Unearthing History – Our Mining Roots: Part IV

This is the fourth post in a series that follow my Thompson ancestors from the lowlands of Scotland to Guthrie County, Iowa.  Links to earlier posts can be found at the bottom of this page.

The Mines Act of 1842

In 1840, Lord Ashley led the “Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children’s Employment.”  Child labor and dangerous working conditions were problematic during the industrial revolution.  The commission set out in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to investigate, interview and report on the working conditions in various industries.

The First Report on Children in the Mines was published in 1842 (we’ve read some excerpts from the interviews in previous posts).  The report outlined the grave working conditions in Scotland’s coal mines.  Shortly after publication, the Mines Act of 1842 was passed and the following changes took place:

  • Women could no longer work underground.
  • Males under the age of 10 could no longer work underground.
  • Males under the age of 13 could not work more than 12 hours per day, no more than 3 days in one week, and work no more than 2 consecutive days.
  • Engines, equipment, and gins used to lower workers into the mines had to be operated by a male at least 21 years of age.

In 1842, John and Mary Thomson were working and raising a family at Omoa New Town.  John worked as a collier at Omoa Iron Works, along with sons Thomas (16), John (15) and youngest Gilbert (13).  John’s kids were too old to be impacted by the new regulations.  It would be the next generation, his grandchildren, that would experience a childhood above ground.  They would be educated.  They would have more opportunities.  They wouldn’t be old women and men by age 25.

Meet Gilbert Thomson & Family

Born at Omoa on August 21, 1829,  Gilbert Thomson was youngest child of John and Mary Thomson.  On December 6, 1851, Gilbert married Margaret Neilson in Cambusnethan Parish.1  Margaret was also the youngest child – born  January 5, 1832 to Alexander Neilson and wife Martha Boyd.  Margaret was born and raised at Cockedhat – a small, rural neighborhood consisting of three homes and located just to the northwest of Wishaw town.  Her father worked on a farm, and at least one of her brothers was a coal miner.

Thomas Thomson to Gilbert Thomson


Gilbert and Margaret had two children before they were married.  The first, John, was born about 1848.  A daughter, Martha, followed in 1850.  Margaret continued to live with her parents at Cockedhat until she and Gilbert were married in late 1851.2  Having kids out of wedlock and marrying later wasn’t uncommon in the agricultural class in Scotland.  Many women continued to live at home so they could work and raise their young ones with the help of the grandparents.  Margaret was a young mother – just 16 when she had her first child.  In Scotland, children born out of wedlock were considered legitimate if their parents married later.  Babies before marriage didn’t carry much stigma until later in the 19th century.  Gilbert was still living with his parents in Omoa until their marriage.3


Following the Thomsons – Newarthill to Omoa to Wishaw
Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland


After marriage, Gilbert and Margaret settled in Wishaw.  The Wishaw and Coltness railway had opened in 1840’s, bringing new opportunities to the area.  There is a definite migration pattern – a road opens up and the Thomsons follow it.

The couple had 13 more children.  That’s 15 kids total!  You can tell that life is getting a little better for our mining ancestors.  They are having more babies and living longer!

Children of Gilbert and Margaret Thomson:

  • John Thomson, born about 18484
  • Martha, born March 30, 18505
  • Thomas, born about 18536
  • Mary, born about 18557
  • Alexander, born January 1, 1856 – born Wishaw-head8
  • Grace, born January 28, 1858 – born Stewarton9
  • Margaret, born April 4, 1860 – born Stewarton Street10
  • Gilbert, born June 23, 1862 – born Russell Street11
  • James, born September 8, 1864 – born Russell Street12
  • William, born September 2, 1866 – born Russell Street13
  • Hugh, born May 5, 1868* – born at The Law, Carluke14
  • Hugh, born May 22, 1869 – born Russell Street15
  • Henry, born March 15, 1872 – born Russell Street16
  • David, born June 14, 1874 – born Russell Street17
  • Arthur, born 1876 – born West Thornlie Street18

*I believe all of the children were born in Wishaw except the first Hugh.  Hugh, named after an uncle,  was born May 5, 1868 in Carluke Parish.  He was born at “The Law” – a mining village situated between Wishaw and Carluke (town).  Baby Hugh passed away within an hour of birth.19 


Known areas where Gilbert and Margaret Thomson lived in Wishaw.
Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland .


West Thornlie Street circa 1905
Photo courtesy of the Scottish Mining Website

Housing Conditions

Housing was usually provided by the colliery owner to the workers rent-free, or at low rent.  New mines opened regularly, but how long a place could be mined was uncertain.   Houses were built quickly and cheaply.  They usually consisted of single story, one or two room brick homes built in a long row.  Imagine those large families cooped up in only one or two small rooms!

