Pit Lasses Research - Scotland - Area 3

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.154 - Agnes Grey, aged 14, Pencaitland

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 in Edinburgh. Mother, who has been off work two years, is going to try again next week.

No.155 - Mary Duncan, aged 16, Gladsmuir

Began to carry coals when 12 years old. Went to school prior, and can read and write. Do not like the work, nor do the other women, many of whom have wrought from eight years of age and know no other. My employment is carrying coals from wall-face to the daylight up the stair-pit. I make 40 to 50 journeys a-day and can carry 2cwt. as my burthen. Some females carry 2.5 to 3cwt. but it is overstraining. Father is off work at present, being a little touched in the breath. Mother is now staying at home helping him. Have two brothers and two sisters working with me below on father's account. Has another brother, Francis, who is on his own account. His wife, Jane Law, had a child two weeks since, and has just returned to her work.

Comment by Franks

A well-informed, intelligent girl.

Mary was the daughter of William and Katharine Duncan. Her siblings were Ann, Clementina, Robert, George and Andrew.

No.164 - Catherine Meiklejohn, aged 12, Tranent

I start to work at five in the morning and lay by at six at night. Porridge is sent down eight or nine and have bread after. I bring coal from the wall-face to pit bottom, large pieces on my back, small in a creel. The pit is dry where I work and the distance of my journey about 200 fathoms. It takes three burthens to fill one tub of 5.25cwt. My back is very sore at times but I never lie idle. Would like not to work so long, only father bids me. Mother is a coal-bearer but is at home with a young one and three other children were too young to work.

Comment by Franks

A most intelligent, healthy girl. Can scarcely read. Few men could do one-third labour this lassie is compelled to perform.

Catherine was the daughter of John and Janet Meiklejohn. Her siblings were Isabella, John, Adam and Margaret. She may have married John Martin.

No.165 - Catherine Landels, aged 12, Tranent

Has wrought in the bowels of the earth five years. Works 12 hours and 14 hours daily. When at night work, goes down at midnight and comes up at three next afternoon. Am much overworked. Have no wages, as work with brother on father's account. Gets no regular meals; and change my clothes when no fatigued. Reads a little; just learning to make the strokes in the copy-book. Knows a few of the questions in the Shorter Catechism.

In the 1841 census Catherine's mother was a widow. Her siblings were Alison, Mary, Archibald, John and Ann. She may have married William Brown.

No.168 - Mary Watson, aged 13, Tranent

Works 12 to 14 hours daily. Sister, who is 16 years old and I, bear brother's coal. We all work on father's account and have done 50 18 months, as father is off work with bad breath. I and sister fill six tubs daily of 5.25cwt. each. Mother has had eight children: six in life; four below, two at home. I never was at school, as father canna work none and is very poor. We all live in one room in Jock's Bounds.

No.188 - Margaret Harper, aged 13, Bathgate

I work in Hard-hill Mine with sister Agnes, who is 11 years of age; we work 10 to 12 hours a day; we get porridge before we gang, or it is sent down by mother. We hurry the carts on the railroads by pushing behind; I frequently draw with ropes and chains as the horses do; it is dirty slavish work and the water quite covers our ankles. I have never been much hurt; I knock my head against the roofs, as they are not so high as I am and they cause me to stoop, which makes my back ache. Father gets 1s. a-day for our work, 6d. each; he would not have sent us down but is sore bad in his breath.

Margaret appears to be the daughter of John and Christian Harper. Her siblings were Agnes, Janet, Christina and John.

No.193 - Ann Harris, aged 15, Bathgate

Works 10 to 12 hours daily; has done so about four months; never was at coal-work before and heartily hates it; could get no other profitable work or would not have gone down. 'It is no woman's work, nor is it good for anybody; am obliged to do the work, as father houks [hews] the coal below.'

Comment by Franks

Reads pretty well; very ill informed; the cottage was most filthy and the few seats and household necessaries were of the most wretched description. The houses are in a complete morass and it was with difficulty that I could jump from one to the other.

Ann's parents were Peter and Isobella Harris. Her siblings were Thomas, John, Mark and Isabella.

