The following history is based upon the British government's
1842 report of the "Children's Employment Commission" by
The equipment used in the cloth industry (yarn spinning and looms) originally were powered by single persons. Then trapiches (horses, typically a single horse) were used (one horse power). These were followed by water mills and finally by steam engines (the first useful steam engine, by Watt, was 10 horse power). The steam engines were constructed of iron and brick, and were powered by coal. Thus, the coal and iron mines were the sources of power for the Industrial Revolution. Hence the relevance of this discussion of the coal and iron industry. In addition to power sources, social problems such as riots, workers' rights, gender discrimination, exploitation of children, strike-breaking, immigration, industrial diseases, etc., arose at this time. The agricultural sector was unsettled as well; for example, the potato famine in Ireland, the "Scotch cattle", and the "Captain Swing" disturbances (repression by wealthy farmers of landless agricultural workers, resulting in revolts by landless workers). This is described by Charles Dickens in "Martin Chuzzlewit": "Oh, magistrates, so rare a country gentleman and brave a squire, had you no duty to society before the ricks were blazing and the mobs were made?").
Protests against the displacement of laborers caused by the spinning machinery at Richard Arkwright's mill took place. Similarly, the Luddites (followers of "King Lud", or "General Ludd") opposed the use of machinery, specifically the use of jenny spinning frames. "General Ludd's" (Ned Ludd) followers (the "Army of Redressers") were from cloth manufacturing towns of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Cheshire. They were the stockingers or framework knitters, and the shearsmen or croppers. These organized bands broke spinning jennies because specialized, more highly-paid laborers were replaced by low-skilled and low-paid laborers, unapprenticed workers. One such riot took place at Ottiwell's Mill in 1812 (located very near Huddersfield, between Manchester and Yorkshire). As a consequence, the "Frame Breaking Act" of 1812 was specifically designed by the government of Spencer Perceval to stop these violent labour protests. Violation of the "Frame Breaking Act" was made a capital crime. The government had to station 12,000 troops in the North of England to suppress the Luddites, several Luddites being executed, several transported.
Just as with the mill workers in the cloth industry, workers in the coal and iron mines were malnourished, and worked in cramped quarters for excessively long hours. This resulted in people with stunted stature and bodies with pathological posture and other medical problems. Puberty was delayed for both boy and girl workers. Pelvic deformities among girl workers caused difficult or fatal child-bearing. Just as with clothing mill operatives, the coal and iron mines had a very large number of children and women workers. Lung and heart diseases were common, and life spans were greatly shortened. In the cloth industry, the smaller hands of children and women made working with the yarn and looms easier, making them preferred workers over teen-aged boys and men. Children and women could be paid less than men, and also had very few legal rights in Victorian England compared to men. The increasing employment of children and women depressed the wages paid to teen-aged boys and men, and also weakened the structure of the family. In the case of the coal and iron mining industires, the smaller size of children and women made it easier for them to fit into very small mine shafts. As with the cloth industry, children and women in the coal and iron mining industries became preferred workers. This depressed the wages paid to teen-aged boys and men who worked in the mines. This helped create a form of "class" warfare between men and women, referred to as "gender" discrimination, now.
Children as young as three years old commonly worked in the mines. Young Welsh girls were also doorkeepers and carriers of tools. Sometimes miners got an extra allowance for taking down a young girl. Women and children pushed and pulled tubs of coal through the small shafts, up inclines, through water, to the horse paths. (Note that tubs did not have wheels; "wains", which were used later, did.) The women and children were fastened to the tubs by a harness and chain. The shafts were so low that working men had to lie on their sides while loosening the coal with a pick, resting upon an elbow or knee as a pivot, thus causing inflammations to these joints. As hydrocarbon gases often caused explosions or suffocation, the youngest children were assigned to close doors when gas explosions occurred. Mine owners commanded that workers use "Davy lamps" to reduce explosions, but these lamps provided insufficient light, thus miners used candles (the miners were blamed when explosions occurred). Due to the heat in the mines, workers of both sexes were often totally naked.
