Hood Family and Coal Mining

Loanhead Colliery - Childrens Employment Commission 1842

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



LOANHEAD COLLIERY. - (Sir GEORGE CLERK, Bart., M.P., &c., of Pennicuik.)


No.54 - Mary Macqueen, 12 years old, coal-bearer:-

I have been wrought three years at coal carrying, and go below generally at three in the morning and return at five or six and sometimes three in the afternoon. I take a piece of bread or bannock, which does till I return home, when I get my broth or flesh. I carry my father's coal; my usual quantity is four to five tubs daily; each tub holds 4.25 cwt.; it takes me five journeys to fill one tub: the distance to my father's room is 80 fathoms and I have one ladder to descend before I get to the road which leads to the bottom. Mother is a bearer and can fill a tub in two journeys. I once got hurt by the roof falling and confined for some days. I wash and change when home: the pit is just by the houses. I have not been to school for two years. Father is in bad health. Brother who is 14 past, works at the coal wall. I read a little but never was at the writing. The Testament was the book I read in but I do not know who wrote the Gospels. Jesus is God and we are to pray to Him know much about God; has heard he is a spirit; don't know what is meant by the word spirit.


No.55 - Ellison Jack, 11 years old, coal-bearer:-

I have been working below three years on my father's account; he takes me down at two in the morning and I come up at one and two next afternoon. I go to bed at six at night to be ready for work next morning: the part of the pit I bear in the seams are much on edge. I have to bear my burthen up four traps, or ladders, before I get to the main road which leads to the pit bottom. My task is four to five tubs; each tub holds 4.25cwt. I fill five tubs in 20 journeys. I have had the strap when I did not do my bidding. Am very glad when my task is wrought, as it sore fatigues. I can read, and was learning the writing; can do a little; not been at school for two years; go to kirk occasionally, over to Lasswade: don't know much about the Bible, so long read: knows many of the Questions.
[A brief description of this child's place of work will better illustrate her evidence. She has descend a nine-ladder pit to the first rest, even to which a shaft is sunk, to draw up the baskets or tubs of coals filled by the bearers; she then Likes her creel (a basket formed to the back, not unlike a cockle-shell, flattened towards the neck, so as to allow lumps of coal to rest on the back of the neck and shoulders) and pursues her journey to the wall-face, or as it is called here, the room of work. She then lays down her basket, into which the coal is rolled and it is frequently more than one matt can do to lift the burden on her back. The tugs or straps are placed over the forehead and the body bent in a semicircular form, in order to stiffen the arch. Large lumps of coal are then placed on the neck and she then commences her journey with her burden to the pit bottom, first hanging her lamp to the cloth crossing her head. In this girl's case she has first to travel about 14 fathoms (84 feet) from wall-face to the first ladder, which is 18 feet high: leaving the first ladder she proceeds along the main road, probably 3 feet 6 inches to 4 feet 6 inches high, to the second ladder, 18 feet high, so on to the third and fourth ladders, till she reaches the pit-bottom, where she casts her load, varying from 1 cwt. To 1.5 cwt., into the tub. This one journey is designated a rake; the height ascended and the distance along the roads added together, exceed the height of St. Paul's Cathedral, and it not unfrequently happens that the tubs break- and the load falls upon those females who are following. However incredible it may appear, yet I have taken the evidence of fathers who have ruptured themselves from straining to lift coal on their children's backs.]


No.56 - David Burnside, 12 years old, coal-hewer:-

I work at Loanhead coal-mine; have done so upwards of two years: work on mother's account, with two brothers and sister. Father bas been dead 10 year. Little brother is 10 years old; bears the coal with sister. We go to work at lour in the morning and return at the day; sometimes five. When I work all night I gang at five or six in evening and return five or six in morning. I pick at the coal wall; it is gai sair work; more so some days than others. We have no holidays but what we make ourselves. Bad air frequently prevents one working below: when the weather is warm the damp stops the breath. I never got any hurt and have my meals at home, except the piece I take away. I can read [reads well], and do the writing a little; have not been to school since dawn. I seldom go to kirk: used to know all the questions; forget them now. All four can take away 2l. on pay-day. We can generally reckon 10 days in fortnight; there are 12 days in a fortnight, and two Sabbaths. Two pounds are forty shillings -'twice 40=80; 4 quarters in the hundred-weight, 22 cwt. In the ton.


No.57 - William Burnside, 10 years old, coal-bearer:-

I gang with brother and sister; have done so two months. I can fill one tub in the day: it takes me 17 journeys, as my back gets sore. A tub holds near 5 cwt. I follow sister with bits of coal strapped over my, head and back. The work fatigues me muckle. Mother sent me as the teacher had left and no school open no school since. Reads a little.


No.-58 - Agnes Fuller, 17 years old, coal-bearer:-

Works at Sir George Clarke's coal pit; has done six years. I left once for service in Edinburgh; remained six months; have tried outbye work, that is, field labour, and prefer the work below. If could get a situation which suited, in a family, would like it better than coal work. Mistress in Edinburgh kept me too close to the house, so I left. I was at school five years; have forgotten the learning, except the reading and shaping a few letters. Sometimes go to kirk and Sabbath-school. I think David wrote the Psalms and Moses the commandments: don't know how many there are. Moses brought the Children of Israel from Egypt through the Jordan. Saul wrote the Proverbs. Edinburgh is in Scotland. London is in Ireland. Never was taught the counting; can't say how many days in the year - knows there are 12 months.


No.59 - Mary Smith, 17 years old, coal-bearer:-

I have been a coal bearer six years and like the work well enough. Tried service: was at Dr. Brunton's six months and would have remained but father said he needed me below. I did not wish to leave, as the place suited. Coal work is o'ersair for women. Was at school six years. I can read [reads well] and write a little.
[Knows most of the questions in the shorter catechism and Scripture history well but very counting and knowledge of general facts.]


No.60 - Elizabeth Pentland, 13 years old, coal-bearer:-

Wrought three years in coal-mines; came from Gilmerton, where the coals are on the edge as they are here: don't dislike the work, as I am now used to it; never tried any other; my ankles swell sometimes when I am overworked. Was at Gilmerton school; was taught the Ten Commands and the reading; not been for four years to any other. Forgot all my learning since away. Moses and God made the world: Christ is God; don't know whether he was crucified. I know there are Ten Commands but I cannot say what they are, or what they mean; for I cannot read just now. Has heard of Edinburgh; don't know where it is. To sin is not to do my bidding: thinks telling lies is sin.


No.61 - George Hunter, 15 years old, coal-hewer:-

I hew the coal. and sometimes carry; the carrying is the most sore: when work is over am very fatigued. Work with brother father's account. Mother died in child-birth with laddie who now works with me. Wrought below five years. Have not been to school for three years; was reading then in the Testament. Matthew is the first book in the Testament. God made the world. Do not know how Commandments there are nor who brought them to the Israelites.
Always been in Loanhead; believes it is in Scotland. Queen Victoria lives in London. London is in Scotland. Five times six makes 25; can't say how much four times eight make.



Note - See also the evidence for Dryden Colliery as the conditions and method of working were very similar at these neighbouring coalworks - both were 'bearing pits' situated on the edge coals rather than the flatter thicker seams to the east.


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.

© 2012   A Russell