Ventilation was bad.  Homes were smoky and damp most of the time.  Furnishings were sparse – miners moved around quite a bit and didn’t like to be bogged down with belongings.  No indoor water. No indoor plumbing.  Privies in the back were shared with the other houses in the row. It was common to have a “dunghill” (bedpan dumpings) or an ash pit outside the front of the house.  Some miners had small gardens and kept chickens and pigs – and even a few miners chose to share their homes with those “pets.”

Miners homes weren’t the cleanest places.  The occupation was dirty, and they brought the dirt home.  Until 1842, many women and children had worked in the mines with their husbands.  No one was home regularly to tend to the house, wash the clothes, or prepare the meals.  Domestic duties weren’t a priority. Daughters weren’t groomed for house duty – they were groomed to be workers.

Example of a “Miners Row” courtesy of the Scottish Mining Website.


Up until this time, miners hadn’t moved around much or married outside their class.  They had been isolated within their communities – largely written off by the rest of the world.  They weren’t well-educated.  Schools were available, but miners didn’t see how the education would benefit them underground.  Society generally viewed colliers as ignorant, attached to old habits and customs, and very superstitious.

Miners were suspicious of outsiders.  Who could blame them?  It wasn’t that long ago that their grandfathers had worked under bondage.  Their lives had little value to the coal masters – workers could easily be replaced in the event of injury or death.  Housing was tied to employment.  Once unemployed by the colliery, a family quickly found themselves on the street.  When a collier became disabled, they relied on family members to continue working – both to earn money and keep a roof over their heads.  The church rarely offered any relief.  Their communities were strong – they only had themselves to rely upon.

Work was dangerous and life was short.  After a hard day’s work, miners looked to simple pleasures.  They liked to be entertained and spent much of their money on food and drink.  They loved to drink.  They enjoyed games and music – almost every village had a band.  They were a rowdy bunch, and known for being more about the brawn than the brains.  Many mining families didn’t attend church, except to declare marriage, baptize a child, or record a death.

But this is what I love about these people.  They worked hard, and only asked for what they earned and what was fair.  They did their own thing and weren’t a burden or bother to anyone.  They were notably honest people.  Crime rates in collier communities were the low.  The number of illegitimate births were low too.  They took from no one and took care of their own.  They looked out for each other, and owned up to their responsibilities.  They were rough on the outside, but soft on the inside.  They were humble. They lived simply.  Dirty, but simply.

Mr. Ross of Loanhead Colliery:

“ They are always respectful, and sometimes warmly attached to their employers, and exhibit none of the pert and discourteous behavior of the manufacturer.  They listen with cheerfulness and much seriousness to the ministers of the gospel who come among them.  They show, and probably feel, less jealousy of their superiors in rank and fortune than is generally shown by other artisans, and they intermeddle less with politics.”20


Colliers were a class that were isolated and largely ignored for 250 years.  As the industrial revolution boomed and more mines opened up, the number of collier families increased and moved around.  The general population could no longer ignore them.  I think society was forced to deal with the miners like suburbanites are forced to deal with wildlife showing up in their backyards.  Society would domesticate the “heathens”.  The Mines Act of 1842 was a good place to start.

Up Next……………………

The Thomsons are on the move again.  We will follow several of Gilbert’s kids as they migrate to America.

Links to Previous Posts

Unearthing History – Part I
Unearthing History – Part II
Unearthing History – Part III



  1. Scottish Mining Website, http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/index.html, March 2017
  2. Ian Winstanley and The Coal Mining History Resource Centre, Children’s Employment Commission 1842 by Robert Hugh Franks Esq., Picks Publishing, 1999
  3.  Scotlands Places,  http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/, Ordinance Survey Name Books, Lanarkshire OS NameBooks, 1858-1861, Lanarkshire Volume 08
  4. University of Glasgow, Scottish Way of Birth and Death, http://www.gla.ac.uk/, March 2017
  1. Old Parish Registers Marriages, 655/ 50 594 Shotts Parish, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  2. 1851 Scotland Census, 628/7/8, page 8 of 10, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  3. 1851 Scotland Census, 655/ 8/ 4, Page 4 of 34, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  4. 1861 Scotland Census, Census 628/ 6/ 21, Page 21 of 28, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  5. Copy of birth record certified by the Registrar’s Office November 18, 1924 as abstracted from the Register Book of Births
  6. 1861 Scotland Census, Census 628/ 6/ 21, Page 21 of 28, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  7. 1861 Scotland Census, Census 628/ 6/ 21, Page 21 of 28, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  8.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/9, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  9.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/73, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  10.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/243, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  11.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/380, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  12.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/521, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  13.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/595, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  14.  Statutory Registers – Births, 629/111, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  15.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/352, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  16.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/232, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  17.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/589, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  18.  Statutory Registers – Births, 628/908, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  19.  Statutory Registers – Births, 629/49, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  20. Ian Winstanley and The Coal Mining History Resource Centre, Children’s Employment Commission 1842 by Robert Hugh Franks Esq., Picks Publishing, 1999

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