A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


PART I: Introductory

1. The Scottish Mining Industry

(i) Historical . It was that period of the 18th and 19th centuries in Great Britain known as the Industrial Revolution which saw the increasing development of the coal mines; and the part which they played then, and have played since, in British industry can scarcely be exaggerated. It is not too much to say that the industrial ascendancy of this country in the 19th century, and its continued importance since, has been due more to the abundant supplies of coal than to any other single factor. The development of heavy industry, and to a very large degree its location, depended upon the location of coal supplies; and this applies almost equally to the industrial area of Central Scotland as to the industrial north of England. There is thus a close functional relationship between the coal and heavy industries, each reflecting considerably the economic conditions prevailing in the other.

In view of the coal industry’s central position in the economy of this country, it is perhaps surprising to find that its history is one which, for dissatisfaction and unrest, can scarcely be paralleled in any other industry. The explanation of this may be the very fact of coal’s close inter-connection with the whole economic structure. Miners’ wages have always been very sensitive to changes in prices and industrial activity, and in consequence have shown much greater fluctuation than wages in the majority of trades. These fluctuations were already becoming marked by the beginning of the 19th century, when miners’ wages in Scotland rose from 2/6d. - 3/- a day, before the Napoleonic War, to nearly 5/- in 1811-12, falling again to 4/-in 1813, and continuing to fall in 1820 and 1840. In the years before this War, average miners’ wages in Great Britain fluctuated almost as much: *

Miner’s Average Cash Earnings per week, 1930-1938

1930 1932 1934 1936 1938
s. d. s. d. s. d. s. d. s. d.
43. 9. 42. 1. 44. 6. 50. 6. 55.11.

Few workers are satisfied with a wage that shows marked instability in addition to what they consider its inadequacy. Where the nature of the work, moreover, tends to be dangerous and disagreeable, this dissatisfaction will increase. Consequently, there has in recent years been a growing reluctance on the part of young people to enter the mining industry. The Forster Committee (1942), set up to inquire into the factors going to create this reluctance, thought there were six major reasons. These were, first, the industry’s bad record of unemployment; secondly, the fact that the wage level in mining, both for boys and adults, compares unfavourably with other industries, especially taking into account time lost from accidents, sickness and short-time working; thirdly, living and working conditions have not kept pace with those prevailing in other industries; fourthly, parents and teachers, largely because of the high accident rate, tend to discourage boys from taking up this occupation; fifthly, better transport has widened the choice of jobs; sixthly, the poverty and unemployment of 1926-8 reduced the birth rate in miners’ families, and consequently, there have in recent years been fewer school-leavers in the mining areas who could enter the industry. Taking those supposed factors into account, together with the danger, discomfort and social isolation of mining, its general unpopularity may be understood. It was part of the purpose of this Survey to discover to what degree the acceptance of mining as an occupation might be increased by improved housing, social facilities and general town and community planning.

(ii) Present Position and future Prospects of the Scottish Mining Industry.

The main feature of the Scottish mining industry, and the one which gave rise to this Survey, is the exhaustion, or the approaching exhaustion, of parts of the various coalfield areas. Over the coalfield as a whole there still remain ample reserves for many years to come, but it is inevitable that the main centres of production will undergo considerable change. These tendencies are particularly marked in the Central (Lanarkshire) coalfield, which, in the last thirty years has shown a decline in production from 23 3/4 million tons in 1910 to 13 million in 1939. It is in Lanarkshire that the major part of this reduction has occurred, with a fall in production from about 18 million tons to about 8 ½ million tons in the same period. On the other hand, production has been more or less maintained in the other three coalfield areas, apart from the temporary falling off which occurred during the disputes of 1921 and 1926, and the economic depression of 1931-1933.

The Report of the Scottish Coalfields Committee (1944) suggests that the decline in output from the Lanarkshire area will continue for a number of years. It is unlikely that the decline can be arrested, although it may be reduced, by increased production from existing sinkings, or from new sinkings, in Lanarkshire. For the 1939 figure of Scottish coal production of 30 million tons to be maintained, production will have to be moved from the declining to the expanding areas, if they are willing. That is to say, the mining population of the central area will be reduced while that o Ayrshire, Lothians, Stirlingshire and Fife will be increased – although in each of these cases there are already some sub-districts which today are declining, and others expanding. Consequently, there will be in the future a migration from declining to expanding coalfield areas, coupled with a certain amount of internal migration within the areas themselves. At the same time, as things stand at present, the possibility of migration is seriously hampered from the outset by inadequate housing resources in the receiving areas. Here, however, the possibility arises that miners who find that employment in the coal industry is no longer available will prefer to take up a new occupation in the area where they live, rather than to move elsewhere to remain in the coal industry.