No.208 - Margaret Baxter, aged 50, Whitburn

I hew the coal, have done so since my husband failed in his breath; he has been off work 12 years. I have son, daughter and niece working with me below and we have sore work to get maintenance; have had nine children, seven are in life, the youngest is 10 and has wrought below two years and more. I go down early to hew the coal for my girls to draw; my son hews also; the work is not fit for women and men could prevent it were they to labour more regular; indeed, men about place don't wish wives to work in mines, but the master's seem to encourage it, at any rate, the master's never interfere to prevent it. With my children I can make 2s. 6d. a-day and heavy family requires me at home; I often have to work night as well as day; been obliged to work when in family way till last hour.

I have no leads for Margaret

No.210 - Mary Baxter, aged 10, Whitburn

Wrought below full two years; can read in the Testament; don't know the names of the writers; God wrote the book; goes down with mother at four in the morning; mother leaves them at mid-day to do work at home, as father is bedridden. I cannot sew any as I am left-handed; sister Helen can sew her pit clothes and make letter on the paper. I was born two years after father ceased to work in the mines; a good many colliers have the same affliction about here.

She is the daughter of No 208

No.212 - Margaret Chirce, aged 12, Torphichen

I shute the carts with sister, who is much older than me, in the Kipps Pit. I do not know my sister's age, am sure she is much older, as she is a big bit bigger than me; after shuting [pulling and drawing through the unrailed part of the seam] up the brae, I throw the coals over with a shovel into the hurley, which is pushed to pit bottom. I do not like the work so well as what I did before my father forced me down; my work was that of a herd-kye [cowherd] at Whiteside, where I was much better fed and clothed. Father has the dropsy from sitting in wet work and frequent attacks of bad breath; mother has a family dependant on our labour.

Comment by Franks

Reads very badly; very ignorant.

No.218 - Janet Borrowman, aged 17, Bo'ness, Linlithgowshire

I put the small coal on master's [Mr. Cadell's] account; am paid 2.5d. each course and run six courses a-day: the carts I run contain 5.5cwt. to .5 cwt. of coal. Father and mother are dead. Have three brothers and five sisters below; two elder brothers, two sisters and self live at Grange Pans. We have one room in which we all live and sleep. There has been much sickness of late years at the Grange; few have escaped the fever. A short time before the death of my parents we were all down. Father and all, with low fever for a long time; mother only escaped, who nursed us. Fever is always in the place. The village of Grange Pans has been much visited with scarlet fever and scarletina; the place is nearly level with the Forth and the houses are very old, ill ventilated and the foul water and filth lying about is sufficient to create a pestilence.

Comment by Franks

Reads very indifferently.

Janet's siblings were Robert, William, Margaret and Helen.

No.219 - Mary Sneddon, aged 15, Bo'ness, Linlithgowshire

I have only wrought at Bo'ness Pit three months. Should not have ganged but brother Robert was killed on the 21st January last. A piece of the roof fell upon his head and he died instantly: he was brought home, coffined and buried in Bo'ness kirk-yard. No one came to inquire about how he was killed; they never do in this place. Mother has had 13 children, five only are alive; she does not work below just now, as no need; four, including father, work below. Reads in the Bible; knows very little of its contents.

Mary's parents were Robert and Euphemia Snaddon. Her siblings included Ann, Jemima, Richard and Elizabeth.

No.226 - Catherine Thomson, aged 11, Polmont

Wrought below one year; works with sister, who is 13 years of age starts work at six in morning and return six at night. We both work on father's account and draw his coal; the hutchies hold 8cwt., which we have first to fill before we draw; the distance we draw is said to be full 1000 yards. I suffer much from pains in my knee, which was crushed some time ago by a hutchie [cart] below; when injured, was off idle many weeks - [the knee appeared much inflamed, and slightly contracted] - I can scarcely stand after I have been running and pushing all day. Dr. Graham, of Polmont, attended me and opened the knee; much standing always causes me to suffer great pain. When work is full we draw six and seven hutchies daily. Am rather deaf, as had my ear injured five years ago, by a caning across the head when school and father does not choose to send us in consequence.

Comment by Franks

Has very little knowledge of reading; is very delicate; scarcely any scriptural information.

Catherine was the daughter of John and Marion Thompson. Her siblings were Grizel, Hannah and John.