Work was typically done in 12-hour shifts, but often these shifts were extended to 24 and 36 hours in length, and night work was common. Although the standard of living was relatively good, the working conditions were obviously horrific. The government's Children's Employment Commission report by Commissioner Mitchell states "...that children often throw themselves down on the stone hearth or the floor as soon as they reach home, fall asleep at once without being able to take a bite of food, and have to be washed and put to bed while asleep; it even happens that they lie down on the way home, and are found by their parents late at night asleep on the road."
Before the advent of screening plants, coal was tipped and piled into a heap to be loaded into wagons. In Lancashire and Yorkshire, the miners gave it a primary riddling or sieving underground. In Pembrokeshire this job was done by women. The coal was also sorted by riddling at the surface, using hand-riddles or a large stationary riddle. Before the miners were allowed to appoint their own check-weigher in 1860, the management was free to calculate a miner's payment by measure. A miner's work was identified by a tin tally and only the tallies that came up on the full tubs of coal were counted. The miner therefore had no say in whether a tub was full or what constituted good coal. At many pits a girl shouted out when the tub had some dirt, thereby enabling the banksmen to know whether to penalize the miner. The appointment of the miner's own check-weigher and the system of payment by weight also involved the use of females. After the full tub was run to the landing, the women helped place it on a swivel or turntable, where it would be weighed and then run along rails or landing plates to the tippler. In 1873 Arthur Munby, an educated observer who sympathized with the class of proletarian women2, noticed the huts for the new tally-takers (known as the in the Wigan area). These girls shouted out the miner's tally number and collected the tallies.
Women also helped to operate the tipplers, which teamed or tipped the coal onto the screen. The "kickup" type was shaped like an iron cradle and when the full tub of coal ran into this cradle, its weight caused it to over-balance and tip out the coal. It automatically righted itself and the tub was returned to the shaft. A trap door at the bottom of the chutes prevented the coal from sliding onto the screen until it was needed.
The main task for women was to work as drawers (also called barrowmen, carters, draggers, hauliers, hurriers or putters). This involved pulling sledges, tubs or wains along the hard floor, or on wet clay or on planks, from the coal face to the bottom of the shaft. Women worked as bearers, fillers, hookers of baskets, cleaners and as horse drivers. Whole collier and salter families were bound as slaves in servitude to employers, lacking any real freedom. Binding workers was originally designed to cope with a shortage of labor during the expansion of the coal and salt trade. However, binding the workers amounted to appropriating them as property; this soon resulted in binding entire families for life. It ensured that "wives, daughters and sons went on from generation to generation under the system, which was the family doom". The hewer who extracted the coal from the pit face generally engaged two bearers and perhaps shared a third 'fremit' (non-relative) with a fellow hewer. By the 17th century some pits had primitive windlasses known locally as a 'druke and beam'. The 1842 report described women using windlasses above and below the ground. The considerable depth of some pits meant that windlasses were used to haul tubs up steep slopes, a number being fixed at convenient intervals on the incline of the coal or iron vein. Women would turn the handles of the windlasses' wooden rollers. This system of using windlasses in this manner was used in what was called 'pitching veins'. They also helped with a pouncing or boring when a new shaft was being sunk.
The introduction of horses and a few wheeled vehicles in the mid-18th century saw boys taking over haulers' jobs. This meant that in the more advanced pits drawers now only had to pull the coal down the passages as far as the main roadways. It was then transferred to four-wheeled trams running on wooden rails. The trams were pulled by horses and guided by trammers, or horse-drivers. In the mid-1770's cast-iron rails were introduced in place of wooden ones.
Yorkshire females hurried an average of 20-24 corves and multiple rakes over distances of over 200 yards each way. Some Scottish strappers drew hutchies but where there were no rails they pulled slypes. Female pumpers found their workplaces so wet that they had to be relieved every six hours. Others carried buckets of water or helped red (clean) the roadways at night. Margaret Leveston (66 years old) did 10 and 14 rakes there. Girls might begin separating coal from culm on the surface but by age 12 would graduate to windlass work below ground.
Women also worked in the wagons with big spades, helping to control the flow of coal in the chutes; they also trimmed, or leveled down, the coal in the wagon. Females took drams from the top of the pit and 'tripped' them down the screen. Sometimes sorters worked at the screens.
