Pit Lasses Research - Scotland - Area 4

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.300 Janet Mitchell, aged 14, Clackmannan

Wheels coal below ground - has done for three years; it is good sair work; have two sisters and one brother below; sister Christy is 20 years of age; has been eight years in the mines; she cannot read; I could read but have lost it all - [knows the letters, cannot spell] -I never did anything at the sewing, or the stockings [knitting]; there are six days in the week and a Sabbath; cannot gang to kirk, as have hardly any clothes; father, I, two sisters and brother, can earn '4. to '5 in the 10 days, if we work; mother drinks when father's away and he does so when he comes up.

Comment by Franks

The girls were 20 and 22 years of age, strong tall women; they had been some hours out of the mine when I saw them and had not washed or changed their pit-clothes; extremely ignorant and the cottage was in a filthy condition; two beds, two chairs and short stools, with scanty covering to bed, in which young and old slept together.

Janet's parents appear to be James and Christian Mitchell. Her siblings are Christian, John, Betsey, Charles, Helen, Margaret and Davidina.

No.304 - Janet Brown, aged 12, Clackmannan

Worked below four years; works 10 and 12 hours; wheels 4cwt. of coal in hutchies; pit-roads are very wet and as I have an o'erstiff ankle canna work without great pain; sister Margaret, who is 10 years old, has wrought two years and her feet are so sair that she can na wear shoes and the rails cut her feet so as to make her lie idle often; eldest sister, 17, with deformed ankles, cannot wear shoes.

Comment by Franks

Cannot read.

Janet is the daughter of Thomas Brown and Margaret Ewan. Her siblings are Christian, Betsey, Margaret, Thomas, Marion, Ann, Elspeth and Helen.

No.309 - Mary Patterson Blackwood, aged 17 Alloa

I have wrought eight years and a half below; the work is very great sore, as there is a great deal of water in the pit; few girls like the work but when taken down early are fit for no other; we cease to gang below so soon as we get married; I can read - [reads well]; never did any at the writing but do the stockings [knits] and do them below while I am waiting my turn for the coals to be drawn; many lassies do so but very few sew any.

Comment by Franks

Intelligent girl and good knowledge of Scripture.

No.310 - Ann P. Francis, aged 14, Alloa

Began to work when eight and a half years of age; not been to school much since; can only read. as have never been wrought at the writing; I wheel the carts, which hold 7cwt. to 8cwt. coal it is very ill sort of work, as we have to put four pins in the wheels, to lessen the rapidity of the movement, as the brae is very steep and the carts often peel my legs [take the skin off]; never very long laid idle.

Comment by Franks

Reads very well; knows the English Catechism well; attends the Episcopal Church, Alloa, regularly.

No.311 - Mary Hunter, aged 12, Alloa

Worked four years in the coal-mine; works 10 hours, six morning till four and five at night; knits and can read; makes stockings for brothers and granny; does not go a any school but granny teaches me when home.

Mary appears to be the daughter of Joseph and Jean Hunter. Her siblings were Robert 13, Alexander 9, William 7, Margaret 5 and Isabel 3.

No.319 - Jane Patterson, aged 17, Tillicoutry

Wrought below four years; works with brother; brother picks - I wheel his work. We have no father or mother alive; mother died of consumption and father was brought home dead a few years since; be was supposed to have been murdered but no one ever sought after those who killed him. We live with aunt, who keeps the house; two younger brothers and one sister all are supported by the labour of myself and two brothers. We all do a little at the reading and I was going to try writing but the night-school closed, as so few attend in summer. Never met with any accident of a serious kind. Helen Patterson, a lass who works in same pit, had her ankle smashed out of joint a short time since and was away some weeks.

Comment by Franks

Reads well.