(iii) The Character of Scottish Mining Areas and Communities

It is important to bear in mind that Scottish mining centres may vary quite considerably in character, especially in size, and in the numerical relation which the mining community bears to the community as a whole. In the matter of size, the mining settlement may vary from a village of a few hundred persons to townships of considerable dimensions. Any mining centre may show striking variations in the number of miners compared with the general population. Thus in Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire, the proportions are 1 to 32, and 1 to 21, respectively – a low proportion because, although mining employs large numbers, it is usually supplemented by another basic industry, such as iron, steel or textiles. The other extreme is found in the mining districts of Central Fife, East Lothian and West Lothian, where the proportion of miners to the total population is 1 to 5 or 1 to 6 in the isolated mining villages of Ayrshire. In these areas mining is the only basic industry. But between these extreme conditions there are areas where, although mining is dominant, other industries have introduced variety into the employment structure. In these cases miners’ families are able to find employment near at hand when otherwise they would have to look outside the area for it, and the result has been a fairly balanced community with a miners’ total population ratio of 1 in 7 or 1 in 9, as in Midlothian and East Fife, respectively.

The external features of mining settlements also may vary considerably in detail, but on the whole they tend to fit a common pattern. One of the Survey’s field workers, for example, gave the following description of a Lanarkshire mining settlement:-

“This is a shocking place, a miniature slum set down in a rural area. There are two rows of two-storied houses. These face each other; the upper stories are entered by stone steps at the backs of the rows. Each house has a room and a kitchen; in some cases one room has been sublet. More than half the houses in which I interviewed had 6 or more people living in them. There is no gas, no electricity and no water (except as one person said, what comes through the roof). There is a houses is unpaved, a muddy path. There are two taps on one side of the street running down to two drains. Dirty water and slops are emptied into these gutters, and often thrown from the doorways.”

This is an area, in which the mining industry is declining. Another interviewer gave the following comments on the general condition of an expanding Ayrshire mining settlement.

“D. has been described as the “end of the world”, and it does seem rather like that. It is a cold and an isolated place, but on the whole it seems to be a fairly happy village. It stands about 570 feet high, and is surrounded by very hilly country. The roads get blocked very easily in snowy weather and buses are unable to get through.

....There is a good deal of property that needs to be condemned, and would be so if there were anywhere for the people to live. There is a very bad housing shortage; this seems the worst place in Ayrshire in this respect. There is a lot of overcrowding, and some conditions are very bad. There are two and three families in many of the houses....There isn’t a hope for a young married couple to set up house on their own. Instead, they live with parents, and sometimes have four or five children before they get a home of their own - then they have lost enthusiasm, and have no furniture.....The whole of D. needs replanning. It is an untidy shape and its roads are narrow. It has obviously grown without any sort of plan. A local doctor says that the place is not healthy, and that there is too much T.B., not caused “by the nature of the work.”

A static mining settlement in W. Lothian presents much the same appearance:

“The general appearance of the village is drab, although fairly clean. The buildings in the main road are dirty, and often people are living in condemned houses, which are invariably miners’ rows. However, the Council houses which are being built on roads running at right-angles to the main road are bright and cheerful....But even people living in the Council houses are overcrowded.”

