Children in mines
Children in Mines
Children in Mines

Child Labour

"...I was frightened for someone had stolen my bread and cheese. I think it was the rats."

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the British state accepted that children as young as five years old were an acceptable part of the industrial workforce.

Not only management accepted the position but many parents as well. Change had to come and an investigation into the employment of children was begun. Between 1840 and 1842, government inspectors visited the Welsh coalfields and spoke to many child miners. These interviews were presented to Parliament as part of The Commission of Enquiry into the State of Children in Employment. This report not only tells of the horrific conditions that children worked under but also paints a vivid picture of their everyday lives.

Coal Mines in the 1840s

Coalmines in this period were cramped, poorly ventilated and highly dangerous.

There was little attention paid to health and safety and children were injured or killed by explosions, roof falls or being run over by carts.

Children performed a number of important tasks underground - door keepers, who operated the ventilation doors to let coal carts through, drammers, who pulled coal carts to and from the coal face, colliers' helpers who assisted the actual coal cutting, usually alongside their fathers or older brothers, and drivers who led the horses which pulled wagons along the main roadways.

Even the simple matter of getting to their place of work was sometimes highly dangerous. Many mines were 'drifts' driven into the mountainside and children could walk in, others were shafts, which were served by winches or steam engines. The mines in the Llanelli area were up to 500' deep and had to be descended into by baskets or ladders.

Philip Philip, aged 10, from Brace Colliery in Llanelli, was accustomed to the dangers of ladders: "I help my brother to cart. I can go down the ladders by myself. I am not afraid to go down the pit."

The inspector who interviewed Philip climbed down these ladders with difficulty. Unlike Philip, he was afraid of the noise and the heavy pumping rods that were very close to the ladders.

All alone in the dark

Mary Davis was a 'pretty little girl' of six years old. The Government Inspector found her fast asleep against a large stone underground in the Plymouth Mines, Merthyr. After being wakened she said: "I went to sleep because my lamp had gone out for want of oil. I was frightened for someone had stolen my bread and cheese. I think it was the rats."

Susan Reece, also six years of age and a door keeper in the same colliery said: "I have been below six or eight months and I don't like it 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. I haven't been hurt yet."

In Harm's Way

A coal mine was a dangerous place for adults, so it is no surprise that many children were badly injured underground.

"Nearly a year ago there was an accident and most of us were burned. I was carried home by a man. It hurt very much because the skin was burnt off my face. I couldn't work for six months."

Phillip Phillips, aged 9, Plymouth Mines, Merthyr

"I got my head crushed a short time since by a piece of roof falling..."

William Skidmore, aged 8, Buttery Hatch Colliery, Mynydd Islwyn

" my legs crushed some time since, which threw me off work some weeks."

John Reece, aged 14, Hengoed Colliery

Child Colliers and Horse Drivers

Some children spent up to twelve hours on their own. However, Susan Reece's brother, John, worked alongside his father on the coalface:-

"I 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 a.b.c." John Reece, aged 8, Plymouth Mines, Merthyr

Philip Davies had a horse for company. He was pale and undernourished in appearance. His clothing was worn and ragged. He could not read:-

"I have been driving horses since I was seven but for one year before that I looked after an air door. I would like to go to school but I am too tired as I work for twelve hours." Philip Davies, aged 10, Dinas Colliery, Rhondda

Drammers pulled their carts by a chain attached at their waist. They worked in the low tunnels between the coalfaces and the higher main roadways where horses might be used. The carts weighed about 1½cwt. of coal and had to be dragged a distance of about 50 yards in a height of about 3 feet.

"My employment is to cart coals from the head to the main road; the distance is 60 yards; there are no wheels to the carts; I push them before me; sometimes I drag them, as the cart sometimes is pulled on us, and we get crushed often."

Edward Edwards, aged 9, Yskyn Colliery, Briton Ferry

For this a drammer would earn about 5p a day.

Three Sisters

The Dowlais iron works also owned iron and coal mines; they were the largest in the world at this time and supplied products to many parts of the world. However, they still relied on children for their profits. Three sisters worked in one of their coal mines:-

"We are doorkeepers in the four-foot level. We leave the house before six each morning and are in the level until seven o’clock and sometimes later. We get 2p a day and our light costs us 2½p a week. Rachel was in a day school and she can read a little. She was run over by a dram a while ago and was home ill a long time, but she has got over it."

Elizabeth Williams, aged 10 and Mary and Rachel Enoch, 11 and 12 respectively, Dowlais Pits, Merthyr

After the Act

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 Britain.

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.


Jamie Lennon
9 September 2019, 03:25
Loved your website! So helpful and sad
9 July 2019, 08:54
Ceri Thompson Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
13 May 2019, 15:00

Dear Mr. Jones
Thanks for your message. I’m a bit confused as the article (see below) you are referring to doesn’t mention the 1908 Coal Mines Regulations Act or state that it limited the age of underground working.
The Acts that stipulated the ages of mineworkers were –
1842 Mines Act (no females or boys under 10)
1860 Coal Mines Regulations Act (Minimum age for employment underground raised to 12 years old – however, boys from 10 years of age could be employed if they had obtained a certificate of school attendance and could read and write).
1872 Mines Regulations Act (prohibited full time employment of boys under 12 and boys of 16 not to be employed at night or work more than 10 hours a day or 50 hours a week. Same Act stipulates half-day schooling for boys between 10 and 13).
1887 Mines Regulations Act (legal minimum age of 12 in the coal industry and miners had to have had a minimum of 2 years’ experience underground before being allowed to work on their own).
1911 Coal Mines Act (Boys under 14 may not be employed underground)
1957 The Mines (Employment of Young Persons) Order (Set the minimum age for boys to be employed underground, except for training, at 16 years of age).
1972 Wilberforce Award (Adult wages to be paid at 18 in the mining industry).

Miss research, I am the author of the article.

miss research
7 May 2019, 23:16
who is the author of this article?
7 May 2019, 14:56
It would be better if you added more videos.
reiss jones
1 May 2019, 11:11

This is article is inaccurate, there is 66 years between the Mines and Collieries Ace 1842 and The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908. Both have utterly separate purposes.

The Act you thought limited the age of a coal miner: The Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908 this limited coal miners working hours to 8 hours a day.
the Act that actually does limit the age of miners: Mines and Collieries Ace 1842 - made minimum age to work in a coal mine 10
27 March 2019, 14:07
so helpfulllllllll!!!!!!!! THANKS!!!
19 March 2019, 10:16
Thank you for your help you really helped me with my assighnment
12 March 2019, 14:00
I feel sorry for them
19 February 2019, 20:38
It was no help what so ever, I was confused there different facts on this website then the others, I dont know what to trust and now im going to fail my school project

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