coals:-

Works with father; has done so for two years. Father gangs at two in the morning; I gang with the women at five, and come up at five at night; work all night on Fridays and come away at twelve in the day. I carry the large bits of coal from the wall-face to the pit bottom and the small pieces called chows in a creel; the weight is usually a hundred weight; does not know how many pounds there are in hundred weight but it is some work to carry; it takes three journies to fill a tub of 4cwt. The distance varies as the work is not always on the same wall; sometimes 150 fathom whiles 250. The roof is very low; I have to bend my back and legs, and the water comes frequently up to the calves of my legs; has no likening for the work; father makes me like it; mother did carry coal, she is not needed now, as sisters and brothers work on father's and uncle's account. Never got hurt, but often obliged to scramble out when bad air was in the pit. Father lately got crushed by a big coal falling and was by for seven weeks; was supported by William Bennet's and John Craig's societies, to which he subscribed; believes he got 8s. weekly from the two. I am learning to read at the night-school; am in the two-penny book; sometimes to Sabbath-school. Jesus was God; David wrote the Bible; has a slight knowledge of the first six questions in the shorter catechism.

 

No.2 - Agnes Reid, age 14, coal-bearer:-

I have wrought below two months; I go down at six o'clock, the time the women gang and lowse at six; whiles later and earlier. I bear coal on my back.
I do not know the exact weight, but it is something more than 1cwt.; it is very sore work and makes us often cry; few lassies like it; I would much prefer to work out bye or in service but suppose father needs me. Was at Mr. M'Donald's school at Lugton, just near, till at work. Was taught reading, writing and counting. I read the Bible and 'Collection,' attend the Sabbath-school to learn the Questions. Genesis is the first book in the Bible; David, who wrote the Psalms, was a king; thinks he was king of the Christians. Samuel a king also. Lugton and Edinburgh are in Mid-Lothian; so is Aberdeen; thinks Glasgow is in England. Queen Victoria is married to Prince Albert; knows so from a newspaper which father gets lent to him, it is the 'Weekly Dispatch.' See other papers sometimes; thinks they are called 'Chambers Journal.'

 

No.3 - George Reid, 16 years old, coal-hewer:-

I pick the coal at the wall-face and seldom do other work; have done so for six years; the seam is 26 inches high and when I pick I am obliged to twist myself up; the men who work in this seam lie on their broadsides. Father took me down early to prevent me from going o'erwild about the town; it is horrible sore work; none ever come up to meals. Pieces of bread are taken down; boys and girls sometimes drink the water below, when there is no metal in it; men take a bottle of small beer. We get meat on Saturday nights and Sunday; the men say we could not work well if had meat on other days. I should not care about the work if we had not so much of it; have often been hurt; was off idle a short bit ago, the pick having torn my flesh while ascending the shaft. There is a good deal of quarrelling below, especially among the women people. Six of the family work with father below; he seldom does any on Monday, sometimes Tuesday; when work is good he takes away £2. to 50s. for the fortnight. A fortnight is two weeks. There is 4 weeks in a month, 12 months in the year; 7 times 9 makes 63; and 12 times 11, 132. Reads, writes indifferently, cannot spell well; knows the questions in the Catechism; was never in the maps but acquainted fairly with Scripture; goes to night-school for one hour, when open; the hard work prevents me from doing muckle.

 

No.4 - John King, age 12 years, coal-hewer:-

I have been four years in the Sheriff-hall and Somerside pits; work with father and brothers; one is 10 years of age, and been down 12 months; the other 14, and been below 6 years. Mother carries coals below; she was at work last week. When she is wrought a neighbour looks after the young ones to prevent them harming or burning; get my pieces as other boys do; there is plenty of water in the pit. I work all the time that I am below and get kale or porridge afterwards. The work takes away the desire for food, as it is o'ersair. I go down at three in the morning, but leave home at two, and come up about four and six in the day. Was crushed by a piece of coal some two or three years and laid idle two months. Dr Steel attended; he was paid out of the medical money which the men have stopped from them at the counting table. I have been sometimes belted, as most boys are when they are indisposed to work; was taught to read before ganging to the work, and could do a little at the writing; have nearly forgot the latter; never taught the counting; repeats verses of Psalms and Scripture. Eve was Adam's wife and was Solomon's mother; thinks Adam slew Abel.

 

No.5 - John Jamieson, age 12, picks coal:-

I have picked coal for two years with my father; have got used to the work; don't mind it now only too long at it; work never less than from four in the morning till six at night, sometimes all night. Never sleep in the pit; have plenty of work to keep me awake. Mother comes to work at six in the morning and brings porridge for our breakfast and pieces for our dinner; she leaves the three bairns at home under charge of sister, who is 10 years of age; next-door neighbour looks in to see after them. I go to Mr. Robertson's night-school, at Clayburns, to learn the reading and doing a little at the write; no muckle; cannot count yet. There are 12 bawbees in sixpence; can't say how many pennies in 2s. 6d. I am a Scotchman, because I was born in Scotland; I do not know what I should be if I had been born in England. Am learning the Catechism and Scripture texts at Sabbath-school. We have one room in our house and two beds; two sisters and the three laddies sleep in one bed, mother and father in the other; has heard father say that the dust and dung-heap pays for the whisky.

