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  Pay, Strikes and Living Conditions - Improving Quarrymen's Health 

pay and living conditions strikes 1900-1903 penrhyn strike
development of trade unionism quarry management  

T0000273a - Cover Page - Report of the Departmental Committee Report of the Departmental Committee upon Merioneth Slate Mines


75. After the evidence given by the medical men, we can have no difficulty in making suggestions for the improvement of the health of the Festiniog workmen. They may be arranged under the various headings :—

  1. Houses.
  2. Food.
  3. Clothing and habits. (Public baths.)
  4. Travelling to and from work.
  5. Accommodation at the mines.
  6. Sanitary arrangements.

1. Houses.

76. The three great requisites for wholesome dwellings are that they should be dry, light, and clean ; and in a rainy climate, like that of the mining (quarry) districts, it is necessary to insist very strongly upon excellence of construction, and upon the observance of all precautions calculated to prevent damp walls and damp floors.

"We consider that the local authorities in the quarry districts should see that their towns and villages are properly drained, and should fearlessly condemn all dwellings which do not present the necessary guarantees of dryness and perfect sanitation. That such a course will cost money we readily admit; but, in our opinion, any expenditure for promoting the general health of the community will be amply repaid by the lessening of disease. To quote the trite proverb, "Prevention is better than cure."

2. Food.

77. The evidence of the medical men shows that the food of the quarrymen and its mode of preparation might be greatly improved, and their opinion is corroborated by the instructresses in cookery. We fully recognise the impossibility of suddenly altering the mode of livine" of the workmen and their families; any change must- be begun with the young, and it may be accomplished gradually by laying more stress upon the teaching of cookery in schools. We consider the present course too short;

but if the maximum grant for the subject can be earned in five weeks, the school authorities have no inducement to prolong the teaching. Cookery cannot take the place which it deserves in the school curriculum until the Education Department becomes impressed "with the fact that it is an art of paramount importance to the working classes.

3. Clothing and Habits.

78. The evidence of the doctors was to the effect that the workmen are suitably clothed, but that they do not change their underclothing or perform their ablutions as frequently as is desirable. The blame for the want of cleanliness with which the quarryman is reproached, is partly attributable to faulty barracks, without appliances for washing or living in decency and comfort. The Inspectors of Mines have directed attention to the shortcomings of the barracks upon more than one occasion in their reports. The Festiniog Local Authorities have at last awakened to a sense of their responsibilities, and, as far as the barracks are concerned, no doubt matters will be improved, though we do not agree with them in allowing two men to occupy one bed.

For the people generally, it is necessary to go further than the rules and regulations vvhich can be enforced by byelaws. They must be taught from their earliest childhood that the body must be respected, that baths are .essential, and frequent changes of underclothing a sine qua non if health is to be preserved. Let the local authorities establish public baths and let the rudiments of hygiene be taught to every boy and girl. It is useless to hope for improved hygienic conditions among the workmen until the schools, local authorities, and persons in position act as guides, and point out the paths which lead to health.

4. Travelling to and from work.

79. We are of opinion that some of the illnesses of the Festiniog men may be fairly attributed to chills contracted in the daily .railway journeys to and from the mines (quarries). The men waiting for their train, sometimes in wet clothes, may of ten be seen sitting on the ground at one of the stations of the Narrow Gauge railway, as there is not sufficient bench-accommodation. A journey of three-quarters of an hour in damp clothes in a draughty railway carriage may easily lay the foundations of disease, and quarry men who can live within easy walking distance of their homes would, a priori, be expected to be less subject to illness than those who travel daily to and from their work by rail. On the other hand, one of the witnesses told us that, in his opinion. lower house rent at Penrhyn and a better climate more than made up for the possible risk of catching a chill when travelling. The medical men do not agree with him on this point.

The stations and the carriage accommodation of the 'Narrow Gauge railway might doubtless be improved, and some effort might be made by the railway companies to run more convenient workmen's trains.

5. Accommodation at the Mines.

80. At many ore mines the men have a set of clothes appropriated solely for their

work, which they don on arriving at the mine in the morning, and take off again in the evening-, so as to go home in their ordinary dress. A suitable changing-house is provided by the mine owner, with a fire or heating apparatus of some kind for drying the clothes. The miner, therefore, always has a dry suit in which to commence work, and no matter how wet he gets during the day, he can put on warm, dry, and clean clothes before starting for home. It is true that slate mines are drier than the average lead or tin mine, so that the workmen as a rule do not get wet; but many of them are often exposed to heavy rain in proceeding to their work, and we think that the example of the Cornish miner might he followed with advantage. But, given the best and most comfortably arranged changing -houses. would the Merionethshire men use them? We must confess that we do not believe they would, and on this ground we do not feel justified in recommending that they should be erected everywhere. We should like to see the experiment tried of providing one of the mines with a thoroughly Stood and comfortable changing-house, with everv convenience for washing and dressing; if it were found that the younger men gradually began to avail themselves of the health-giving appliances, we would advise Section 23 (16) of the Metalliferous Mines Act, relating to changing-houses to be enforced rigidly.

Comfort during meals is essential. Excellent eating-houses mav be seen at some mines (quarries), and we should like to see them universal.

6. Sanitary Arrangements.

81. Much was said in evidence about 'the absence of closet accommodation above and below ground. We are by no means 'convinced that any illness has ever resulted from this fact; but the present practice may lead-to disease, and we recommend that sufficient closet accommodation be provided below and above ground, and that the men be forbidden to use the old workings as latrines. The amount of closet accommodation required below ground would be small.

As far as it is reasonably practicable, under-ground paths along which men go to their work should be kept dry, and water should be prevented from running down the working faces.

Considering the large amount of cubic space per man in the slate mills, and the comparatively small amount of dust which is produced, we think that watering with a hose or spray in very dry weather will probably render the atmosphere sufficiently harmless. Every quarry man may, to a great extent, protect himself from the noxious influence of dust by breathing through the nose instead of through the mouth. Men in the mills should be guarded against unnecessary draughts as far as possible.

Extract from: Report of the Departmental Committee upon Merioneth Slate Mines, 1895

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