William Small

Blantyre's Ain Website

Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Blantyre Folk

William Small
Miners’ Agent

Man Who Fought for the Rights of Coalminers.

In Memoriam of the Late
William Small
Miners’ Agent


William Small


He died on the field of battle,
In the midst of the din and the strife;
He gave what the cause had asked for—
His energy and his life!
He grappled with foes around him
For Justice, Truth and Right,
And he died where they first had found him,
In the van of a desperate fight!

If there’s glory in death, he has won it!
Let the halo shine bright round his name!
Whatever his duty he done it
Regardless of praise or blame!
His conscience, true guide to his actions,
Was free from the guile and deceit
That would lure honest men into fractions,
That ever must end in defeat.

The long weary struggle is ended,
The soul of a hero has fled;
The cause he so ably defended
Must find a new light in his stead!
The feet of the martyrs have beaten
A track that will ever remain,
Their sufferings may yet help to sweeten
The long, bitter struggle with pain!

Duncan Mathieson.
Castle Street.
Circa 1903.

The following foreword was taken from, My Life for Labour, an autobiography by Robert Smillie, President of Lanarkshire Miners’ Union 1890.


We had the able assistance of Mr William Small, who, though not a miner was one of the best authorities of the day on mining matters. A tireless worker, William Small uncomplainingly sacrificed himself for the cause of the miner.

He lived for us. I have known him to leave home at four o’clock in the morning on five days a week, holding morning meetings in various parts of the county– at a distance of sixteen or seventeen miles from his house in Blantyre. The use of a horse and trap was completely out of the question on the ground of expense, and this devoted man made those long journeys on foot at all seasons of the year. Frequently, he would be far from home holding meetings at night in summer weather, and it was no uncommon thing for him to sleep out in a field or a wood with a copy of the Glasgow Herald or the Scotsman for his coverlet. In this way he was able to visit one of the collieries in the vicinity early the following morning in furtherance of the cause he had so much at heart.

On one or two occasions I have attended these distant meetings and come up with Mr Small by arrangement at a point on the road. When I asked him if he had come from home, or where he had spent the night, he would take me over to a spot in the wood where his newspaper “bedclothes” lay scattered on the grass. These papers may have been hostile to the miners, but they were at least of some help to the movement by sheltering the general secretary in his greenwood couch.

How did you get out here so early, William? I might ask him.
“Man,” he would say with a laugh, “I was so tired that I just lay down on the lap of mother earth, and I think I could have slept on a bing of whinstone.”

Mr Small was of medium height. Rather heavily built, of ruddy complexion, and wore a short, sandy beard. I never thought he was very robust, but no complaint ever escaped through his lips.

Many times he accompanied me to attend conferences in London, and I remember that we paid frequent visits to the British Museum, when he would suggest I take a walk among the exhibits while he continued to search for some old Scottish mining laws which he ultimately succeeded in finding. He copied these old laws out, and had them printed either in the form of letters or articles in the newspapers.

Mr John Morrison Davidson, long known in Fleet Street in one of his books dealing with the mining laws, quoted extensively from old Mine Acts Mr Small had unearthed, and stated that he could not have secured certain Stuart enactments except for Mr Small’s researches.

Long after the deaths of these notable men, the old Acts were reproduced and played an important part in the deliberations of the Coal Commission, held on the Throne Room of the House of Lords, when the dukes were called upon to produce their title-deeds to the lands they possessed.

Copyright Wilma S. Bolton 2011


On Saturday, through the efforts of the Blantyre miners, a large number of pickets, accompanied by Mr W. Small, were successful in laying idle all the pits in Burnbank, as well as the Bent, Allanshaw pits, Hamilton. At the various places, pit gate meetings were held, when it was unanimously agreed to continue the five days’ policy, observing Saturday as the idle day. The miners of Blantyre have been stimulated to this action by the managers and oversmen in that district. An open union to embrace the central districts had been established, and promises to be more popular than the close organisation of the Sons of Labour.


Ref. Hamilton Advertiser. 22/6/1889 page 4

William Small had Small Crescent named after him.



Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland

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