Revised March 7, 2016
"A New Sect" Makes Big News
In the early days, no attempts were made to conceal the New Sect's recent start-up or founder. It was a new development that made big news. It was truly “A New Thing.”
“A few years ago a religious movement was started in the North of Ireland by a few former members of the Scotch organisation—the Faith Mission. These ‘Pilgrims,’ or ‘Tramp Preachers,’ as they are commonly called, being dissatisfied with the quieter methods of Christian work advocated by the parent society, seceded from it, and developed what may best be described as a new sect, distinguished for its bitter hostility to all existing Churches, and to a regular paid ministry of any kind, reminding one not a little of the Plymouth Brethren on these and other points. It is believed that the originator of this somewhat erratic development was a Scotchman called Irwin, (Irvine) who at an early stage of this work enlisted the sympathy and help of an earnest young man, a native of Enniskillen, Mr. Edward Cooney, formerly an Episcopalian, who devoted himself to evangelistic work in various parts of Ireland, and member of a most respectable family, several of whom have long been distinguished for their zeal in many branches of religious and philanthropic work.” (The Irish Presbyterian, March, 1905; Heading ‘A New Sect’)
In the British Isles, names commonly used to identify this particular movement were Cooneyites, Reidites, Irvinites and Gillites. Various other descriptive titles have been coined to refer to this group. some of which are: “Tramp Preachers,” "Go Preachers," “Pilgrims,” “Dippers,” “Two by Twos,” “The Jesus Way,” “The Truth,” “The Way,” “The Church Without a Name,” etc. The designation “Go Preachers,” came from Matthew 10:7, “And as ye go, preach.”
The preachers made frequent remarks ridiculing the clergy, churches and Christians of that time. This was met with protest, indignation and resentment, and the public freely expressed their feelings. Riots even took place in some locations: Newtownards--June 9, 1904; Sudbury, England-July 13, 1917; Swords, Co. Dublin, Ireland--October 22, 1908; Rural Suffolk, England--Impartial Reporter June 21, 1906; July 25, 1912; and in Baltimore, MD USA--in Sept. 1908, where the convention tents were burned.
Some of the New Sect's preachers used portable wooden huts in which they lived and held services. T he wooden hut of Robert Todd and Andrew Robb was destroyed along with 3 bicycles, a stove and utensils in Camolin, Co. Wexford in 1900. Irvine Weir's meeting house and organ were maliciously destroyed in Bourney, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary in 1900. John Hardie's tent was set on fire in Co. Kilkenny in 1904. Wilson McClung's wooden hall and organ in Ipswich, Co. Suffolk, England were wrecked by W. D. Wilson in 1906; Edward Cooney's wooden hall at Makeny near Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh was burned in 1906. Thomas Elliott's gospel hall and furniture were burned at Ballyroguley, near Loop, Moneymore in 1907. Newspapers reported that workers and friends filed for compensation for their losses and most were granted.
In 1904, the New Sect created considerable interest when it held its first large annual convention on the property of John and Sarah West in Crocknacrieve, Ballinamallard, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.
The Cooneyite 'Dippers' or 'Tramp Preachers' have just opened a Convention at Crocknacrieve, the residence of Mr. John West, near Enniskillen. This is a 'record' assembly, as delegates come from all parts of the world, and elaborate preparations have been made for housing them and providing food supplies. The proceedings are to last six weeks, and during that time it is calculated 10,000 adherents will participate. Mr. Wm. Irvin, [Irvine] the founder of the sect, is in attendance and Mr. Edmund [Edward] Cooney, his chief Lieutenant, is returning from Canada to take part in the deliberations." (Irish Independent, July 5, 1910)
While sometimes claiming to have no head, William Irvine and Edward Cooney were generally recognized as the two prominent leaders of the group in the Early Days.