No.329 - Rachel Sneddon, aged 17, Tulhallan, Perth

Works at Middleton Colliery; has done so six years; hours eight in morning till six at night; men go down earlier to prepare the work; never been seriously hurt: a short time since Ann Ranger broke the bones of her ankles and Jane Fyfe had the bone of her arm crushed by a cart coming too quick down the brae. Some of the women carry the coal on their backs where the braes [hills] are steep; they manage 1cwt. to 1.5cwt. Works nine days in the fortnight, if there be no bad air below; earns 1s. a-day.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes well.

No.331 - Mary M'Lean, aged 12, Torryburn, Fife

Began work when eight years old; has only wrought three years below, as was off work with crushed legs 12 months; the injury was occasioned by the drag breaking, as the cart, which held 6cwt. of coal, was coming down a steep brae below ground and passed the legs. Works 10 to 12 hours; no very regular, as the work is not always so.

Comment by Franks

Reads badly; very ignorant.

Her parents were William and Jean McLean. Her siblings were Andrew, William, Andrew and John. In 1851 she was an outdoor worker at Donibristle Colliery and was lodging with the Lindsay family with her brother John.

No.332 - Mary Hynd, aged 13, Saline, Fife

Wrought two years in Torry mine, with three sisters, on father's account. Works 10 or 12 hours - not regularly; only worked five days last fortnight. Many women lie idle at this season, as the demand is no so create as winter. I dinna gang to the school, as we have no good teacher. James White, an old collier, is teacher, and wants 5d. the fortnight which father will no pay.

Comment by Franks

Reads very badly; appears much neglected.

Mary may be the daughter of John and Catherine Hind. Her sisters are Elizabeth, Helen and Janet and she has a brother, John.

No.337 - Janet Allen, aged 8, Blair

Works in the pit with sisters Christy and Agnes; done so nine months. Helps to push the tubs; it is sair, sair work; would like to be playing about better. Did a little at reading when at St. Ninian's; canna do any now. Sisters do know how to read in Testament.

No.338 - Catherine Kerr, aged 35, Blair

Works below ground with husband; has four children; youngest is seven months old; went below after its birth; obliged to work, as husband is short in breath. Came a short time since from Aberdona.

No.342 - Helen Weir, aged16, Dunfermline

Began to work when nine years old; wrought three years at a factory and four years in the Elgin mines. I left the factory work, as the stour [dust in a state of motion] made me hoarse and my legs swelled by the long standing; sister who works with me below tried the factory after me and left for same reason. We have taken to the pit, as the hours are not so long nor confining; work eight and nine hours daily and get 14d. a-day, though have to purchase own oil and cotton, which costs full 2d. per day. At the coals have 10 and 11 days' work, but the factory masters made us work the whole 12 and paid us 11d. a-day.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes well; very intelligent; can knit and hand-sew (tambour).

In 1841 her mother, Hannah was a widow. Her siblings were Hannah, Mary, Janet and Peter.

No.345 - Isabella Burt, aged 16, Dunfermline

Only been down four months; two months at Aberdona and two here [Lord Elgin's]. The work is sore for females but not so much so here as at others, the hours being much and we have more time for sewing.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes a little; intelligent and very clean in person.

Her parents were Peter and Isabella Burt. Her siblings were Joseph, Alexander, David, Andrew and Thomas. In 1851 she was unmarried and being supported by three of her brothers.

No.347. - Margaret Drylie, aged 16, Dunfermline

Wrought upwards of four years wheeling coals below ground; generally works from five in the morning till four at night sometimes six at night till four in the morning; has often worked on both shifts. The work is sore straining; was laid by for three months short time since with pains in the limbs, caused by overwork. Works with two sisters, 22 and 29 years of age; has two brothers, 14 and 19 years old; all live together.

Comment by Franks

The girls read and the lads can make a few marks on paper like some of the letters. The cottage was in a most filthy condition, no ceiling, two dirty beds with little bed-clothing and the furniture consisted of a table, short stools and three or four broken chairs.

