Life was hard for Kidsgrove miners

During the first half of the 19th century, a coal miner’s life was hard. Wages were low. Men, women and children worked long hours in semi-darkness. The work was dangerous. Accidents were frequent. Human life was cheap, and colliery owners put profits before safety.

Half naked men and women worked together at the coalface mining coal and putting it into wagons. Young children were employed to open air doors on roadways leading from the coalface to the bottom of the mine shaft. They sat alone in the darkness and opened the air doors for boys and girls who were harnessed to wagons which they pulled along the roadway.

In the early 1840s, Samuel Scriven who was preparing a report on child labour for the government visited Kidsgrove. He interviewed several coal miners employed by colliery owner Thomas Kinnersley who lived in luxury at Clough Hall.

A Young Miner’s Working Conditions

Seventeen year old John Vickers who was interviewed by Mr Scriven said: 

“I have been working in the mines for about four years. Before that, I worked at a farm for about four years. My job is to attend at the pit’s mouth and haul away the coals that come up from the Delph. My wages are 11 shillings a week which I give to my mother. I am paid by the charter master. He gives me my wages in a public-house. I went to day school for a few months before going to work on a farm. Although I cannot read or write, I go to church pretty regularly. I start work at six in the morning and go home at about six {in the evening}. I am too tired to go to school in the evening. I would like to go if I could but, as I said before, I am always too tired.

“My father is dead. My mother keeps a dame school for young children. I have three sisters; two of them work in the silk factories at Congleton. The eldest is 18 years old. She earns five shillings and six pence a week. My other sister, who works in Congleton, is 14. She earns three shillings and six pence a week. My youngest sister goes to the National Day School at Mr Wade’s. 

“I have my first breakfast before I go to work and take my second breakfast to work with me. I go to dinner at twelve and have ‘tatees’ and bacon. I always take an hour for dinner and eat my second breakfast when I can. I never do any night work.”

The illustration shows a girl harnessed to a wagon in a coal mine.