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Some Information About Life In The Pits At The Time

UNDERWOOD (Messrs. Barber and Walker.)

  • The pit was 140 yards deep and the wagon road 500 yards. The wagons were drawn by ponies and the banks were 100 yards and 30 yards.
  • The colliers were let down and up by a flat rope, four at once.
  • They had a bonnet but no Davy lamp and but very little wildfire. There is no blackdamp.
  • The pit is ventilated from a windshaft about 700 yards off.
  • In 1842 there had been no accidents in the pit for more than two years. There was no Sunday work or night work. They work from five to six or after and no dinner time was allowed.
  • The youngest in the pit was nine years old.
  • The pit was not guarded. There was a cabin and a smith’s shop.
  • The shaft was not laid in lime.

No.108. John Hawkins.

A 10 years old boy, John Hawkins, had worked in the pits for nearly three years. He drove between and got 1shilling a day. When he worked whole days he got down at five a.m. and worked through to eight p.m. When he worked shorter days, 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. he only got 8 pence a day. No time was allowed for dinner.

John’s father was a frame-work knitter.

Before leaving home John had bread and milk for breakfast and took bread and cheese, sometimes tea or beer in a bottle for dinner but had to eat it when he could. When he got home he had bread and cheese for tea, sometimes a little meat.

John found the pit to be dry above ground but very wet and muddy underground where it was also hot and made them sweat. When an accident happened, so as to stop the road, they got cold. John had to stoop nearly double in some places.

George Bostock, the loader, used to ill use the boys and beat them. When John told his father his father threatened Bostock with a summons.

John was always very tired and always glad to get to bed. He would much rather have worked above ground.

They should not let them work so hard.

John went to the Baptist Sunday School.

No.110. Richard Clarke.

Richard Clarke, a 12 year old boy had worked in the pit for five years. He drove the ass and wore the belt.

Richard earned 1shilling and 4 pence a day. He went down at five a.m. and worked through to eight in the evening for a whole day. When he worked two third or three quarter days, 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. he only got 1 shilling a day. No time was allowed for dinner.

For breakfast, before he left the house, he had tea and bread and sometimes a little bacon. Richard took his dinner, bread and cheese, with him and ate it as and when he could but he hadn’t even time to wipe his hands on his trousers. When he got home he had tea and bread and when he could get it, he had bread and cheese and a little beer. He seldom, if ever, tasted meat. He had pretty good health but did not go out to play. He was always ready for bed. He never worked on Sunday or by night.

He never received rewards and was punished by sticks or anything the loader or corporal could lay his hands on but he did not hurt them much. However his mother, only the previous week, got a summons for the loader who had beaten Richard with a piece of wood like a trap-bat until his back and head were all bruised.

Richard went to the Baptist Sunday School at Bagthorpe and he read the Testament and writes.

Richard had been at Underwood for four or five years. The belt chafed him until he was very sore. He said he would rather drive the plough or go to school a deal than work as he did.

About three months before he had a splinter-bone broke, but not in the pit, by the coals falling off the side and he was a month off work. About three months before that he had his leg bruised from the same cause which kept him five weeks at home. A year before that his eye was cut by a man throwing a garland at him.

No.111. Matthew Wilson.

Matthew Wilson was an 11 year old boy who, by then, had worked in the Hard Pit nearly four years. He drove between and had 1 shilling a day. He went down from five a.m. to seven or eight p.m. and was not allowed to stop for dinner. At the time of the Commission they were being paid two thirds for a day and received 8 pence. He went down from five a.m. to four p.m.

Six are let down at once by a rope. Matthew found it dry above ground but they were wet-shod with mud and water below ground. There was no wildfire but they often had to be damped out.

It was hot, so that the sweat dropped off his nose. A bonnet was never used unless it rained hard in the shaft, which was after a storm. He was often foot sore and very tired.

There was about 3 feet 6 inches of headroom. Matthew thought there were six boys under 13 but he did not know how many under 18. The youngest in the pit was just 10.

There were no rewards and they were punished with the ass stick and slapped on the side of the head with the open hand. He never worked on a Sunday night.

Matthew went to the Baptist Sunday School at Bagthorpe.

He was in easy lesson but none knew how to spell horse or cow.

No.112. Ann Wilson.

Ann was the mother of Richard Clarke and mother-in-law to Matthew Wilson. She heard what they said and believed it to be true. She said when they worked whole days they came home so tired and dirty that they could scarcely be prevented from lying down on the ashes, by the fireside, and could not even take their clothes off. Ann had to take their clothes off them and take the clothes to the brook to wash before sitting up most of the night drying them. The next morning they went to the pit like bears at the stake.

On the previous Tuesday night Richard Clarke came home covered in bruises. She went to the butty who wished her to inform the magistrates and they granted a summons, but at the request of the butty and the promise of the loader not to ill use her boys again, they settled the matter amongst themselves. The cause of his being so ill used was that the load fell off the corve owing to its not being well loaded by which the works were hindered until it was reloaded. The boy took a good character from the butty to the magistrates. The same loader had dragged him by the hair, so that he had run away without victuals sooner than face the pit.

(Signed) Ann Wilson  
Her mark.  

Pit Terminology - Glossary