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Contemporary Accounts of Working Conditions in the Mines

I have a belt round my waist, and a chain passing between my legs, and I go on my hands and feet. The road is very steep, and we have to hold by a rope; and where there is no rope, by anything we can catch hold of. ... I am not as strong as I was, and cannot stand the work as well as I used to. I have drawn till I have had the skin off me; belt and chain is worse when we are in the family way.

Betty Harris, aged 37, drawer in a coal mine, to the Royal Commission on Mines, 1842

When I entered the mines at eight years or so, at the time workings were not so large for we had not sunk in Scotland to the thicker seams which are now being worked. The condition of the miner's boy then was to be raised about 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning is the distance was far to travel, and at that time I had to travel a considerable distance, more than three miles' I was raised at that time at 2 o'clock. ... We remained then in the mine until 5 and 6 at night. It was an ironstone mine, very low, working about 18 inches, and in some instances not quite so high... The gases pervading the mines in Scotland at that time were, for the most part, carbonic acid gas... There was no explosive gas in those mines I was in, or scarcely any. I may state incidentally here that in the first ironstone mine I was in there were some 20 or more boys beside myself, and I am not aware at this moment that there is one alive excepting myself.

Alexander MacDonald to the Commission on Trade Unions, 1868

I hurry the corves a mile and more underground and back; they weigh 3 cwt* ... the getters that I work for are naked except for their caps, sometimes they beat me - if I am not quick enough.

Patience Kershaw, aged 17, to the Children's Employment Commission, 1842

*cwt: a hundred-weight. There are 20 cwt in an imperial ton.

I found at one of the side-boards down a narrow passage a girl of fourteen years of age, in boy's clothes, picking down the coal with the regular pick used by the men. She was half sitting, half lying, at her work, and said she found it tired her very much, and 'of course she didn't like it'. The place where she was at work was not two feet high... In great numbers of the coal-pits in this district the men work in a state of perfect nakedness, and are in this state assisted in their labour by females of all ages, from girls of six years old to women of twenty-one... although this employment scarcely deserves the name of labour [trapping], yet, as the children engaged in it are commonly excluded from light and are always without companions, it would, were it not for the passing and re-passing of the coal carriages, amount to solitary confinement of the worst order.

Children's Employment Commission, 1842


Candle lighting in the mines

 

 


A drawer in a coal mine

SEE ALSO Child labour in the mines: in The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844: Friedrich Engels (1845).

Report of the Commission on the labour of women and children in mines. Parliamentary Papers, 1842/xiii

Proportion of Children and Young People employed in different Districts

Districts

Adults
M = male
F = Female

13 to 18

Under 13

Total of children and young persons to 1,000 adults

Proportion of children and young persons in the whole number employed

Proportion of children in the whole number under 18

ENGLAND

M

F

M

F

M

F

Leicestershire

1000

---

227

---

180

---

407

Two-sevenths

Much more than one-third

Derbyshire

1000

---

240

---

167

---

407

Two-sevenths

Much more than one-third

Yorkshire

1000

22

352

36

246

41

675

Upwards of one-third

Much more than one-third

Lancashire

1000

86

352

79

195

27

653

Upwards of one-third

Upwards of one-third

South Durham

1000

---

226

---

184

---

410

Two sevenths

Much more than one-third

Northumberland and North Durham

1000

---

266

---

186

---

452

Nearly one-third

Much more than one-third

WALES

Monmouthshire

1000

---

302

---

154

---

456

Nearly one-third

One third

Glamorganshire

1000

19

239

19

157

12

427

Approaching one-third

Much more than one-third

Pembrokeshire

1000

424

366

119

196

19

700

One third

More than one-third


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Last modified 26 October, 2013

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