Perhaps one of the most dispicable practises of the so-called landlord classes in Ireland (and elsewhere) was the ‘truck’ system whereby employees were sometimes partly paid in ‘Truck’ Tokens, spendable only in the issuer’s own shops, where prices were generally higher than elsewhere.
- The word truck is derived from the French troquer, meaning to “exchange” or “barter”
The truck system, however, differs from this kind of open barter or payment in kind system by creating or taking advantage of a closed economic system in which workers have little or no opportunity to choose other work arrangements, and can easily become so indebted to their employers that they are unable to leave the system legally.
- A truck system, therefore, is ‘an arrangement’ in which employees are paid in commodities or some currency substitute rather than with standard currency, e.g. vouchers or token coins (also known as truck tokens, work tokens or scrip)
This limits employees’ ability to choose how to spend their earnings—generally to the benefit of the employer. As an example, company scrip might be usable only for the purchase of goods at a company-owned store, where prices are set artificially high.
- The practice has been widely criticized as exploitative because there is no competition to lower prices.
- Legislation to curtail it, part of the larger field of labour law and employment standards, exists in many countries, e.g. the British Truck Acts.
- This practise was subsequently forbidden in 19th C Ireland by the Truck Acts
The Tommy System in England:
In Britain the truck system was sometimes referred to as the Tommy system. The 1901 edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable notes the Tommy shop as:
Where wages are paid to workmen who are expected to lay out a part of the money for the good of the shop. Tommy means ‘bread’ or a penny roll, or the food taken by a workman in his handkerchief ; it also means goods in lieu of money.
A Tom and Jerry shop is a low-drinking room.
In the Midland Tour of his Rural Rides, the agriculturist and political reformer William Cobbett reported on the use of the truck or tommy system in Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury. Cobbet noticed that
The only question is, whether the master charges a higher price than the shop-keepers would charge; but given the guaranteed local market Cobbett rather naively saw “no reason why any master (employer) should ever abuse the system”
However, in rural regions he notes the virtual monopoly of the shop keeper:
“I have often had to observe on the cruel effects of the suppression of markets and fairs, and on the consequent power of extortion possessed by the country shop-keepers. And what a thing it is to reflect on, that these shopkeepers have the whole of the labouring men of England constantly in their debt; have on an average a mortgage on their wages to the amount of five or six weeks, and make them pay any price that they choose to extort.”
The Truck System in America:
A reason for the truck system in the early history of the United States is because there was no national currency and an insufficient supply of coinage. Banknotes were the majority of the money in circulation. Banknotes were discounted relative to gold and silver (e.g. a $5 banknote may exchange for $4.50 of coins) and the discount depended on the financial strength of the issuing bank and distance from the bank. During financial crises many banks failed and their notes became worthless.
The Truck System in Ireland:
The truck system in 19th C Ireland owes its existence to a combination of all of the above scenarios, i.e. most of the smaller banks were under-capitalised, severely restricted by the Bank of Ireland’s monopoly and were prone to failure. Coins were, therefore, preferable to paper.
Large employers, such as mills and mines, were typically located outside of the towns where land and labour were cheaper – this meant that local shops were usually owned by the employer and he had no wish to invite competition by allowing a weekly market.
The truck system was, therefore, rife for abuse
The truck system became well established in Ireland (north, south, east and west) and lasted right up until the 20th C, e.g.
- Antrim – Wolfhill Spinning Co. Ltd., Ligoniel, truck tickets (c. 1900)
- Belfast – William Ross & Co. Ltd, Clonard Mills truck ticket for one penny
- Kildare – Monasterevan Distillery / John Cassidy Turf Token
- Tyrone – Lisdoort, G.V. Stewart truck tokens for one penny, shilling and halfcrown (1867)
- Waterford – Portlaw, Malcolmson Brothers’ Mayfield factory
Ballyglunin Truck Tokens:
An interesting response to this article has resulted in a new find – a Ballyglunin scrip token without a denomination. It was produced in white metal and is, to the best of my knowledge, a unique piece. Was it a test piece? A pattern? Or, a proof?
The Blake Family
The Blake family of Ballyglunin Park, Athenry, Co Galway is descended from Richard Caddell who was granted lands in Co Galway and changed his name from Niger, to Black to Blake. This Richard Caddell is known to historians as ‘Richard Niger’, or ‘Richard the Dark’ (aka Blake) on account of his complexion.
- Richard Niger married the heiress of Walter Caddell, a Welshman who had arrived in Galway in the 12th C. He adopted his wife’s name (Caddell) in order to acquire her fathers’ fortune but it was his nickname that ultimately survived when the word ‘Niger’ was anglicised to ‘Black’ and thence to ‘Blake’.