"I am a tramp preacher," said Mr. Edward Cooney, at Ballinamallard. Therefore, if the writer describe the latest phase of religious enthusiasm, by the name given by one of themselves, it cannot be misunderstood. The Tramps have revived the interest taken in them some two years ago, by their convention at Ballinamallard and the baptism of new members in a river of running water. They gathered from Longford and Meath, from Derrygonnelly and Brookeborough, from Enniskillen and Dublin, from Scotland and England, till they mustered about 130, and the two leaders are Mr. Wm. Irvine and Mr. Edward Cooney." (Impartial Reporter, October 13, 1904, p. 8)
"The Irvinites, or Pilgrims, or Faith Healers, or Tramps, as they are variously called, were to have left Enniskillen this week, after a stay of six weeks, but they are remaining somewhat longer. Mrs. Betty spoke of themselves as Pilgrims or Tramps on Monday night, but they are generally called Irvinites, after their leader, though, on the other hand, they say they have no leader." (Impartial Reporter, January 15, 1903, p. 8)
“And who are we? We have no name. . .but the ribald multitude give us many. Some call us Cooneyites, some call us Tramps, Faith Missionaries, No Secters, Women-Thieves, and so on. Well, we are Cooneyites. We are also McClungites, for Cooney is no greater than I. We have no established leader in this world. Our mission was started by William Irvine, a Scotchman, seven or eight years ago. Others followed him. I myself was a Civil Servant in Dublin. I resigned my post, sold all that I had and gave to the poor, and went out to preach." (Impartial Reporter, June 21, 1906, p. 3; Statement by Worker, Wilson McClung)
How wonderful if William Irvine had made a diary entry that read: "Today I began to restore The New Testament church." Or: "Today, John Long and I started experimenting with Matthew 10." Unfortunately, such a statement has not yet been found and there are no living primary witnesses who can testify about the start of the Church Without a Name.
Primary sources enable researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during a historical event or time period. A primary source reflects the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Some types of primary materials include diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memoirs, manuscripts, photographs, autobiographies, recordings, published materials (books, magazines, newspaper articles), official records of the government or organizations, court cases, ship manifests, etc.
Today, the evidence portraying the role of Wm. Irvine in the Church Without a Name comes primarily from government records, ship manifests, court cases, letters, meeting notes, newspaper accounts, books, genealogy records, photographs, ancestors, first, second, third and fourth hand written accounts, journals, etc. The fact that William Irvine was the Founder of the group is evident from the following quote:
"Wm. Irvine, the founder and supreme authority of what is known as Cooneyism, is a Scotchman. His native place is Kilsyth, a small town near Glasgow. Before he became a Tramp he had attached himself to the sect known as the Faith Mission or Pilgrims, and was the manager of a coal mine under Baird & Co., Glasgow, and enjoyed a salary of £300 a year. William Irvine left this employment and joined the Faith Mission, under the control then of J. G. Govan, of Rothsay, who still holds conventions after the manner followed at Crocknacrieve, but on a much smaller scale. It is often addressed by evangelical Clergy. Wm. Irvine gave up his connection with that sect for two reasons, according to my information—1st, because the leader was alleged to have been a ‘hypocrite,’ in that while teaching Pilgrims to live by faith he himself had over hundreds of pounds. 2nd, because Mr. Irvine’s converts always lapsed and were lost among the clergy by going back to their own congregation or what is known as the churches. Consequently a small number of preachers and some from the Faith Mission, along with one named John Long (who was rejected three years ago, because he would not maintain that John Wesley had gone to hell) and about a dozen stood by Wm. Irvine.” (Impartial Reporter, August 25, 1910, p. 8)
The fact that Edward Cooney was his right-hand man and a prominent, well respected leader in the group in the Early Days, is evidenced by the following quotes:
“However, the chief motive power was latent until Edward Cooney heard Wm. Irvine, and offered him money and even a salary yearly, which was refused by Irvine. At all events, £1,300 from Mr. Cooney alone was applied to the cause, and has been preached as having been ‘given to the poor,’ on the authority of, ‘Sell all that ye have, &c.’ Yet as a matter of fact, this sum was mostly paid to transport preachers to places abroad, and not to the poor, as is sometimes understood, the fruit of which even yet in some measure returns annually to Crocknacrieve Convention. Edward Cooney soon made converts, and spoke of his relatives in a manner not after the style of the Gospel. But because of his sincerity and earnestness, many were influenced. . .” (Impartial Reporter, August 25, 1910, p. 8)
