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Miners And Their Families - This Page Written By John Lumsdon and Ian McDonnell


Extract from Fynes' History of Northumberland and Durham Miners;

"Children of tender age were sent down into the pits to keep a trap door, or to help up, whilst they should have been in a nursery; and owing to the long hours they were kept at work, it was impossible for them to see daylight except at the end of each week, or to get a glimpse of it in the long days of summer".

Coal production was carried out in the Day and noon shifts and preparation work was done in the night shift.
With the advent of mechanisation coal production was continuous on all shifts and maintenance was carried out at the weekends. But if machinery broke down during a shift it had to be repaired there and then.

The hours per shift worked was seven and a half plus winding time, that was the time it took to get the men down the pit.



A miner and his family

Last Century and Before

The hewer was the actual coal-digger. Regardless of conditions he was the workman who loosens the coal from the bed. Their ages ranged from 21 to 70. His usual wages (1849) were from 3s. 9d. to 4s. 3d. per day (8 hours working) and his average employment was 4 or 5 days in the week.

He also had, as part of his wages, a house containing two or three rooms, according to the number in his family, and a garden, which varied in size. He also had a fother of small coals every fortnight, for the leading of which he pays sixpence.

The hewers were divided into "fore-shift" and "back-shift" men. The former usually worked from four in the morning till ten, and the latter from ten till four. Each man worked one week in the fore-shift and one week in the back-shift, alternately. Every man in the fore-shift marked "3" on his door. This was the sign for the "caller" to wake him at that hour. When roused he got up and dresses in his pit clothes, which consisted of a loose jacket, vest, and knee breeches, all made of thick white flannel; long stockings, strong shoes, and a close fitting, thick leather cap. He then took a piece of bread and water, or a cup of coffee, but never a full meal. Many prefer to go to work fasting. With a tin bottle full of cold water or tea, a piece of bread, which was called his bait, his Davy lamp, and "baccy-box," he went to work.

Placing himself in the cage, he was lowered to the bottom of the shaft, where he lite his lamp and proceeded "in by," to a place appointed to meet the deputy. This official examined each man's lamp, and, if found safe, returned it locked to the owner. Each man then found out from the deputy where his place of work was. He proceeded onwards to his cavel, his picks in one hand, and his lamp in the other. He traveled thus a distance varying from 100 to 600 yards. Sometimes the roof under which he had to pass was not more than three feet high. To progress in this space he kept his feet wide apart, his body bent at right angles to his hips and his head held well down with his face turned forward. Arriving at his place he undressed and began by hewing out about fifteen inches of the lower part of the coal. He thus undermined it, this process was called kirving. The same was done up the sides. This was called nicking. The coal thus hewn was called small coal, and that remaining between the kirve and the nicks was the jud or top, which was either displaced by driving in wedges, or was blasted down with gunpowder. It then become the roundy. The hewer filled his tubs, and continued thus alternately hewing and filling.

Hewing Coal, Brinsley Colliery
(Thanks to Charles Snarski for the photo)


Samuel Dennys, accompanied by John Sommers.... I was born 1821 and went into Moira coal pit at about 14. I drove a jackass. I got up at 4am, went down at 6am, took half an hour, holers had been down since 3am and had coals ready. I took the ass out of the stables, yoked him and went up to the workings. Men loaded the corve. I drove the ass to the mainway when the corve was taken off the slide and put on a skip and a man drew it along a horseway to the foot of the shaft, by means of a belt round him and a chain which passed between his thighs. This is not done now for past 6 years. Horses now draw the coals in trams to the shaft where the skips were hung on a chain to be pulled up. At the New Field pit an engine draws the coals to the shaft. The Bankmaster called to give over and we knocked off at 7pm, 50 or 60 men in the pit to wind out, got home by about 8pm. I then went to Bath pit placing hewed down coals in the skip. I then took to hewing coals. I cannot read. The colliers in this part are all bound for a year from 29th June to June. We are bound to the Masters to work under the Butties. If we get a sup of drink and are not able to come to work on any day the Butties make us work the next day for nothing. If we were to desert our service we would be sent to prison. I have been in prison myself for doing this. I was kept in for 2 cardinal months. It was according to the agreement. Boys between 7 and 8 or higher employed to open doors. They catch mice, chiefly in the corn tubs. There are cats that breed in the pit. There are also black creeping things called sowls and also there are 40 leggers and wood lice. Door boy 8d (3.3p) a day, ass boy 15d (6.25p), driving a horse being from 12 to 16, 18d (7½p) a day and a filler 2s 8d (13.3p) a day.

Thomas Art, in presence of Samuel Dennys....I am near 13 now and started as a door boy at 11. I was allowed candles, there are 36 to a pound. Sometimes I’d get thumped for letting the wheels off the railway. I deserved it sometimes. I could eat my bread and cheese or meat when I liked but now that I am a horse boy I only get a quarter of an hour for dinner. The door boys sometimes fall asleep and are wakened by a cut from the horse boys. When I find a boy asleep I give him a slap with the whip to waken him. A door boy cannot venture further than a dozen yards from his door.
Stephen Evans, Ground Bailiff for Moira Bath pit ......there are 60 men and 20 boys.
At this time of innovation regarding winding engines, there were still 2 pits at Swanwick using Whim Gins and horses, the depths of the shafts being 27 yards (25m) and 38 yards (35m) and the headways being about 4 feet (1.22m) high underground. At Oakerthorpe (Derbyshire) the gin was driven by a boy aged 10 and at an ironstone  pit at Somercotes the engine driver was only 8 years old and he worked from 5am till 10pm for which the butties paid him 2s (10p). It would appear that adults doing winding duties commanded a wage of 3s (15p) a day so boys were cheaper. (Later legislation would fix the age of winding enginemen at 15 in 1842, 18 in 1860 and 22 in 1887).


 Great aunt Annie Shaw who emigrated to Canada aged 17 Lucy Shaw (later Birkin) my grandmother  Bill Shaw's dad,  (?) Shaw (my great, great grandfather) Great aunt Nellie, who later moved to Nottingham  Bill Shaw, my great grandfather his back was broken at the pit  youngest daughter Hilda (who later married a Marlpool miner, Wilfred ???) Sarah Elizabeth Shaw (nee. Williams)  Great aunt Annie Shaw who emigrated to Canada aged 17

(Hover over faces to see names)

From right to left, pictured are:-

Sarah Elizabeth Shaw (nee. Williams) who would have been my great grandmother.
On her knee, youngest daughter Hilda (who later married a Marlpool miner, Wilfred ???) who was my great aunt. Then Bill Shaw, my great grandfather and whose back was broken at the pit and later died aged just 29.

 "My mother remembers her father, George Birkin, routinely bringing home his pit tools, drills, mandrels, rammers etc. for safekeeping and maintenance, from the time when miners had to provide all. 

She never knew her grandfather, Bill, but remembers Grandad "Brock"(lehurst) whom Sarah Elizabeth remarried.

Next comes great aunt Nellie, who later moved to Nottingham (a bit like emigrating!).

Bill Shaw's dad (?) Shaw (my great great grandfather and looking like George Bernard Shaw).

Lucy Shaw (later Birkin) my grandmother, then finally my great aunt Annie Shaw who emigrated to Canada aged 17 (a bit like going to the moon!).

We're pretty sure that the picture would have been taken at Albion Place in Ilkeston around the turn of the C19th.

As you see, the Birkin connection comes in with Lucy Shaw marrying George Birkin (my maternal grandad), a miner from Kimberley,who was badly crushed at Cossall pit (my mam remembers going to visit him in the old Ilkeston Hospital), this was years after Bill Shaw's demise.

"I remember being told about Bill (Shaw) having a broken back, seen above before the accident. I recall being told he spent his post-accident days paralysed lying on a settle, but I do not know for how long."

Sarah Elizabeth re-married a fireman called Brocklehurst (my mam can recall him having a collection of medals for his work) he lived further up Albion Place; and that house was later occupied for many years by one of my mam's elder sisters Mildred, with her husband Stan Smith (locally famous Ilkeston Town and Derby County fans).  They later moved to Dronfield Place in Cotmanhay, and Stan finished his working life as a deputy at Moorgreen pit.

Another of my mam's elder sisters, Violet, won the competition to name the Ilkeston shopping precinct in the 1980s, suggesting "Albion Centre" after the street they were brought-up on, and where the precinct is built.

Whilst escaping hard times by moving to Canada might have seemed enviable, things were not always good for great aunt Annie, whose son, Martin, who might well have ended up down the pit here, was instead killed at work by a combined-harvester over there.

Kathryn Morton (Henshaw) and Joe Henshaw

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Pit Terminology - Glossary