No.349 - Catherine Wilson, aged 16, Dunfermline

I hang the tubs on the draw-chains at pit-bottom; my wages are 3s. 6d. a week; have wrought six years in the mine; sometimes I draw the carts with somes [ropes]. have to work hard, as mother has had 10 children, 8 are alive.

Comment by Franks

Very much neglected; reads a little in the Testament; very little knowledge of what she reads.

Her parents were David and May. Her siblings were Mary, William, May, John, Nancy, Betsy, David and Barbara. She worked at Wellwood Colliery. In 1851 she was unmarried and a surface worker at the same colliery, helping to support her widowed mother and a sister. In 1861 she was unmarried and still helping to support her mother, though now as an outdoor servant.

No.350 - Elizabeth Brown, aged 14, Dunfermline

Drives the carriages of coal to the horse-road; it is middling sore work. Work 11 and 12 hours a-day; can earn a-week 5s.; never was at school till down; since working have paid 2d. per week and been taught to read.

Comment by Franks

Reads in the Testament, apparently those chapters she has mastered before; had some difficulty in reading part of my instructions, though much larger print.

She may be on the 1841 census as Betsy Brown, living with Mary and Christian Adamson.

No.355 - Helen Spowort, aged 17, Dunfermline

Began to work in mines when nine years old and has done ever since. It is very coarse, heavy, cloughty work and I get enough of it, as am never able to do muckle after hours from the fatigue.

Comment by Franks

Reads very badly; very deficient of religious knowledge. Has a sister 20 years of age, who had her head cut open some months ago; was laid idle 10 weeks; she is on the eve of marriage and can scarcely read a verse in the Testament; both knit very well, which is common in this part of Fife.

Helen was the daughter of William and Jean Spowart. Her siblings include Margaret, Ann, Janet, Grace, Thomas, John and Sarah.

No.357 - Janet Campbell, aged 17, Dunfermline

Wrought seven years below. Works 12 hours when work is regular; no very so here. The women here work day about [every other day], as there are more than can get employment. Makes stockings on idle days and goes to the night-school to learn the reading.

Comment by Franks

Reads a little in the Testament; very ignorant of the meaning of the words.

No.358 - Helen Spowort, aged 16, Dunfermline

Been nine years below. Works for step-mother with brothers, as father died of bad breath some short time since; he was 42 years of age and own mother has been dead nine years. Step-mother used to work in pit; is now too old and has been kind to us since father's death. The work is sore oppressing; would much like other work but canna gang as step-mother would be put of house. Works for masters and makes 14 rakes a-day each - 500 and 600 yards, near a quarter of a mile, to and fro with heavy loads of coal in carts.

Comment by Franks

Can scarcely read; seldom moves to kirk.

Helen was the daughter of Thomas and Mary Spowart. Her siblings were Mary, Sally and Ann.

No.359 - Mary Morgan, aged 16, Dunfermline

Been three years below; works with two sisters on mother's account. When employed by masters, which is rarely more than five or six days in the 12, we have to make 50 to 60 rakes [journeys] daily and as the road is long and the brae awfu' steep, the sweat drops off like streams of water. The roads are 600 yards and many 900 yards long and we have to stoop very much. Never got much hurt; been idle sometimes with pains in limbs for day or two. When fell work can get 1s. 3d. a-day.

This appears to be May, the daughter of David and Mary Morgan. Her siblings were Mary, Janet and Robert. May was married to William Beveridge by 1851 and had three children, Robert, Mary and Catherine.

No.362 - Elizabeth Gibb, aged 12, Dalgety

Draws the corves with chains; not harnessed; holds the chain in both hands and draws forward, like the horses; has done so four years. Makes 60 to 70 races [journeys] every day. The work is very hard. Once split my finger and was idle one month and afterward broke my leg by the overload of a waggon and was idle three months. Sometimes goes to the sewing school and am taught a lesson of reading also.

Comment by Franks

Reads very badly; also a sister, who is 19 years age; much neglected.

