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Children Of The Mines

today17 April 2024 8

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Black Gold  

The coal industry in Wales in the ninetieth and twentieth century was very important. 

By 1913, 60 million tons of coal were produced from over 600 colliaries and one in ten welsh people worked in the mining industry.

Iron and coal were transported from the Gwent Valleys to Newport Docks and from Newport to the world.

Until the mid-ninetieth century, men, women and children worked alongside each other in these mines.

Working conditions were hard and dangerous. Hours were long. In 1842, miners worked up to 12 hours a day. The mines would be dark and dirty. Many died from lungs damaged by mine dust.

Accidents were frequent, many miners were killed by collapsing tunnels and explosions.

There were 48 major disasters in South Wales between 1851 and 1920. A third of all UK mining related deaths happened in Wales between 1890 an 1920.

Children as young as five years old worked in these mines and worked as trappers, opening and closing doors. Older children worked as trammers, dragging trucks known as drams or sledges of coal on all fours out from the mine. The coal weighed 250kg, the same as lifting 250 bags of sugar.

The tunnels were so low that even children aged six or seven were not able to stand up and many children were killed or seriously injured. They could easily be run over by a dram or caught in an explosion alongside other miners. During a Commissioner’s report in 1842. a six year old girl by the name of Susan Reece, who worked in the Plymouth Mines in Merthyr Tydfil spoke about her experience. She said “I have been below six or eight months and I don’t like it very much. I come here at six in the morning and leave at six at night. When my lamp goes out, or I am hungry, I run home.”  

Another little girl named Mary David who worked in the same mine was found sleeping against a large stone. Like Susan, she was also six years old. When she was woken up by the Mine Inspector, she told him “I went to sleep because my lamp had gone out. I was frightened for someone had stolen my bread and cheese. I think it was the rats.”

Some children spent up to twelve hours on their own. However, Susan Reece’s brother, John, worked alongside his father on the coalface. He said “help my father and I have been working here for twelve months. I carry his tools for him and fill the drams with the coal he has cut or blasted down. I went to school for a few days and learned my ABC’s.” The publication of the Report and the ensuing public outcry made legislation inevitable.

The Coal Mines Regulation Act was finally passed on 4 August 1842. From 1 March 1843 it became illegal for women or any child under the age of ten to work underground in Britaint

There was no compensation for those made unemployed which caused much hardship. However, evasion of the Act was easy – there was only one inspector to cover the whole of Britain and he had to give prior notice before visiting collieries. Therefore many women probably carried on working illegally for several years, their presence only being revealed when they were killed or injured. The concept of women as wage earners became less acceptable in the mining industry as the years went by.  However, a small number of female surface workers could be found in Wales well into the twentieth century.

In 1990 the protective legacy was repealed and after 150 years women are once again able to work underground.

By Adam L Davies

Written by: Kym Frederick

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