No.230 - Mary Sneddon, aged39, Polmont

Works for support of family, with three sons, ages 8, 10, and 12, as husband was killed in a coal mine three years gone Two eldest boys hew coal; youngest opens an air-door and I draw the five hutchies my boys hew; they canna do more in three days, as they get no flesh to eat to make them stout. I draw soft coal on master's account - 10cwt. is a load; 8.5cwt. of splint-coal the load for great coal. The boys and my little daughter are learning to read at night-school; my eldest boy is sore in the back from an injury some years since by fire but he is obliged to work.

Comment by Franks

None read; very poor neglected children; little straw mattress; no bed; scarcely a chair to sit down upon.

Probably recorded on the 1841 census with one son, James 10. She can be traced on censuses until 1871, a widow throughout.

No.232 - Mary Hunter, aged 10, Polmont

I assist sister Ellison to draw the hutchies; she is 14 years old; we gang at six in morning, and come at five and six at night with brother John, who hews the coal with father; brother is 12 years old and been five years and a half below. We drag the coal in bagies, which have no wheels, to main-road, and fill the hutchies; three bagies fill one hutchie; can't say how many bagies would fill three hutchies; it would require guid lot. We go to Mr. Robert Anderson's school at night, when done early, to get the length of the reading; we no go to kirk, as have no claes [clothes.]

Mary was the daughter of Archbald and Mary Hunter. Her siblings were Alison, John, Margaret, William, Archibald and Christian. Mary was not living with her parents in 1851.

No.233 - Margaret Hipps, aged 17, Polmont

On short shifts I work from eight in the morning till six at night; on long ones until 10 at night; occasionally we work all night. When at night-work, from six at night till eight and ten in the morning. Only bread is taken below and the only rests we have are those we have to wait upon the men for while picking the coal. My employment, after reaching the wall-face, is to fill a bagie, or slype, with 2.5 to 3cwt. coal. I then hook it on to my chain and drag it through the seam, which is 26 to 28 inches high, till I get to the main-road, a good distance, probably 200 to 400 yards. The pavement I drag over is wet and I am obliged at all times to crawl on hands and feet with my bagie hung to the chain and ropes. I turn the contents of the bagies into the carts till they are filled; and then run them upon the ironrails to the shaft a distance of 400 to 500 yards. It is sad sweating and sore fatiguing work and frequently maims the women. My left hand is short of a finger, which laid me idle four months.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes. Very ill-informed. Is a fine personable woman, above the middle Stature and rather stout. It is almost incredible to believe that human beings can submit to such employment, crawling on hands and knees, harnessed like horses, over soft slushy floors more difficult than dragging the same weights through our lowest common-sewers and more difficult in consequence of the inclination, which is frequently one in three to one in six.

Margaret was probably the daughter of Thomas and Joan Heeps. Her siblings were Robert, Thomas, James, Simon, Elizabeth, Mary, John, William and Alexander.

No.236 - Helen Thompson, aged 14, Polmont

Began to work below ground two years gone. Brother George is only 12 years old and has been five years in the mines: he and I push father's work. It is sair work and filthy for lassies. I don't like it, but forced to it. I go down at seven morning and take father and brother's breakfast as they leave early.

Comment by Franks

Reads very badly.

No.237 - Agnes Marshall, aged 10, Polmont

Draws with ropes and chains the bagies through the 27-inch seams; and sister, who is eight years and a few months old, assists: she pulls and shovels the small coal and lifts the big pieces at top of the hutchies. Brother, who is seven the 24th of next May, assists us to push. We do not like the pit, nor the work, it is so sore crushing; but father says we shall like it when we are used to it, I was in the big-spell when at school: not been since below, which is six months. Mother has not worked the last two months, as she nurses the baby: she had it soon after she left the pit.

No.239 - Ann Waugh, aged 16, Falkirk

Wrought below eight years. Works on the long days 15 and 16 hours: two in the morning till five and six at night. On the lay days [short days] only eight hours as the gin only works three days a-week. I draw in harness and sister hangs on and pushes behind. The work is gai sair and we often get knocked down as the cart descends the brae. The cart holds 5cwt. of coal. I can only read as father took me down o'er early.

