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Coal Mining in Pencaitland

Title: Coal Mining in Pencaitland
Reviewed by Admin on Jul 3

Coal mining had provided a new wealth to many people although not necessarily to those that had to extract the black gold.  Coal mining in and around Pencaitland had been carried out for a long time, even before the industrial revolution of the 1800’s.

A man named “Samuel Johnstoun, of Elphingston between the years 1622-25, solicits a license to export coal from a coal heugh at Elphingston, in order to obtain means of recovering his coal-works from water, pointing out that if this is denied him it will affect adversely the coal industry of all the pits around, including Pencateland” [Register of Privy Council, Volume XIII page 20]

In the same period, a coal proprietor called Robert Richardson, complains to the Lords of the Secret Council against the decree of the Council condemning coal owners, and fixing the price at which coal is to be sold, asking for a Commission to visit the collieries, inquire into the whole matter and report to the Council.  In the year 1621, George Seton, Earl of Winton and his Countess join a combination for raising the price of coal from 3/- to 4/- a load.  This combination was condemned by the council of James VI and forced them to sell at the old price of 3/- (three shillings) a load.

The following extracts are from those who gave evidence to the report by Robert F Franks to the Children’s Employment Commission on the East of Scotland District at Pencaitland Colliery which was published in 1842. Information courtesy of Scottish Mining Villages (C) 2006.

Parish of Pencaitland. – (A. G. Cuthbertson, Esq., Pencaitland House.)

No.142. Mr. Robert Henderson, manager of Pencaitland Colliery:

We employ children and young people in considerable numbers at times in this colliery, and I regret to say many are taken down much too early; consequently their schooling is neglected and the positions in which they are obliged to work causes them to loose their forms.

There exists no necessity for taking very young persons below; for lads, if kept up till 14, would not be of the stunted growth they are, and be infinitely more useful.

It would be, morally, a great blessing to remove women from the mines, but it would increase the price of coal.

During the summer months we limit the output of coal and many go into the fields to labour.

We have much affliction of the breath in these parts and many go off early in consequence, or linger above useless.

No.143. Mr. Adam Kent, teacher, New Pencaitland:

I am teacher of the New Pencaitland school. The school-house and my residence were built by Lady Ruthven, and the former endowed with a yearly payment of 40s., free house and coals. Mr. Cuthbertson, the colliery proprietor, pays for the schooling of five boys 1s.. 3d. per week. My salary is made up by small fees received from parents of the children.

Teachers are not held in much estimation here, although colliers much desire that their children should be educated; yet the irregularity of the night and day shifts prevents children coming to school. Only 40 colliers’ children, out of 150 now at an age for instruction, attend.

Taking children down very young is very injurious to them; they soon lose their good natural forms and become physically weaker. There is an immense difference between the strength of few ploughmans’ boys I teach and those of the colliers’; but I have noticed that the collier children are much more acute, and have a greater aptness for knowledge.

I think the early age parents are taken off; by disease common in those parts called the black spital, in a great measure forces children to be employed so young.

No.144. Robert Robinson, 14 years old, draws coal:

Began to work below ground at Pencaitland four years gone, and been there ever since; works about 12 hours; is paid 1 1/2d. per tub of four cwt. which have to bring from wall-face to the main road, and draw afterwards to the pit bottom; it is very hard work, as the roofs are low, and the roads bad.

Would not have gone so early to work, but father died of the black spittal; he was off work months before death, and spit his lungs up, all as black as ink; he was not 50 years old.

After father’s death mother sent younger brother and two sisters below.

My two sisters were sair horrible crashed by stones falling from the roof; their bowels were forced out and legs broken and both died soon after. It is two years since.

Have three brothers and three sisters remaining; two work below besides myself.

Never was more than four or five months at school. I cannot read much; my mother is paying younger brother at present, therefore cannot afford me schooling, though I should like to gang.

[A very steady, intelligent boy; mother very poor but apparently takes every possible care of the children; she has no allowance from parish.]

No.145. Andrew Gray, 11 years old, draws coal:

Was nine years old when first taken down to wheel the tubs; the drawing is difficult where there is much slush, and there is plenty of that in the pit. I go to work at three in the morning; get my porridge at nine, and come up at two and three, sometimes one, in the day.

Been laid aside with crushes from stone falling from roof more than a month.

