Mining & The Truck System

James Merry, one of the original owners of the Auchinraith mining company, Messrs Merry & Cunningham, like many early proprietors in the mining industry, blatantly broke mining regulations to suit his own ends.

He really did exploit over 1,000 men who worked in his collieries and iron mines throughout Scotland. His employees were paid monthly, something unheard of then, forcing men to apply weekly for a sub in their wages in advance. These advance sums were granted on the basis, it would come off their monthly wage and could only be spent in the collieries own shops (with James setting prices!) It wasn’t uncommon for significant percentages of their wages to be spent in these shops. The whole racket, was officially known as “The Truck System”

The unfortunate miners nearly always found themselves in arrears and therefore never received a full monthly wage, which opened up a vicious circle of debt. All beverages, including buttermilk, the miners most popular thirst quencher whilst working, could only be purchased at the colliery store as the company had a contract with farmers in the area to purchase their supplies.

Unlike Monteith & Co, who provided free medical treatment, a school, church, a library and many other services for their employees and families, the mine owners exploited their workmen and would not hesitate to remove them from the tied miners homes if employment ended. They extracted stoppages from their wages at source for all manner of basic services including 2d a week for the doctor with money taken off the blacksmith for sharpening the tools.

In those early years of the mining industry, the proprietors by drawing up contracts with the suppliers of the basic necessities in life and by ensuring the company store was stocked, they had a vice like grip on all their employees. It ensured profits were retained by the colliery owners. Although banned by the Act of Parliament in 1831, it was claimed the truck system was still in effect even up until 1900.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Truck System in central Scotland, there’s an excellent page here listing out the Truck System shops.


On social media:

Tricia Morrow Shared onto our Ulster Clans group

Jane Johnstone I have heard about this system through family contacts. No wonder the miners’ union was so important long ago. When you hear youngsters moaning today….they haven’t got a clue. We had to be dying and I nearly did, before my mother would get us a doctor and that is because she remembered having to pay for the doctor! Doctors striking….not a clue…how easy life is today in our country…and the miners played a large part in improving things!

Marian Maguire The miners Union, weren’t ignorant mine workers as they thought, they were very astute and invested wisely the money they got in various things and were extremely rich, until the last miners strike, when the goverment robbed them of millions of their own money. They have always been treated badly in one way or another, that’s why our two fathers are lying in high Blantyre graveyard, dead from pneumonicious with no compensation for over forty years of hard work, God rest them all.

Elizabeth Weaver They were little more than slaves, those miners, and yet among their number were intelligent self-educated men, determined to see their children avoid the pits. What spirit they had, to endure such conditions and such exploitation. All they lacked was opportunity and education – and all the pit owners had was money and the privilege it brings. We’d do well to remember that – I don’t think we’ve moved on as much as we imagine.

Margaret Mary OSullivan Yes so many of them were utterly determined to see that their children had every chance to go on in education. Poverty is such a destroyer of potential. I heard of one miner who sent his son down the pit when he was on holiday from university in order that he would stick in and work hard to have an easier life. Miners worked so hard and faced such dangers, yet few jobs had such a sense of camaraderie and loyalty to each other.

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