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Conditions in the Mines

Conditions for those who worked in the coal mines of Britain was probably as bad as, although different from, the conditions of those who worked in the cotton mills. Miners had to work long hours in the dark and wet with a number of hazards to deal with which were not to be found in many other work-places. These included

Although the problems in the mines had existed for many years, it was somewhat a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'. This became increasingly so as the demand for coal increased with the speeding up of the industrial revolution.

Conditions in mines varied a great deal from district to district. The attitude of the mine-owners also varied. The wealthy aristocrats of the north east had a patriarchal interest in their workers; the small pit-owners of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Staffordshire often worked on insufficient capital and were separated from the workforce by the system of contracting with gangs, each under a foreman or 'butty'.

Women and girls were not employed underground in the coalfields of Northumberland and Durham, or in Leicestershire and Derbyshire. The largest proportion of female labour and some of the worst types of work were found in Scotland. Most of the women and children came from mining families and, since the miners as a class enjoyed good wages, the standard of food and clothing at home was generally - but not always - better than the conditions underground might suggest.

Collieries did not figure in the brief of the Ten Hours Movement, but in 1840 Shaftesbury, having exerted considerably pressure, managed to get a Royal Commission set up to investigate the working conditions of children in coal mines. The first report was published in May 1842. Their investigations, which included illustrations as well as cross-questioning witnesses, revealed the full horrors of working conditions in the mine. Much of the report centred around women working in either scanty clothing or - even worse - in trousers. Victorian morality could not tolerate such things.

On 7 June 1842 Shaftesbury delivered a speech for leave to bring in a Bill to regulate the employment of women and children in mines. It was based largely on the evidence printed by the commissioners.

In 1842 the Mines Act was passed.

Mining in Shropshire: this is a link to a web site about mining in Shropshire through the ages
This site has a great deal of primary information about the Durham pits.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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