Conditions in the coal mines

(c) Wigan Archives Service

The coal mines were dirty, dangerous and hard work. Wages were poor and hours were long. During Victorian times employees would work underground in the dark for 12 hours a day, only stopping for a lunch of bread and butter in the middle of the day. Ventilation was limited and mines would often be dusty and damp.

During the early 19th century wages were just a few pence more than what was given as poor relief. For example miners at the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines received just 8 shillings (40p) for a six day week working 12-15 hours a day (72-90 hour week). It was not until 1928 that miners got their first paid holiday.

Accidents were common, but during Victorian times there was no compensation or benefits to help the families of injured or killed workers. If a large disaster occurred, charity funds were set up where people donated money, often nationally, and were distributed to the families. The Workmen’s Compensation Act was not introduced until the 1890s.

Mining unions became very active as they looked for better pay and conditions for miners, including a move to an 8 hour day. There were several miners’ strikes in the area where miners’ went on strike over the poor conditions and pay, which made life very difficult for miners and their families as they received no pay whilst on strike. Local people rallied round and often helped out those in need. For example a soup kitchen was opened in 1893 to help feed starving miners and the Abram Soup Kitchen opened in 1921.

My dad... always said one of the jobs he would never ever have done was a miner. He said it’s not human for a person to go down in all that dirt. He said they deserve every penny.” Jan