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Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Price of Coal

Coal has long been valued as a fuel source. The industrial revolution greatly increased demand for coal. It was used to smelt iron and generate steam, and coal production in Britain rocketed from six million tons p.a. in 1770 to twenty-three million tons in 1830. By the mid-1850s production was over sixty million tons p.a. Mines were sunk ever deeper to meet the demand.

But coal’s success story had a terrific human cost: thousands of men, women and children were killed down the mines and at the pit brow. You can find out more about working conditions in the mines in my books The Children History Forgot and Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives. There are also some tips on how to trace your coal-mining ancestors, in my feature for this month’s Discover My Past England (now on Genes Reunited) and in my forthcoming book Tracing Your Lancashire Ancestors.

Images from the author’s collection:
‘How are you off for coals?’ Satirical postcard from the miners’ strike of 1912.

The New Hartley Pit disaster in Northumberland on 16 January 1862 killed over two hundred men and boys. This Illustrated London News (8 February 1862) engraving shows the long, sad funeral procession at Earsdon.

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