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Children Were Cheap Labour in the Mines

The proprietors left the children to the mercy of the Butties,
Neither knowing nor caring how they were treated

Children had to work down the mines. No one needs to speculate on how this situation affected the lives of the children whose lack of confidence, feeling of insecurity, developing an inferior complex, poor communication skills and a lack of ambition or personal achievement because of the poor opportunities, these detrimental traits were etched indelibly on their mind and it was to be their legacy for a lifetime.

When children went to work underground their lot in life took a turn for the worse - quoting extracts from the volume ‘Derbyshire Miner’ by J. E. Williams ‘A Study of Industrial and Social History’ will be very enlightening to our modern day reader.

Reading from the children’s employment commission 1842 states: “Ventilation was grossly inadequate and the pits abounded with firedamp and blackdamp. Safety lamps were rarely used (candles warned of gas) and fatal explosions occurred frequently. The presence of large quantities of carbonic acid gas and the heat of the pits caused much discomfort to the miners and added greatly to their fatigues.”

A further hazard - drainage - it was stated by all classes of witnesses that some pits in Derbyshire were dry and comfortable; but many were so wet that people had to work all day over their shoes in water. At the same time that water was constantly dripping upon them from the roof, inevitably the miner’s life had a short expectation. They were old men before their time, through industrial disease such as Asthma and breathing problems brought about premature death.

Explaining the awful conditions boys were subject to was a sub commission’s report – “in the pit around Brampton, North Derbyshire. The seams were so thin that several had only a two foot headway, to all the workings” these were worked entirely by boys, these poor boys had to drag the barrow with 1 cwt (561bs) of coal or slack 60 times a day 60 yards and then the empty barrow back without once straightening their back, unless they chose to stand under the shaft and run the risk of having their heads broken by a coal falling.

Please note this:- with very few exceptions the proprietors and their agents took no charge whatever of the children, but left them to the mercy of the Butties (contractors). Neither knowing nor caring how they were treated. Beating with the ass-stick, ear and hair pulling, kicking and even throttling were common punishments. A John Beasley of Shipley told the sub commissioner that when he was a boy they were beaten most unmercifully by the corporals who were complete blackguards, they mostly used the ass-stick about as thick as your thumb, they often kicked them and sometimes used the fist, he has seen them throttle a boy, but never that bad so they could soon recover. He had himself been so punished that he was obliged to leave the pit.

Long hours, hasty meals, unhealthy atmosphere, exposure to heat and water excessively heavy work and frequent beatings all took their toll. Most of the children employed in the Derbyshire pits from an early age suffered physically, long hours virtually deprived them of daylight, and insufficient sleep resulted in dullness and stunted growth. Most of these children arrived home at the end of a days work with aching limbs and in need of rest. Such a life left little opportunity for education; some schools excluded miners children from their school.

The coal owner would tell would be employees; No school, No Reading Room, No Club, or anything of the sort connected with these coal works.

Alternatively, Sunday was the only option, if they were not so tired to attend. Sub-commissioners report stated; “I as well as the schoolmaster have found a dullness about these children not in other boys with one striking exception, namely the Chesterfield Union in which it was the custom to work only ten hours a day. Here the children looked much happier and without the dullness so apparent in them in other parts of the district, the general consensus - they appear more tired and do not attend so early and the parents when applied to, often say they come home so wearied that they cannot get them to school in time, when the boys have been beaten, knocked about, and covered with sludge all week they want to be in bed all day to rest on Sunday.

No wonder the miners sons were characterized as ignorant and the proverbial saying:- “Derbyshire Born and Bred, strong in arm, but weak in the head”. Whoever coined that phrase originally could not have appreciated the horrendous conditions that were forced upon young minds. Where there was no escape, trapped in a system that fashioned and moulded them into whatever they were with no choice or opportunity to better themselves should solicit our sympathy rather than ridicule.

Child Miner
Eight year old coal miner, USA, early 1900’s. No child labour laws in effect then

Miner Boy: Children were cheap labour in the mines. This boy spent 10 hours a day in that outfit with only the light from that tallow wick lamp. He cleaned and played the part of a "canary" (kids were easier to replace than good miners).

He was probably Finnish or Swedish and indentured to the company for the purpose of paying his fathers debts.

The unions fought bloody battles to get these children out of the coal mines.

This little guy worked (and likely died) in Utah or Colorado mines.

by nimrodcooper, Pinterest