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It was not until 1775 that an Act of the British Parliament of the 15th. Geo.III.c.28, contained this preamble:- "Whereas by the statute law of Scotland. as explained by the judges of the courts of law there, many colliers and coal bearers and salters are in a state of slavery and bondage, bound to the collieries or saltworks where they work for life, transferable with the collieries and salt works, &c.; and whereas the emancipating and setting free the said colliers, &c., who are now in a state of servitude, gradually and upon reasonable condition, and the preventing others from coming into such a state of servitude, would be the means of increasing the number of colliers, &c., to the great benefit of the public, without it doing injury to their present masters, and would remove the reproach of allowing such a state of servitude to exist in a free country," it was enacted, "that those who were colliers at the passing of the Act should become free on certain conditions, and under certain regulations, at periods varying from three to ten years, depending to their ages, and that no person who after the passing of the Act should begin to work as a collier should be bound in any way different from what was permitted by law with regard to other servants or labourers.'

This Act of 1775, however, it appears was not effectual in giving complete if, and the Act of 39 Geo.III.c.56, was passed, declaring that many colliers coal-bearers still continue in a state of bondage from not having complied the provisions, or from having become subject to the penalties, of the said Act, it was therefore 'enacted, that from and after the passing of the said Act, all the colliers in that part of Great Britain called Scotland, who were bound colliers and coal-bearers and salters at the time of passing this Act, shall be, and are hereby declared to be free from servitude.' Thus up to the passing of this Act the colliers were literally slaves of the soil, and unable to seek work elsewhere without the permission of the Master. To illustrate this it may not be uninteresting to lay before you the petition of Robert Pride, in 1746, to the Lord of Prestongrange (for which I am indebted to George Sir Suttie, Bart.), requesting such permission to seek work elsewhere the temporary suspension of the works in his Lordship's colliery.

 


 

COPY of PRIDE'S PETITION to LORD PRESTONGRANGE, dated 1746.

Unto ye Honourable ye Lord Grange, at Prestongrange, ye petition of Robert Pride, his son, James Pride, Robert Thomson, and William Ines, all colliers belonging to his Lordship:

Humbly sheweth, that we are all your Lordship's servants, and is willing to serve your Lordship's qn yt you have work for us; but since yt your Lordship's work is not going at Prestongrange, we are at ye tyme is at Pinky, under Mr. Robertson, and not far from your Lordship's, if yt qn yt you are pleased to fit your work in Prestongrange we are near to be gatton qn yt your Lordship pleases. And at ye tyme John Binel, oversman to ye Duke of Hamilton, is hard upon us in stopping us of bread, where we now are by lifting us out of ys work to place us in yt sd Duke's work at Bawerestness. And now ye workman yt is there sweres yt of yt we go to yt work yt they shall be our dead. And now we humbly beg yt you out of your clemency and goodness will keep us from going to yt place where our life will be in so much danger, and we your Lordship's humble petitioners shall ever pray.

ROBERT PRIED, JAMES I.P. PRIDE, WILLIAM W. I. INES, JAMES I. P. PRYD, ROB. Rt. THOMSON, (all signed with their mark.)

 


 

The following extract from a mineral report to his Grace the Duke of Buccleugh and Queensberry, on his coal property in the parish of Dalkeith, in Edinburghshire, for which I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. James Wright, manager of his Grace's colliery, will show still more clearly the peremptory power the lord of the soil.

JAMES WHITE'S TACK.

"For some time previous to the year 1764 it would seem that collierying was either discontinued in the lands of Cowden, or was conducted on a diminished scale because it is stated in the papers of that year (now in Mr. Maclaren's possession) that several of the colliers and their bearers, who belonged to these lands of his Grace's (that is as Mr. Mclaren explained) by having been born thereon and regularly arled* or registered had gone away without leave to work at the collieries of Hawthorndean, Melville, Moon, Moorhouse, Gilverton, and Pendrick, and such Cowden colliers were summoned to return immediately. "I suppose on the commencement of the new lease of this colliery to Mr. White, or of a more efficient intendent working under it."

*The former arleing of infant colliers and bearers, in consequence of a payment made to their parents is very different to the binding of colliers and bearers now practised and a bounty for each paid to their parents at the time of their christening, agreeably to the custom and feudal kind of laws on the subject then still remaining in force.

 

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