Queen Coal? Why should we remember Victorian mining women?
Trappers and Hurriers: Child Mine Workers
This extract is from the 1842 Royal Commission Report into Children's Employment (Mines) . Sub-Commissioner, J. C. Symons reports on the conditions he has witnessed among child workers in Yorkshire coal mines:
'In this district girls are almost universally employed as trappers and hurriers in common with boys. The girls employed as hurriers are of all ages, from seven to twenty-one; they commonly work quite naked down to the waist; the boys of similar ages who work with them are also naked down to the waist, and both (for the garment is pretty much the same in both) are dressed, as far as they are dressed at all, in a loose pair of trousers, seldom whole in either sex. In many of the collieries, as has been already stated, the adult colliers, whom these girls serve, work perfectly naked [at this time the term 'naked' usually meant that someone was still wearing underwear, so they were probably not completely nude] .'
- Why were people working in the mines wearing so few clothes?
- What do you think their work was like?
- What sort of clothes did working people wear in the 19th century?
- What sort of clothes did wealthier people usually wear during the Victorian period?
- Why do you think J.C. Symons was so shocked to see people working in very few clothes and women wearing trousers?
Symons' evidence continues:
'Girls regularly perform all the various offices of trapping, hurrying, filling, riddling, topping, and occasionally getting; just as they are p erformed by boys. I visited the Hunshelf Colliery. It is a day pit; that is, there is no shaft or descent; the gate or entrance is at the side of a bank, and nearly horizontal. The gate was not more than a yard high, and in some places not above two feet. The corves are pushed along it on a tram-way a certain distance, and then dragged by the children.
'When I arrived at the board or workings of the pit, I found at one of the side-boards down a narrow passage a girl of fourteen years of age, in boy’s clothes, picking down the coal with the regular pick used by the men. She was half sitting, half lying at her work, and said she found it tired her very much, and ‘of course she didn’t like it.’
'The place where she was at work was not two feet high. Further on were men at work lying on their sides and getting. No less than 6 girls out of 18 men and Children are employed in this pit.'
- Why do you think the mine owners employed so many children?
- What do the following terms mean: trapping, hurrying, filling, riddling, topping? Do some research to find out more.
- Why did Symons find it strange that girls and boys were doing the same work?
- Was he right to be surprised?
- What other sorts of things do you think particularly bothered Symons?
Collieries - coal mines
Corves - wagons used in mines to move coal
Garment - item of clothing
Offices - jobs
Shaft - (mine shaft) deep opening, with a steep drop