“At last Sunday evening’s service there were five men and two women on the platform, and of the former were two of the chief pioneers of the movement—Mr. Wm. Irwin and Mr. Edward Cooney. The meeting opened with the singing of hymns and prayer. . .Mr. Irwin is a forcible speaker, and has a very convincing manner.” (Impartial Reporter July 18, 1907, p. 8)
“For some weeks past a large party have been making preparations for the reception of their brethren, this year’s convention eclipsing in anticipation all former conventions. Delegates will attend from all parts of the world, and before the convention close over 10,000 pilgrims, it is estimated, will visit Crocknacrieve. Mr. Wm. Irwin, the leader and originator of ‘the work’ is there at present, also Mr. Geo. Walker, but Mr. Edward Cooney is, we are told, on his way, having left Canada last week.” (Impartial Reporter, July 7, 1910)
The Impartial Reporter described an action for libel and white slave traffic, in which Edward Cooney stated while under oath that Wm. Irvine was the founder of the sect:
"In the King’s Bench Division, London, on Thursday, before Mr. Justice Darling, a number of extraordinary statements were made in the course of the settlement in an action brought by Earnest Walter List, of Debenham, near Stowmarket, and Edward Cooney, formerly of Enniskillen, Ireland, against The People, Ltd., for alleged libel. Mr. Eames for the plaintiffs, said the action was brought for libel, and the charge made against the plaintiffs was a very serious one. It charged them with carrying on White Slave traffic under the guise of a religious movement. They were both members of a community known as the ‘Go-preachers,’ who took this name from Scripture, in which the apostles were exhorted to go forth and preach to all the world. Mr. Cooney was one of the pioneers or founders of the community. . . “Mr. Justice Darling—Were you the founder of this sect?
“E. Cooney (under oath)—No, William Irvine was the first, about sixteen years ago. I cast in my lot with him as a fellow-preacher, and preached a good deal in the north of Ireland. I recognise the name, but others have nicknamed us ‘The Cooneyites.’ I do not like it myself.” (Impartial Reporter, December 18, 1913, p.3)
A recognized historian of the group was Goodhand Pattison. At the request of his son, John, Goodhand Pattison wrote his memories of various events in chronological order which took place in the beginning of the movement. These are titled: Accounts of the Early Days. Under the heading “Holy Place,” he wrote: “I use the words ‘New Movement’ in no bad sense, only to express what most people would have called it at that time...” John Long's Journal is another source of recorded history about the formation of the group.
Probably no one even dreamed that some day great pains would be taken to eradicate from history the information concerning their start-up. No one had an inkling that one day both the founder and his right-hand man, William Irvine and Edward Cooney, would be ex-communicated by some of their loyal followers and best friends.
My goal is preservation of the 2x2 history. This information is presented in this book in chronological order. When it's impossible to know for certain if something is true or false, only probability can be established. Your conclusion must be reached by evaluating the existing evidence and/or lack thereof and choosing the side with the highest degree of probability.
“Their founder was really a Mr. William Irvine. . .and his doctrines, of course, do not differ essentially from those of the various heretical millenarian sects which have arisen in the history of Christianity.” (Impartial Reporter, July 19, 1917)
“The closing scene at the meeting in the gloaming was impressive. All the arrangements had been made for the departure of the ‘preachers’ to different parts of the world, and it only remained for the Go-Preachers’ founder to give to all the last words of counsel and farewell. Mr. Irvine dealt mainly with the duty of those in fellowship towards one another and towards the outside world.” (Impartial Reporter, July 31, 1913)
“The speakers at this service were the two leaders of the movement, Mr. Wm. Irwin [Irvine] and Mr. Edward Cooney. Both speakers denounced the various churches and the clergy in no unmeasured words.” (Impartial Reporter, July 23, 1908 p8)
“Mr. Wm. Irwin, the leader of the movement, has set sail for America, and is to open a convention in Halifax, on Sunday, 16th last. Altogether he has to attend nine conventions until he returns to Crocknacrieve again next year.” (Impartial Reporter, August 13, 1908)
"An address was delivered by Mr. Wm. Irwin [Irvine], the recognised leader of the sect, who in his remarks criticised very strongly the work carried on by the workers, during the holding of mission services over all parts of the country and United Kingdom.” (Impartial Reporter, August 12, 1909)
Personally, I believe there is more than sufficient evidence to conclude that Wm. Irvine was the founder of the Church Without a Name, and I’ve written this book from that perspective. Conclusions regarding Wm. Irvine and the history of the Church Without a Name usually fall into one of these categories. Relative to the Church Without a Name, Wm. Irvine was:
1. Just a worker for a few years.
2. One of several workers who started the Church.
3. A man used/raised up by God to restore God's true Church.
4. The founder, originator, creator of the Church
5. The finder of the underground Church.
6. A prophet of God, like the Old Testament prophets.
THE IMPARTIAL REPORTER & FARMERS JOURNAL: You may be wondering, "What on earth is the Impartial Reporter?" It was the local newspaper, located in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Quotes from this newspaper will outnumber quotes from any other source in this book. Their earliest newspaper article about The Testimony to be found at this time (year 2000) is dated January 15, 1903. These articles have been retyped for your convenience on the Telling The Truth Website. The Impartial Reporter published its first newspaper on May 19, 1825. In 1900, it published one newspaper per week on Thursday, and has continued to do so (in 2014). Some issues contain the following heading:
William Trimble (1802-1886), a native of Pomeroy, County Tyrone, Ireland, was the first editor-proprietor of The Impartial Reporter and Farmers' Journal. It is based in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Norther Ireland. He was succeeded by his second son, William Copeland Trimble (1851-1941), who wrote a pamphlet titled The Tramps or Go-Preachers, 1910, (Sometimes called Pilgrims) under the initials W.C.T.
"The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The ‘Impartial Reporter’ is the only paper which circulates throughout the Diocese of Clogher, in counties of Fermanagh, Donegal, Tyrone, and Monaghan. It is the only paper which circulates throughout the Diocese of Kilmore in Cavan and Leitrim; and it issues five copies for two copies of the local paper nearest in position." (taken from July 23, 1908 p5 issue)
Wm. C. Trimble was married twice. First, on October 3, 1881, to Letitia Jane Weir, born May 18, 1854. Their marriage was registered in South Dublin. They had 5 children and she died eleven years later on January 8, 1892, being 38 years old. Letitia Jane Weir was the daughter of John Weir, and was related to the William Weir family who owned a store on Baggot Street in Dublin, where the first Sunday morning meeting was held. Perhaps this is why W.C. Trimble took a keen interest in the activities and beliefs of the Tramp Preachers. His second marriage was to Lily Reilly on May 8, 1893. They had 3 children.
The weekly newspaper was owned and run by the William Trimble family ever since it was founded in 1825.William Copeland Trimble was succeeded as editor-proprietor of the Impartial Reporter by his son William Egbert Trimble (1882-1967). On his death, his daughter, Joan (born 1915) took over the reins. In turn, they were passed on to her daughter, Joanna McVey. In June, 2006, the 181 year-old Northern Ireland weekly, The Impartial Reporter, was bought by Ulster News Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dunfermine Press Ltd.
In the past twenty years, friends, workers, and ex-friends have continued to make pilgrimage visits back to the “Old Country” and visit the office of The Impartial Reporter, located in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland investigating the group’s beginning. At this newspaper publishing office, there are more than 100 old newspaper articles on file written by reporters who visited conventions, missions, workers and friends and traced the development of the 2x2 fellowship at the turn of the 20th century. Visit their website. See PHOTO.
Although the fellowship in no small way owes its existence and origin to the experiment William Irvine began to conduct in Ireland in 1897-99, today there are very few adherents, followers or friends who even recognize the name of the man who founded their sect. However, the history is somewhat better known to the workers and followers living in the British Isles, where it initially started and first took hold.
Following are the sources frequently used in this book.
By John Long - A Journal. John Long was with Wm. Irvine at his very FIRST independent mission at Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, Ireland in 1897.
Impartial Reporter Newspaper from Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, N. Ireland.
From The Faith Mission: Bright Words. The Faith Mission published a monthly magazine titled Bright Words, which was formerly published under the title of Life Indeed. and is now published under the title: First Magazine. This publication gave news concerning their workers, worker locations, converts and missions.