Comment by Franks

Reads very little.

Ann was the daughter of No 240, James Waugh and his wife Janet. Her 11 siblings included Margaret, Robert, James, Jean and Alexander. In 1851 she was unmarried and working at the pit head filling coal waggons.

No.242 - Janet Murdoch, aged 12, Falkirk

Have wrought in the mines four months; when at coal-work descended at five in the morning, came up at five, six, and seven at night but alternate mornings went down at two and returned at ten in the morning. My present employment is to bucket the water and lift [carry] to level face. The work is constant and most wearying, as the place is low I lift in, not being four feet high. My earnings are 10d. a-day and it costs me 7d. to l0d. weekly for my oil and cotton. Father and mother are dead; six children were left, the youngest is seven years of age; we all live together, as four brothers work in the foundry. My father was the colliery teacher for many years.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes remarkably well and very well-informed girl; rather delicate.

No.260 - Rebecca Simpson, aged 11, Falkirk

Am wrought with sister Agnes, who is 12 past [12 years and 6 months old]; we go together at six in the morning and return at six at night. Sister draws the carts with rope and chains and I push behind; when it is difficult to draw, brother George, who is 14 years old, helps us up the brae; the carts hold 7cwt. and we run them about 200 yards; we run 14 rakes every day we work. We are wrought 9 and 10 days in the 12. Mother is dead; she had 12 children and are alive. Married sister keeps house.

Comment by Franks

Reads the Bible very well and repeats the replies to the questions in the Catechism; does not well understand their meaning.

Probably the sister of No 262

No.262 - Jane Simpson, aged 22, Falkirk

I sometimes work 12 hours at pumping in the mine and after a short returned to push the coal for father; have done so very often and even worked the three courses, taking rests only of half an hour or so between each; by so doing we get more time to look about us when out of the mine. I like daylight best but have never done other work.

Comment by Franks

Reads well.

Her father was John Simpson. Her siblings were Alexander, Margaret, Rebecca and Janet. She may have gone into service.

No.263 - Ann Hamilton, aged 17, Falkirk

Has wrought below three years; was at farm service and worked in fields before but father took me down at Bo'ness and have worked below ever since; been at Bantaskine nine months; is wrought with brother on uncle's work and has two sisters who push and fill father's coal. I work from seven in the morning till seven at night; I fill and draw 14 to 16 hutches of coal, each hutchie hold 5.5 to 7cwt. of coal; the severest part of the labour is drawing the bagies from the wall-face to main-road; there is no horse-road on our side of the pit consequently have to draw near threequarters of a mile. Lads are no fit to stand the work like women. I have repeatedly wrought the 24 hours and after two hours rest and my peas [soup] have returned to the pit and worked another 12 hours. It is quite our own will but make more money by it.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes very well and well informed. The Hamiltons were living at Woodfoot, near one mile and a quarter away from Bantaskine in a lodging-house of small size; in two small apartments were placed three beds; three sons slept with uncle in kitchen; three daughters, 17, 16, and 14, in a small bed adjoining; father and mother and three children in a moderate-sized bed in next room; and the other apartments were equally crowded; the front of the house was one huge mass of dung and filth. I was told by a neighbour that much fever had existed in the place, in fact it hardly ever was free from some malady or other.

Ann's parents were Alexander and Margaret Hamilton. Her siblings were Charles, Margaret, Elizabeth, Alexander, William, Janet, Agnes, and Robert.

No.283 - Margaret Brown, aged 13, St. Ninians,

Wrought at Plean Colliery four months; draws the hutchies in ropes and chains [harness] works from six in the morning till three and four at night. The small hutchies contain 2.5cwt., the large 5cwt. The length of road I draw on is 200 yards at present, chiefly rails. The seam is 22 inches and the second cut through to near five feet, therefore have not to stoop much in the roads; certainly a little crawling in the narrow seam. I get my porridge before going down and dinner on return home with father.

Comment by Franks

Reads very well and writes; very intelligent, religious girl.

Margaret's parents were Alexander and Margaret Brown. Her siblings were Robert, Elizabeth and Mary.

No. 286 - Jane Allen, aged 13, St Ninian's

Wrought as putter two years below.

Comment by Franks

Reads well and writes.

