Pit Lasses Research - Scotland - Area 1

Statements given by women and girl miners to the Children's Employment Commission in Spring 1841, and my research into the circumstances of their families. The government investigator collecting the evidence was Robert Franks.

I identified the female witnesses who were working as miners when they gave evidence to the Commission from transcriptions of the 1841 census, matching name, age, locality and family detail. In some cases the witness was not on the census or it was not possible to be sure which person was the right one. In a few cases detail did not match sufficiently well to confirm that the correct individual had been found. Occasionally the given name differed between the Commission Report and the census. It seems likely that an informal name was given to the Commissioner.

No.1 Janet Cummings, aged 11, Dalkeith

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 wail-face to the pit bottom and the small pieces called chows in a creel; the weight is usually a hundredweight; does not know how many pounds there are in a hundredweight but it is some work to carry; it takes three journeys to fill a tub of 4cwt. The distance varies as the work is not always on the same wall; sometimes 150 fathoms 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 liking for the work; father make 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 Bennett'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 Catchecism.

Janet may be the daughter of James and Marion Cumming. Her siblings were Isabella, Peter, Violet, Elizabeth and Alexander. She appears to be working as a house servant in 1851 and was unmarried.

No.2 Agnes Reid aged 14, Dalkeith

I have wrought below two months; I go down at 6 o'clock, the time the women gang and leave 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 1 cwt.; it is very sore work and it makes us often cry; few lassies like it. I would much prefer to work out or be in service but suppose father needs me. Was at Mr M'Donald's school at Lugton, just near til 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. Ligton 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 Chamber's Journal.

Agnes was the daughter of Alexander Reid and Agnes Cumming. Her siblings were Irving, Isabella, Margaret, Jean, George, Alexander and John. In 1851 she was living with her parents, not working and unmarried.

No 11 Phyllis Flockhart, aged 12, Newton

I work with the redsmen (road clearers) 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 do a little reading and 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 now being 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 too 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.

Comment by Franks

Knows Scripture well and many short hymns

In 1841 Phyllis was living with her aunt Jane McGill.

No.12. - Alison Adam, aged 12, Newton

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.

Comment by Franks

Knows scripture history very well, reads and writes fairly; seemed to have a great dislike to the work; very intelligent.

Alison was the daughter of Madeline Adam. Her siblings were Thomas and Dorothy.

No.13 - Jesse Wright, aged 11, Newton

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 read, 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.

Jeannet (Jesse) was the daughter of James and Margaret Wright. Her siblings were William, Margaret, Catherine, Beatrix and Thomas. Living with the family in 1841 was Jeannet Wright, aged 73.

No.14 - Isabella Read, aged 12, Newton

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.

Comment by Franks

Repeats many Scripture verses and psalms; very little knowledge of their meaning.

The 1841 census indicates that Isabella's mother was a widow and her siblings were Jane, John, Agnes, Elizabeth, Margaret ad David.

No.15 - Emma Bennet aged 12, Newton

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.

Her name was probably Euphemia, the daughter of George Bennett and Beatrix Duncan. Her siblings were Alexander, Elizabeth, George, Helen, John, David and James.

No.19 - Isabella Read, aged 11, Newton

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 4.25cwt. 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.

Comment by Franks

Reads very badly.

I can only find one girl in this area of the right age and she is No 14. It is possible that an incorrect name has been recorded for Witness 19.

No.20 - Agnes Phinn, aged 17, Newton

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 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.

Her sister was Ann.

No.23 - Agnes Moffatt, aged 17, Newton

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 inured 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.

Comment by Franks

Reads well.

Agnes was the daughter of William and Elizabeth Moffat. Her siblings were Martha, Catherine and William.

No.25 - Margaret Jaques, aged 17, Newton

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.

Comment by Franks

Has an excellent knowledge of Scripture history, and is fairly acquainted with geography; a very good knowledge of multiplication.

Her parents were Adam and Helen Jack. Her siblings were James and David.

No.26 - Helen Reid, aged 16, Newton

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 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.

Comment by Franks

Very intelligent girl; reads well and writes; very well acquainted with Scripture history.

Her parents were John Reid and Elspeth Ross. Her siblings were Mary, John, Janet and Catherine.

