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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XVII. Economic and social conditions

118. Housing of Potato Diggers in Ayrshire, 1913

Texte intégral

1The report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Industrial Population of Scotland, Rural and Urban (1917) showed the difficult conditions in which many people had to live. Following the Commission’s report the government decided to launch a programme of reconstruction and slum clearance. Unfortunately due to the economic depression only 25,000 houses had been built by the early 1920s.

2Royal Commission on Housing in Scotland, 4 vols., 1917-1921, vol. 4, Appendices and Index, 1921, Evidence Given on the Housing of the Industrial Population of Scotland p. 46.

Appendix no XXIX

Question no 12440, etc.

Housing of potato diggers in Ayrshire

Memorandum of Information Obtained during visit of Commission in June 1913

The farms visited were practically all in the Carrick district of the County. Various farmers and workers were interviewed in the course of the visit, as well as all inspection made of the conditions under which the workers were housed.

Nature of accommodation

1. The workers were, as a rule, accommodated in the sheds which in winter were used for storing and sprouting of the potatoes. In several cases disused cattle-byres were used. Barns and hay-lofts were also brought into service as temporary abodes. In one or two cases special accommodation had been provided for the diggers. The floors of the various apartments were of earth, stone, brick, flags, concreted, or wood. The walls were often hue-washed. The places were usually dry, and in the day time, at any rate, the ventilation was good. It was, however, stated that at night the workers declined to have doors or windows open, though they objected to fires in the sleeping apartments. […]

Separation of the sexes

6. It was only occasionally that there was any effective separation of the sexes. Even where they could have been separated it was apparently no one’s business to see that separation was carried out. As one farmer said “I believe just now they are separated.” At another farm it was stated that the sexes were separated, even husbands and wives, but a worker admitted that in at least one of the buildings the sexes were not separated. At another farm, where the men had separated sleeping-places, the question was asked, “Do they occupy them?” The answer was, “We never are out at that time”. To the further question, “You go on the line of providing sufficient accommodation for them to live apart if they choose?” The reply was, “Yes.” Men and women did sleep in the same apartment; there was seldom even a division between the bed spaces. […] where any attempt was made at separation it was seldom sufficient to prove effective. In one case the door between the two apartments was amissing, and the door was covered with a sheet of canvas cloth. In other cases there was a wooden partition between the apartments but it did not extend to the roof, and was easily climbable. In one case the only separation was that the men slept on one side of the apartment and the women on the other. At one farm children accompanied their parents, and men, women, and children all slept together […]

Privy accommodation

9. In many cases this was not provided. In such cases the workers made use of adjoining wood or plantation. Where privies were provided, it was stated that diggers seldom used them.—“They mostly go to the hedge sides”. The privies provided were usually in an open space, and were not secluded or private. The men’s were not separated from the women’s, but adjoined each other. At one farm there were four wooden privies, under one continuous roof, two were labelled “males” and the other two “females”. In some cases no proper seats were provided. It was stated that if privies were provided they would not be used.—“They are so accustomed to going beside the hedges”. One worker, however, said that he would use a privy if it were provided.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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