Children in the Mines

Child in mine
The little trapper of eight years of age... seats himself in a little hole, about the size of a common fire-place, and with the string in his hand, and all his work is to pull that string when he has to open the door, and when man or boy has passed through, then to allow the door to shut itself. He may not stir above a dozen steps with safety from his charge, lest he should be found neglecting his duty, and suffer for the same. He sits solitary by himself, and has no one to talk to him, for he himself has no light. His hours, except at such times, are passed in total darkness.

Child in mine
For the first week of his service in the pit his father had allowed him candles to light one after another, but the expense of three halfpence a-day was so extravagant expenditure out of tenpence, the boy's daily wages, that his father, of course, withdrew that allowance the second week, all except one or two candles in the morning, and the week after the allowance was altogether taken away; and now, except a neighbour kinder than his father now and then drop him a candle, as he passes, the boy has no light of his own.

First hand account

Mr Franks gives the case of William Woods, aged fourteen, who was a coal hewer in the east of Scotland:

"I have been three years below; I hew the coal and draw it to the pit bottom. Was obliged to go, as father could work no longer; he is upwards of sixty. I gang at three in the morning, and return about six, it is no very good work, and the sore labour makes me feel very ill and fatigued; it injures my breath. We have no regular meal-times; food is not safe in the pit. The lads and lassies take oat-pieces and bread below; we drink the water sometimes; get other food at home, sometimes broth, potatoes, and herrings..."

Descending the pit

Mr Symons, in his description of the Yorkshire coal-field says:

"That man must have strong nerves who for the first time descends a deep shaft, probably much deeper than St Paul's Cathedral is high, without some degree of uncomfortable sensation. To a young child it is often cruelly frightful. It is difficult to describe the impression of dark confinement and damp discomfort conveyed by a colliery, at first sight. The springs which generally ooze through the best-cased shafts, trickle down its sides, and keep up a perpetual drizzle below. The chamber or area at the bottom of the shaft is almost always sloppy and muddy, and the escape from it consists in a labyrinth of black passages, often not above four feet square, and seldom exceeding five by six."

Descending the pit

RARE-RB 942 8 TYN - A Treatise on the Ventilation of Coal Mines - illustration opposite page 32

Activities & Resources

Johnny's Birthday

Interactive drag-and-drop activity exploring whether or not Johnny should go to work in the mines.
Printed download also available.

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Going down the Mine

Sources and activities

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Source Analysis & Decision Making

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A Miner's Life

Sources and activities. Includes template for setting up a new campaign against children in the mines.

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Useful Reports & Sources

Additional accounts relating to children working in the mines.

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Click the link below to download all of the above activities and resources.

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