'Poll girls' took iron ore from trams, sorted out stone and shale, cleaned the ore and piled it ready for the furnaces; 'coke girls' stacked coal ready for coking or broke limestone with hammers ready for smelting. 'Pilers' worked in the puddling mills, stacking and weighing the heavy iron bars which had been cut to be made into rails.
By the early 19th century shallow pits were using endless chain systems with windlasses, winding the deeper pits with winding engines that used hemp ropes. These were replaced by both flat and round wire cables. In Scotland at a few Pembrokeshire pits, coal was still being carried on the backs of women coal bearers. Both miners and coal were frequently drawn up to the surface by hand. In Shropshire, women helped attach baskets to ropes and wound them up and down the shaft by hand.
Some windlasses had been adapted to be worked by horses. For example, the cog and rung gin was a windlass that worked on a wheel-and-pinion basis. The horse-driven whim gin, or whimsey, now superseded the cog and rung. The whim gin was comprised of a drum that was mounted on a vertical shaft away from the pit mouth, whose diameter could be increased to provide faster winding. The number of levers and horses could be increased for heavier winds.
Arthur Munby (an important observer) described the mid-century banking method: as the cage reached the top of the shaft, women helped to push a slide underneath and unloaded the wains (skips tubs) and pushed them along the pit bank. They also helped to 'run them in', which meant pushing the empty wains back into the cage. In South Wales, where an abundant supply of water existed, horse gins were replaced by balance pits. Full trams were raised by lowering empties containing water and thereby acting as a balance (the horse was replaced by gravity). The speed at which iron and coal ore could be raised to the surface depended upon how quickly water could be drained from the container. Balance pits were introduced in the Tredegir area in 1829. Ty Trist mine was started as a balance pit in 1834, changing to steam winding in the 1860's. (Steam winding was faster than draining water.)
The working environment of the Iron miners differed little from that of the coal miners and the cloth factories: industrial slavery. One notable difference was that the Irish formed the predominant work force in iron mining.
Both the "truck" (company store) and "cottage" (company housing) systems were effectively universal. Miners were paid by volume though coal was sold by weight. In addition, miners were fined if the tubs credited to them contained coal-dust or were only partly filled (though over-filled tubs were not paid any extra). When workers were paid by weight, false scales were used. Miners' pay was delayed, thereby enslaving the miners. Any complaints were heard by local Justices of the Peace who were almost universally mine owners themselves. In most cases, miners were bound by a contract to work for a year, during which time the miner could not work for any other employer. However, the mine owner was not obligated to provide employment. If a contracted miner worked elsewhere (in violation of the contract), then the miner was imprisoned or dismissed.
The situation of mine workers was immediately remedied (Lord Ashley's Children's Employment Commission 1842), but only on paper, as no mine inspectors were appointed to effect any changes. Instead, the miners held a conference in Manchester in March, 1844 and formed a union and demanded:
The mine owners refused, and a great strike took place
in 1844. Using the cottage system,
the miners were thrown out of their houses,
miners were falsely arrested, coal was imported to
Newcastle (!) so that the mines could fulfill their
contracts, and the mine owners employed
"knobsticks" (scabs, but when
Irish, these strike breakers were called
"blacklegs"). After several
months the union funds used to support striking workers
were consumed and the strike broken.
W. P Roberts was an important
Friedrich Engels pointed out that if the views of Malthus were accepted, then "[T]he proletariat would increase in geometrical proportion...and the proletariat would soon embrace the whole nation, with the exception of a few millionaires. But in this development there comes a stage at which the proletariat perceives how easily the existing power may be overthrown, and then follows a revolution." The expectation of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was that industrialization with its proletariat would spread throughout the globe would result in a proletariat with class interests that surmounted national borders as well as cultural differences; thus, the proletariat class interests were not national, but international.
This description is based upon Engels, chapter "The Mining Proletariat", pp. 247-262, Penguin, 2005 edition.
* The 1842 Report of the Children's Employment Commission discussed not only the collieries, but also discussed pottery factories. Some major points to be noted include the following: