This week I finished a project in which every single known ancestor was a coal miner – except one – I’ve never been so happy to find an agricultural labourer! So, to liven up the presentation, I did some research into the life of the twentieth-century British coalminer and found some fascinating facts and resources:
- Here’s a wonderful film made for the LNWR (London & Northwestern Railway). It’s called ‘A Day in the Life of a Wigan Coal Miner 1911’ and contains remarkable old footage of men collecting their Davy lamps and descending into the pit; teams of women sorting coal, hauling pit props and loading wagons; and young boy ‘putters’, shovelling coal into wagons or pushing heavy carts from one part of the mine to another.
- Women, and children as young as five or six, worked below-ground until 1842 in Britain, when The Mines and Collieries Act was passed. The Commission revealed that many of the side workings away from the main shaft were only 22 inches in height, and women and children had to crawl along dragging the coal in sledges behind them. The Victorians were also shocked to discover that girls and women were working bare-breasted below-ground.
- A miner’s shift would be as long as twelve hours during the mid 1800s, with only Sundays off. Hewers at the coalface would spend almost all that time in dark, cramped, noxious conditions. The Coalmining History Resource Centre has a great picture story detailing A Day in a Miner’s Life from 1939.
- The ‘Miner’s Crouch’ describes the resting position preferred by men who spent many hours underground. Either resting on his heels or a low stool, it was said to ease the stomach muscles.
- Lunch down the mine would usually be just water, bread and jam. The coal dust, which tainted every mouthful, and the cramped conditions made eating more of a necessity than a pleasure.
- Mining accidents were commonplace, sometimes bereaving whole communities at a time. Here are a few websites which list them:
- Working and living in such close quarters, with the ever-present threat of injury or even death, miners and their families lived in close-knit communities. Charities were set up in various counties, to look after those who could no longer work down the mines because of injury, illness or just old-age. One example is the ‘Durham Aged Mineworkers’ Homes Association.’
There! That was just some of my work last week – I hope it helps others who are researching relatives who were miners. Please feel free to add any comments you have – I’d love to hear from you.