|Wales-New Zealand Family History Society
|Published in: The Welsh Connection October 2003, #49|
Adult life for the children of a
mining family in South Wales,
could begin at a very early age. Boys and girls as young as six
years old worked underground in the early years of the coal
industry. Many of them were employed as doorkeepers. Their
job was to open and shut the doors which cut off sections of the
workings underground and which helped to control the ventilation of the
Some boys and girls as young as
nine had the much more
demanding job of dragging carts loaded with coal along the underground
tramlines. If they stumbled and fell they risked being run over
and crushed by the carts.
June 7th 1842, Lord Ashley
detailed to the House of Commons,
the horrors of women's work underground in mines. The two-volume
edition complete with illustrations of women harnessed like horses to
mining equipment, resulted in legislation that prohibited women and
children from working underground.
Before this 1842 legislation,
women were employed in the mines
mainly as hurriers, loading small wagons with coal, or as drawers,
drawing the wagons behind them in places too low for horses to go.
1842 - Margaret Gomley, aged 9:
They call me Peggy, for my nick-name down here, but my right name is Margaret; I am about 9 years or going on 9; I have been at work in the pit thrusting corves (baskets) above a year; come in the morning sometimes at seven o'clock, sometimes, half-past seven, and I go sometimes home at six o'clock, sometimes at seven o'clock, when I do over-work. I get my breakfast of porridge before I come, and bring a piece of muffin, which I eat on coming to pit; I get my dinner at 12 o'clock, which is a dry muffin, and sometimes butter on, but have no time allowed to stop to eat it, I eat is while I am thrusting the load; I get no tea, but get some supper when I get home, and then go bed when I have washed me; and am very tired .... I get 5d a day pay. Peggy
-Betty Harris, aged 37:
I am a drawer, and work from six o'clock in the morning to six at night. I have two children, but they are too young to work ...... 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 life rope; and when there is no rope, by anything we can catch hold of.
There are six women and about six boys and girls in the pit I work in: it is very hard work for a woman. The pit is very wet where I work, and the water comes over our clog-tops always, I have seen it up to my thighs; it rains in at the roof terribly: my clothes are wet through almost all day long .... I have drawn till I have had the skin off me: the belt and chain is worse when we are in the family way. My feller (husband) has beaten me many times for not being ready. I were not used to it a first, and he had little patience; I have known many a man beat his drawer. I have known men take liberties with the drawers and some of the women have bastards.
After 1842, it was illegal to employ children under 10 underground. The age limit was later raised to 12. But many children below this age continued to work at the coal face. Many boys followed their father down the pit as soon as they legally could, often on their 12th birthday.
Appendix to First Report of Children's Employment Commission, Part 11, p. 695.
(collieries were all "un-named")
Coal Mining in the Llanelli Area - Volume One: 16th century to 1829, by M.V. Symons
The Western Mail January 2, 1995 - pages from the Past, The Industrial Revolution
Strong-minded Women, by Janet Horowitz Murray