No.40 - Janet Meek, aged 12, Newbattle

I work on father;s account at putting the coal below ground, he being off work with bad, or short, breath. I get 13d. per day, and sister, who is 13 past, and been three years below, earns l5d. but we find our own oil and wicks. Brother 18 years old and we support the family. We have no holidays but what the men make when they do not work. I can read a little; never was at the writing. I was in the Testament; don't recollect much about it. Believes Jesus is God. Can't say who was his father. Knows some of the questions in the 'Child's Catechism' the first is, 'Who made you?' Thinks God did. Do not dislike the work. Can't say whether should prefer other; never tried.

This witness appears to be Jessie, the daughter of Andrew and Isobel Meek. Her siblings included Marion, William, David and Elizabeth. In 1851 Jessie was an unmarried servant living with the Plummer family. In 1861 she was a general servant, living at home and helping to support her widowed mother and two young nieces.

No.41 - Jane Brown, aged 13, Newbattle

Has been wrought 12 months in the East Bryants. My employment is pushing the carts on the iron rails; the weight of coal in the cart is 7 to 8 cwt.; a hundred-weight is 100lb; it can't he more. I work 12 hours and rest a bit when engine stops. I change myself sometimes; when I go to the night-school, not otherwise. I go three times a-week; am trying the writing; can't shape many letters at present. Father is dead; mother and four of us work below. The two young ones, six years and four years of age, are under care of neighbour, who receives 1s. per week. We have one room which we all sleep at the East Houses. Comment by Franks Very destitute of every kind of information.

Janet was the daughter of Elspeth Brown. Her siblings included Robert, Andrew, George and Margaret.

No.46 - Margaret Galloway, aged 13, Newbattle

I have wrought below three years with brother, sister and brother. My sister is about nine years of age and has not been long down; my brother is 16 and been below five years all read the printed books a little. Employed at putting and sometimes carries the coal; does so in the engine mine work fatigues me much and often crushes me. The roads are very wet; at parts the passing the ankles, and frequently higher, so that our lower clothes are quite wet. I get 7s. 6d. on pay-days, which are once a fortnight. The women dry their pit clothes but never wash them.

Comment by Franks

Reads very well, and has a good knowledge of Scripture history. sew but not shape a dress; never taught to knit.

Margaret appears to be the daughter of Margaret Galloway. Her siblings on the 1841 census were recorded as James, Euphemia and Beatrix.

No.49 - Margaret Drysdale, aged 15 years, Newbattle

Began working below three months ago. I don't like the work but mother is dead and father brought me down; I had no choice. The lasses will tell you they all like the work fine as they think you are going to take them out of the pits. My employment is to draw the carts. I have harness, or draw ropes, on like the horses, and pull the carts. Large carts hold 7.5 cwt., the smaller 5.5 cwt. The roads are wet and I have to draw the work about 100 fathoms. Mother died six years ago and have not been to school since; I was learning to read and know some little of the Bible and Testament history and a few of the questions. I go to kirk, as have father and the children to look and attend on Sabbath.

Comment by Franks

Very delicate, intelligent girl, reads very well, said she sometimes got a little instruction at Noble's night-school in East Houses.

Margaret appears to have been lodging with elderly pauper Margaret Mackintosh and a ten year old sister Jean on census night 1841.

No.50 - Ann Smith, aged 17, Newbattle

Wrought below six years. Draws in harness; it is guid sair work, but the lassies do no mind it muckle. Work 12 hours a-day. Have often got hurt; got my ankle cut open a short time since and was idle six weeks. Marquis paid Dr. Symington. Father died a few years since of cramp in the limbs from sitting in wet work; he was 38 years of age. Many married women work below; when they have bairns they do not stop so long. I can read but have not been to school since down.

Ann was the daughter of Alison Smith. Her siblings were Mary and Elizabeth.

No.54 - Mary Macqueen, aged 12, Lasswade

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.

Her parents were John McQueen and Euphemia Jackson. Her siblings were Andrew, Euphemia, John and Isabella.

No.55 - Ellison (Alison) Jack, aged 11, Lasswade

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.

Comment by Franks

A brief description of this child's place of work will better illustrate her evidence. She has to 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 takes 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 man 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 l.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 tugs 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.

Alison's parents were Andrew and Alison Jack. Her siblings were Christian and John. In 1851 she was the householder and a rag-picker in a paper mill. She and her sister were supporting their brother. She may have married John Adamson.

