Coal Mining and the Victorians
What jobs did children do underground?
On 4 August 1842, a law was passed that stopped women and children under ten years from working underground in mines in Britain.
Before this law was passed, it was common for whole families to work together underground to earn enough money for the family to live on. At this time, many working class parents saw child labour as a normal part of working life. Some children started work underground when they were just five years old, but the majority started when they were eight. They would work the same hours as adults, sometimes longer, at jobs that paid less.
The trapper was often the youngest member of the family working underground. Their job was simple - to open and close the wooden doors (trap doors) that allowed fresh air to flow through the mine. They would usually sit in total darkness for up to twelve hours at a time, waiting for the door to open and let the coal tub through. It was not hard work but it was boring and could be very dangerous. If they fell asleep, the safety of the whole workings could be affected.
The Hurrier and the Thruster
The older children and women were employed as hurriers, pulling and pushing tubs full of coal along roadways from the coal face to the pit-bottom. The younger children worked in pairs, one as a hurrier, the other as a thruster, but the older children and women worked alone. Hurriers would be harnessed to the tub, and thrusters would help hurriers by pushing the tubs of coal from behind with their hands and the tops of their heads. The tubs and the coal could weigh over 600kg, and would have to be moved through roadways which were often only 60-120cm high.
Getters were the oldest and strongest members of the family, almost always grown men or strong youths. Their job was to work at the coal face cutting the coal from the seam with a pickaxe. Getters were the only members of the family who would work continually with a candle or safety lamp - as they needed the light to see the coal face.
Use the images and information on this page to discuss the different jobs done by children. (You can download a Mining Vocabulary sheet to help with these activities).
- Role play the different jobs - imagine doing them in the dark for 12 hours.
- Discuss how the children’s health may have been affected by working underground.
- Children were also employed in other industries, such as textile mills and farms. Research other jobs done by children in Victorian Britain and compare them with those done by children in coal mines.
- Do children work today? If so, in what types of jobs and why?