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 http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/Indexes/truckshops.html listing out the Truck System shops.
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