Her mother was a pauper widow, Christina Allan. Jane worked with her sister Rachel and brother John as a miner.

No.287 - Elizabeth Stevenson, aged 15, St Ninian's

Wrought below four years; works 12 and 13 hours. Got once injury on the head by a fall of coal; laid by only two weeks. Works on father's account. Can only read. Has a knowledge of some of the questions in short Catechism and repeats by rote a few verses of Scripture taught at the Sabbath-school.

There are several girls on the 1841 census who could be this witness.

No.293 - Jane Fyfe, aged 14, Alloa

I have been six years below, and work from six in the morning till five and Six at night; do so every day with brother and sisters, as mother has need of our work and father cannot work every day, being badly ruptured. I got injured a short time since, as the cart came with such vengeance down the brae that it crushed my foot and broke my toes, so was laid idle some weeks; they brought me up in a tub and carried me home. I could read in the Testament; am trying again at the night-school; so is sister Mary, Who is 10 years old and been down three years; James is 17 and been nine years below. Mother has 11 children, and she is obliged to work above the pit at the corving [weighing] when father stops at home.

Comment by Franks

All read; eldest lad can write; does so very badly.

Her parents were Thomas Fife and Ann Snodan. Her siblings include James, Thomas, Hunter, John, Mary, Frances and Helen.

No.294 - Jane Snaddon, aged 17, Alloa

Began to work at 11 years of age and does so from five in the morning till five and six night; wheeling the hurlies [carts] is dirty slaving work and it has frequently overset me; was off work seven months from drinking some water below when the work had sweated me; a violent bowel complaint followed and nearly caused my death; would not work at the coals but am the last out of 12 at home and father and mother are very old and the kirk session will give them no assistance; nor have they had any since the old Earl's death till within a few months; the New Colliery Company have allowed them 2s. 6d. a-week.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes very well informed; extremely delicate.

Her parents were Joseph and Jean. The census has no information about siblings.

No.295 - Jane Patterson, aged 13, Alloa

Wrought four years in Alloa Coal-mines; employed to wheel the tubs of coal from men's rooms to pit bottom; distance is 150 fathoms; 150 fathoms is 150 times 6 feet; can't say its amount in feet; knows that 150 fathoms is 300 yards; I can read - [cannot write] - and do stockings [knit]; the coalwork is much too wearying one; I am no very strong and obliged to get brothers to help me; have three of them below; two are younger than myself; never was hurt so as to be idle; can work 11 out of 12 days and my earnings are 9d. a-day but have to find own oil and cotton, which costs 10d. aweek, as the hours are from four in the morning, till six and seven at night - so canna gang to nightschool; lives in New Sanchie, near the works.

Comment by Franks

Reads very well; very delicate.

No.296 - Mary Izett, aged 16, Alloa

I have been below three years; do not work the long hours, as the work is very sore and obliged to have sister to assist, as the dip and rise is very great - oversman says 1 in 3; the pit is very dry where we work; the roads are very long, near 400 yards; my sister is 17 years of age and went down four years since; we go at six in the morning and return at four and five in the evening; meals are sent down to us.

Comment by Franks

Both girls read and write very well and knit stockings, which is the common employment here.

Mary's siblings appear to be Elizabeth, Helen and Betty. In 1851 Mary was the householder, unmarried and working as a power loom weaver. She had a daughter, Margaret Paterson, who was born earlier in 1851.

No.297 - Margaret Archibald, aged 9, Alloa

Began work two months since; goes down with father at five in the morning and corms up at five at night; gets porridge and pieces sent down; the work is o'er sore for me, as I have a boiling foot [very sore foot, which discharges much matter]; was off work eight days out all of last fortnight - could not gang; my employment is to wheel the tubs [carts], which hold 8cwt. of coal; brother John has been three years below and is 12 years of age; assists to wheel, as the distance is great from dyke to the pit-bottom and the dip and rise 1 in 6.

Comment by Franks

Reads badly. The mother states that she was compelled, from circumstances, to send this child; although she was bound to acknowledge that the work had quite broken the child's spirits, as well as spoiled the form of her feet.

Margaret was the daughter of James Archibald and Agnes Mitchell. Her siblings were John, Janet, William and Christine.