Finally, the following interviewer’s account of the social atmosphere prevailing in a declining Fifeshire mining settlement is of considerable interest. This settlement has a somewhat larger population than the settlements described above:

“C. is at the moment a reasonably prosperous and lively place; and yet it is to an outsider a very depressing one. It is not only the physical aspect of the mean grey houses, and the piles of mine refuse, and the hideous railway station: it is the people themselves. They are kind and friendly, and helpful too. They give you brawn for tea, and talk for hours. But underneath there is the profound dissatisfaction of the people with the way they get their living, and their cynical disillusionment....The talk of the more recent past is always of “bad conditions, of starvation wages, of trickery and deception practised by coalowners. In the early days of mining, when in many cases it was an ex-miner who owned a small mine, and was ‘Jock’ or ‘Tom’ to the men who worked for him, and boys were apprenticed to their fathers and worked with them, things may have been just as hard, but the people, it seems, were happier. There are many factors now that estrange the miner from the mine – the large companies and impersonal ownership, the mechanisation that renders skill to a certain extent unnecessary, the abandonment of the scheme whereby the father taught his son, the sordid history of poverty and unemployment, and the continual uphill fight for better conditions.”

It is against such a social and physical background that the results of the survey, which follow, have to be interpreted.

[1] From figures given in the “Quarterly Statistical Summaries of Output, Costs of Production, Proceeds and Profits of the Coal Mining Industry”. Cf. Heinemann, M., “Britain’s Coal: a study of the mining crisis”. London, 1944. P.43.


2. The Method of the Survey

The inquiry itself was made in 5 sections, 4 by interview, and the 5th based on other material collected in the field by interviewers. The first part consisted of a questionnaire addressed to a sample of the miners themselves. Its purpose was to discover whether the miner was a member of a mining family, what his industrial experience had been, his attitudes to mining as an occupation for himself and for his children, and what his attitudes were to possible alternative occupations both within the mining industry and outside it. In addition, a section of the questionnaire dealt with the miner’s community life, especially his organised social activities. The second part of the inquiry, addressed to the housewife , was concerned with her attitudes to her community life, with a section on her attitude to the mining industry. The third section was intended for schoolchildren , who were asked to complete a simple schedule, by which their preferences for various occupations would be revealed by the method of paired comparisons. This made possible a rating of the children’s evaluation of the different occupational possibilities. In order to relate the results of the inquiry to miners’ housing conditions, a fourth section, a housing index , was devised, which took into account the main facts of housing, and made it possible to rate objectively houses of different qualities, and with different degrees of over-crowding. Finally, the fieldworkers were asked to collect certain basic social and sociological material according to a list of topics supplied to them.

The sampling unit was the miner’s household, and in each area the Assessment Rolls were employed for extracting the sample. It was first ascertained in what districts of the place to be surveyed the mining community lived, whether in the burgh itself, or in the parishes surrounding it. For each of the districts in which miners were resident the proportion of miners’ households was determined. The districts with the highest proportions of miners were then selected, and the total quota of interviews for the place concerned was divided between the districts proportionately to the number of miners’ households in each. Where half the households in any one district were found to be miners’ households, a sample twice the size of the quota was taken and, in interviewing, all households with no miner at all living in them were neglected. In all cases all miners in each household, together with the housewife, were interviewed.

The places visited were as follows:

1. Alloa



Devonshire and Coalsnaughton

2. Stirling

Parish of St. Ninians

3. Cowdenbeath


Hill of Beath




4. Methil



5. Newton Grange



East Houses

6. Tranent



7. Bathgate



8. Shotts Parish

(inc.Harthill, etc.)

9. Dalserf


10. Blantyre-Ferniegair-



11. Annbank-Mossblown

12. Old Cumnock


13. Dalmellington


The Sampling quota allocated for the various districts, and the numbers actually received were a follows:-

Quota Allocated Nos. Received
Alloa 100 91
Cowdenbeath 145 142
Lochgelly 145 168
Wemyss 170 142
Stirling 120 119
Dalkeith 160 155
Musselburgh 160 155
Larkhall 130 46
Hamilton 204 131
Shotts 190 151
Bathgate 156 87
Ayr (Annbank) 100 112
Cumnock 120 87
Dalmellington 100 127
2,000 1,713

It will be seen that, with the exception of the Central coalfield area, the results are quite satisfactory. The reasons for the deficiency in the Central area were a local strike in Blantyre at the time of the inquiry, special sampling difficulties because of the out-of-date nature of the local records, and other interviewing difficulties. While regional analyses of the data would not have been affected by the deficiency, it seemed possible that the deficiency in the Central area would prejudice the validity of the total results, or of total figures such as those for age-group totals. However, when totals were weighted to give the Central area its due proportion, these were seen to be scarcely affected by the deficiency.

