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Prestonpans and Vicinity

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kept the day as a holiday. Lord Abercorn got us out of our slavery. Father and grandfather were slaves to the Laird of Prestongrange. So binding was the bondage that the laird had the power of taking colliers who had left him out of any of His Majesty's ships, or bringing back any one who had enlisted in the army. Such ill-feeling existed against colliers and salters years past that they were buried in unconsecrated ground. This was common in Fife. If colliers had been better treated, they would have been better men. "
It may be observed here that Inglis says, " The first emancipation took place in 1775. " This is quite true, but the Act of 1775 was not found suitable; it brought freedom by degrees only, and in 1779 a second Act was passed, which had the merit of bringing liberty to all without further delay.
The miner got his freedom; but the master becoming apprehensive he would run off, and leave him to work his own fire-coal, craftily got him entangled in another sort of bondage, entitled the " Long Contract" system. (For Cadell v. Davidson's agreement, also Durie v. Brown's contract, 1811, see " History of Tranent")
The engagement, as a rule, was for twelve months; but before the twelvemonth was out, the miner was sure to be in debt to the master, and in order that matters might be allowed to go smoothly with him, he was kept continually engaged, and in debt. It was not till after the first quarter of the nineteenth century had passed away that the "Long Contract" system began to fall into disuse.
We have inquired at the oldest pitmen we could find, and the oldest pitwomen too, many of whom are yet alive, but not one had any knowledge or tradition even of how and when the degrading practice of sending women and children to work in the pits began; and strange to say not one of our early historians ever took any notice of it. Our own idea is that in 1606, when the miner by Act of Parliament was condemned to a life of serfdom, his wife and children would be driven to the mines along with him to assist in his slavish work.
Be that as it may, although Lord Dundonald in 1793 tried to arouse public indignation against the system, Mr Robert Bald of Edinburgh in 1808 denounced it as "severe, slavish, and oppressive in the highest degree, " and subsequently many others treated of the same subject, it was not until about the year 1839 that a Commission, moved for by Lord Ashley— late Lord Shaftsbury, —was appointed to inquire into the whole system of child and female labour in the mines, and in 1840 evidence was taken in connection with this at the different collieries.
The evidence given by women, girls, and boys at the pit-mouths, before the Government Commissioner, and as fully detailed in the " History of Tranent, " is really curious. Subsequently to the foregoing, an examination of coalmasters, managers, and others connected with collieries took place. Here follows the evidence of those connected with the district: —
Mr John Grieve, Preston Links Colliery: —"It is my opinion that it would be advantageous to exclude children under ten years of age and their mothers, so that the children might be better educated and looked after. "
Sir G. G. Suttie, Bart., Prestongrange Colliery: —" I have no control whatever over the colliers in my employment; the engagement on their part is merely nominal, as although a fortnight's notice is stipulated for previous to leaving their employment, it is in point of fact of no avail; the colliers—men, women, and children—go to their work at whatever hour of the night or day they think proper, and just work as long as they choose. There is in all the mines in this district a greater or less number of women and children employed; and I beg leave to state to you my conviction, that the employment of women in the mines of Scotland is one of the reasons which tends to depreciate the character and habits of the collier population; and that to remedy this evil a legislative enactment is required, as any resolution on the part of one or two mine proprietors not to employ women or children would be injurious to them, without tending at all to remedy the evil. I am aware that a different opinion is entertained on this subject by parties connected with the coal trade in this district, who fear that an enactment preventing women from working in the mines would tend to raise the rate of wages, already too high: but of this I entertain no apprehension, if protection is afforded to the mine proprietor who may be disposed to employ labourers in his mine. In the present state of the law, or at all events in the way in which it is enforced, no mine proprietor can employ a labourer, nor can any labourer venture to work in a mine. The result of this system is that the fathers of families frequently remain idle the greatest part of the week, supported by the labour of their families. "
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