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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Lead Miners’ Children

Compared with coal mining, relatively few children worked underground in the lead mines; most worked at washing and processing the ore, which was done outside in all weathers. Most of the ore washers were boys; only a few teenage girls were employed. They earned 4d a day. They got very cold and wet doing this job.

In the Alston Moor district, the 1842 Report on Mines found that 432 of the 5000 people employed in the area were children and ‘young persons’; only 7 child workers were under thirteen. Only 53 of the ‘bigger boys’ worked underground. In the winter months it got too cold to wash the ore. Boys usually went underground when they were fourteen years old; they earned 9d a day. The miners got ‘asthma’ from breathing in lead dust.
The children of lead miners were often far better educated than those of coal miners. Mining companies such as the London Lead Co. set up schools for the children.
I visited the Killhope Lead Mining Museum a couple of years ago, and went on an underground tour. It was a bitterly cold day, even underground, and it was easy to imagine the hardships which the miners and their children endured.
Images: Killhope Lead Mining Museum’s great waterwheel. The author kitted up ready to explore the mine (I’m more nervous than I look!). The mine entrance.

Photos © Nigel Wilkes.

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