No.58 - Agnes Fuller, aged 17, Lasswade

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.

Her parents were Joseph and Agnes Fowler. Her siblings were Henry, Rachel, Elizabeth and Jean. In the 1851 census she was living with her parents and married to Nelson Flyn. By 1861 she was a widow with one son, Nelson, working in a paper mill and supporting her widowed mother. The family had taken in two female lodgers. By 1871 Agnes and her mother were still widows and being supported by her son Nelson and a nephew. They also had a lodger. I have no information after the 1871 census.

No.59 - Mary Smith, aged 17 years, Lasswade

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.

Comment by Franks

Knows most of the questions in the shorter catechism and Scripture history well but very little counting and knowledge of general facts.

Mary may have been living with the Harper family whe the 1841 census was taken. No family information is available about her.

No.60 - Elizabeth Pentland, aged 13, Lasswade

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.

Her parents were David and Isabella Pentland.

No.63 - Jane Young, aged 11, Lasswade

I have wrought 15 months below in the Ladder Pit on the same work with Jane Kerr and her sister. We don't go so early as Kerrs and mother sends us warm porridge for breakfast. We live a little way, not half a mile. Sister and I fill six and eight tubs daily; they take us 18 journeys. We go down six ladders to pit bottom and then descend three more on the plane of coal before we get to the wall face; it is a good bit; I cannot say how many fathom. I get the strap sometimes. Mother was in the pits till last two years. We do no need her now and she bides at home; she has seven children in life; none of us read. Sometimes I go to kirk to see the people and the preacher; I canna understand all he says. I am very sore fatigued when home and have little time to look about me.

Jane was the daughter of David and Dorothy Young. Her siblings were Janet, Andrew, Mary, Nelly, Peter and Thomas.

No.64. - Jane Kerr, aged 10, Lasswade

I get up at three in the morning, and gang to the work at four, return at four and five at night. It takes us muckle time to come the road and put on our clothes. I work every day for when father does not work, the master pays me 6d. a-day for bearing wood for him. I never get porridge before my return home but I bring a bit of oatcake and get water when thirsty. Sister and I can fill one tub of 4.25 cwt. in two journeys. Sister is 14 years of age. My sister and brothers do not read but I did once go to school to learn reading when at Sir John's work; have forgotten all the letters. Ladder Pit in which I work is gai drippie and the air is a kind of bad, as the do na burn sa bright as in guid air. My father straps me when I do not do his bidding. The work is very sair and fatiguing. I would like to go to school, but canna wone [go] owing to sair fatigue. Mother was a coal-bearer but stays at home now, as there are seven bairns. We have one room to our house and two beds; three laddies sleep with I and sister and the two wee ones with mother and father. I do not know what father takes away on pay-day: he never works on Monday; sometimes not on Tuesday.

Comment by Franks

No scriptural knowledge; very acute beautiful child; did not appear above 10 years of age.

No.65 - Agnes Kerr, aged 15, Lasswade

Was nine years old when commenced carrying coals; carry father's coal; make 18 to 20 journeys a-day; a journey to and fro is about 200 to 250 fathom: have to ascend and descend many ladders; can carry 1.5 cwt. I do not know how many feet there are in a fathom but I think two or three yards: know the distance from habit; it is sore crushing work; many lassies cry as they bring up the burthens. Accidents frequently happen from the tugs breaking and the loads falling on those behind and the lasses are much fashed with swelled ankles. I canna say that I like the work well; for I am obliged to do it: it is horse work. Was at school five years since. I was in the Bible [can read well]; forgotten all about it. Jesus Christ. led the Jews out of Egypt: believes Jesus was God; does hot recollect what death he died, or the names of any books in the Bible or Testament. Often goes to buy meal; gets a peck; can't say whether it weighs 7lb. or 14lb.; can't sew or knit. I would go to kirk if I had clothes.

No.66 - Jane Kerr, aged 12, Lasswade

I work with my cousin Agnes on my father's account and have done so three years. Have just come from Sir John Hope's work. I don't dislike now; it is very sair. Was at New Craighall School a little ago. Was in the Testament. Don't know who was the Son of God. I canna gang to school as there is none near. We have no clothes for kirk.