Early Memories by Fred Wood
Books by Patricia Roberts:
1. The Life and Ministry of Edward Cooney, 1867-1960, 1990
2. Selected Letters, Hymns and Poems of Edward Cooney, 1867-1960, 1991
3. Selected Letters of Fred Wood 1890-1986, 1997
1863, JANUARY 7: BIRTH OF WILLIAM IRVINE. William Irvine was born in Newtown, Kilsyth, Scotland, on January 7, 1863, the third child of eleven born to John and Elizabeth Irvine. According Page 7 of the Registrar General of Scotland, 1863 Births in the Parish of Kilsyth, County of Stirling, William Irvine had no middle name. It would appear that he assumed a middle name or initial, or was given one later, as the initials engraved in gold on the bible in his posession at his death were W.E.I. Also, Irvine's letter to Fred Hanowell dated August 17, 1921 is signed W. E. Irvine. In both Ireland and North America, "Irvine" is frequently pronounced "Ir-ine' " (with a long "I" and accent on "vine") while the common pronunciation in Scotland is "Er'-ven" (with the accent on "Er").
Speaking of his birth, Irvine wrote “. .it was reported that a baby boy had been born in a humble home in a humble town to humble parents. . .” (Wm. Irvine's letter to Caseys dated April 7, 1934) It is not the custom of the Scots to browse through a book to find a name for a new baby. They have a tradition or ritual in naming their children. At the time William Irvine was born, babies were customarily named after relatives, in the following order:
Son #1 was given the name of the Father’s Father
Son #2 was named after the Mother’s Father
Son #3 was named after the Father
Daughter #1 was given the name of the Mother’s Mother
Daughter #2 was named after the Father’s Mother
Daughter #3 was named after the Mother
John and Elizabeth Irvine did deviated very little from this tradition with their first six children. In birth order, their first three sons were John, William, and James. True to Scottish tradition, the first three daughters in birth order were named Margaret, Agnes and Elizabeth.
The following is known about William Irvine's Father, John:
"John Irvine was a stalwart member of the Free Church and also one of its managers. He was involved in the mining industry like his father before him, at first connected with small enterprises that worked minerals, then later as a colliery manager at Dumbreck and the Haughs Pits. At his death in August 1913, he was described as, 'one of the diminishing army of veterans who took part in the historic war in the Crimea (1853-56)...John had volunteered for service with the 79th Cameron Highlanders, was present at the Battles of Alma and Inkerman and also took part in the Battle of Balaclava, where he witnessed the famous 'Charge of the Light Brigade. (Source: Weaver, Miners and the Open Book by James Hutchison)
John Irvine and Elizabeth Grassam were married on December 9, 1858 at Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland. When they married, John Irvine was 25 years old, his occupation was a miner and he resided in Kilsyth. He was born in 1833 in Falkirk, Scotland and died August 12, 1913, age 80. Elizabeth Grassam was 25 years old and resided in Bogside, Kilsyth. She was born in 1833 in Larbert, Scotland and died November 25, 1897, age 64.
Their eleven children were: John born March 14, 1859; Margaret, born February 24, 1861; William born January 7, 1863; James born October 5, 1864; Agnes born June 23, 1866; Henry #1 born March 15, 1868 (Died in infancy) Henry #2 born January 26, 1870 (died as a child); Elizabeth born on December 12, 1871; Jane (also known as Jeanie) born February 1, 1874; Helen (also known as Nellie) born January 25, 1876; Janet (also known as Jennie) born February 9, 1880.
Click Here for Complete IRVINE FAMILY TREE
KILSYTH, SCOTLAND: (Pronounced Kil-sithe' - with a long "i" and the accent on the second sylable "sythe"). Kilsyth was the birthplace of William Irvine on January 7, 1863, the third child of John and Elizabeth Irvine, who married in 1858. Kilsyth is a former coal mining town in North Lanarkshire. Lanarkshire, also known as Lanark, was a county in Scotland. It was abolished in 1975. (Scotland is divided into shires, similar to counties.) Kilsyth is located 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Glasgow. The town was laid out in the 1670's on the route connecting Glasgow with Stirling. It is a traditional market town. The town was developed further in the 19th century, thanks to coal mining, ironworks and quarrying. The Kilsyth Chronicle, the newspaper office, is located in the Kilsyth Market Square. The Chronicle employees were extremely cordial to the Author on her visit on July 26, 2004, and were eager to supply all information that would possibly be helpful.