The distribution of occupations among the miners interviewed in the course of the inquiry was as follows:

Scottish Miners: Occupational Distribution

No. %
Surface worker 11
Underground worker 76
Maintenance 7
Skilled trade, joiner, electrician 3
Retired, unemployed 1
No answer 2

When this sample was checked with the official statistics, it was found to provide an accurate picture of miners’ occupations in the Scottish mining areas.

Before the main inquiry was started, a preliminary questionnaire was sent out into the field as a pilot survey , administered by a small team of interviewers. As a result of the experience gained from this, certain modifications were made in the original schedule.

3. The Questionnaires

The basic purposes of the inquiry have been stated above. It may now be of interest to consider how the questionnaires were designed to achieve them.

In the case of the miner his industrial history was recorded in order to show the different industries in which he had worked, his geographical mobility in relation to his jobs, the reasons for his choice of job, the influence of unemployment, and the extent to which the last war resulted in changes in occupation among the older miners. From this knowledge of past behaviour it was expected that some forecast might be possible of the future geographic mobility of the miner, and the probabilities of movement to other occupations.

The pilot inquiry had made clear the opposition of many parents to the entry of their children into the mining industry. It was obvious that if this parental attitude were reflected in the actual behaviour of their children, then future entrants into the coal-mining industry might well be fewer than in the past. The inquiry, therefore, discovered for each miner’s child his present occupation, his peacetime occupation if he were now in the Forces, where he was working (as a further check on geographical mobility), and the reasons why the particular job was chosen. In addition, parents were asked what occupations they would prefer to choose for their children still at school, and what occupations they, in fact, expected they would enter. Parents were also asked what they thought of mining as a future for their children, and for themselves. Following up this approach, a number of questions were asked concerning some of the alternative fields of employment which may appear as new industrial development in Scotland gets under way. Thus, they were asked whether they thought they would stay in mining or go into a new occupation, if this became possible after the war. Secondly, the miner was asked if he would be prepared to move, if reasonable housing conditions were offered, to another mine in another part of Scotland, or to another occupation in another part of Scotland. It was found necessary to introduce the question of improved housing in this connection, since it was found that, unless this condition were mentioned, the question of migration was not likely to be answered. A third approach to the same general problem was taken by asking the miner whether he would prefer to stay in his own area but to change his occupation, or to move to another mine in another place.

A number of questions were asked which were designed to throw some light on the main social deficiencies in mining communities, and the most important social facilities which the people desired in newly developed areas. Miners were consequently asked what things they liked and disliked about the place they lived in, and what they considered the most important improvement needed. A further question of some importance asked for miners preferences for a mixed industrial area or for an area dominantly devoted to mining. Finally, questions were asked about the details of miners’ social life, the social activities in which they take part and the institutions of which they make use, the frequency with which these institutions are used related to the facilities available in the various areas, the distances their wives have to travel and the adequacy of transport. The miner was also asked what social facilities he would like which are not now available to him.

The miner’s wife was asked a shorter series of questions on the same lines. The questions on community and social life were included in full, and there was a general question about the prospects of mining as an occupation for the husband and for young people.

It was found from the outset that in all discussions with miners and their wives the problem of housing was uppermost in their minds. The main facts about the housing position in the Scottish mining areas were already known, and estimates had already been made of the extent to which immediate rehousing was necessary. Nevertheless, it was considered useful to be able to relate the answers to a number of questions to actual housing conditions. For this purpose a housing index was devised which, by taking into account the main characteristics of housing, would make it possible to rate objectively housing quality and the degree of overcrowding. Eleven housing characteristics were listed, such as type of house, state of repair, bathroom, water supply, number of rooms, and so on. These broad characteristics were subdivided according to a standard of desirability. Each of those subdivisions was then given a score varying from 11 to 0. Thus, under “House’’, a detached or semi-detached house scored 9; a terraced house, 6. Under “State of Repair” good general repair scored 11; bad general repair, 0. Own inside W.C. scored 6; a shared W.C., or earth closet, scored 0. And so on. It will be seen that, when these scores were totaled, a high housing index score indicated good housing and a low score, bad housing.

We use cookies to track usage and preferences.

Privacy & Cookie Policy Accept & Close