RSS Feed

Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War some 200 men were employed as coal trimmers, a distinct group from the normal dock workers.  Their job was to load the coal, ensuring that it was evenly distributed within the ship's hold therebye allowing the maximum cargo possible to be carried.  An evenly distributed load was essential to ensure the stability of the ship and hence its' safety.


Coal Trimmers at Methil 1920s





In 1902 when this contract was written the worker rights were practically non-existant - Dock Management abrogating all reponsibility of care to the men by the simple expedient of using "Contractors".  These companies would therfore carry the legal reponsibily of care, such as it was - paragraph 10 makes for interesting reading in this repect .  Health and safety legislation was but a gleam in some Union official's eye in 1902!

Coal Trimmers Contract– Commencing December 1902

 Agreement between the North British Railway Company (hereinafter called "the Company") and Gavin McKelvie and John Clark, Methil (hereinafter called "the Contractors").

 The parties agree as follows.     

1. The Contractors shall provide a full staff of experienced men to trim coal in all vessels (Steam & Sailing) in Methil Dock taking such as outward cargoes and the remuneration to be paid thereafter shall be as follows: 

a. For trimming every description of cargo coal, including the levelling of the same under the hatches – Thirteen shillings and sixpence per one hundred tons actually trimmed. 

b. For trimming in Steamer bunkers – Fourpence halfpenny per ton, but where the coals are wheeled – Ninepence per ton 

c. For levelling coals and doing all necessary work under hatches into Steamer or Lighters called self trimmers – Eight shillings per one hundred tons but the remuneration under this subsection is not in addition to that in subsection (a). 

2. No extra remuneration shall be payable to the Contractors for levelling and separating two or more classes of coal or coal from two or more collieries and with respect thereto the Contractors shall be bound to give effect to any order of the colliery agent where not inconsistent with the instructions of the Company. 

3. The Contactors shall, before the last two wagons of coal are shipped in each hatchway, see that the heap in which the plates are laid is trimmed under the hatches. 

4. The Contractors shall turn in the wagons of coal to the hoists and turn brakes down and couple up the empty wagons returning from the hoists and also provide ropes, plates and all appliances necessary for efficient conduct of the work (the Company providing hand lautches (?) and sprags as at present) and the remuneration payable to them by the Company therefore, shall be four shillings and Ninepence for each one hundred tons of coal so dealt with. 

5. The payments to the Contractors shall be made at the Harbour Dues Collectors office at Methil or where the Company may from time to time appoint, fortnightly on every alternate Saturday for the trimming of all vessels completed by the Contractors and all coal run into the hoists on the certificate of the Harbour Dues Collector up to and including the previous Thursday. 

6. The Contractor shall maintain a sufficient number of experienced men to admit continuous running in of coal to the hoists and trimming during the day as well as during the night of coal in vessels loading of the existing hoists or any additional hoist or hoists that may be erected or at any place within the Harbour limit. 

7. The Contractors shall perform the duties undertaken by them under this agreement to the satisfaction of the Company’s District Traffic Superintendent at Burntisland or the Company’s local agent at Methil and in the event of complaints being made of inefficiency in such performance the Company shall have the right to terminate this agreement on ten days notice. 

8. The Company shall be not be liable for any injury from whatever cause arising the Contractor or their servants may sustain while within the Harbour limits and the Contractors shall indemnify the Company against any claim for any such injury which any of the Contractor’s servants may make against the Company. 

9. [Blank in the original hand written document]

10. The Contractors shall be bound to indemnify and free and relieve the Company against all compensation and costs which the Company as undertakers within "the meaning of section 4 of "Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1897" may have paid or be liable to pay in virtue of the provisions of the said section of the said Act in whatever respect to any workman employed by the Contractors in the execution of the work contracted for and that whatever the Contractors would or would not independently of this special provision be liable to indemnify the Company and against all costs which the Company themselves may incur in connection with any claim for compensation made against them as such undertakers by any workman employed by the Contractors as in every case in which compensation is obtained or may in the opinion of the Company be claimable by such workman from the Company as such undertakers. 

a. The Company shall be as between them and the Contractors be sole arbiter of the validity of the claim and shall without notifying the Contractors of or consulting them in respect to the claim be entitled in their discretion to admit or resist the claim in whole or in part to pay the claim in full or to compromise it and to take all such proceedings for these purposes and otherwise in connection with the claim and any compensation settled by agreement award or (???) as are competent to them or to an employer under the said Act or independently thereof as to them may seem proper including proceedings for the review or redemption of compensation payable by weekly payment and proceeding to have a case stated on any question of law for the determination of the Court of Session. 

b. The Contractors shall from time to time on demand pay to the Company any compensation and costs they may pay and any costs they may incur as the amount thereof shall as between the Contractors and the Company determined by Certificate under the hand of Secretary for the time of the Company. 

c. If any claim for compensation be not discharged or any accident for which compensation may in the opinion of the Company be claimable occur and the compensation thereof be not settled or any compensation by way of weekly payment be not (????) before the termination of the contract the Contractors shall on demand pay to the Company such a sum as shall in their opinion be sufficient to settle any such undischarged claim or any such unsettled compensation and to pay until redemption or death and to redeem or discharge any such weekly payment compensation and 

d. The Contactors shall give immediate notice to the Company of all accidents arising out of the execution of the works and shall give them every facility and assistance in their power in connection therewith. Further the Contactors shall effect such insurance with a company to be approved by the Company as shall in the opinion of the Company be sufficient to cover the Company as well as the Contractor’s liability for accidents arising out of the execution of works contracted for. 

11. This agreement shall commence on first December 1902 and be subject to the provision hereof subsist for one year certain and thereafter until terminated by three months notice by either the Company or the Contract,

 In witness thereof …





Most coal wagons were not fitted with brakes; a trimmer known as a "Spragger" would jam pieces of wood "Sprags" into the wheels to slow the wagons down.