Nearby are the Townhead Reservoir and the remains of Colzium Castle and Colzium House, a mansion which dates from the 18th and 19th centuries which is open to public. The Forth and Clyde Canal was once a thriving waterway carrying passengers, fish, coal, ironstone and whinstone from the nearby Auchinstarry Quarry. The Auchinstarry Quarry is closed, and is now a park where climbing the rock faces of the former quarry is popular.
"In 1860 the famous business family, the Bairds of Gartsherrie began operations in Kilsyth when they leased the Curriemire pit and then began mining for ironstone above Neilston…In addition Bairds developed Queenzieburn into a coalmining village by opening the Dumbreck pit…They also built several 'miner's rows' to house their workers in Queenzieburn and in Kilsyth in the area which lies between Parkburn Road and Edward Street. The company railways converged at Twechar which the Bairds built into an extensive mining town with a school, a church and a Company shop...by the end of the 19th century, Kilsyth was almost entirely a coal mining town with seven local collieries employing between 4,000-5,000 men…" (Weavers, Miners and the Open Book – A History of Kilsyth - by James Hutchison; published by Kelvinprint in Cumbernauld, Scotland 1986 ISBN 0-9511362-0-8, pp. 124-128)
Wm.'s father, John Irvine, and his grandfather worked in the mines, as did the three sons of John Irvine: John, William and James. Occupations are listed on their birth, marriage and death records. A "collier" is a coal miner; a "colliery" is a coal mine and its connected buildings. Going "underground" was to go to work in the mines.
Wm. Irvine wrote that he began working in the mines at ten years old. "At 10, I went underground, and at 20 I had reached the top as boss at a caldery by very hard, going in danger, dirty and death to face. So I had to get some education at nights after long hard day, 12 miles from home. At 30, I had a big hard job with the best of prospects."
Reading about the conditions of the mines at that time, it is very easy to see why Wm. Irvine and his brothers would have longed to get out of the mining industry. Two of them did. William became a preacher and founder of a new sect; James and his wife emigrated to New Zealand. John's death record states he was 59, cause of death was Paroxymal Bradycardia, and his occupation was Colliery Manager.
A glimpse into the daily lives and conditions for a miner's family during this time period are vividly portrayed in the book: "Weavers, Miners and the Open Book – A History of Kilsyth." The following are some quotes from this book showing how hard the living conditions were for the Irvine family. It's not a pretty picture.
For additional information on Kilsyth Scotland:
"As mines became deeper, the danger to health and safety increased. Often whole families would work as a team, cutting the coal and bringing it to the surface. Men and boys referred to as 'hewers' would cut coal from seams which would be as low as 18 inches, supported only by uncut pillars of coal or wooden pit-props. Young boys of 8 or 9 called 'drawers' would be harnessed up to heavy coal tubs or 'corves' which they would be expected to pull from the bottom of the pit shaft to the surface. Other young boys called 'trappers' would be expected to sit in the darkness all day, opening and closing wooden ventilation doors to let the 'drawers' past. Women and older boys were often employed as 'bearers' carrying coal up ladders with baskets harnessed to their backs, although by the second half of the nineteenth century this was being replaced by the use of horse-gins and steam engines.
"Flooding was always a problem in mines but it took some time before local mine-owners were prepared to make the investment necessary to install steam pumping engines on the grounds that the level of coal output in the mines did not justify this. By the 1860's these were being installed in Kilsyth mines which enabled them to be dug deeper, but this in turn increased the danger from poisonous and explosive gases such as fire-damp or methane gas which produced disasters such as that at the Craigends Pit, in 1878, when a dozen men were killed and many others burned…
"Mining was a dangerous industry which produced countless accidents. Part of the problem was that mines were ventilated by air shafts and sometimes a fire would be lit at the bottom of these to cause hot air to rise and to draw in cold fresh air to replace it. Unfortunately if gases came in contact with these fires it could cause an explosion. The Davy Lamp, invented in 1815, helped to reduce these risks by protecting the naked flame with a wire gauge. In addition a warning was given of danger when the flame turned from yellow to blue when the gas was present.