Have just commenced the reading at Mr. Keat’s school at New Pencaitland.

No.146. John Duncan, age 11 years, coal-bearer:

Began to work at drawing coal two years since. Has only been a coal-carrier three weeks; can’t do much at it yet: it takes me 30 journeys; bring up 8cwt. or half a ton.

The shaft is 60 feet deep, and the panwood which I bring up 300 feet from the bottom.

Father put me to this work, as the other pits were full, but I do not like it; it is so very sore. Does not read or write.

No.147. Andrew Grey, aged 57 years, coal-hewer:

Colliers in this part of the country are subject to many oppressions: first the black spittle, which attacks the men as soon as they get the length of 30 years; next rheumatic pains, from working in low seams, where water oozes out, or rises and severe ruptures occasioned by lifting coal. Many are ruptured on both sides: I am, and suffer severely, and a vast of men here are also.

I have had 12 children, nine alive and my wife wrought below till within last eight years when she got crushed by a stone, and no been able to work since.

Women working below cause men to marry early, as we have need of their labour. I was 17 when I married, and my wife was about same age.

The rheumatism has so contracted my joints that I have scarcely left my bed for 14 months.

No.148. David Wood, 15 years old, coal-hewer:

Began to work at nine years of age. Did work on night-shift: went below at two afternoon, returned six following morning. Pit has been very wet for some time, which had caused me to have cold sweats and fever. Have been confined five weeks; cannot move at present. When I can use my hands can write some, and read very well.

No.149. Jane Wood, wife of James Wood, formerly a coal-drawer and bearer:

Worked below more than 30 years; has not done so for six or seven years, as the family has not needed me.

Women in this part of the country dislike the work below ground and some lassies are now trying to get to service.

Females are more neglected in their education than males: the men foolishly think they have no need of so much knowledge, and they follow the old practice of taking girls down earlier than boys.

I have two daughters below, who really hate the employment, and often prayed to leave, but we canna do well without them just now, for I have one son aside with rheumatic cold caught below.

The severe work causes women much trouble; they frequently have premature births. Jenny M’Donald, a neighbour, was laid idle six months, and William King’s wife lately died from miscarriage, and a vast of women suffer from similar causes.

No.150. John Duncan, aged 59, was a coal-hewer:

My father was a collier, and I left this part many years since, and joined the Scotch Greys. Was in full service many years. I left the army to come to coal-work, which I am sorry for, as the mining has caused my breath to be affected, and I am, like many more colliers obliged to hang upon my children for existence.

The want of proper ventilation in the pits is the chief cause, and no part requires more looking to thanEast Lothian; the men die off like rotten sheep.

No. 151. John Robinson, 10 years old, draws coal:

Been below two years. Not been to school since the last harvest. I don’t like the work below, and have tried twice to run away, but they brought me to it again. Cannot read.

[Very good tempered, and appeared quite frightened at the idea of work below ground.]

No.152. John Duncan, 57 years old, coal-hewer:

I have wrought more than 47 years. Bad breath has nearly disabled me; it is the colliers bane; it arises from scant of air in the pits.

It must be admitted that children are sadly overwrought; have been sorry always when two of my own wrought hard, still I had need of their help, although not nine years of age.

I have a good knowledge of colliers, and I feel confident that the average life of men [in this] part of the country will not exceed 40. The colliers are subject to the black-spittle, rheumatism, ruptures and piles, very much more than other tradesmen and they rarely pass 28 without getting a first attack; many earlier.

No.153. George Hogg, 32 years of age, coal-hewer:

Unable to labour much now, as am fashed with bad breath: the air below is very bad; until lately no ventilation existed.

My wife did work below till she met with a serious accident last year. The cage which brings the coals up the shaft suddenly descended, and crushed her almost to death. She was then four months gone in the family-way; is now quite disabled from work and no hopes given of her ever being able to return.

No.154. Agnes Grey, 14 years old, draws coals:

I work with three sisters below for support of parents: my father’s affliction is bad breath.

The work is very sore from bending, as the seams are so low. Not very strong; had typhus not long since. Sister is just laid by; has been so six weeks, from a severe fall on the iron rail, which cut her knee open. Have one sister deaf and dumb, learning the straw trade inEdinburgh. Mother, who has been off work two years, is going to try again next week.


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