No.363 - Euphemia Jupp, aged 12, Dalgety

Been at the coals since eight years old; always on day-work. Runs 80 races with corves, which hold 5cwt. of coal; draws a guid distance; thinks it may be 150 to 200 fathoms. Works with sister Ann, who went down same time, though two years older. Used to go to school; is too far gone [tired] to gang now. Sits at home after work or looks about. Goes to kirk when it suits.

Comment by Franks

Reads very badly; most of the children in this district seem to have been allowed to run wild after work.

No.365 - Grace Cook, aged 16, Dalgety

Began work when seven years old. Am sure I have wrought nine years below, as time was reckoned last hansel Monday. Have five sisters who work with me; one is off at present from distress of sore work. I draw with chains which are hung on the tubs.

Comment by Franks

Reads not very distinctly; complained much of the labour; appeared very intelligent but cautious.

No.378 - Catherine Walter, aged 16, Aberdour Fife

Began to work in mines when 10 years old; frequently works 18 hours on two shifts - the day 12 hours, night six hours; obliged to do so, as mother has five children and is poor. Father is dead; his trouble was dropsy, from wet work and bad air. Gets 14d. day-work, 7d. for night. Work on master's account; receives 14d. a-day for putting, and 7d. when on night-shift. Day shift is 12 hours and night six; works on both with sister Janet, as mother has five of us in life and father died some time gone of dropsy, from sitting in damp work and bad air. Never been seriously hurt, sister was off a little ago with strain; used to work with Helen Bowman, who is lying dead in the next cottage; she fell from near top of pit-shaft, as the hook caught clothes; she was picked up by her brother and the young man to whom she was to be married next week; she was being dragged up as they were descending: she lingered near two days and was attended by Dr. Forsyth, of Inverkeithy. I cannot write any; was never taught; reads very indifferently; attends Sabbath-school to learns Scripture lesson ; sister does not.

Comment by Franks

Can scarcely read. Very little religious knowledge.

Her mother was Janet and her siblings include Barbara and Janet. It is possible that she married Henry Allen.

No.380 - Mary M'Kinley, aged 12 Aberdour, Fife

Works for Andrew Nichols, who contracts for our work. I make a shilling a-day and works 11 days in the fortnight. We are sorely worked by contractors but obliged to do so as work is uncertain hereabouts: has a rest of half an hour at porridge time.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes badly.

No.381 - Janet Duncan, aged 17, Aberdour, Fife

Began to work at Hallbeath when eight years old and been working in mines ever since. Left Hallbeath, as the work was no certain. Father stops there now with my brothers; they maintain him, as he has been off seven years with bad breath: he is now 50 years old. I lodge with my uncle and cousins. My earnings are 15d. per day now and I pay 10s. fortnightly for my food and lodging. Work 11 days average. Not been to any school since first taken down.

Comment by Franks

Can scarcely read.

Janet was living with William and Margaret Campbell and their 7 children.

No.392 - Agnes Cook, aged 15, Beath, Fife

Has wrought at Lochgelly 12 months; worked in the fields prior to coal-work. Has four brothers at coal-work; father is a collier; mother was a farm-servant. Can read; never was at writing; makes own clothes and stockings.

Comment by Franks

Reads well; intelligent.

Agnes was the daughter of Adamson and Agnes Cook. Her siblings were William, James, Henry, Archibald and Hannah. She lived at Auchterderran.

No.393 - Eliza Dixon, aged 17, Beath, Fife

Began to work below five years since; works nine hours every day; never been off work; was in the fields before at the coals; left there, as more money is to be had than field labour; could never earn more than 8d. a-day above, now gets 15d. when working in the wet roads. Never got hurt; was below when a young man [Joseph Harrower] was crushed to death by fall of roof three years ago and remembers one Andrew Beveridge being killed in same manner two years since. Reads; was a wee while at the writing but not since down.

Comment by Franks

Reads badly; ignorant but has a knowledge of the verses of many Psalms, which she learned at Sabbath-school.

