Colliery Reports

From the report of a commission of inquiry into the condition of young persons employed in coal mines, reported in Facts and Figures, May 2, 1842:

“The stunted stature of the collier children arises, in the thin coal districts, from the height of the passages they have to traverse, being frequently not above 30 inches in height; and along these, children of both sexes either push or draw little waggons or corves, loaded with coals, weighing from two to three cwt. [hundredweight], and running usually on rough and uneven rails, but sometimes drawn as sledges. In the very thin pits they are harnessed to the corves by means of a strap round the waist, and a chain passing through the legs; thus they go along on all fours, like animals; and this work is done by girls in trowsers, as well as boys, in the thin coal districts alike of Yorkshire, Lancashire, and the east of Scotland.”

  • Patience Kershaw, 17, Mr. Joseph Stock’s Booth Town Pit, Halifax: “I hurry in the clothes I have now got on, trousers and ragged jacket; the bald place upon my head is made by thrusting the corves; my legs have never swelled, but sisters’ did when they went to mill; I hurry the corves a mile and more under ground and back; they weigh three cwt.; I hurry eleven a-day; I wear a belt and chain at the workings to get the corves out; the getters that I work for are naked except their caps; they pull off all their clothes; I see them at work when I go up; sometimes they beat me, if I am not quick enough, with their hands; they strike me upon my back; the boys take liberties with me sometimes, they pull me about; I am the only girl in the pit; there are about twenty boys and fifteen men; all the men are naked; I would rather work in mill than in coal pit.”
  • Margaret Hipps, 17, putter, Stoney Rigg Colliery, Stirlingshire: “My employment, after reaching the wall-face, is to fill a bagie, or slype, with 2-1/2 to 3 cwt. of coal. I then hook it on my chain, and drag it through the seam, which is 26 to 28 inches high, till I get to the main-road — a good distance, probably 200 to 400 yards. The pavement I drag over is wet, and I am obliged at all times to crawl on hands and feet with my bagie hung to the chain and ropes. It is sad sweating and sore fatiguing work, and frequently maims the women.”
  • Betty Harris, 37, drawer in a coal-pit, Little Bolton, Lancashire: “I have a belt round my waist, and a chain passing between my legs, and I go on my hands and feet. The road is very steep, and we have to hold by a rope, and, when there is no rope, by anything we can catch hold of. There are six women and about six boys and girls in the pit I work in: it is very hard work for a woman. The pit is very wet where I work, and the water comes over our clog-tops always, and I have seen it up to my thighs. I am not so strong as I was, and I cannot stand my work so well as I used to do. I have drawn till I have had the skin off me; the belt and chain is worse when we are in the family-way. My feller [husband] has beaten me many a time for not being ready. I have known many a man beat his drawer.”

Of Hipps’ testimony, a subcommissioner notes: “It is almost incredible that human beings can submit to such employment, crawling on hands and knees, harnessed like horses, over soft slushy floors, more difficult than dragging the same weights through our lowest common-sewers, and more difficult in consequence of the inclination, which is frequently one in three to one in six.”