"As well as the physical dangers, working conditions affected the miner's health and shortened their life expectancy as the following extract from the New Statistical Account of 1840 shows: 'The collier population is subject to a peculiar disease which is vulgarly called the black-spit, and by the facility is dignified by the Greek term melanosis. It is a wasting of the lungs, occasioned, as is supposed, by the inhaling of the coal dust while working, and the expectoration is as black as the coal dust itself. Many strong men are cut off by it before they reach the age of forty.... Almost all the men are affected by it sooner or later, so as to be rendered unfit for any active exertion for years before they drop prematurely into the grave, between the ages of forty and sixty or sixty five.'
"In January 1861, an Act for Regulation and Inspection of Miners came into force. Boys between 10 and 12 years of age could only be employed if in possession of education certificates; notice of accidents to be sent to the authorities within 24 hours; wages were not to be paid in a public house and coals in future were to be accurately weighed. Unfortunately local sheriffs' actions often rendered the act useless and void.
"By 1870 many miners were being compelled to purchase their goods from the coalminer's shop or store - and any thrifty housewife who sought to buy goods in a neighbouring town could precipitate the dismissal of her husband or son. Under this 'truck system' wages frequently passed from the pay office to the truck store and then back to the pay office within a few hours. An investigation carried out by the Daily Mail in June 1869 showed that payment of wages was sometimes suspended until the first men who had been paid had purchased goods at the store and this enabled the store manager to send up the cash to the wages office again.
"Housing and health conditions for miners were deplorable as revealed by the following selection of comments from a survey carried out by the Glasgow Herald in 1875. 'Whooping cough and eye disease is prevalent', 'cooking water comes from one of Dixon's pits and is imperfectly filtered'; 'houses are most wretched, stone floors, mouldy and damp walls, set-in beds'; 'last summer smallpox and scarlet fever were prevalent'; 'houses are so damp that passing the hand across the wall brings off water and paint and lime'; 'at the Haggs, a moisture from the roof is caught in bowls'; 'houses have almost no furniture, and ragged children run about with uncombed hair.'
"By the 1880's therefore living and working conditions for miners had reached a deplorable level as can be seen from the following statement made by Thomas Aspinwall, a spokesman for the Lancashire miners in 1887. Addressing Lancashire coal owners, he said, 'The net weekly earnings of your colliers is now less than they have been at any period during the last twenty years.... Poverty, gentlemen, is rampant in the families of your workmen.... wages vary from ten shillings to eighteen shillings per week and when you deduct from these sums house rent and fire and school fees, what a miserable pittance remains upon which an average family of four can exist where is barely enough to keep body and soul together'.
"In an attempt to combat such conditions the Miner's Federation of Great Britain was formed in November 1889 to represent miners throughout the country. Previously small local unions had been able to bargain with the coal owners from a position of strength. The employer's responded to this threat by setting up a nationwide Coal-Owners Association. This new union soon had success. In the spring of 1890 for example, almost every coalfield was forced to grant the miners a wage rise of forty per cent over a period of less than two years. Again in 1908 a Miner's Eight Hours Act was passed which restricted the hours of work underground to eight hours per day. Despite these achievements, however, coal mining remained a hard and dangerous occupation with between 1,000 and 1,500 miners being killed in pits each year." (Weavers, Miners and the Open Book – A History of Kilsyth by James Hutchison; published by Kelvinprint in Cumbernauld, Scotland 1986 ISBN 0-9511362-0-8; pp. 124-128, quoted by permission)
See Gazetter for Scotland
See Kilsyth official website
1881-1891: LIVING QUARTERS for the Irvine Family - AUCHINSTARRY ROWS in Cumbernauld:
The 1881 Census for Row No. 16 Auchinstarry Rows shows William, age 18, a son living with John Irvine in Cumbernauld, working as an Ironstone Miner.
The 1891 Census for Row No. 21 shows John & Elizabeth Irvine with daughters: Jane, Helen, Janet and Grandson Archie.
The 1891 Census shows William Irvine, age 28, as a lodger in the home of Robert Condel in Bothwell, NE Lanarkshire, Scotland working as a colliery manager.
Click Here to view photo of Auchinstarry Rows, where the miners and their families lived.
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