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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

C is for Coal

In the early nineteenth century, children as young as four years old (boys and girls) worked underground in Britain’s coal mines.  The working conditions for children and adults depended on how high (‘thick’) the seam was. In the Northumberland pits, ponies were used to drag along the tubs of coal, but even so, the children worked a fourteen hour day.
In the ‘thin’ seams in Lancashire, the West Riding, Derbyshire and North Wales, children dragged heavy tubs of coal on their hands and knees, using a belt and chain. Perhaps the worst conditions were in Scotland, where children and young women (bearers) carried loads of coal to the surface in baskets on their backs.
It was not until the Mines Act of 1842, thanks to Lord Shaftesbury, that all females, and boys under ten years old were banned from underground work.
Images: Coal mining (1,2) using pit ponies in north-east England. The boy helpers were called ‘foals’. In the Durham and Northumberland pits, females did not work below ground after about 1780. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts, Vol. I, c.1862.
Yorkshire children working in the mines, and Scottish coal bearers: 1842 Report on Mines.

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