Addiewell in 1910 - a miniature hell of slums

Harsh criticism of social conditions in Addiewell and of Young's PLMOC

Photo:Addiewell's rows:  no water supply, no WCs, no kitchens, no gardens, no proper streets or pavements.  And note the young child standing on the left, unprotected even by a fence from the railway line.

Addiewell's rows: no water supply, no WCs, no kitchens, no gardens, no proper streets or pavements. And note the young child standing on the left, unprotected even by a fence from the railway line.

John Kelly & Adam Prentice. All Rights Reserved. S1. 84.

This 1910 article in 'Forward', the newspaper of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), describes the appalling conditions in which Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Company expected its Addiewell workforce to live.  Yet such conditions were so common - particularly in mining areas - that many people accepted them.  With their radical ideas about working class rights and equality, socialists saw that these conditions were completely unacceptable, and their criticisms were beginning to be heard.  

Houses and people owned and controlled by Young's

Addiewell is a little mining village near West Calder.  Its name doubtless derived from the fact that at one time or other there was a mineral well or something of that sort used in the neighbourhood.  But, alas! no more is it used.  Today Addiewell is a miniature hell of slums owned by a Company.  The houses, roadways, halls, and land, not to speak of the people, are owned and controlled by Young's Company, Ltd.

Hellish smell

In Addiewell there are over 300 houses insanitary and totally inadequate to admit of the workers leading a home life compatible with decency and religion.  Fifty of the houses are what are known as "high-ends," where health and morality have a hard struggle for existence.  There is still in force "open privies" here.  The odour emanating from these cesspools of disease is anything but the perfume of roses.  Moreover, the privies are built quite close to the houses, from which it can be understood that much of the hellish smell emanating from them must penetrate into the houses, thus infesting them with the germs of disease.

So many rows of prison cells...

Is it any wonder that fevers and epidemics of disease are prevalent in Addiewell?  It is simply impossible to be healthy living in such insanitary conditions....  In Addiewell there are close on 1200 people.  For lavatory and sanitary accommodation Young's Company Ltd., have supplied them with 12 – there may be more - "open privies," in which all excrement and refuse are deposited.  There this filth lies until the "privy" is full, when it is filled into open carts and taken away.  Quite recently we had sanitary regulations for the proper housing of swine.  Yet in Addiewell, and in the other houses owned by the Company of Christian(?) shareholders, the conditions of life are so insanitary and so conducive to irreligion and immorality that Society, for its own safety, ought to see to their abolition at once.  The houses are without architectural feature whatever.  Built of brick, which has become black with the fumes of the works, they look like so many rows of prison cells which had been dumped down anywhere.

...Young's evidently thinking that if they provided washhouses, the people would not know how to use them...

Inconvenience and hard labour

The household washing has to be done in the houses, Young's Company Ltd. evidently thinking that if they provided washhouses the people would not know how to use them.  Water for domestic use and for drinking purposes has to be carried in pails from pumps, of which there were two in each street.  To the woman upstairs who has a big household to look after, this means a great amount of inconvenience and hard labour that could be quite well done without.  What is to hinder Young's Company Ltd., from installing a separate water supply in each house for the private use of the occupants?

In front of all the houses there are open drains for carrying off the refuse water.  These are obsolete, and a source of danger to the health of the people.  And in many of the houses, coal has to be stored beneath the beds.

The workmen coming from the shale mine or distilling works have to perform their ablutions in the house before all the inmates.  one can imagine this in winter time.  When the pumps are frozen up the ablutions are performed under difficulties.

These houses have been in existence for 40 years, which leads us to assume that the people who have survived the horrible conditions have paid in rent the value of the houses three times over.

We would like to ask the Sanitary Authorities of the district why they allow such insanitation to prevail in the districts named in the article, when there are Acts passed to remedy such evil conditions?  Is it because there are no workers on the County Council Health Committee?  Or it is because the friends of Young's Company, Ltd. control the County Council?

We believe there is reason for this assumption; and, so far as I can see, the only way these horrible conditions can be abolished is for the people of the district to sack their present public representatives en bloc, and to replace them with men from their own ranks, and to see that the housing and sanitation Acts are put in force in the district under their administration.


An article by 'Myner Collier' (presumably a pen name), in the socialist newspaper,'Forward', No. 46, Vol. 4,  c.1910.  This newspaper was suppressed by the Government about the time of the First World War. Reproduced here by kind permission of Almond Valley Heritage Centre. 


This page was added by Sybil Cavanagh on 01/07/2012.

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