Children at Work

What was it like to work in the mines?

The factory machines worked on steam power, fuelled by coal. This meant that children were employed in the coal mines too, often in dangerous conditions. In 1842 a Royal Commission into the Employment of Children in Mines was set up to investigate working conditions in the mines. 

These two extracts are taken from the report the Commission produced.


'Their chief occupation is to open and shut which a current of air is kept in its proper course for the due ventilation of the...mine...the trapper has to sit often exposed to damp completely in the dark and in silence.'


'...the lads hurry with a belt and chain on all fours. Thirty-eight years ago they had no belt and chain, but used to run along on one hand and feet, and pull the corves with the other hand; that was much worse for them.'


People were scandalised by the conditions described in the report and in 1842 the Act to Prohibit the Employment of Women and Children in the Mines and Collieries was passed. This included the following measures:

  • Employment of women underground is illegal.
  • Boys under the age of 10 are no longer to work underground.
  • Parish apprentices aged 10-18 can continue to work in the mines.


Apprentice - young person learning a trade

Commission - job given to a group of people

Corves - wagons used inside mines to move coal

Exposed - open to something, at risk

Prohibit - ban by law

Scandalised - shocked and upset

Ventilation -movement of fresh air

Download an Activity Sheet comparing historic and contemporary material about Child Labour (click on Worksheets link below)

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