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Home > Family Histories > Occupations & Trades > Shale Miner

Shale Miner

also Faceman, Placeman

Shale miner undercutting the shale face Faceman undercutting the shale face with a pick

Oilshale was mined by undercutting the bottom of the shale face, drilling series of shot holes in the shale face and progressively bringing down sections of the face with a series of explosions.

Shale miners or facemen were contractors paid on a tonnage basis. The faceman employed one or more drawers who were normally paid a fixed wage out of the faceman's earnings. The facemen would often employ their son or brother as their drawer.

As well as paying their drawers, facemen had to use some of their earnings to pay for and maintain their graith or "toolkit" which included a mash hammer for setting roof props and hammering wedges, a drill and drill bits for drilling shot holes to insert explosive charges, explosive charges and a pick for dislodging and breaking the shale after it had been loosened with explosive charges.

Wages & Working Hours

The Board of Trade Census of Wages conducted in 1886 records that shale miners earned between 27s 0d and 32s 0d per week, the average being 28s 11d. The report states that "Nearly all miners and drawers worked about 46 to 49.5 hours per week, reckoned from bank to bank. Some worked 60 hours in 1885, but since then their hours of labour have been reduced to 48."

In 1925, the Report of a Court of Investigation Concerning the Wages Position in the Scottish Shale Oil Industry, records that an average 5.55 day week was worked by miners with around 7.5 hours per day spent underground. Average weekly earnings were £3 19s 3d.

By 1958, an Agreement Between the Scottish Shale Oil Companies and the National Union of Shale Miners & Oil Workers records that miners earned a minimum of 34s 8d per shift although, as piece workers, their actual earnings were normally considerably higher. They worked an average of 40.5 hours per week over an 11 day fortnight.


Shale miner drilling shot holes Faceman drilling holes into shale face prior to blasting

"Your main aim in life, if you developed these muscles, was to get on to the drawing, filling and drawing, because that's where the week's money was made, and then ultimately - the ultimate calling was to be a faceman". AB, Drawer, Polbeth No. 26 Mine

"When I started as a boy my father had the contract, he was faceman, they took contracts at that time and two men, sometimes four, working as drawers. Now, the faceman at that time he bought all the gelignite he needed to blast down the shale and when he got it down, normally it was three or four hundred tons in a day. You broke it up and sometime you had to blast it again, the roof came down in solid blocks about the size of a house. At that time the faceman employed the men under him, he had a contract with the oil company". RM, Drawer, Philpstoun Mines, circa 1920

"The faceman, he produces the stuff, he bores the holes, stems the shots, fires the shots, and then the drawer and them fill them [hutches], then they draw them out to the main haulage. About 6 feet was the lowest seam. You could go up as high as 10 feet, but 8 feet was quite a regular height.......just a nice height for working. You could reach up and you could put your timbers up and everything else with a wee bit of safety. You had to work with a wee bit of safety, you couldn't just hash-bash and everything, because there's nothing surer there's always something would go wrong and you can't take risks when you are working down the mines. You had to work with safety all the time". JT, Faceman, Whitequarries Mine, 1954

Miner & drawer clearing up the working face after a shot has been fired Faceman breaking up large blocks of shale after charges have detonated

"The only thing that happened to me was what we would call a "lip", a skin. It was a big skin right down the side of this face, and we were working here, filling the hutches. I was to the inside, and the drawer, he came out and I said," Just stand back the now." The next thing it just slid off. It was the back end that got me, just the tail end of it, you know, and it put me down what we call this end. I wasn't buried in any way, it was just that I got the hit and there happened to be an opening on the bottom side which I was thrown down. The drawer lifted me up and laid me beside a sleeper and miners came from all over the place, from the far side of the mine, and they put me on the hutches and they took me up to the top of the mine and I was landed in Bangour for three months. I had a fractured spine, six fractured ribs, a broken leg, a broken arm and 32 stitches! " JT, Faceman, Whitequarries Mine, 1954

Additional Resources

Accident Reports

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