 

No.6 - David Naysmith, 12 years old, coal-hewer:-

I have worked in coal-pits five years; been obliged to do so, as father is off work with bad breath, that is, short of breath, occasioned by his working in bad air at the Oxford Colliery, near Chird, some five years since; he has never wrought since. Mother was a coal-bearer; she bides at home to take care of house and three young children; they depend entirely upon the labour of myself, brother, and sister; our united labour seldom yields more than 24s. in the fortnight; we live frugally. We work from three in the morning till five, when the roads and the air are free; they are frequently bad and make us stop away. I go to night-school; can read and write, and multiply a little; 12 times 9=108; 1l2lbs. in the hundred weight; 60 pence in 5 shillings; 240 pence in a pound. Scotland is a country so is France. Queen Victoria succeeded King William. The work is very sore, and frequently too much fatigued to recollect the school lessons.
[Very steady, intelligent boy; writes quick and well considering his age and occupation; belongs to one of the oldest collier's families on record.]

 

No.7 - Alexander Reid, 12 years old:-

I worked two years at Sheriff-hall coal and go below at two or three in the morning and hew till six at night; after that I fill and put the carts on the rails to pit bottom. The pit I work in is very wet; we often work in slush over our shoe-tops. When first below I used to fall asleep; am kept awake now. 'It is most terrible work.' I am wrought in a 30 inch seam and am obliged to twist myself up or work on my side. This is my every-day work except Friday when I go down at 12 at night and come up at 12 at noon. After work I go to the night-school when it is open. Was at school for some years before at work; can read well, was taught also the writing, counting, and grammar; there are three parts of speech; forget the grammar now but not the counting and Bible history; 5 times 9 are 45, 6 times 24 are 144.
[Recollects nearly all the questions in the shorter catechism.]
Solomon wrote the Proverbs; Jesus died for our sins, who is called the Redeemer. London is in England. Edinburgh is in Scotland. The four quarters or divisions on the map I think are Egypt, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
[He read well and writes but little; is very intelligent, evidently delicate from over work.]

 

No.8 - William Woods, 14 years of age, coal-hewer:-

I have been three years below; I hew the coal and draw it to the pit bottom. Was obliged to go as father could work no longer; he is upwards of 60. I gang at three in the morning and return about six; it is no very good work, and the sore labour makes me feel very ill and fatigued; it injures my breath. We have no regular meal-times; food is not safe in the pit. The lads and lassies take oat-pieces and bread below; we drink the water sometimes; get other food at home, sometimes broth, potatoes, and herrings. Often been hurt and laid idle for a few days but never get the licks as many laddies do when men are hard upon them. I live a mile away; I cannot say how many brothers and sisters are at home, think three besides myself. Was never at school till last summer, but left when the dark nights came on. Knows the letters; cannot read a short sentence; thinks are 6 days in the week and 9 or 10 in the fortnight, as the men reckon 9 or 10 days' work. Would go to church if had clothes, but canna gang the now. Father takes for my work; sometimes I get a bawbee on the pay-days; do not always shift myself as the time will not allow.
[I examined this boy on the Saturday, at a cottage near the pit, and the state of exhaustion he was in can scarcely be imagined; his appearance bespoke great neglect and poverty.]

 

No.9 - Mr. William Bennett, Sheriff-hall.

I have been overseer to Sir John Hope's mines at Sheriff-hall and Somerside upwards of 13 years, prior to which appointment I wrought 24 years as a collier and am well acquainted with their conduct and characters generally, which I consider as good as other tradesmen. We employ in the two mines 150 to 160 people, out of which only 80 are reckoned at the count table, as colliers employ their wives and children at their own pleasure, and where the father is dead the children work on their mother's account. Parents take children down early to claim privileges; boys rank at 10 years of age; girls have no claims, so they may be worked as early as need may require: by privileges I mean wages.* I think colliers are as healthy as other classes of workmen, for I am sure less sick money is drawn from their funds than other labourers. We take no account of accidents; the proprietor pays for all that occur below ground but the men discharge their own domestic bills. When bad air rises out of the waste of the metal we suspend working. I have no recollection, therefore, of any accident in the last three years. The seams of coal are 28 inches to 36 in thickness and some of the roads are railed.
*Privileges are not wages. It is a practice in the Lothians for colliers to regulate and limit the out-put of their own work. Full men send up 4 tubs of 5.25 cwt. per day; they then claim work according to the ages of their male children. In East Lothian men claim for very young boys; in Mid Lothian all boys above 10 years of age rank is 1 basket; above 12 years, 2 baskets; 15 years, 3 baskets; at 17 years lads rank as full men and claim is made for 4 baskets. This. practice is bad; it causes men to take their children down very young; they remain with them to get the privilege of more work and all hope of return ceased, Eventually, the children are sent down to do the father's' work while they drink and idle at home.

 

 

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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