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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XVII. Economic and social conditions

116. Working in a Mine, 1913

Texte intégral

1In the following text, Rab Smith, who was born in Twechar, Dunbartonshire in January 1899, remembers the time (1913) when he started working as a miner in Lumphinnans in the county of Fife.

2Rab Smith in Ian MacDougall (ed.), Voices from the Hunger Marches: personal recollections by Scottish Hunger Marchers of the 1920s and 1930s, vol. 1, Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990, p. 84-86.

I left school when I was thirteen years of age. I got an exemption when I was thirteen years of age, because at that time you could apply for an exemption tae help the family income. I started then down No. 1 pit, Lumphinnans, wi’ two good-brothers o’ mine. Todd was their name. And I was only workin’ for three month—that was in 1912—when there were an Act o’ Parliament passed that ye had got to be fourteen years of age before ye could go down the mine [the Coal Mines Act of 1911 (editor’s note)]. So I had to leave. And then they got a job for me at another colliery, Peeweep No. XI colliery, they called it. The job was on the surface. I worked there in No. XI colliery at Lumphinnans on the surface until I was fourteen and immediately I was fourteen I went down the pit.

  • 4 Out.
  • 5 To empty out by overturning.
  • 6 Down.

My wages on the pithead at that time was 1/8 ½ d a day. When I went down the pit it was 3/3d. So it was a fairly big increase, see. There is one thing that I recall about the time I was workin’ on the surface. I was drivin’ a pony that used tae take what they termed debris, redd, away oot4 tae the tip o’ the bing, and men used tae cowp5 it up. The wagons where the redd used tae get separated from the coal, there was a boy always sent in tae this wagon tae pick oot any stones that hadnae been picked oot at the tables, see. And there were two teeth and pinion wheels, big teeth and pinion wheels. And they used to drive a shute right up frae the wagons that were in what you cried the lie, up tae the redd bing. And I can always remember that mornin’ the machinery getting’ a jerk and stoppin’. And the wee boy—he was caught. Aitchison was his name, he lived in Sligo Street in Lumphinnans. It was a windy mornin’ and he had his jacket on—cold. His jacket was caught in the pinion wheels and he went right round about that pinion wheels. And I run doon6, right doon this redd bing. I knew he was in that wagon. I jumped up on the wagon.

And I always remember the head man o’ the pithead, Davie Lindsay, he says to me, ‘Get down out o’ that! Get off that wagon!’ But I looked into the wagon tae see the wee boy lyin’ there. He had been mangled up wi’ this teeth and pinion wheel—terrible. And that was one thing even as a boy I said to mysel’: ‘That should never ha’ happened.’ It was the lack o’ safety precautions. After that they began to put a steel sort o’ plate across the pinion wheels, for safety. But that was after that accident. There maybe would be other accidents forbye that, other places the same way. They were very, very, very slow on the question o’ safety, even at that time. That was the Fife Coal Company.

  • 7 A box-like receptacle in which coals are conveyed from the coal-face.
  • 8 A passage or a tunnel.

The time I was in the Peeweep there was an incident that I always recall. I was workin’ in what they term the bottom o’ the shaft. I had occasion always to go to the bottom o’ the shaft, because there was a cundy and when the cage came down from the top the empty hutches7 went intae this cundy8.

  • 9 A person who attaches clips to a moving endless rope used for skip haulage.

They were pushed intae it. And I was what they term a clipper9, wi’ a haulage road. You put a clip on your hutches and away they went and you was sittin’ on the clip—a very dangerous thing to do. But you sat on the clip and put your back against the hutches. There were two trap doors on that road. I can always remember it. And you come off your clip and you run to open the trap door yourself to get through. And then the same wi’ the other one. Anything could ha’ happened when you was doin’ that. But there you are–you had got to do that. When you come oot w’ eight full hutches on your clip, ye jist took your clip off at a certain part frae the bottom. It was an incline and they run into the bottom. I took my clip off this one and I went intae the bottom, what you usually did, tae get another race o’ empty hutches. And just wi’ that the rope o’ the cage snapped. As it was openin’ the gates at the top o’ the surface, the rope had snapped. And the full cage, wi’ four hutches on it, come down the shaft. And it wrecked the shaft. And there was nothing but slides—the pinewood slides that they had for guidin’ the cage—slides on the top. The bottom o’ the shaft was a false bottom and the cage had went right do on through the bottom. Ye couldnae see it. There wis nae lights. The lights were a’ knocked oot. They were electric light at that time but they were a’ knocked oot. So of course ye couldnae see the bottom o’ the cage efter I had come oot this escape place that I ran intae.

There was an escape road to the Aitken colliery in Kelty. It wisnae looked after very well and there were water in it aboot two or three feet deep. And wi’this noise o’ this cage rattlin’ and so on, I ran and ran intae this airway. It was an airway tae the Aitken colliery. And I waited there for a while. Things kind o’ died doon–nae rumblin’ or nae noise or any thin’ like that. When I come oot and went intae the bottom, there were two or three men there wi’ big railway lamps. Whether they had them there for safety or no’ I don’t know. But they were big oil lamps and they had them lighted and they were jist lookin’ aboot the bottom o’ the shaft tae see all what had happened.

Well, we had to walk from No. XI colliery to No. 1 colliery in Lumphinnans underground. There was a fireman took so many men with him. And we walked underground right to No. 1 pit, Lumphinnans. On that road walkin’ there wis falls that had taken place in the roof. And instead o’ trying to repair these falls and put up some sort o’ semblance o’ safety girders or timber, they jist lay open. And they had pulled a’ the fall o’ that roof in order tae let air get through because it wis the main airway–from the Peeweep tae No. 1 was the main airway. The Peeweep was an upcast, Lumphinnans pit was the downcast. The air went down Lumphinnans and then went in through this airway right to the Peeweep.

But what a road! We had to travel that road to get to the bottom o’ No. 1 pit, Lumphinnans. Well, on the surface, between the Lumphinnans and No. 1 pit it’s a mile and a half. So you would say the distance underground was maybe a mile—a short cut underneath the ground, you know, in the way it was tunnelled oot. Ye could say a mile. But it was a mile we had tae walk in these conditions. That was an episode that always stuck in my memory. In my opinion there was a lot o’ neglect at that time for safety. There should have been more safety precautions taken in the airways than what there was. But at that time—which I didnae recognise at the time–profits was the primary motive and the question o’ safety was out.


4 Out.

5 To empty out by overturning.

6 Down.

7 A box-like receptacle in which coals are conveyed from the coal-face.

8 A passage or a tunnel.

9 A person who attaches clips to a moving endless rope used for skip haulage.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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