- The eldest son of the main branch of the Blake’s would use the name ‘Caddell’, before or after ‘Blake’, for the next three hundred years.
- Richard Niger was knighted by Edward I in 1277 and became the first member of the family to bear arms.
- The Ballyglunin Blakes are another branch of the Blakes of Renvyle. This branch of the family have played important roles in the administration of Co Galway.
- Martin Blake, High Sherriff of Galway was granted the great estate of Ballyglunin by Charles II in 1689
During the 18th century the Blake family of Ballyglunin, County Galway, used their merchant wealth to buy and lease lands and by the early 19th century they had built up an extensive estate. Although part of the landed gentry they continued in business and lent money to a wide circle of the Galway merchant families.
The Blake Estates
The Blake family held an estate of almost 10,500 acres in Co Galway, which was valued in 1883 at nearly £4,000 according to The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland (1883, reprinted 1971).
In ”Blake Family Records” Martin J. Blake states that Martin Blake of Cummer, Co Galway, purchased Ballyglunin from Charles Holcraft, the grantee under the Cromwellian settlement and that he was confirmed in his possession of 1,895 acres in the barony of Clare by patent dated 26 July 1677.
By the mid 19th century the Blake estate was in the parishes of Kilmoylan, Belclare, Killererin, Annaghdown and Tuam, barony of Clare, in the parish of Abbeyknockmoy, barony of Tiaquin and in the parish of Rahoon, barony of Galway.
- In the 1870s the Blakes owned over 10,000 acres in the locality.
- By March 1916 the Blakes had accepted a final offer of over £60,000 from the Congested Districts’ Board for almost 9,800 acres of their estate.
The early generations inter-married a number of times with members of the Joyce family. John Blake, a younger son of Martin Blake and his wife Bridget Joyce, married Olivia French of Brooklodge in 1803. However the sale rental of Brooklodge and other property in the county of the town of Galway belonging to Walter Martin Blake dated 1867 indicates that Martin J. Blake bought the lease of Brooklodge for £10,000, rather than inheriting it.
- The property in the town of Galway was purchased by Messers. Browne, Higgins, O’Flaherty and West.
Ballyglunin House was the home of the Blake family for almost 300 years prior to 1965 when the estate was acquired by the Irish Land Commission. The estate included vast areas of pasture for cattle and sheep grazing but, during the 19th C many improvements and innovations were realized under the ownership of Martin Joseph Blake – the issuer of the Ballyglunin Estate truck tokens.
- 1842 proposal for a cut for a watercourse on the Blake Ballyglunin estate
Ballyglunin Railway Station
The Waterford & Limerick Railway was incorporated by an Act of 21 July 1845 and opened its first line from Limerick to Tipperary on 9 May 1846. The 5 ft. 3 in. gauge line was extended to Clonmel in May 1852, Fiddown in April 1853, Dunkitt in August 1853, and finally reached Waterford in September 1854. There it connected with the ferry to the Great Western Railway terminal at Milford Haven in South Wales.
- The line was extended to Tuam on 27 September 1860 by the Athenry & Tuam Railway, this was worked by the MGWR up to 5 November 1872, when the W&LR took over – the same month as it took up working the A&EJR.
- There was one intermediate station at Ballyglunin
- The work began just one year before the death of Martin J Blake
- A number of extensions were added in the 1880s, at which time the company became known as the Waterford, Limerick & Western Railway.
- It amalgamated with the Great Southern & Western Railway of Ireland on 1 January 1901, by which time it amounted to 342 miles.
Who was Martin Joseph Blake?
Martin Joseph Blake (1790-1861) succeeded to the estate in 1802 after the death of his father, Walter Blake. He was a a JP (Justice of the Peace) and presided over local courts (Petty Sessions)
In political terms, Blake was known as a Repealer – the Repeal Association was an Irish mass membership political movement set up by Daniel O’Connell in 1830 to campaign for a repeal of the Act of Union of 1800 between Great Britain and Ireland.
- The Association’s aim was to revert Ireland to the constitutional position briefly achieved by Henry Grattan and his patriots in the 1780’s, but this time with a full Catholic involvement that was now possible following the Act of Emancipation in 1829, supported by the electorate approved under the Reform Act of 1832.
- On its failure by the late 1840’s the Young Ireland movement developed
- Martin Joseph Blake served as M.P. for Galway in 1832, 1835, 1841, 1847 and 1852
- Martin Joseph Blake died unmarried in 1861
- Ballyglunin passed to his nephew Walter Martin Blake
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