Eliza was the daughter of Gavin and Margaret Dickson. Her siblings were John, Andrew and Marion.

No.397 - Janet Neilson, aged 16 years, Ballingray, Fife

Was at service but left her place as father persuaded her to go below; much prefers service, only suppose father needs my earnings. The work is very, very sair; has a sister at service and brother a shepherd; mother was at service. Work 10 hours daily, earns 1s. per day.

Comment by Franks

Reads; not write. Father very lazy, dissolute fellow.

Janet's parents were James and Isabella Neilson. Her siblings were John, David, Mary, James, Robert, Thomas.

No.406 - Janet Brown, aged 17 Kirkcaldy

Worked in mines three or four years, can't recollect exactly the time; drags the carts of coal of 3cwt. on wheels. Father dead; not been to school for many years: 3 and 4=7; can't say how many months there are in the year.

Comment by Franks

Cannot spell a word of three letters and is quite destitute of religious knowledge.

No.407 - Janet Paton, aged 16, Kirkcaldy

Been four years below employed in putting; works 10 and 12 hours; has never tried other work; would prefer above-ground labour. Knows that Edinburgh is a big town; thinks it is in Fife. Does not know what the water [the Forth] is called which divides Donnikier from Edinburgh. Never go to kirk, as am no able to read muckle; can't say what is the minister's name who preaches at the old kirk just by.

No.408 - Isabel Hood, aged about 12, Kirkcaldy

Wrought 12 months below; works 12 hours; not been to school these four years; was in the reading but forgot all; cannot spell my own name; will gang to school next winter night.

Comment by Franks

Utterly destitute of religious knowledge, neither can she sew or knit.

No.409 - Elizabeth Duncan, aged 11, Kirkcaldy

Began to work in the pit two months since; does not like the work, but father takes the lassies wi' him. Have one sister at the spinning-mill, where I worked for one month but they discharged me as being o'er young for the work. Like the mill-work best, as do most lassies.

Comment by Franks

Reads very badly; very ignorant.

No.415 - Janet Welch, aged about 20, Wemyss

Wrought below nine years; did bear the coal on back; ceased to do so six months ago. Women who worked in the high seam carried coal till masters forbid it two years since; small hutchies could have been used but it was cheaper to carry. Work on the master's account and receive 1s. aday; do not like contract work, as the work is made o'ersair.

Comment by Franks

Reads. Ill-informed.

Janet was the eldest child of George and Christina Welsh. Her siblings were Peter, George, Alexander, Robert, James, Christina and Archibald.

No.416 - Isabel Hugh, aged 19, Wemyss

Began to work when 13 years old, below ground; has wrought in the fields; likes the work well enough; it is guid sair sweating work. Janet Adamson and I contract for putting on our own account; the road is 100 fathoms in length and we run the races singly; we frequently run 50 races between us; we get 14d. per score, and 1s. per week each extra for clearing pit-bottom and working the pump; seldom work less than 12 to 14 hours.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes.

She was the daughter of Agnes Hugh and her siblings were Archibald, John, Janet and Thomas. Janet Adamson was also 19. Her siblings were James, Agnes and Margaret. Her mother was widow Janet Knight.

No.417 - Elizabeth Litster, aged 15, Wemyss

Has wrought three years below; works from six in the morning till six at night; works for contractors; has to make 14 races before porridge-time; the distance is 300 fathoms from incline to pit-bottom and 14 and 15 races between porridge and the time we take our pieces of bread; 14, 15, and 16 races afterwards; we get 15d. a-day but only employed nine sometimes ten days in the fortnight. When I wrought on day's wages for master, was not so hard worked; the work is more sair, as the men drive us more, for they do the work cheap. Many girls have left, not liking to be driven and gone into the fields.

Comment by Franks

Reads and writes very well; clever and ready in replies.

In 1841 she appears to be living with relatives, possibly a brother, William and his wife and young family.