Coal Mining and the Victorians


In early Victorian England, most poorer children never went to school at all and grew up unable to read or write. Since schooling had to be paid for then, many parents decided they could not afford the few pennies a week it cost. 

Instead, children were sent out to work at a young age to earn money for their families.Their earnings were an important part of the family income and if they went to school, their families would lose this money.

Many of these children found their only chance to learn anything was at a Church or Chapel Sunday School. Lessons concentrated on the 'three Rs' (reading, writing and arithmetic) and scripture. Children learnt by copying and chanting things over and over again until they were word perfect.

Children learned to write on slates because paper was very expensive. They scratched letters on them using sharpened pieces of slate. Older children learned to use pen and ink by writing in copybooks.

Schooling did not become compulsory for children aged five to ten until 1880. In 1889, the school leaving age was raised to twelve, and in 1891, the school's fee was abolished and schools became free.


Abolish - to put an end to something, perhaps by a new law

Compulsory - when something is required by law or an authority

Concentrated - focus on one thing

Income - money received, usually in return for work

Scripture - writing from the Bible

Slate - a small square made of slate, used to write on with chalk, then wiped clean

Activity ideas:

KS2 English -

Use this resource to help you answer the questions below:

  1. How many children altogether attend the three Sunday schools in Silkstone?
  2. Compare this figure with how many children attended the Day and Evening school. Why do you think so few children attended the Day and Evening school compared with all of the Sunday Schools?
  3. Look at the different subjects taught at school. How does this compare to what you learn at school?
  4. Work out how many days a year you spend in school. How does this compare with the number of days the children in Silkstone spent at Sunday School every year?
  5. What does this information tell you about how mining families in Silkstone viewed education?

Look at the second and third images on this page:
J C Symons Esq interviewed a number of children from Silkstone on 18 March 1840. 
Use their interview answers to
help you answer the following questions:

  1. What type of school did these children attend?
  2. Which of the children would rather go to school than work in the pit?
  3. Do you think these children had a good education? Explain your view.
  4. Do you think that the children missed out on anything by not being able to read and write very well?
Now test your knowledge with our  Victorian Coal Mining Quiz!

View other relevant My Learning resources or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas. 

Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic.

Document icon Learning article provided by: National Coal Mining Museum for England | 
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